Sunday, August 29, 2010

August 29: clarification

I have confused you -- I am sorry.

On August 25 I wrote that we had found a house and posted some pictures.  The house manager, however, told us that we had to wait until this coming week to make final arrangements with the owner, including writing a check to hold the house.  We figured that in that case, just to protect ourselves, we should keep looking.  In the meantime we saw the house that we wound up renting yesterday, and have told the house manager of the first house that we would not be renting that one.  So the August 25 picture of your room when you visit is now null and void:  you'll have a different room in another house.

I haven't posted pictures of the inside of the house we've rented because frankly it looks really funky in there.  I wrote to my friend Joan that it looks like a graduate student's house, and honestly, I don't want to live in a graduate student's house at this stage of my life.  It's distressingly cluttered, what with all the art and so many things left out because of a lack of storage space.  So we'll be fixing it up:  removing most of the paintings, adding lamps and maybe carpets, possibly changing some furniture, and fixing up the kitchen.  There is now, for example, very little in the way of kitchen storage space for dishes, pots and pans, silverware, and pantry supplies.  We'll want to add that.

Joan wrote that it wasn't clear how one could always walk downhill.  But one can!  To arrive at the house you take a taxi (25 pesos, around $2.10 or so) to the upper street and walk down to the house.  To leave the house, you walk down to the lower street and from there either walk to Centro or take a taxi.

And I agree, a blood pressure of 167/80 for this 67-year-old is really bad news.  No way.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

August 28

BIG NEWS:  we have rented a house for next year!  It's owned by someone who until recently owned a gallery in San Miguel so it's full of about a million paintings, few of which are actually to our taste but we'll move them.  It's got three bedrooms (room for you to visit!), two baths, an alcove big enough for a computer and associated stuff, a spectacular garden, several terraces, and a view of San Miguel that is simply breathtaking.

You can see the Parroquia in the middle of the picture, which gives you an idea of how high up this house is.

One of the owners used to be a landscape gardener in Aspen CO, and when he moved to this house there was nothing but concrete on the main terrace.  He created this garden.

It's got what is now an empty pool-type thing, which will be easy to fill.  We'll hire someone to make a fountain in it for the beautiful sound, and it's big enough for us to jump into on hot days.

Because nothing is perfect, there are of course some downsides.  First, there's no street.  Callejon Chorro consists of steps, about a dozen flights' worth up the steep hillside.  It will be good exercise but a challenge to bring in groceries and whatnot.  Because there are streets above and below, though, it's always possible to walk only downhill.  Second, the kitchen is pretty stripped.  We're considering having cabinets made.  Third, we had to rent it starting December 1, not January 1 as we had hoped.  And fourth, it's a little more money than we were planning to spend but the house is so gorgeous it will be worth it.

All in all, we are thrilled!

The other thing I wanted to tell you about today is medical.  I saw a doctor earlier this week who suggested that my low energy level might be due to parasites, and to have myself tested.  When the test did indeed indicate amoebas, I tried to call the doctor back, twice, but she didn't call back either time.  This morning we went to a pharmacy, showed them the lab report, and asked what medicine I needed.  Nope:  a prescription is required.  For a prescription one needs a doctor.  My doctor is unreachable.

Fortunately we went to a presentation a couple of days ago on health care at the Biblioteca, and learned about a clinic.  It was open on a Saturday morning, but pretty deserted.  An employee called a doctor and said we should wait for half an hour.  Fifteen minutes later the sweetest doctor arrived and introduced himself by his first name, Faustino, which of course I loved.  He gave me a physical examination and positively beamed at me for my good blood pressure, heartsounds, and pulse:  I felt like such a good girl!  Interestingly enough, he said that in Mexico there's a formula for blood pressure for adults:  100 plus age.  He therefore felt my blood pressure of 140/80 was excellent, while to me it seems high.  Then he wrote a prescription and explained everything very carefully, which was useful since he spoke no English.  I may have found a new doctor, Spanish or no Spanish.

And by the way, I'm feeling much better.

After we gave the owners of Callejon Chorro 5A a check, we walked back through the Jardin.  The bicentennial celebration is starting to get underway big time -- they are celebrating independence on September 16.  Houses are starting to sprout Mexican flags and vendors are selling all sorts of stuff in green, white and red.  There was a stage set up right in front of the Parroquia, not off to the side as usual, and the "entertainment" was almost as loud as a jet engine.  The speakers sent the bass notes through my chest and just about pulverized my bones.

But sitting there on the bench at about 5 PM for a rest (it was a long walk) gave me a great opportunity to people-watch.  It occurred to me that while few people were smoking, thank goodness, many were eating.  And they were eating Mexican junk food, high carbs and high sugar, from the many food carts ringing the Jardin.  Comida, the main meal of the day, is early- to mid-afternoon:  they could not have been hungry!  It is perhaps not a coincidence that so many people are overweight and that there are so many diabetics in this country.  It is so bad that diabetes is the primary cause of death here.  Well, I confess:  we succumbed and had a couple of chorros.  A guilty pleasure but at least we're careful to keep it rare.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August 25

Our 11th anniversary dinner on Sunday was marvelous.  There is a San Miguel listserv which many expats use, and it's invaluable for suggestions of where to go for what.  I put a request on it for restaurant recommendations, and the "winner" was a place called Jackie's.  Here's Rick with his blue-tequila margarita:

And me, dressed up in my pink feather boa for the occasion.

It was an elegant and delicious (and expensive!) meal:  a tiny cream of broccoli soup (pureed broccoli with a butter-and-flour roux), cold watermelon gazpacho with grilled shrimp, filet mignon for Rick and duck breast for me, amaretto ice cream, and coffee.  I had a wine I'd never had before, a Torrontes from Argentina, which was excellent. The gazpacho -- watermelon balls, shrimp, and sour cream garnished with a mint leaf -- will give you an idea of how beautifully the meal was served.

After we finished eating, Jackie, the owner, came and talked with us for close to an hour.  She has such an interesting history!  She was born extremely poor a couple of years after the war in a village near Goettingen, Germany.  Growing up quite beautiful and apparently with a strong aesthetic sense, she married a US ambassador to Iran and sold jewelry to wealthy people.  When that marriage ended she married another wealthy man.  Arriving divorced in San Miguel 10 years ago, she bought a lot of property and built herself a big house.  A year ago she opened her very upscale restaurant, and it's been a great hit.  She raved about how much she loves her life here in a way I've heard others do, but have never heard anywhere else I've ever been.

More about food.  Last night we had dinner at a much cheaper restaurant called Hecho en Mexico (made in Mexico).  I had grilled cactus leaves and jicama salad!  I love the food adventures -- a welcome relief from the endless tortilla-based things.

And after two months of enthusiasm, I want to write to you about the other side of Mexico.  Here in San Miguel it's all too easy to forget that this is a developing country.  For example, public education is provided only up to the 6th grade, not even totally free because families must buy school uniforms.   (The new school year started yesterday, and the streets are now full of children with backpacks and school uniforms.)  I find it shocking that in 2010, with steadily increasing literacy and technology requirements, the majority of Mexican children have only a 6th-grade education.  One of the many nonprofits here in town is called Mujeres en Cambio, Women in the process of Change, which pays for high school and college for poor girls with good grades and even better ambitions.

And this week there was an article in Atención, the local bilingual newspaper, that is headlined "Six young women jailed in Guanajuato [State] for 'infanticide.'"  It has haunted both Rick and me.  According to the article, although abortion is legal in Mexico City it is considered a crime in Guanajuato State, where San Miguel is located.  All six of the emprisoned women are young, uneducated, and from the countryside.  One of them didn't even know she was pregnant, didn't understand that the bleeding meant a miscarriage, and was nevertheless sentenced, like the others, to 19 to 25 years in prison.  The state governor insists that all six were convicted of "infanticide" -- "homicide at the family level."  Even at the worst of pre-Roe v. Wade times in the United States, we didn't jail people for abortions, especially not for such a large portion of their lives.  And I strongly suspect that rich women in Guanajuato State don't go to jail for abortions.  That's for the poor ones with no resources or connections.

Tonight after a wonderful talk about Louise Labé, a 16th century French poet whom I learned about (and forgot about!) in graduate school 40 years ago, we went out for a drink with three people:  Béa Aaronson (the lecturer), her partner and fellow artist Stephen Eaker -- I've mentioned them both before -- and a friend of Rick's from his writers' group, Louis Cargill.  It was the heady kind of conversation we all have much too rarely after college, about art and writing and the creative process.  Louis, a gentle and thoughtful man who is 76 and a former English teacher, told us about how he bought a little house here in 1985 which enables him to live, very carefully, on his Social Security of about $575 a month.  Imagine, that such a thing is possible!

We have finally found a house to rent for next year, although I'd feel a little better if we had been able to give the house manager a deposit -- there's some question about whether it should be in dollars, check or cash, or in pesos.  Here is your room when you visit us (sorry it's a little blurry), and your bathroom with its painted sink and its skylight.

The house has a sala (living room), dining room, bright kitchen, king-sized bedroom for us and bath, a good enclosed patio with a table and umbrella, and a little room off the patio that I'll use as a study, sharing it with the washing machine.  I know, unorthodox, but I'll make it work.  It's right on a bus line to the center of town and is moreover the only one-story house we've seen:  not essential but nice.  This house felt warm and welcoming and happy-making.  It will cost us $800 per month plus electricity (about $25) and Internet (about $50).  And a garage, an extra $20 a month.   We are hoping to break even from the rental of our house on Camano Island.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

August 21

We've been spending more time in the Jardin lately.  It's an amazing place:  there is some of everything and everyone there.  There are very poor people, like old women begging and small children selling chiclets, out at 10 o'clock at night.  This child, with no parent around, was sleeping on the ground in front of a man selling jewelry, his chiclet box tucked firmly beneath him.  A young woman reached right over him to pick up a necklace.

And of course it's the place for Mexicans of all ages to see whatever is going on.  They are there in family groups with lots of small children as well as elderly parents.  They mingle easily with the expats in the crowd.

The Jardin isn't the only happening place at night.  San Miguel has a booming nightlife:  there are dozens of restaurants and bars, many of which have live music.  People cruise from one to the other, laughing and talking.  On Friday and Saturday nights the entire town bursts with life and activity.  I can't tell you how infectious the happiness is.

Tonight in the Jardin there were performances lasting several hours.  Between dance acts, which looked like community amateurs performing enthusiastically but who will never make the big time, the emcee handed out coupons for a raffle to people, preferably children, who could answer various historical questions.  What was Ignacio de Allende's birthdate?  What was the name of the priest from Dolores Hidalgo who started the insurrection?  (By the way, there's a great article, with pictures, on San Miguel, Dolores Hidalgo, and Guanajuato and their role in the Mexican independence movement in tomorrow's New York Times travel section:  This is definitely the place to be in Mexico this year, as the independence movement started right here 200 years ago next month.  The revolution also took place here 100 years ago next month.  As you can imagine, there is a huge amount of national commemoration going on.

Then there were several groups of folkloric dancers, women with full skirts and men with big sombreros.  There were other performers as well, including this man who demonstrated a huge live snake (which he wouldn't let me touch:  I asked).

To his left I seem to have captured a part of a person in a giraffe suit.  I saw a couple on stilts and two men head to foot in the same brilliant pink or blue, even their faces, hair and shoes.  Endless entertainment!  In fact, as I write this I hear fireworks outside.  We hear them every few days.

As we sat on the folding chairs watching the dancers, there was a shy little boy who kept playing peekaboo with us.  To entertain him I gave him my little notebook and a pen.

Now when I make notes in the notebook for this blog, I'll see his drawings and smile.

There was a wedding tonight in the Parroquia, the big church at the Jardin.  I had not realized before how big an issue class is here.  The guests entered the church dressed up in the kind of evening gowns one sees in Academy Awards broadcasts — obviously very haute couture and very expensive.  I am no fashion expert, but the bride wore an elaborate, elegant ivory gown that must have cost thousands of dollars.  

I noticed that all the women attending the wedding were slender and light-skinned, as were all the men accompanying them in tuxedos.  Many if not most of the Mexicans we see here are overweight.  Even young girls are stocky.  Thinking about that wedding, I am realizing that a stocky body correlates with darker skin.  It's hard to be slender here:  carbohydrates, which are cheap, are everywhere in the tortillas, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, rice, beans, and potatoes.  We have been told that there are more diabetics in Mexico per capita than in any other country.  Some of the Mexicans we have had extended conversations with, such as Fabiola and her family several weeks ago, are light-skinned, slender, educated, and well to do.  It still matters in 2010 in Mexico if you are descended from Spaniards or Indians.

There are many thermal springs in the area around San Miguel, and today we went to one of them.  It was a good day for it, nice and cloudy:  the sun this far south can be brutal.  El Escondido consists of ten pools that capture the warm water.  Here are a couple of them.

The temperature of the water in these outdoor pools was like a tepid bath but other pools were entirely enclosed, like grottos, and in those the water was much warmer and the air felt like a steam bath.  After going in the pools we lay on the grass and read or just loafed.  Look at the grin on Rick's face!

Right near where we spread the blanket I saw a mushroom-looking thing growing in the grass, but it was like no mushroom I ever saw.  Ottie the mycologist, do you know what it is?  It's about 2 or 3 inches high and grows on a thin stalk beneath the bulbous part you see here.

To get into the Aguas Thermales it costs 90 pesos a person, about $8.  The psychology of money, we find, is important.  Because there are about 12.5 pesos per dollar, 90 pesos sounds much more expensive than $8.  This is so helpful because it keeps our spending down.  On the other hand, all the entertainment in the Jardin is absolutely free.  This place is an economic treasure.

The only blight on our happiness these past few days is that the house we hoped to rent next year evaporated today.  Far from being an inducement as I thought, the prospect of a minimum one year rental proved to be a discouragement to the owners, who decided to keep their options open for moving here themselves.  But as I said earlier, we have a couple of other possibilities and we'll check out other places too.  We have another month here, and surely we'll find a house we like before then.

But really, everything is good.  Walking home tonight we passed the fountain I love, which is especially beautiful at night.

Tomorrow is our 11th anniversary.  We will treat ourselves to a fine meal, in this town of fine restaurants which until now we've pretty much ignored.  Good night, everyone.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August 19: Guanajuato

Today you're going to be treated to a photo show!

We got in the car and drove, for no particular reason, to Guanajuato, which is about 100 km. west of San Miguel and is about twice the size.  I remember from my Antioch days that it's a university town.  Knowing nothing, we didn't realize that one has to cross a mountain range to get there.  If San Miguel is about 6,100 feet up, the mountain passes must have been 3,000 feet higher.  Now I understand much better why they say San Miguel is on a high plateau -- as compared with the mountains!

The mountains are heavily wooded and the underlying rock -- granite?  something else? -- was clearly visible.  Keep this rock in mind:  it will be relevant to Guanajuato.

Cresting a final hill, we saw Guanajuato spread out in the valley below and creeping up all the hillsides surrounding it.

All the right angles of all the buildings make this town a cubist's dream.  Even more striking is the colors people paint their houses:  all sorts of colors, and many of them saturated.

It's impossible to feel anything but exhilarated seeing these colors.  We drove a bit more and followed the signs to the Centro Historico.  I've never seen a town like this.  It is built on such steep hillsides that they have tunneled out a honeycomb of roads for buses and cars under the center of town.  Mostly the tunnels, one narrow lane, were too dark to photograph well.  In some places they were constructed of stones with mortar, but in others they were simply hacked out of solid rock like the rock we saw driving in.  The walls were so high in some places there were bracing arches built as well.

Every now and then we drove out of the dark tunnels, as above, and saw dwellings projecting out from the side walls.

Even some of the structures constructed right over the road tunnels had dwellings, although from the looks of it this one might have been a jail.

We also drove around the streets outside of the center of town, and saw many houses covered in potted plants like this one.

On the way back home I was fascinated by the prickly pear cactuses, which grow huge, maybe 20 feet high, and of which the fruit was in various stages of ripeness.  We stopped at a big one.

Up close the fruit is even more interesting.  When they're red like this, they're ripe.

Rick broke one off and peeled it.

I tasted it:  sweet, with hard seeds in the middle.  Rick tasted more of it than I did, and what with the peeling and the tasting the point of the name of the plant became all too apparent:  tiny sharp needle-like things that he felt in his fingers, his tongue, his lips, and even his hard palate.  He has experience with prickly pear cactus -- although I guess not enough experience -- and says it will take a few days for them all to disappear.  The fruit isn't that good!

It was a photographer's dream today.  It was very hard to choose these pictures from the many I took.  I hope you enjoyed them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

August 18

Sorry, everyone, it's been a while since I've written.  I haven't leveled with you completely:  I've been worried about my lack of energy.  I started to get seriously worried two days ago when I found myself not doing things I wanted to do because I was just too pooped out.  I posted a question about it on the San Miguel listserv, asking if this could be an altitude issue as San Miguel is about 6,100 feet above sea level.  I got half a dozen responses, nearly all of which said no way, not after five-plus weeks here, and to see a doctor.  Then yesterday as I was about to call a doctor -- miracle!  I finally started to get my pep back.  I guess the person who told me it was still the illness I had last week turned out to be right.  I wouldn't have believed that bug could last a full ten days, but I guess it could.  Today I talked to someone who mentioned her husband was so ill with it last week he had 103 degrees of temperature.  Since we didn't bring a thermometer with us, who knows what my temperature was?

At any rate, I now feel much better and am back in blog mode.  Since I last wrote, despite feeling lousy, much has happened.  Naturally.

We saw a play, I Hate Hamlet by Paul Rudnick, that was performed by community players.  It was originally produced on Broadway in 1991 and was pretty good.  We've also gone to see a few more rental houses for next year and found one we liked a lot.  There is a website with photos of it, but I'll wait until it's all sewn up to tell you more.

We had a conversation at the Jardin with a Mexican couple from a nearby town, an engineer and a doctor, half in Spanish and half in the English they wanted to practice.  I have noticed that the Mexicans with whom I've had extended conversations have no trouble at all refusing beggars and vendors hawking their wares.  The beggars are almost always old women and small children.  The old women in particular are striking:  their faces are so deeply lined.  Rick and I have been thinking about this.  One can't give money to all of them:  there are so many, and a little money wouldn't make any difference anyway.  It bothers him in particular to say No to them, not so much because of the money involved, although of course there is that too, but because it's hard to find a way to say No that does not deny their full humanity.  He has been carrying small plastic bags containing a couple of pieces of bread each to give to the beggars, and has received big smiles in return.

Monday night we had two people for dinner whom we met a week or so earlier at the party with the mariachi orchestra (you may remember).  I planned an easy dinner, given my low energy level, and it was a fine evening:  nonstop conversation.  Megan and Harry told us about the electricity here.  There's no heat or air conditioning in these San Miguel houses.  The thick stone walls keep them cool in warm weather, and gas-powered space heaters are used in the winter.  Cooking, hot water and space heaters are all fueled by gas from a tank on every roof, so it's possible to use little electricity.  There are three usage/price levels.  If you use more than limited electricity -- up to 600 pesos worth over two months, about $50 -- the cost per kilowatt goes up.  If you use a lot more than that it goes up even farther, to the point where you can be paying well over 1,500 pesos per two months.  If you reach this level you're not allowed to get back down to the lowest cost per kilowatt for six months regardless of your usage.  Very smart as a way to conserve energy!  The two of them have consequently become extremely sensitive to electricity usage, and it's clear we will too.  They also told us about something made of colloidal silver they put in their water tank that purifies the water for two years, making the five-gallon garrafons of purified water unnecessary.  We're hoarding all this information!

Yesterday Rick had his weekly writer's workshop.  He's written two stories so far and has read them to the group.  He came home brimming with their critiques and suggestions, and spent much of today revising his second story.  I am not only so happy for him but also impressed at the talent and sensitivity I hear in his writing.  He has a distinctive voice when he writes that I haven't heard before:  it feels like I'm witnessing the birth of a serious writer.  As many of you know I've written a number of books about gender equity in science and technology, but I have always believed I didn't have the talent to write fiction.  Rick urges me to try.  One of these days, I will.

Today after chorus I sat in the café at the Biblioteca with several chorus members and we talked for an hour or so.

The woman who took the photo, whom I like very much, is leaving for New York later this week.  That happens a lot in this town.  Her parents live here, and as a staff developer working in the NYC schools she and her husband have spent every school vacation here for years.  They count the days until they can move here permanently.  Even the people who do live here permanently make long visits to family -- often a month long! -- once or even four times a year.  Coordinating schedules can be tricky, and it's hard saying goodbye to people you've come to care for.

By the way, the bruise you see on my arm in the photo is from blood drawn several days ago to make sure I wasn't anemic.  (I'm not.)  Would you believe, it costs 30 pesos, about $2.75, for a complete blood workup with results ready in a few hours.  The wonderful news is that Rick's hematocrit level is now totally normal, finally!  He is feeling much stronger.

And I couldn't resist this next photo.  I watched a young woman climb the tree in the middle of the Biblioteca café.  It was about time, too:  the tree is eminently climbable.

Well, it's hard to believe, but we've already passed the halfway mark of our summer here in San Miguel.  I've started a list of things to bring with us when we return in early January!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

August 14

Yesterday morning Rick slept in while I went to see a house that I liked very much.  He'll come with me on Tuesday to see it.  There's a web site with pictures, but I'll wait until it's more decided.

I took a walk yesterday morning and passed one of the doors San Miguel is famous for.  It's carved, then painted:

There's at least one book published on the doors of San Miguel.  Many are richly carved and then varnished.  This painted one is unusual.

Last evening was superb.  Unfortunately I've been sick for much of the International Chamber Music Festival, which has had paid concerts, free concerts by student classical musicians, and students practicing all over town.  You may remember that we heard a couple of them playing four-handed Grieg about a week ago.  Last night we heard the Miro String Quartet and they were spectacular.  They played two Beethoven quartets -- #4, which I didn't know, and #11, and a posthumous Schubert quintet, #163, of which I knew every note.  The adagio movement of the Schubert was so perfect, so tautly quiet, that it felt like several hundred people in the audience were not breathing, and I heard notes I'd never heard before.  For sure, if you have a chance to hear the Miro Quartet play, don't miss them!

The concert was in an odd theater, the Angela Peralta, where we'd been before.  It's narrow and deep -- I counted only 13 rows on the orchestra floor and only 15 to 20 seats per row, and boxes lining the sides, which you can see a bit above.  There are two horseshoe-shaped balconies (you can also see the end of the first balcony above), each of which has not seats but three levels of carpet-covered benches:  each is two feet high and two feet deep.  The top balcony was reserved for students at really cheap or free prices.  The top price on the orchestra floor was 450 pesos, about $39, but ours on the side of the first balcony cost only 75 pesos each, about $6.75.  Imagine, hearing such a concert for $6.75!  We brought cushions and I can't say it was super comfortable, but it was bearable.  Certainly worth it for people on a budget.

What was nearly unbearable was the heat and lack of ventilation in the theater.  I'm really very surprised that San Miguel, with its many cultural activities scheduled here, doesn't have a decent theater.  I saw people fanning themselves all over the hall, not just the balconies.  Maybe they feel that the wonderful acoustics are sufficient?  Someone told me today that the theater was just renovated a couple of years ago, so perhaps the ventilation system wasn't working.  It's a tribute to the quartet that we were able to love the music they played despite the phyical discomfort.

Before the quartet began playing, students were introduced who had won this year's competitions.  It seems that the chamber music festival is designed not only to showcase groups from various places in the world but also as a competition for Mexican student musicians.  Young people in trios and quartets were introduced who had won this year, and will be performing next year.  I love seeing people in their 20s who are devoting their careers to classical music!

After the concert we walked across the street to a restaurant named Tio Luca's (Uncle Luca's), a wildly overpriced steak restaurant we'd never go to but that had good jazz musicians.  We had a couple of drinks and talked with some people we knew who arrived after we did.  The funny thing is that while that superb concert cost us 150 pesos, the drinks at Tio Luca's cost 250 pesos!  We complained about how expensive that restaurant was and then laughed to realize we were complaining about an evening out for maybe $21.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

August 12

Hello again!

I've been laid low since Sunday by some sort of bug that caused a cold and fever, and today was the first day I've been upright since then.  Wobbly, but upright.  Tonight at dinner I ran into someone from my chorus who told me that several people she knew have been down with this.

So this morning we went to see two houses and saw one -- one owner forgot and the hell with him.  The other wasn't as good as ones we've seen already.  As of now we have appointments to see two more houses and inquiries out to a few more:  we shall see.

Late this afternoon for the first time we went to the Pocket Theater, about two blocks from our house, which shows wonderful films either in English or with English subtitles.  I'd seen their weekly announcements on the San Miguel listserv for months before we arrived.  For 70 pesos, roughly $6, you get the movie, a drink, and a bag of popcorn.  It's a tiny theater with 20 very comfortable seats and naturally a smallish screen.  The source of the movies is a DVD.  Tonight we saw Becket with Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton, which I hadn't seen in years — a great movie.  Halfway through the movie we heard thunder and pouring rain; by the time we got out it was all over.

We decided to go out to dinner since at 7:30 we didn't feel like cooking, and on the way to the restaurant Rick stopped to say hello to someone he knew and another person driving down the street stopped to say hello to him.  Last night, for curiosity's sake, he enumerated the people he knows here in San Miguel by name.  He named over 60 people, all of whom he's met in a month here.  Then he named people he knows on Camano Island, where we've lived nearly five years, and came up with about 20.  Astonishing.

The restaurant we had dinner at is called Hecho en Mexico (Made in Mexico), and it reminded me of a post to the San Miguel listserv I read today.  A woman ate dinner there last night and realized she had left her purse in the taxi that brought her there.  Within an hour the driver saw the purse in the back seat, figured out who had left it, and brought it to her at the restaurant, complete with all the pesos and credit cards.  Walking back home, the street vendors were out, the Parroquia was lit up, and people were out on the sidewalks talking and laughing.

I love this town.

Monday, August 9, 2010

August 9

Well, a cold has slowed me down -- it's about time something did!  Maybe my social life has been fuller than my body can stand.

On Saturday afternoon we went to Bellas Artes, which was built in the 18th century as a convent and is now devoted to art exhibits.  The annual chamber music festival is in town, and in addition to paid concerts there are several free concerts as well as students practicing around town in various places.  We sat in the courtyard and listened as two young pianists played four-handed Grieg.  This is what the courtyard of Bellas Artes looks like.

The dome is part of the building.  It's very beautiful.

In the evening we went to a party at the home of people we met a few days ago.  There must have been thirty people there, and it was quite elaborate with hors d'oeuvres and a full dinner.  The hosts engaged a mariachi orchestra to play.  They were six or eight men -- always men, by the way, never a woman.  Can you imagine how loud it is, trying to hold a conversation over six or eight men singing at the top of their lungs against a stone wall?

As it happened I fell into conversation with a woman named Megan, and liked her immensely.  She and her husband had been coming to San Miguel for many years part time, and about five years ago they decided to leave their jobs and move here permanently.  It isn't often that I go to a party and only talk to one person, but it was obvious she was special.  In an email yesterday, Megan told me more about the winters here:

"I wanted to make sure I told you about winters in San Miguel so that you'd be prepared when you came.  It's cold.  Very cold.  Not so much outside as inside.  It's those cement walls.  Freezing.

"I finally got rid of my Chicago fur coats when we moved here - yes, kept them for 30+ years in Houston (never wearing them for multiple reasons).  After we moved here and had gone through one winter, I asked my mother if I could have her mink coat if she wasn't using it (she wasn't) so I could wear it IN the house (definitely NOT on the street - again, for multiple reasons).  It's quite cozy with that coat on (a little cumbersome though).

"An electric blanket is absolutely essential.  Heating pads are helpful too.  We don't use an electric heater because electricity is expensive here - we are very careful with electrical usage because of the availabity of government subsidies if you keep your usage at a certain level (I'll tell you about that later).  We have propane heaters but they can only be used for short periods of time or else one might die (we have propane gas detectors).  You should have warm clothing to put on in layers."

Who knew it would get so cold here?  After all, how bad could it be with the temperature in the 70s outside?  This is wonderful information.  

After a while the mariachi orchestra decided to move inside next to where Megan and I were sitting, and at this point conversation really became impossible.

At 9 o'clock I was relieved when they ended their stint for the evening:  the quiet was delicious.  Megan and her husband, Harry, are people we will be seeing more of.

Rick and I walked home in a light rain, which was delightful.  To round off the superb evening, at 11 PM we heard explosions and realized they were fireworks.  They were bursting almost directly over our house.  We went out to the roof patio and in the light rain ooh'd and aah'd over the fireworks.

Yesterday, though, I had a fever.  Nothing to do with the rain but everything, I think, to do with the pace of activities in the life here.  So Rick went by himself to "comida," the main meal of the day, at 2 PM at Fabiola's, the Mexican woman we met two weeks ago.  I was very sorry to miss that.  Just as he was leaving Fabiola's house the sky opened up and he arrived here soaked through and through.  He loved it.

As is his daily habit now, Rick went out this morning and through the afternoon, meeting people right and left.  He now knows many more people than I do and is speaking Spanish much more than I am.  He brings home stories to me about the people he meets, and I gobble them up.  I in the meantime stayed home and read, and the fever is now gone and the cold is getting better.  These couple days off (!) are what I needed.  But I'm eager to get back to San Miguel.  This week we have appointments to see three houses for rent for next year.  That is always interesting.

Friday, August 6, 2010

August 6

To prove to you that this place is not some figment of my imagination, yesterday I went to a talk at the Biblioteca (for 60 pesos, about $5) on political economy, and it was really boring!  And it's not always sunny in Paradise, either.  It started raining about three hours ago and it's still raining.  For those of us from Seattle, that's actually pretty nice:  I like the sound and the smell of rain, and the sun here is blindingly bright.  For me it requires a sunhat and sunglasses.  Today I figured out a product that would make me rich:  an umbrella specifically for the sun that's black on the underneath for shade and white on top to dispel heat.  Oh, well, another fortune passed up ...

So, I must tell you about the dinner party last night at the home of the man I met in the Biblioteca who was not very attractive -- a man who is not in the habit of smiling, a man with hunched-over shoulders like he's constantly apologizing for himself.  I don't know how old he is -- he could be in his early 70s, or more likely is in his early 60s but looks old for his age.

He lives in a small house, the usual blank wall and door, with a small first floor and a bedroom upstairs, I assume.  Out the back of his house, however, was a gorgeous garden area and lawn shared by several houses in the compound.  Right behind his house was a patio with a lacy tree shading it, under which he had placed several tables with chairs.  Eighteen (!) people came to this party, half Mexicans and half Americans, which Rick and I both loved.  A neighbor's little dog wandered freely through it all.  Rick happily set about chatting in Spanish with as many Mexicans as he could reach, and by the end of the evening knew the name of every person there.  The ages ranged from a man in his 80s who brought his guitar, and played and sang Mexican songs for us — very well, too.  The other end was his granddaughter who looked to be about 9 or 10.  In between there were all ages, both nationalities, single people and couples, and a couple of mother/daughter pairs.  Many of them knew each other already, apparently from previous Thursday dinners.  I dearly love the diversity of groups of people here.

Although I have to say that I have noticed very, very few black people here, and I'm sorry about that.  Rick, who sees more people than I do (I can't get over that), says that no, he's seen some.  But not many.

For dinner one of the guests, obviously a regular, brought a huge pot of lamb and chick peas served over rice.  Someone else brought salad, and someone brought an apple pie.  Others, including us, brought wine.  Contrary to what our Spanish teacher had told us, people here do contribute food to dinner parties.  She had warned us before we left for Mexico that it would be considered insulting, tantamount to implying that the host couldn't provide food for the guests.  I asked a Mexican woman about that last night, and she said that among educated people with modern manners it's considered friendly to contribute food.  She speculated that the insult might be felt by poor people, who have a lot more pride at stake when they have guests.  That is good to know:  I plan to contribute as many mango cobblers as the mango season will allow!

One of the guests, a woman named Jane who with her husband Ron splits her time between Houston and San Miguel, talked quietly to me about our host and confirmed my impressions.  This is indeed a lonely solitary man who has lived his entire life without much in the way of social skills of his own (as opposed to those of his former wife) and who recently decided to change his life by hosting Thursday evening dinner parties.  He now has dozens of friends, people who genuinely seem to care about him.  It was clear that he was making a sincere effort to be a good host, and actually doing it well.  Perhaps with time the new persona will attach itself more strongly to his personality and become seamless.

Tomorrow night we had planned to attend an event at a building that houses many design and art studios, Fabrica Aurora, where we haven't yet been, but Jane and Ron invited us to a dinner party at their house.  Of course we will go there instead.  In fact, the mango cobbler for it just came out of the oven.  Many of the people at last night's party will be at tomorrow's.  Today in the streets and at the Mega supermarket buying groceries (and more mangos!) we ran into half a dozen of them.  Bless Rick, he knew all their names.  He's a superb social asset here!

This afternoon I heard violin music coming in from the street.  It was an art opening at a gallery across the street.  We wandered over, had a glass of wine thrust at us, and saw some indifferent art but several people we knew from last night's party.  People spilled out the door and into the street with wineglasses in their hands, talking to their friends and making new ones.  Cars gently detoured around us.

And on Sunday afternoon you may recall that we have been invited by Fabiola and her large family to the house they are renting for "comida," the main meal of the day at 2 PM.  In case you've forgotten, here's Fabiola

And here's her family

It makes a lot of sense to me to have the main meal early in the afternoon, but I can't figure out the logistics for it.  Does one wake up, make the beds, go shopping, cook, have the comida, clean up, rest a bit, and finally go out into the world at the end of the afternoon when most of the day is over?  Now, that makes no sense at all!  I guess ideally the comida would be eaten in a restaurant -- let someone else shop, cook, and clean up -- but that would get pretty pricy pretty fast.  This whole thing still has to be worked out.  As you can see, there are a lot of people in Fabiola's family, including three teenage boys:  I'll make a double-sized mango cobbler for them all.

This morning we saw an ugly house for rent:  dark, poorly ventilated, cramped rooms, and overpriced.  Tomorrow we're seeing another one in the same neighborhood that we hope will be better.  We have a date to see one more in a week, and a new crop of ads came out in today's Atención, the weekly newspaper for expats and Mexicans about what's happpening in town.  We'll contact some of the many classified house-rental ads for more houses to see.  Even if we see nothing else we like, two of the houses we've seen so far are definite possibilities.

And here's some wonderful news.  Our car has — so what's new? — been at the Dodge dealer's shop here in San Miguel.  After more than a week, they really seem to have fixed it, finally!  Now we can go as slowly as we like, or as slowly as we have to in the San Miguel traffic, and it doesn't stall.  We don't plan on using it much, but it's good to have the option again.

It occurs to me that the only conceivable reason I might not want to live here is that my energy level is sometimes not up to what it was at home, where I never ran out of energy.  Less often than I, Rick experiences the same thing.  It could be many things that are different from Camano Island:  the altitude, the sunshine, the heat, the long walks every day, the hills to climb, and the interaction among all those factors.  Okay, technically it's not hot like 90s and humid hot, but 80 to 85 degrees in this sunshine sure feels hot to us, especially when we're walking uphill.  And some uphill walks are really steep:  the sidewalks have steps in them.  So Rick says, and he's right, that on days we're feeling low-energy and pooped, we'll either take taxis or just stay home a day.  There is zero question in my mind, none at all, that the quality of life here is so much better than any other place I have ever lived, ever.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

August 5

As you know, we're starting to look for a house to rent here for all of next year.  This week we've seen two more houses.  One was fairly close to Centro (the center of town) and therefore easily walkable, on the fairly flat-terrain south side.  The north, east, and west have some pretty steep hills.  It had a tiny shaded courtyard with a fountain, lovely rooms, and was pretty expensive: $950/month.  On the way there I took this picture of the cobblestones in the street.  They're a challenge for anyone like me with weak ankles, but aren't they beautiful?

We've also seen a terrific house in Colonia (pron. colOANnia = neighborhood) Olympo, to the west of Centro.  It's walkable for a fanatic walker like Rick, but not for normal people.  On the other hand the house was large, airy, bright, a beautiful courtyard on the same floor as the kitchen so we can eat outdoors, a spectacular view from the rooftop terrace, and only $700 a month + utilities.  We'll be seeing others within the next couple of weeks and probably make our choice then.  Lucky for us that it's a buyer's market now!

A couple of nights ago we had our friends Béa and Stephan over for dinner.  These are the artists we met our first morning in San Miguel, and the people who have given the wonderful art history talks I've told you about.  Culinarily (a word?) it was not one of my best performances.  The microwave didn't cook as much as I thought (potatoes undercooked) and the oven was hotter than I thought (chicken overcooked), but on the other hand Rick's salad and my mango cobbler were a hit.  I've made that cobbler dozens of times, but this was the first time with mangos and let me tell you, it was sublime.  A lovely evening.  Last night Stephan gave a talk on Modigliani.  I love these talks -- about artists whose paintings I've often seen but I've known little to nothing about their lives and the artistic influences on them.  And he's a marvelous storyteller:  we sit utterly transfixed by the drama he recounts.

Rick woke up the other morning with a poem in his head, his first in almost forty years:

Almost music
Distant yet near
Fleetest of shadows

Unseen breeze
Both warm and cool
Perhaps a ripple,
A sign, a memory.

Softest skin
Parted and new
Fleetest of shadows
Unseen breeze

Almost music
Almost music.

He goes weekly to his writer's workshop and is creatively opening like a flower.  It is so interesting that because he wakes up early and loves to walk long distances, he is exploring far more places than I am and is therefore meeting more people than I am when he's out and about.  In the US between the two of us I took the social lead, but it looks like here he may be doing that.  I'm delighted!

Here's an interesting picture.  Remember, San Miguel is an old colonial town.  It was founded in 1542 and has so much 17th and 18th century architecture that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.  Therefore:  no neon, no traffic lights, no stop signs, not even fire hydrants (although with these narrow streets and sidewalks, where would they put fire hydrants?).  And the town doesn't need traffic lights or stop signs.  At each corner, drivers stop and wait so very patiently while other cars proceed and pedestrians cross the street.  In fact, many drivers, including taxi drivers, invite pedestrians to go first.  (This is obviously a former New Yorker writing this in astonishment.)  Well, every now and then I hear a "clop clop" outside the window and yesterday I went outside to see what it was.  It was a policeman mounted on a horse making his rounds, wearing an 18th century uniform in the warm sunshine but carrying 21st century communication electronics.  Because it is so very bright here -- we are quite far south -- his face in shadow can't be seen at all.  The sun creates very bright and very dark spaces.

In this photo you can also see the other kind of street surface in San Miguel -- flat stones joined by mortar.  For people like me they are easier to walk on than the cobbled streets, except for places the mortar has chipped away and created holes an ankle could easily twist in.

We spend a fair amount of time at the Biblioteca.  On Mondays and Wednesdays my chorus meets in a room at the Biblioteca, the Sala Quetzal, that has the most extraordinary mural painted on all four sides above the bookshelves -- it's a library after all.  The mural depicts the dozens of indigenous peoples in Mexico.

You can see a man browsing the books at the lower right.  Here's another wall.  As you can see at the top of the photo, he's also painted the windows that one can see from the Café Santa Ana on the other side of the wall.

You can see a bit more about the Mexican artist, David Leonardo, and another photo of the room, at

When the chorus was over yesterday, I found Rick right outside in the Café Santa Ana, part of the Biblioteca, listening to the gypsy guitar and flute trio that plays there every Wednesday.  Here's a photo of the café.

Yes, the tables are made out of copper and the fountain provides the most tranquil sound behind the conversations and sometimes music.  The courtyard is open to the air, but above the tree there is netting fabric stretched to keep out bugs and birds.  In fact, in many courtyards in which restaurants and shops are housed translucent materials are stretched that let in the light but keep out the rain in the summer rainy months.

At the café yesterday we met Susita -- that's her Mexican name.  It's really Sue-Anne in North Carolina, where she's an elementary school teacher.  Looking at her is an odd experience:  she's a dead ringer for Cher in the movie "Moonstruck."  She's also a musician.  She sings with only three other women and has recordings and a website where you can hear her music, which is quite beautiful:  Susita is the second from the right.  This is her first visit to San Miguel and she is enrolled in a Spanish class where the school found a family for her to live with.  For $28 US a day she gets room and full board, and has a family to speak Spanish with.

Later in the day we met Alex, a woman from near Dallas.  We saw her at Stephan's lecture and then when we stopped afterward in a nearby restaurant for some dinner we saw her sitting alone at another table and invited her to join us.  Alex is an art teacher who has been here several times, and is in town for another ten days.  She is delaying her return home until the last possible moment when she has to go back to school for the fall.

And this morning Rick was out of the house before I was up.  He just called from the Biblioteca to tell me he met a really interesting person and wants her to meet me.  The adventures continue!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

August 1

If I were you, I'd have a hard time believing everything I read in this blog.  But I swear I am not exaggerating anything.

Thursday evening I went to the house of a woman I had met at the Biblioteca — Rick was under the weather so I went alone.  Fran and Mike, who obviously have a lot of money despite the fact that they are only in their early 50s, have a maid/cook every day and gardeners, and live in an enormous house with a huge courtyard garden, a back garden, several patios, including a rooftop patio from which you could see the entire town.  Their house is on such a steep hill that from the rooftop I was on a level with the top of the Parroquia, several hundred feet up.  Lovely people, and they were very kind about giving me all sorts of advice on renting and moving.  We will have them here after a while.

What is interesting is that the luxury in which they lived cost them all of $2,400 per month.  This must be why the British wanted to go to India -- now I understand the Raj in a way I didn't before.  But even we have a maid who comes in once a week.  Her salary is included in the rent we pay, although we give her a tip each time she comes.  A Mexican maid, and if you have a garden, a Mexican gardener, are routinely included in rents here.  As you can imagine, I have mixed feelings about this, and you can imagine what the feelings are.  By the way, I looked up the minimum wage in Mexico.  It's about 56 pesos a day, about $5.  It must be even harder for poor people to live in San Miguel, where the presence of so many gringos has inevitably raised the cost of living.

On Friday we found a parking ticket on our car:  we had misinterpreted the meaning of the parking sign.  So Rick found out where to pay it -- a Public Security office at the Jardin -- and how much:  all of 109 pesos, maybe $8.50.  At the Public Security office he met a man who told him the tickets are so cheap, and so rarely given, that he parks illegally on a regular basis.  Not a very good attitude for a guest in the country, it seems to me.

Having in effect made the easiest possible decision to carry out Part 2 of our plan -- to spend an entire year here starting in December or January -- we have begun our search for a house that will be more comfortable than this one for a whole year, and quite possibly for longer.  We called someone advertising a house to rent.  They picked us up in their car and drove us to a gated "hacienda" (= estate) where the developer had built town houses (some lived in by owners, some rented out) around the central garden, which was stunning.  The town house, unfortunately, was not:  cramped and dark.  However, the owners, Alfredo and Liliane, turned out to be wonderful.  By coincidence we had met Liliane at Mega, the big supermarket/department store here, the very first day we were here.  She is Swiss from Lausanne and Alfredo is American but has lived in Mexico for more than 50 years.  We had such a good time talking that they invited us, on the spot, to their house for a drink and an impromptu lunch.  They live not far from us in a gated community of obviously wealthy homes; their house was the most modest one.  We had a marvelous time for several hours, and will definitely see them again.

In the evening we saw an excellent play at the theater at the Biblioteca, "Miss Margarida's Way," about a dictatorial teacher who teaches dominance more than biology; we the audience were her class.  Our main lesson was the importance of obedience.  It was written in the 70s by a Brazilian playwright, and initially the play was banned because the authorities rightly interpreted it as political.  In 1978 it won a Drama Desk award in New York.  It was essentially a one-woman play, and the actress, Debi Kierst from Albuquerque, gave a bravura performance.

Lucky us, the Jardin is smack on our way between the Bibioteca, where as you know we often go, and our house.  The bicentennial celebration has started here in San Miguel, and Friday night a stage was set up with a couple hundred folding chairs, all of which were occupied.  On stage there were a series of performers making patriotic speeches, singing patriotic songs, and reciting patriotic poetry.  This man had a big schmaltzy tenor voice, and the crowd loved it.

(My iPhone camera is amazing, isn't it?  Too bad it doesn't have a zoom lens.)  The musicians on the stage and their audience weren't bothered at all by the numerous competing mariachi bands in the Jardin and in the cafés that faced it.  I've always hated conflicting musics — one music in the restaurant, rock from the kitchen — but not here.  There were vast crowds of people at 10 o'clock at night, including small children.  Teenagers, parents, little kids, old people, vendors, beggars, people-watchers, everyone all together, an age-mixing that you rarely see in the US.  People were together and laughing and clapping and dancing to the music.  I wish I could describe better the joyousness of the crowd -- it just bubbles up.  No crowd I've ever seen at home comes anywhere near it.

As I'm writing this I hear the sound of fireworks:  happy Mexican bicentennial of the Revolution to you!

At the Jardin I decided I was hungry and had something delicious.  It was a plastic cup filled with cooked corn kernels.  Into that is added some sort of granulated cheese (the consistency of parmesan but it tasted milder than that), the juice of a fresh lime, and chili powder sprinkled on top.  You eat it with a plastic spoon.  I highly recommend corn flavored with lime juice!

Yesterday we checked out a crafts fair at the Instituto Allende, a place down the street from our house that gives language courses.  I was honestly most fascinated by the masonry!  Look at this:

I've seen the little decorative stones in other walls like this one, although this one is the best, as well as in paved walks.  To me it seems exuberant; to other eyes maybe not.

And the fountains in this town!  There are many, but the jug pouring water into cupped hands is one of my favorites, and it's right near our house.

This morning we arranged with Carmen, a friend of Liliane's, to see the house she had for rent -- Liliane had told her that we were looking, and she called us yesterday.  We took a taxi to this house, a good thing too because it was on a very steep hill.  Actually, she had two houses for rent in a gated compound of several apartments and houses.  Either one would do, although Rick was more thrilled with them than I was.  She will let us know if one of them is empty when late fall rolls around, but in the meantime we will keep looking.  And then of course she invited us into her house and we spent an hour talking.  When we left she promised us that she and her husband Abel would invite us and Liliane and Alfredo over for wine soon.  I bet you she will, too.

Not far from Carmen's house was a Mercado, a huge market.  One area was for produce, one for meat, one for beans and rice and grains, one for housewares, one for crafts, etc.  I stopped at what we'd call a Food Court -- tiny kitchen areas lined up one by one, each of which had set up a table and two benches.  For 45 pesos -- about $4 -- I had chicken Milanese, a salad of avocados, tomatoes (not the barely pink sorry excuse for a tomato in the US, either) and lettuce, rice, beans with cheese, tortillas, and mineral water.  There was no way I could eat all that, so Rick helped.  We were the only gringos there, and this is what it looked like:

In case you're wondering, that was hours ago and I feel just fine.  So does Rick.

Something I've been meaning to tell you about is the experience of walking on the sidewalks in San Miguel de Allende.  They are unfailingly immaculate, but they're very narrow, less than two feet wide.  Naturally, there is no room for trash cans, so do you know how trash is collected?  A garbage truck parks at one end of the block.  A man with a thick bar of metal, maybe 8" long, that is hanging on a loop, bangs the metal with a stick, clang clang clang, as he walks down the block.  At this signal people come outside, walk to the garbage truck, and hand their trash up to one of the men sitting on the rim.  At our house this occurs around 11:30 AM every day except Sunday.

But back to sidewalks.  It would be an interesting sociological study to watch people approaching each other.  Who hugs the wall and who passes by on the outside?  Who stays on the sidewalk and who steps into the street?  But these narrow sidewalks with their uneven paving-stone-and-mortar surfaces aren't the only issue.  Not only do I have to keep my eyes glued to where I'm stepping, but I also have to watch out for window sills jutting out, which make the narrow walking area even narrower.

The windowsills are treacherous.  Some are right at forehead height, not like the lower ones shown above.  Although the other day we were home and we heard a child crying loudly right outside our window.  Sure enough, a little girl, maybe 5, had bumped her head on our windowsill — her forehead height, which looks much like the ones above.  She was bleeding onto her dress.  She was with her parents and her little brother, and we brought them all inside and gave antiseptic to her mother to clean the wound with.  As the little girl cried the mother murmured to her, "Mi preciosa, mi preciosa."  Poor little kid.  We gave cookies to both kids, which helped.

We stopped for a café helado (iced coffee) at one of our favorite cafés, and ran into BC (he doesn't like his real name) who's a serious film buff and has directed plays -- I think all community theater plays.  Despite the fact that he was leaving when we arrived, he and Rick spent the next couple of hours gleefully comparing notes on actors, directors, films, Oscars, and Tonys.  So gleefully that they would have continued for hours more if I hadn't insisted on going home.

We had to go home because Fabiola, the woman from Tampico, Mexico, whom I met in the Jardin a few days ago, was coming over at 5:00 with her family:  her husband, her daughter, her son, and three of her children's friends who have come along for their three-week vacation -- nine of us in our sala!  Rick had prepared everything -- drinks, food of all sorts, even guacamole.  This was the first time we have had company in Mexico, so we were very excited about it.  We all had such a good time, but at 7:30 I had enough — it's hard trying to speak Spanish for that long!  Before they left they invited us to the house they are renting next Sunday afternoon for the main meal of the day at 2:00.  When I said I had never eaten carnitas, Fabiola was delighted and said that's what we'll have.  Here are Fabiola and Hector Garza of Tampico a few hours ago.  By the way, I was wrong about the location of Tampico:  it's not on the Texas border but five hours south of that on the Gulf of Mexico.  Even so, there are kidnappings and car thefts and occasional gunfire by dueling drug cartels in their town.  Fabiola's and Hector's daughter Liccy is on the right; their son Hector Jr. is second from left.

As I said at the beginning, I know it's hard to believe, but it's all true.