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!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 8

Well, the other day I had an experience I bet you all in the US have not had in many, many years.  Want to guess?  I went to a shoemaker:  remember those?  Shoes here need to be not only comfortable but have thick enough soles to be able to walk on cobblestones without feeling them, and very important, not be slippery.  Some of the sidewalk stones here get extremely slippery when they are wet, and this is the rainy season.  I absolutely do not want to fall on these hard stones -- it's not for nothing that San Miguel is nicknamed "The City of Fallen Women."  So I bought a pair of shoes that didn't meet all the requirements, brought them to the shoemaker, and that takes care of that!

We had a marvelous visit a couple of weeks ago from our friends Larry and Carolyn from Washington State.

The photo of the four of us was taken at a café at the Jardin (reminder:  central plaza, center of town, means Garden), where we shared a table with a couple of Mexicans from Guadalajara in town for a romantic weekend.  He was 50, she in her 40s, and they seemed very much in love.  Fun to see.  Larry and Carolyn surely must think this place is made for romance:  that day we also saw not one but two brides.

 The second one, just down the street from the café, was pretty apprehensive about that horse.  I'm not up on wedding dress styles lately, but the ones I see here seem to have about a thousand yards of fluffy white fabric!  And showing Carolyn and Larry the spectacular courtyards at the Instituto Allende, we came across preparations for, of course, a wedding.

I think the new tourist tag should be "San Miguel:  Romance Capital of Mexico."

Speaking of flowers, my sister Sara is now more expert than ever, having just published her absolutely gorgeous book on the flowers of Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle.   A great book for people who love flowers, a great gift.  I saw a beautiful flower I can't identify.  Sara, can you?

And in close-up:

My life lately consists of trips to buy things for the casa.  The other day I went to a town about an hour from here, Apaseo El Alto, where there are dozens of carpenters who make wood furniture.  It's fascinating how different towns sometimes become known for a specific product.  I went because the furniture there is considerably less expensive than in San Miguel.  And in fact, I ordered 23 pieces of furniture, many carved, all drawers with metal side guides (not the typical kind here that falls out when you open it!), all handmade.  Look at what I get for 23,000 pesos, or about $1,900:

  • 2 queen bedsteads, one with 4 drawers
  • 2 queen headboards
  • 1 single bedstead and headboard
  • 4 night tables
  • 1 wardrobe with drawers
  • 1 linen cabinet
  • 1 triple dresser with 9 drawers
  • 1 coffee table
  • 2 end tables
  • 8 chairs
For example, this is what the furniture in the guest room will look like.  Isn't it happy-making?!

Rick has bought more furniture for his casita, in addition to this.  In fact, the casa and the casita are now pretty much done, after only eight weeks of work.  The carpenter who's making all the cabinets hasn't finished those so we can't move in completely, but we will by the end of this month.  Very exciting!  Here are some pictures of the casa.  First, my outdoor shower upstairs.  The open iron door to the left is in the bathroom; the outdoor shower is in the sleeping porch.

Below, the outdoor shower seen from the sleeping porch.  There are beautiful small glass turquoise tiles which you can just about see in both pictures.

And the sleeping porch, entirely enclosed in screens that go from floor to ceiling outside the privacy bricks.  No more mosquitoes!  The tree you see is a huge old jacaranda (pronounced in Spanish ha-ca-RAN-da), one of two on the property, which makes beautiful lavender clusters of flowers in the spring.

My bathroom, with its painted Mexican sink and glass accent tiles:

 My bedroom, with the sleeping porch out to the left and newly refinished tiles.  The walls are a pale blue.

My kitchen.  The walls are soft turquoise and the tiles are marbled teal.  The light you see to the right of the sink is from one of the 20 square skylights we've put everywhere.  Through the arch on the right you can see the arch of the built-in shelves in the study:  isn't that beautiful?

My study, again with the marvelous light from skylights.  The thing on the back wall is a gas heater, which I need to learn how to operate.

The powder room off the study, with its painted Mexican sink and handmade tiles.

And in the casita, Rick's sleeping porch just got put in.  It's at the northern end of a 30' patio that goes along his living room and kitchen.  I love the clean lines of the frames, which of course are screened.

His living room is serving as the temporary depository of stuff we're moving in.

 His kitchen, with all tiles in and stove connected but no cabinets yet.  And the lovely light from the skylight.

His bathroom, like mine and in the powder room, has a Mexican painted sink.

 The pool is still a hole in the ground, but the fourth wall is now in.

 We're creating a laundry room upstairs, above the guest room.  The roof is only a slab of plywood now, but the walls are so interesting.  They're prefab styrofoam encased in wire mesh.  Over this is laid a layer of concrete, which is smoothed and finally painted.

How could I have forgotten to take pictures of the guest room?  I'll take some and post them soon.  I think it's the most extreme pre/post change of all the rooms.  What used to be a dark, ugly cramped room is now full of light and seems twice the size.  I've had it painted in a soft orchid color -- I hope you like it when you come to visit!