Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 17


If you've been following this blog you know that I haven't traveled much in Mexico since I moved here nearly a year ago.  I went to Mexico City for a couple of days, but that was it until I went with my friend Natalie to Mazatlan.  Mazatlan is on the Pacific Ocean north of Puerta Vallarta and nearly due east from Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of the Baja California peninsula.  It was a ten-hour drive by highway (expensive highway! about $100 in tolls one way!) from San Miguel.

On the way there we stopped in Tequila — yes, that's why it's called tequila — so that Natalie could buy her annual supply, which is much cheaper than in the stores.  The vendor gives you tastes of different types of tequila, all of which tasted like medicine to me, and then pours your choices into clean, empty, unmarked containers.  Vendors were lined up one after another in their open-air shops on the road into town.

Natalie has two weeks a year of a timeshare in a resort called Pueblo Bonito, 20 km. north of the city on the ocean.  Posh doesn't begin to describe it.  The apartments have crown molding, marble bathrooms, high ceilings, very large rooms, and a terrace overlooking the ocean.  Here is the view from our terrace.

It was fascinating to study the design of this place.  All of the walkways were curved:  some designer determined that straight lines don't go with luxury.  In and around the lobby were huge aviaries with brilliantly colored parrots, peacocks — white as well as the usual emerald, and other birds that provided lovely bird music.  The grass was apparently cut with manicure scissors, blade by blade.  On the grounds were swans and flamingos.  These flamingos were sleeping, the head tucked under a wing, one leg tucked under a body.  How come they don't fall over?

The beach was actually the only less-than-perfect part.  At low tide you could see all the rocks in the water, not very inviting for a dip.  The beach sloped down steeply (you can see that in the picture above with me and Natalie), and the lounge chairs were hard plastic that hurt my butt.  But the beach was more-than-perfect for looking at.

Pueblo Bonito had four or five restaurants, most very pricey, and a little store where you could buy groceries if you wanted to cook in the apartments (cooktop, microwave, coffee maker, blender for margaritas, toaster, pots, dishes, silverware).  The prices at the little store were breathtakingly expensive, and in fact if you weren't careful you could spend a wild fortune.  One night we went into the bar, oops, excuse me, the lounge, and made the mistake of having a glass of wine without asking the price.  135 pesos:  $10 at the best exchange rate.  Plus tip.  It was very good that we drove because we could bring kitchen supplies with us, which we used often.

Mazatlán has about half a million people, including about 10,000 Americans and Canadians.  Many of them leave in the summer, when the heat and humidity are brutal.  Because of the heat and the salty air, the buildings are in worse shape than in San Miguel, needing but not always getting new paint every other year.  The city is stretched out along a few miles of coastline, there is a wide promenade along the entire length, and there are many casual restaurants on the beach under palm-frond palapa roofs.  The beach there is perfect.  Tourist-related business is bad ever since the American cruise ship lines cancelled Mazatlan as a stop earlier this year after some violence there.  We saw a number of closed businesses, although Natalie, who has been visiting annually for eight years, says that closed businesses and turnover are standard.

Mazatlán is the shrimp capital of Mexico, and Natalie knew where the shrimp market was:  a dozen or so women who sell just-caught shellfish from large plastic tubs.

I gorged on shrimp all the time we were there:  the prices were wonderful.  Great big shrimp that in the US would cost $20 a pound, heads off, cost 110 pesos a kilo, less than $4 a pound.  Now that I'm back, I checked the prices of shrimp that size at Mega, the supermarket I shop at:  350 pesos a kilo.  Gives me a healthy appreciation for markup.  And we bought fresh scallops, too.  Natalie, who is a gourmet cook, had a way of serving them I didn't know, and loved.  This is fine for an appetizer or a main dish.

Natalie's Scallops

Raw scallops
Sprinkle to taste with fresh lime juice, hot sauce, freshly ground pepper, and chopped parlsey

And that's the recipe!  Superb.

We went into Mazatlan most days.  We had dinners out probably two-thirds of the time and went shopping.  We also went to two performances, a modern dance and a symphony orchestra (the 1812 Overture and Mahler's First Symphony —  wonderful noisy percussion in both), both of which were superb.  The classical music concerts I go to here in San Miguel, like the otherwise excellent violin and piano concert earlier this evening, are attended it seems exclusively by gringos.  An entirely expat audience feels to me like an artificial island set down in the middle of a living sea.  Being a minority in the Mexican audience in Mazatlan felt very good, as if somehow the music and the whole concert experience were more real that way.

At the end of the Mahler concert on Saturday night — box seats for 250 pesos, about $19, the refurbished Machado Square on which the concert hall is located was brimming with people in restaurants, live music, vendors of about 5 million pairs of earrings and necklaces, and throngs of people having a wonderful time.

The modern dance concert in Mazatlan was free, and Natalie and I were astonished that a free concert would be of such high caliber.  As we were talking about this after the performance, a man in his 20s overheard us and explained with evident pride and in very good English that the Sinaloa state government sponsored performances like this to promote culture among the citizens.  I loved that he was so young and that he cared enough about something I'd imagine few of his counterparts in the US would care about to explain it to us.  And it was also good associating the name Sinaloa with cultural life instead of a drug cartel.

Both concerts we went to were held in a refurbished historic hall, El Teatro Angela Peralta.  This theater is as important to Mazatlan as Carnegie Hall is to New York, both of them resurrected from abandonment and transformed into something beautiful.  Angela Peralta was a Mexican soprano, 1845-1883, who had a stellar international career and died at age 38 in Mazatlan after a concert at the hall, then named something else. The story is that she married her lover on her deathbed, very romantic, but there remains a question about whether she was conscious when she did so.  More than one theater in Mexico is named after her, including ours here in San Miguel. 

We went to the Mazatlan aquarium, where I got to kiss a sea lion in the sea lion show and stroke a parrot in the bird show.  I also said hello to a crocodile, who was obviously saying hello back.

And on this trip I also got to meet an iguana up close!  It has dry warm skin like a snake.

The shell shop in town had an enormous pool on its second floor:  you can extrapolate from the shallow curve how big this pool is.  Koi were swimming happily in an environment I wouldn't have associated with them, a blue-tiled pool with water maybe 8" deep.  (Although how do I know?  Maybe the koi die every night and are replaced every morning.)  The outside of the pool was beautifully covered with an intricate mosaic made out of dozens of kinds of shells. 

One day we had lunch at a restaurant, La Puntilla, near the port.  We watched the fish in the harbor jumping joyously out of the water and back in again. Well, "joyously" is my interpretation.  Here is the view from our table.

All in all, a marvelous trip!

Back home in San Miguel, I saw the electric garage door opener that had been installed while I was away.  I had made a big point of insisting that there be no garage-door support structure overhead to block the view one gets of the jacaranda trees and the bougainvillea coming in the front door.  Gerardo, the contractor, had suggested that instead of the usual door that pulls up overhead which would require a big armature right smack in the way of the sight line, that we have two doors opening out from the middle.  Brilliant solution!

The people who came to install the opener said that a big overhead iron structure, parallel to the front wall and stretching from the casita to the casa walls, was necessary even for outward-opening doors.  Rick was here, thank goodness, and he and Gerardo called me.  I asked Gerardo to tell the installers that he had an impossible client who absolutely refused to do it that way and insisted that they find a better way to do it.  Blame me:  I have broad shoulders!

And the squeaky wheel got the oil!  Here is the structure that was installed, supported from above and not from side to side.  I took this picture leaning against the casa wall; Rick's casita is on the other side.  When you come in the front door you see the trees, not the structure.  The doors open smoothly, silently, and perfectly.  And every time I see the craftsmanship of the woodwork, I marvel anew.

The weather is definitely cooler at night now, so since I got back six days ago I've been sleeping in the bedroom and not on the sleeping porch.  The stone/cement houses are cool and the night-time temperatures are in the low 50s or upper 40s, so when you get up in the morning you put on warm clothes.  And then you go out in the afternoon and are hot because the sunshine is warm and the temperature is in the 70s.  Or you wear light clothes for outside and are cold when you come inside.  I am having a hard time remembering that when I go out at 4:30 while the sun is still shining and it's nice and warm out, and will come home two or three hours later, as I did tonight with the chamber music concert that started at 5:00, the temperature plunges a good 10 to 15 degrees as soon as the sun goes down.  Brrrr!

Mexican houses don't have central heating (or double-pane insulated windows or doors) but instead have gas heaters.  Poor houses have no heat source at all, and people bundle up.  It's a progression from heating the whole house to heating a room to heating the person.  In my house I have two original gas heaters about 18" by 30",  attached to the walls in the living room and the study.  I have no idea how old they are.  Here's one.

To make them work, you first turn the valve (bottom right) that opens the gas line.  Then you turn a knob (that you can't see on the top) to "pilot."  Then you hold this knob down to make the gas flow and press a button, hard, to create an ignition spark.  If all goes well you get a small pilot flame.  Then you turn the knob past pilot to low/medium/high heat, and the gas burns over less or more of the white grill space accordingly.  This is an open fire, in a house!  It looks so dangerous, but I guess I'll get used to it.  And of course it's like a fireplace with the heat from one localized source, not nice all-over heat from baseboards or multiple floor vents.  Oh well, nothing is perfect.  But what compensations, like the fireworks I hear outside right now.  People are enjoying themselves, and that happiness is contagious.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

November 26

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Here in San Miguel restaurants were running ads in Atención, the weekly bilingual paper, for Thanksgiving dinner for three weeks in advance.  Depending on the restaurant, many owned by gringos, the cost ranged from 200 pesos to well upward of 1,000 pesos. (The exchange rate lately is terrific, about 13.75 pesos to the dollar.)

We had company this past week -- our friends from Seattle Marja, her partner Rob, and two of their kids, Anja and Peace.  The place is so roomy that we could have slept even more people than that!  Of course there was a parade, as there often is.  Here's Marja and Anja at the parade, camera in hand.

Our adventure of the week was to go horseback riding.  I hadn't been on a horse in 25 years, but no problem!  It was the very best way to see the countryside, which is pretty dry now that the rainy season is over, but very beautiful.  At one point we were way above San Miguel, maybe 1,000 or 1,500 feet higher, and the altitude of San Miguel is 6,500 feet.  We passed just a few feet from the nose of a fierce-looking bull, past lots of cows,  pigs, chickens, and at every house several barking dogs.  In each case our horses said "Ho hum, so what's new?"  The woman who owns the service -- get this, an escapee from corporate life in Hoboken, New Jersey --  called the saddles "Western" but they had handholds in back as well as in front:  is this a Western saddle?  Such an expert I am.  Here's rough-rider Jo!

Marja sure looked comfortable on her horse.

We passed several old chapels, naturally, this being Mexico.  One of them, more than 200 years old, was in ruins.  Several of us were led inside on horseback, to look at the paintings still on the walls.  Here is Anja.  The cowboys who accompanied us were thrilled to have such a good-looking girl on the trip with them:  she sure had a great opportunity to practice her Spanish!

It was close to a four-hour ride and let me tell you, horseback riding at age 68 isn't quite the same as at 43.  Stiff doesn't begin to describe it.  But I am glad I went:  it was such beautiful scenery, and the way the campo (countryside) smells at twilight is extraordinary.

And the palapa (paLOPa) on the roof is finished, except for the dumbwaiter.  Marja gave up trying to pronounce it and called it the papaya, which sounds fine to me.  I am absolutely thrilled at the color, a sea green/turquoise.

This is what it's like inside the palapa.  It has three sides and the fourth side is open to the view.

And this is what you see if you turn around, a 180-degree view of San Miguel and the hills beyond.  For those of you who know San Miguel, the pointy orangish thing in the top center is the Parroquia, and the round dome to its left is the church on Canal at the top of Zacateros.

The iron work around the entire roof was a bit pricey, but it was essential.  The "wall" was 8 inches high and this is after all the third floor.  Although I guess it would have been possible to dive off the wall you see in the picture and make a soft landing in the pool below.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was marvelous fun, although I have to say that without Marja who helped so much with cooking and cleaning up it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun.  This being San Miguel we had friends and friends of friends.  It nearly was a disaster.  I picked up my turkey (fresh, 22 pounds, a gringo price of about 850 pesos, about $65, but hey, it's once a year) that morning:  the store has a bigger refrigerator than I do so I asked them to keep it until the last minute.  When I got there the store owner, a sweet Israeli guy from whom I get my Passover seder foods too, told me that the electrical circuit the refrigerator was on had died the day before, so he put the turkeys in the freezer.  No problem, he assured me:  it's not very frozen and it will thaw out in an hour.  Well, it was a lot more frozen than he thought.  We defrosted it in water in the sink for hours but it was so big that when we put it in the oven the insides were still colder than the outsides, so it didn't cook evenly.  Oh well, there was Marja's good gravy for the dry parts.

Natalie, the friend with whom I went to Mexico City for a few days last month, invited me to spend two weeks with her at a timeshare apartment she has in Mazatlan, a city to the northwest of here.  On the beach!  With shade!  And just when I think nothing could be better than this, she tells me that this place is at a five-star resort.  We leave tomorrow morning.  How many different pictures of the ocean and the sand and the sunshine can I take, do you think?  Happy November and December, y'all!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

November 13

It is very interesting living in a construction site!  Every weekday morning the workers come at 8 AM -- it used to be 9 AM before we lost Daylight Saving Time.  I wake up to the sounds of pounding, hammering, and the talk and laughter of the workers.  It it truly a happy environment.  They have done a phenomenal amount of work since my last construction report, and I am really thrilled with the workmanship. 

Here, for example, are some of the gorgeous things the carpenter, Balthazar, has made.  All the doors and cabinets are hand-made of solid alder; you can see where he cut the wood on the left for the FOUR hinges, not two like usual doors.  I am surprised that this wood is available here, because it's from the Pacific Northwest.  Some of you might have seen the little table I made a couple of years ago in a woodworking class, also made of alder, so watching him work with this wood was more than usually special for me.

The cabinets in Rick's kitchen, with frosted glass. 

The garage door and the entrance door (my design), made out of oak; the iron structure can be seen from the inside.  Balthazar worked all weekend before our Monday housewarming party to finish these doors.  I love the deep rich red against the cream of the wall. 

And the pool is finished!  Gerardo, the contractor, proposed a ladder.  I refused because I am designing this place for when we are old, old, old:  old people can't do ladders out of a pool!  So Gerardo designed these  steps.  The steps and the columns supporting them are made of concrete and then covered with the small blue glass tiles.  Aren't they beautiful?

In the picture above and below you can see the bench.  Pedro, the maestro or foreman, sat me on a chair and measured up from the level of the chair to a comfortable place for the water to come up to, and that's how he set the height of the bench.  It fits me perfectly.  As it turns out, the floor of the pool fits Rick perfectly; I have to stand on my tippy-toes to reach the bottom.

Here you see the pool starting to be filled.  It took two large trucks of water — 28 cubic meters — to fill the pool.  We did not fill it with house water because the building department warned Gerardo not to do that.  Why?  Because, they said, the water department will know from the sudden huge water use that you're building a pool.  They'll make you get a permit for it and that's so much hassle!  An amazing country.

And here is the filled pool.  It has two beautiful underwater lights for nighttime swimming.  I tried to take a picture of that for you but it didn't work well.  As you can imagine, we went into it the first night it was filled.  Heaven!

It is starting to get cool now, with days in the 70s and nights usually in the 50s (perfect sleeping-porch weather!).  We have installed passive solar heaters for the pool water, four huge ones (4 meters by 2.5 meters) consisting of metal pipes the water is pumped through, set up on Rick's roof.  We had to cut away some of a jacaranda tree to give them enough sunlight, which hurt but was necessary.  I took this picture from the second floor of my house; you can see the first panel and will have to imagine the other three behind it.

You can see the smaller tinaco (water tank) at the left of the big one.  The smaller one holds the water that has been warmed in the pipes and sends it to the pool.  The four solar panels are connected together.

Another thing that is finished is your guest room.  I think you'll be very comfortable here!

The last major thing being built is the palapa.   This is a structure often found on houses in Mexico, essentially a space on a roof with its own roof for shade to enable you to enjoy the scenery.  The view from the roof of my house is spectacular, overlooking Centro San Miguel and the hills beyond.  Here you see the iron worker, Alfredo, beginning to assemble the structure of the palapa.  I designed it to be wide in front and narrow in back, to open to the view.


We decided to build partial walls partly for shade since the back of the palapa is to the south, and partly as a windbreak, because especially in the late afternoon it gets pretty breezy.  Gerardo insists that the roof tiles are Mexican tiles, not Spanish tiles!  You can see how the palapa is wider in front and some of the iron work in the front.  I have been happily planning the color for the walls.  

Still to come is a dumbwaiter for the palapa.  (And of course there's half a page of little details that need seeing to before everyone calls it quits on the construction.)  To reach the palapa one climbs up normal stairs to the second floor and then a spiral staircase (in Spanish escalera de caracol:  snail stairs!) to the roof.  I just know that the prospect of balancing drinks and snacks on a tray up a spiral staircase would discourage me from using the palapa entirely, so Gerardo and I have been designing an iron dumbwaiter from the patio in front of my house to the third floor in front of the palapa.  We also need to install a railing around the entire roof for safety — you can see in the picture above that there is a tiny "wall" now maybe 6 inches high.  I can't tell you how much fun I have had figuring out the dumbwaiter and the shape of the palapa and so many other things!

Half an hour after the pool was filled the first guests arrived for our housewarming party.  It was a challenge planning the food and drink:  I have discovered that "RSVP," even if translated, is a foreign concept for Mexicans.  We didn't know if we were going to have 20 people or 60.  As it happened, we had about 45 — about half friends and half workers and their families.  There was no way we wanted to show off this beautiful place to our friends without the workers there to take credit for it.  My only disappointment was that the Mexicans and the gringos pretty much stayed in separate groups.  With the language barrier it's hard to avoid, but it still wasn't comfortable to see.  However, I was completely thrilled at the appreciation of  the loveliness that has been created here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

October 31: A new me

This is just a quickie, but I have to share these pictures with you.  Now that there are major changes in my life I have decided to take advantage of the situation and make even more changes.

For many years I have not worn makeup, and my hair has been gray for years as well.  If I had worn makeup and dyed my hair, the change would have been to stop doing those things.  And I assure you, I would have done that.  But obviously all I could do was go in the other direction. So, here is a photo taken yesterday.

And here are two photos taken this afternoon.

Presto change-o!



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October 11

A day or two before we moved in (a couple of weeks ago), we hired a truck and a couple of men to load furniture.  We went to Apaseo El Alto, a town about 50 miles from here where there are dozens and dozens of men -- never women as best as I could tell -- who make wooden furniture.  From father to son to son to son ... We had many things to buy, for both casas and the guest room, and had we bought all that here in higher-priced San Miguel de Allende it would have cost a great deal more money.  A month earlier we had ordered exactly what we wanted, all of it hand-carved, and picked it up just before we moved.  Here's a photo of the truck being loaded.

There was so much stuff!  For my house alone there were eight dining room chairs, a coffee table and two end tables, a dresser, a cabinet for linens, and two bedsteads and two headboards (for my bedroom and my sleeping porch).  More for the guest room, and some more for Rick's house.  Here's the pattern I chose for your room — it's on the headboard and the wardrobe.  Cheerful, no?

After we moved in -- and I'll spare you the sight of the chaos of boxes -- the workers are still working on the outside of the houses, on the front wall, among other things.  Here's a photo of the wall being stuccoed, and then of the wall painted a beautiful deep red at the bottom and a cream at the top.  We don't know much much of this 18-meter wall Béa and Stephan are going to want to use for their mural, but we remain thrilled that there will be a beautiful mural there.

To give you an idea of what it might be like, here's a painting that the two of them painted together a couple of years ago.  You can see San Miguel in the upper left.

Above the guest room is now a full laundry room, equally accessible to both of us.  There's a fence in the front now.

One of the great pleasures for me of being in this house is that I finally have a screened sleeping porch, a lifelong dream.  Every morning I wake up enveloped in this beautiful jacaranda tree.  In the spring it will be covered with lavender blossoms.  The three cats sometimes snuggle under the down quilt with me.

The kitchen has also turned out to be beautiful.  The lit area under the cabinets holds my kitchen appliances, so never again will I have to lift a heavy Mix-master from a bottom shelf!

The kitchen is a middle room with not one window, so I've put in skylights and opened the wall to the living room.  There's now a much more open feeling to it, but I did one more thing to enlarge the room:  a wallpaper mural.  Needless to say, it features arches.

The gray thing at the left is the back of the sink counter.  It will eventually have a beautiful piece of wood on it, so try not to focus on that now.

The last thing I'd like to show you is some of the shelves in the pantry.  It used to be a completely useless full bathroom behind the kitchen, and it now has shelves on all four walls, two walls of shelves somewhat shallower for groceries and two walls somewhat deeper for dishes, bowls, and such.  My sister gave me the marvelous idea of pull-out shelves as staging areas for putting things away -- thank you, Sara!

Through all this, I certainly have not forgotten that what has been going on here is not just the excitement of designing and moving into a new house, but a marital separation after fourteen years.  Age 68 is not the best of times (as if there were such a thing) for a woman to become single again, but then I have not noticed life presenting us with perfect vs. imperfect solutions to any problem.  I think Rick and I are doing fine.  He and Mela the dog are 15 feet away in the casita, and we are cooperative and helpful with each other.  This is the most amicable separation I can imagine, so please do not feel apprehensive about visiting.  We are both focusing on the advantages of the new arrangement, not as pollyannas but as I think realists, and if it goes as we hope we will continue to be important friends for each other.

I have joined a health group.  Since there are many retired expats living here, the demographics of age dictate that many of these people will be single.  Health groups exist all over town, informal cooperatives where a small number of people exchange relevant information, keys, and promises of mutual aid if needed.  Every morning, for example, I email two people that I am fine and equally receive emails from them.  If my email is not received then my health care partners check up on me, and vice versa.  All necessary, all sensible.

Something very exciting!  I have decided on a supremely self-indulgent thing.  The other day I wrote out a check for $545 US dollars in exchange for home delivery of the Sunday New York Times for one year.  It was delivered for the first time this past Sunday, and I can't tell you how much I am loving having it again.  And no, reading it online is absolutely not a substitute, not even close.  I curl up in my reading chair with the Book Review, with my soft fake mink throw on my lap and maybe a cat on top of that, and I am as close to heaven as I get.

And I have made a new friend, Becky, whom I am enjoying immensely.  As coincidence would have it, we both went to the same high school and have a parent from Belgium who survived the Holocaust.  As she is new here, she is marvelous about finding out about and going to all sorts of events.  It's true that I've been pretty wrapped up in moving lately, but a newcomer is still much better at going out than someone who's been here a while.  The other day she reminded me that there was something at the Botanical Garden conservatory in its last day, and I am absolutely thrilled I went with her.  Some scientists had hooked electrodes up to a cactus plant and had spliced in the harmonics of lute strings when stimulated by electric current from the plant.  I sat there, entranced in a kind of meditative state, for three quarters of an hour, listening to the most beautiful music.  I have looked online to see if perhaps there might be a CD of such a thing, but haven't found it.  If any of you know of one, would you tell me?  Instant peace and tranquility.

And may the bliss be with you too ...

Friday, September 30, 2011

September 30: moved in!

Hola from the new casa!

And I even have Internet, mostly.  We moved in on Wednesday, and two days later the supply of full boxes is way reduced.  Not gone, but reduced.  I hooked up my music system -- well, all but one speaker, but I'll get that one figured out eventually, so with my new comfortable recliner, a good reading and sewing light, and music I am all set!  My kitchen is turning out to be smaller than I thought it would be, so I am trying to think like a friend from Camano Island who used to be a captain on boats and is also a gourmet chef:  he set up his kitchen at home in the same cramped style as in a boat, because it is maximally efficient.  Right, efficient.  It's small, but boy, is it gorgeous. 

Rick is almost completely moved in.  His kitchen cabinets won't be installed until early next week, though, so that part of his house is on hold.  But his living room is totally furnished, well lit, and comfortable, complete with music but not yet television -- Telmex needs to install a dish for that, and that will be mañana, figuratively speaking.   His bedroom and bathroom are also done.  His dog, Mela, is frustrated at being locked inside when there's so much interesting going on outside.  There continue to be six or eight workers here all day and the door to the street remains open.  No one is taking any chances in losing Mela or letting her get in the way.

The three kittens-becoming-fullgrown-cats were in pussycat hotel for three days while we moved, and yesterday I went to get them with two cat carriers.  They meowed furiously as soon as they they were put in the car, and kept it up as I carried them upstairs because upstairs they can't get out and will start getting used to the new place.  The angry meows continued for the next few hours as I unpacked boxes there, and then I left them to figure it out for themselves.  When I went up to bed a while later, the food in the dish was eaten, the water drunk, and the cats all meowed out.  They spent the night as close to me as they could get, though.

So the work being done now is to stucco the front wall at the street, and to make it as smooth as possible for the mural that will go up there.  The laundry room has been finished, up on the roof above the guest room, and the washer and dryer have been hooked up.  The iron structure for a translucent roof above the stairs to my bedroom, and for the retractable awning in front of the pool, has been done.  The pool is in process.  An unexpected job has been to buy and install a water pressure pump, when we discovered that without it the water pressure was too low for people who like a shower you can actually feel.  That turns out to be a complicated job with pipes running from the pump to the water delivery systems in both houses, and it will have taken four full days to install it when it's done on Monday. Still to come is a palapa on the roof above my bedroom, from which the view out over San Miguel is amazing.  A palapa is a roof-like structure (for shade) made of reeds.  I figure everything should be done by the end of October.

Life has not all been chores.  Actually, there have been not one but TWO truly superb artistic events I've gone to, way better than what is usual for a small town.  There is a dramatic group called Playreaders, which puts on relatively short plays with little in the way of props and in which the actors, after only three rehearsals, read from the script.  Admission is all of 20 pesos, which at the current exchange rate is about $1.50.  We saw "Ashes to Ashes" by Harold Pinter, a brilliantly acted play with only two actors who sustained almost unbearable tension for over an hour.  We discussed it afterward with two friends with whom we saw it, with great energy and even some sense.  Then the first Pro Musica concert of the season (September to April) was a departure from their usual chamber music with two Mexican opera singers performing arias from four operas; while it was uneven, they achieved beautiful music and powerful drama in the parts of Bizet's Carmen that they performed.  Okay, true, many performances aren't this wonderful but it makes it all the better when some are.

However, whatever is wrong with my Internet signal is preventing me from uploading pictures, damn.  That will have to wait until the computer tech visits and cures whatever is ailing the computer.

So this is a quickie to tell you that we have arrived and all is well.  Again, our US phone numbers:

Jo  (206) 414-3290
Rick  (214) 310-5870

I'll write again soon when I can send you some pictures.


Friday, September 23, 2011

September 23

Hola, everyone

The house we've been living in since January is pretty empty.  Rick has been moving boxes and boxes and boxes over to the new house all week, and what's left here is essential stuff (like this computer)! and the landlord's furniture.  Something happened this afternoon that simply terrified me.  The car is parked in a carport with an electrical overhead garage door to the alley.  I got in the car, started the engine, and pushed the button to open the garage door.  A man suddenly appeared in front of the car and stared at me for a reason I couldn't understand.  He bent down and into my vision through the windshield I saw him pull another man up to a sitting position and then drag him off to a side.  He was so drunk he had passed out  in front of the garage door, and didn't move when it opened.  I certainly didn't see him.  If the other man had not been there to pull him out of the way, I would have killed him.  This incident makes all the trash in the alley such a minor annoyance.  I am SO glad to be leaving this place.

My kitchen is nearly done.  There are outlets under the cabinets at right (still missing their doors) because I am going to keep my appliances here, behind glass doors in that place.  No more lifting the heavy mix-master or crock-pot from a lower cabinet!  The stove goes in the empty place; it was removed so that the carpenter could work more easily.  By the way, the short shelves at left are for spices.  Isn't the light that comes in from the skylights beautiful?

The pool is coming along, too. In the next picture, the worker is digging down several feet because it's unstable soil.  It's an area maybe 10 X 10 or 12 X 12; I can barely imagine doing that much hard work, shovelful by shovelful.  In the second picture, cinder-blocks have been placed on the perimeter and better soil has been added.  It looks smooth because it's been compacted with a machine that bounces on the soil and so is called una bailarína in Spanish -- a dancer!  I love that.

I've been making curtains like crazy -- for your room when you come to visit, for Rick's bedroom and bathroom, and for my bathroom.  September is Mexican Independence month, and everything is decked out in red, white and green, even the fabric stores.

I have to tell you some more about banking here.  Totally nuts.  This is a cash economy to an astonishing degree:  people don't even use checks.  If you need to pay something you either pay for it in cash, or if it's a person or a company not around the corner they send you the number of their bank account in a national-chain bank, and you go and deposit the amount in their account.  I go to the bank often for large amounts of cash to pay for the construction.  First, I must go before 1:00 to withdraw money -- MY money!  I go and tell the special person upstairs who deals with gringos and special accounts that I need to withdraw say 50,000 pesos, as I did the other day.  I must ask her if this is okay, and she calls down to the cashier to find out if there's enough money on hand for me to withdraw this amount.  Okay, she tells me, and fills out a form I sign and take to the cashier.  Then the cashier counts out a hundred 500-peso bills, 500 pesos being the equivalent of $38 or so at the current exchange rate, because they don't have larger bills.  One hundred bills is pretty fat, and hard to stuff into my purse.

Rick's furniture was delivered earlier this week, and although he doesn't have his kitchen cabinets yet he's been able to unpack a great many things.  Today he even put art up on his walls!  My furniture comes on Monday, so I'm sort of stuck until it does.  His house is looking beautiful, and I promise to take pictures soon.

Rick had an utterly brilliant idea for the front wall, which now looks like this.  It will be stuccoed and painted:  the lower part, now white and yellow, in a deep crimson, and the upper part, now brick, in cream.

We have two friends, a couple, who are artists -- we've bought several of their paintings already.  You can see some of Stephan's and Béa's art on their website,  Why not, Rick figured, use that huge wall for a mural?  We have checked with the building department and of course they want us to get a permit (= income for the city), but that's okay.  We also checked to see if there is some sort of transparent protective coating to cover the mural, so that in case some imbecile decides the mural is a great place for his graffiti it can be easily washed off, and there is.  We have not seen any other front walls with murals, and are delighted to be the first -- maybe we'll start a new fad and give work to all sorts of starving artists!  We are looking forward to the time when our house is a stop on a San Miguel art tour.

We will be moving into the new house probably on Tuesday or so (September 27), so we will be out of contact from a day or two from now until we get computers set up.  There are some things not finished yet -- the pool, the retractable awning over the deck next to the pool, the new garage door and entrance door, the two lampposts in the garden (!), etc., but the houses are essentially done.  Construction started on July 5:  isn't this terrific? 

Please note that Rick will have his own US phone number, (214) 310-5780, so make a note of it if you are going to want to call him.  My US phone will continue to be (206) 414-3290.

Mark, darling, happy birthday in advance because I won't be able to call you on your birthday.  Danny, honey, we hope you have a superb birthday! 

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 9

So here is what the guest room used to look like — the lovely floor and some kind of masonry sink in it.

This is what it looks like now.

The arched doorway to the right is to your bathroom.

 I hope you'll be very happy here!