Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 26


The construction is now into its fourth week and they are making just wonderful progress.  In Rick's casita, here is the lovely arch between his living room and his kitchen, with the so-far-concrete kitchen counter just visible beyond it, and beyond that the doorway to his bedroom. 

We have made all the doorways into arches, and below you'll see how beautiful that is in my living room.  Here, though, is the bathroom in the casita, with its curves at the shower and the original arch that we found when we first saw the place.  Thanks to this little window, the entire place will feel Moorish.

There used to be a hallway from the bedroom to the outside but it was entirely superfluous.  The hallway has become part of a now enlarged bathroom, and where the outside door used to be is now an arched window.  The spiral stairs you see here -- snail stairs in Spanish! -- will be moved away from this place, since to the right is the place where the front door will be.  The rubble you see on the ground used to be an enormous THICK concrete laundry sink.  It was demolished in the first morning of work.

All the perimeter walls have been built up and stuccoed (except for the outside of the front wall, which will be done at the end).  Here you are seeing the walls that converge where the pool will be, and some iron security fencing.  The last time you saw this wall, it was bricks, castillos, and cadenas.  We installed the iron fence in order not to close off the view.

Skylights are going in everywhere -- 19 of them in all!  Here's the hole for one not yet in place (they have to cut out the rebar here), and what it looks like from above, in this case the upper patio in the casa.

Downstairs in the casa, the wall between the living room and kitchen has been removed -- except for the column you see at the left.  That let us make TWO arches, one on each side of the column.  The arched doorway at the right leads into the study, which before had no interior access at all.  The view of these intersecting arches from the front door is complex and very beautiful.  I wanted a picture of it for you, but it was too dark to show you.

The picture below is of my bedroom.  The center area was a doorway to the bathroom beyond, but for various reasons it was not in a good place.  The worker has bricked it up and is now applying cement for a stucco finish over it.  The new doorway to the right of course is arched.  The doorway to the left, which is hard to see as a doorway but really is, is being converted from right angles to an arch.

And outside the bedroom there is progress on my sleeping porch!  Here is the low wall being installed for privacy.

I am trying very hard not to add things to the construction list, but occasionally something creeps in.  By and large, though, we're on or ahead of schedule and still well within the cost limits.

A couple of weeks ago we went with friends to a jazz/blues concert out in the campo, or the countryside outside of San Miguel.  Since it is thank goodness rainy season here, the late afternoon concert came with an added bonus:  the view of the rain clouds massing over the hills that were still in sunshine.  Generally, "rainy season" means that every few days the clouds pile up and let loose with dramatic thunder, lightning, and pouring rain.  I just love it.  And now the temperatures are consistently in the high 70s and low 80s every day.

There was a play performed in San Miguel last week called Opus, about the interpersonal dynamics in a four-man string quartet that fires one member and replaces him with a young woman.  The drama and the music were all excellent.  This play was performed in New York in 2007 and got fine reviews.  Even though obviously the quality of the acting isn't quite up to New York standards, isn't it a pleasure to be able to see theater like this?

I have been wanting to write to you about babies and children.  On the streets, children are seen usually with mothers and on the weekends with both parents and sometimes grandparents as well.  One also sees fathers with children, even here in macho Mexico.  The mothers can be shabby and poor, but I have never seen a baby with anything less than clothes or blankets that appear brand new and perfectly immaculate.  Small babies are carried with a blanket over them, including their faces, to protect the new skin against the strong sun.  The children always seem calm and happy -- no screaming babies here, which is so interesting!  I rarely see a woman with more than two or three children:  are the others at home, or aren't there any others?  Birth control is making good headway, but girls from poor families with little to no education are as always the ones to be getting pregnant young.  I have been told that the QuinceaƱera, a girl's 15th birthday celebration, is sometimes such a big deal here because for some of these girls it will be the only party they have.  No wedding.

By the way, my Spanish teacher told me that the word macho has a negative meaning in Mexico.  In the US it's sort of complimentary, meaning a man is masculine in the good senses of the word.  Here it means masculine in the bad senses -- a man who swaggers and beats his wife and children.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 13

Today is the 8th day of work on Sleeping Beauty's castle.  Our friend, Gerardo Peralta, is the supervisor.  The way it works is that Pedro Bustamante is the "maestro" or foreman, and Pedro hires and pays his workers, perhaps 6 to 8 of them depending on the work to be done on a particular day.  I am the project manager, so this job is sort of top-heavy!

The work is progressing absolutely beautifully and even ahead of schedule.  Last week most of what was done consisted of demolition and wall-building.  It sounds odd that I am cheering demolition, but it's needed to make way for building.  For example, my kitchen is in the middle of the house between the living room and what is now a bathroom but will become a pantry.  Because of the layout, the kitchen had absolutely no light.  The wall between it and the living room was broken through, except for a column that has to stay for weight-bearing reasons.  Now the kitchen is full of light, just like the living room.  It will have even more light when the skylights are installed.

In the first picture below, I was standing in the living room looking toward the kitchen; in the second, vice-versa.  You can also see where the ugly floor tiles have been removed.

All the doorways, by the way, will become arches:  a lovely Moorish feeling.  Because Mexico was colonized by Spain and because Spain had earlier been invaded by North African Muslims ("Moors"), there is a distinct Moorish element in the architecture of colonial Spanish buildings in San Miguel.

Another nice demolition job is the wall between an unnecessary hallway and the bathroom in Rick's casita.  Now he will have a decent-sized bathroom.  He'll also have good tiles in his shower, unlike the awful ones that were there.

He also wanted much of the wall between his living room and his kitchen removed, for more light, air and openness.  Presto, it's done!  Before, there was a kitchen set up in his living room, to the left below, and that's now gone.

Near the entrance there were two HUGE concrete laundry sinks, the rub-a-dub kind.  Gone.

Now the walls.  If you've been reading this blog you know that in Mexico houses are built within tall perimeter walls.  It's a style I've come to love:  the privacy is just wonderful.  In our case, all four walls needed to be built up higher for security.  On two sides where the view would have been destroyed by building the walls all the way up, we will be having iron security fences installed.  Last week the workers finished building up two of the four walls, and this week they'll complete the third.  They have also applied stucco to the walls, and that will be painted white toward the end of the construction process.

For those of you who find construction interesting, the way brick walls are built here is to have a horizontal layer of cement with rebar, called a cadena, then about 2 meters of brick, followed by another cadena.  About every 3 meters from side to side there's a solid rectangle of cement with rebar called a castillo.  The cadenas and the castillos provide the structural strength.  A large wall, therefore, will have a few horizontal cadenas and if it's long, many castillos.  For example, I just took this picture of the house next door.

This wall looks pretty grungy, but when it's stuccoed and painted it looks pretty good.  This is the front wall in our garden.

Gerardo and I have a meeting every Friday afternoon to go over the week's progress, and talk about things that need to be done.  This week, for example, one of my jobs was to go to the electric company.  Gerardo wants to work on the street wall soon, and because electric wires are not terribly far from the wall it can be dangerous for the workers.  He asked me to go to the electric company and get them to put protective covering on the wires.  So I went, and in Spanish (!) explained what I needed. (I was extremely proud of myself.)  The man heard me out politely and then told me that this was not the correct office.  He wrote out for me (or rather he typed it, on a really old typewriter!) the name of the person I needed to see and where his office was.  Naturally, it had closed half an hour earlier.  So today Rick and I went and found that office and learned that the man's job takes him out and about all the time.  I can see him at 8:30 tomorrow morning.  Lovely.

This past week Rick's son, Jesse, and Jesse's wife Clara and kids Daniel and Isa (for Isabel) have been visiting.

Clara, being a Chicana whose first language was Spanish, chattered away in the fastest Spanish I have ever heard.  You all know my feelings about gender segregation but the kids took the pictures below, and I have to say I'm glad to have them.

One day Jesse et al. came with us for our goodbye comida (mid-day meal) with my friend and cooking teacher, Yurina Peralta (yes, Gerardo's sister), who is moving to Cuernavaca tomorrow.  Cuernavaca is about an hour south of Mexico City, so about five hours from here.  I will miss her very much, but I will never have a better reason to visit Cuernavaca!  At this meal and at dinner last night when Gerardo was here, I loved listening to Clara talking nonstop with my friends Yurina and Gerardo.  It is a joy when separate parts of my life unite.

Yesterday while Jesse was off rock-climbing with a couple of local rock-climbers, Clara and the kids and I went to el tianguis, the weekly market held on Tuesday that attracts hundreds of vendors from miles around.  After seeing stall after stall selling boring things like clothes, makeup, and kitchen supplies, the kids were thrilled to come upon a vendor selling chicks and ducklings.  But not just any old chicks, although any old chicks would have been very welcome.  Half of the chicks had been dyed brilliant colors.

We speculated on whether they had been dunked into dye or whether they had been fed some wild-looking chicken feed, and talked about whether this was cruel to the chicks or okay to do to them.  The kids were not interested in these esoteric considerations:  they were enthralled.

So from the land of the neon green and ruby red chicks, hasta luego!