Saturday, November 26, 2011

November 26

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Here in San Miguel restaurants were running ads in AtenciĆ³n, 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.