Month: April 2012

Una Nueva Bateria

The blog has taken a back seat to life, for the past several days. It’s just been one thing after another here – totally unnecessary silliness like our car battery dying of old age; plus one of us accidentally left an interior light on which hastened its demise and left us carless for a day or two while we tried recharging it and a bunch of other things that didn’t work till we broke down and just bought a new battery for it — (stress? what stress?), complicated electrical problems with power surges in the house which are frying our appliances (bienvenidos a Mexico), some required maintenance on our pool – things that have just made life, on top of what is going on with my mother, just that much more complicated.

The process of dealing with some of these inconveniences is quite something, though. When the battery died, our choices were to have the car towed to a service station or back to the dealer in Guadalajara, an hour away, or try to find a mechanic here in town and typical of us, we don’t have some normal car for Mexico. One part of our old U.S. life — a problematic affection for distinguished, aging and finicky German cars — we just haven’t quite shaken. So of course instead of a Ford or something sensible we have an Audi, where everything is sealed, hard to find, electronic, delicate, and German. And harder to work on for most Mexican mechanics, especially village mechanics rather than those in the city. (Of course the Audi is a total blast to drive, and the perfect size for our narrow cobblestone streets, but that is the topic of another post…)

In view of all that, we weren’t sure exactly what the best course of action might be. Rosa and Ricardo – our builder who was here chipping away at the awful calcium and lime deposits around the pool tile, after hearing our laments about being without wheels for god knows how long while the car got taken care of at the dealership, both said “we have just the guy for you – let us call him and he’ll come right to the house.” So the mechanic Eduardo arrives shortly thereafter, with three younger guys trailing him as assistants. One of the kids takes a photo of the top of the battery – showing all the codes, labels, and such, of the dead battery –  with his cell phone. They all say “we are going to Guadalajara with this picture and we’ll find the right battery and bring it back to you tonight. Don’t worry about a thing, Señora!” I give them the money to purchase the new battery and off they go. I am wondering whether I’ll ever see them again but sure enough, at about 9 p.m. the gate bell rings and it’s the four of them, with a new battery, a big charging machine on wheels, a bunch of tools, and some work lights. By 9:30 I hear the reassuring sound of my car springing back to life. Whew! One domestic problem solved. The amount they charged us for all this running around was so little that I gave them a nice propina (tip).

On top of the return of automotive functionality, the further good news is that our hummingbirds are back in force, crowding around the two feeders hanging by our terraza. We sit out there and watch them zoom around with great enjoyment every year when they return. Even in the winter there are a couple of hearties that stick around but the spring always brings the whole crew back – dozens of them.  I am having to refill the feeders twice a day! They say that hummingbirds live several years, and return unerringly to the same spot every spring if they are happy there; and we believe it, because there are certain ones whose behaviors we recognize each year. There is one nasty one who perches on the edge of the feeder and is beyond aggressive in making sure no one but him can get to the nectar. There are two that swoop and dive bomb into the fountain to take their baths – just those two, none of the others seem to do it.

It IS gorgeous here, all the flowers in bloom, and it’s warmed up – the sun being now higher in the sky — so that our solar panels are now heating the pool, and we had a crew of guys come and really clean off the mosaic tiles inside it and repair some of the cracked tiles – just routine stuff – but it is much more inviting now and the water is WARM! So it’s good to go for the summer. There are friends and relatives who might like to come down for a little visit and a break – and to see my mother, or so they suggest. It is very painful, but I have to tell them honestly, there is nothing left to see. It is better for all of us to remember her as she was.

Easter According to Arnold

While I was hearkening back to my ancient Valley Girl roots in L.A. with my sister, I left Arnold home to fend for himself over the Passover/Easter holiday. (At our family seder, where half the marriages are mixed, it was referred to as “Eastover” which I thought was pretty cool! Seder one night, Easter Egg Hunt the same weekend. Kiddies get the chocolate Afikoman AND chocolate Easter eggs. Excellent.)

In any event, one of the big deals in our little village is the annual Ajijic “Via Crucis” passion play, which re-enacts the crucifixion and the events leading up to it, in a three-day festival which brings tourists from all over Mexico and even beyond. The oudoor venues for the various scenes are in town, in front of the church, up on the hills overlooking the village where Christ gets crucified, on the main plaza, with hundreds of people standing around (there are plastic chairs set up for the “ancianos”) watching the proceedings. I’ll report on the Ajijic passion play perhaps next year, but the salient point to note here is that Rosa’s smaller village down the road, San Antonio, has its own passion play, not to be outdone by neighboring Ajijic. When her family learned that I was going to be out of town for Easter weekend, they insisted absolutely that Arnold come and check it out. So, here, not terribly abridged, is Arnold’s e-mail to me describing the day’s events:   (Just couldn’t resist posting this!)


Sequence of events:

Rosa calls at 7:45 p.m., Danny (her son-in-law) will come and get me at 8:30.

He and Rosa show up at 8:45.

The Señor does not ride in Danny’s truck (though I was fully prepared to hop right in), so Danny will drive us to San Antonio in the Audi. Okay, but he wants to put his truck in the courtyard, but then the battery dies, so the truck stays outside the front gates in the street.

We drive to San Antonio, where Rosa insists that because of my bum knee, that I be driven straight to the entrance to the escuela (the primary school) where the play is to be held on its little stage. And this is where Danny will pick me up when the drama concludes, as well.

Their version of the Passion Play was really much more honest, if that is the right word, maybe authentic would be better, than Ajijic’s, despite its much smaller scale. Everybody had body mikes, the costumes were incredible, and the lighting and scenery changes heartfelt and colorful.

BUT, all of it was accompanied by a L I V E orchestra, that went way beyond “E” for effort. They were in tune, in time, and it was full strings, brass, and drums, all with a conductor who kept things going. Even a boy soprano. When the nuns mopped up Jesus’ blood after the Roman Centurions did their thing, the kid was given fifty (count ’em 50) lashes, for real. The other centurions kicked him from one side of the stage to the other, and, oh, yes, don’t forget the crown of thorns–all with living catsup wounds. YUCK!

Sofia’s dance was a howl – teenage girls doing “danza Arabe” – to be the temptresses in Herod’s court – and the kids really got into it. Sofia’s choosing “Arab Dance” as her “arts elective” at school really paid off, since she got to wear a slithery costume complete with glittery bra — as did they all.

After the show: Danny brings the Audi around to pick me up, and America and Nicol appear from nowhere in their party dresses and jump into the car and off we go back to our house. As always, they love any excuse to be driven in our car.

When we got back both the girls started to play with Reina while Danny pulled out every extension cord we own to hook them all up to the outlet in the carport and charge up his battery out in the street, a la Mexicana. Once the truck was running again, off they went. As Danny left I was with Nicol, and Danny told me in Spanglish that Nicol loves the antique laptop computer we had handed down to them, and is learning how to operate it and do fun things with it, and THANK YOU!

Exhausting but fun and interesting.

BUT,  just when I thought the day was over, what do I see but (the kitty) Missoni menacing a not large, but not small either, half-moribund scorpion in the middle of the kitchen floor. I start yelling at Missoni, Rosie and Reina get very interested in what is going on, so now I’m yelling at them all. Dispatched the scorpion and so now they are all mad at me!

With all of these goings-on, maybe I should start a blog—–no, NO, NO, never.




If you watch the video, part of the fun is that everyone in this village play is a “local” volunteer – your painter, your maid, your gardener, the guy from the dry cleaner’s, your kid, your cousin, or your plumber. Everyone gets into the act, if not on stage then sewing costumes, doing makeup, sound, music, whatever. In the dancers in Herod’s court, the tall one in blue is Sofia! Herod is entertaining his friends with food and drink and the hotsy-totsy dancers, and you can hear him say “salud!” as he offers them wine. Arnold took this video on his phone – just to give an idea of what it was like – the elementary school stage in beautiful downtown San Antonio Tlayacapan…. 

Cell Phone Adventures continued….

To continue my quest, I went into the local Telcel store today to ask THEM if they could get me one of these phones sometime between now and the next milennium. I said “can you check and see whether the computer has registered that I’ve paid off the old phone and can you also ask what sort of deal I might be able to get on this new one I want?” I am starting to feel like Don Quixote tilting at windmills (or perhaps, cell phone towers….)

“Sorry, Señora,  it appears that right now the system is down but I can call you at your house later on…”

They closed an hour ago so I guess nothing is going to happen till tomorrow, when I will most assuredly be out when they call. But of course they won’t so I’ll have to call them again (sigh).

Just buying this thing at J&R or someplace like it in Nueva York is looking more and more attractive all the time. I’m trying to help the Mexican economy, honestly, but you gotta wonder.

Not So Fast!

We are both really wiped out these days – the ongoing situation with my mother just wears on us both and there isn’t anything more we can do for her, but it is still so sad to know that she is ever-so-slowly slipping away from us. The doctor goes to visit her twice a week and she’s not in any pain, so we are just sort of stuck, and so is she. Perfectly awful.

Meanwhile “la vida” sort of does go on – we went to Costco today to pick up some things for our house, my mother’s house, and for various and sundry friends. I am on the trail of a new cell phone I in no way need, but nonetheless covet, and having done all the research and read all the reviews I am now ready to have the new one plunked into my eager hands. I of course know that before that can happen I must cross Carlos Slim’s (the gazillionaire owner of Telcel, the cell phone company) palm with silver – but I suspected it wouldn’t be all that easy to get this done. And yet undaunted, we went all the way in to Guadalajara thinking that maybe if we actually showed up at Telcel’s “Centro de Atencion a Clientes” (client service center) that we would get at least one step closer to actually being able to purchase the new phone.

Back in the States, you go into the cell phone store, Verizon or whatever it is, point at the phone you want, they give you a paper to sign, you walk out with the phone and its plug and cables in a pretty little bag and a new zillion-year contract which you probably don’t fully understand. But you at least have your new toy. But we know, of course, from past experience, that things that would be completely simple in the States are quite a bit more complicated a la Mexicana. “You want to actually pay us and walk out with a new phone? NOT SO FAST!” “But we want to make Carlos Slim even RICHER!!” Maybe in a week or two, but not just yet.

First of all, there are several Telcel client service centers scattered around the city, but could you CALL any of them to say “by any chance do you have this item in stock?” before you go traipsing all the way into town on a hot, smoggy day. No, you cannot. Nor can you even call Best Buy, which was my backup option if Telcel failed me, to see if maybe they had the model I wanted. You can only call a central number in Mexico City, and then THEY call the store for you and tell you someone will call you back with information about their inventory, which of course they never do, so you’re back where you started. Everyone will be more than happy to order it for you but it takes weeks to get there, if it ever does, and right now we aren’t in the mood to keep running into Guadalajara on wild goose chases.

Still, I remained (silly me!) optimistic that if we went to the client service center and actually forked over the cash I’d walk out of there with a new phone. No. Even though the current phone bill is paid, I still have to wait three or four more days before their glacial computer system finally recognizes that my bill is paid and permits me to purchase a new phone. Will we go back to Guadalajara – an hour’s drive – to deal with this after their computer has registered my payment in a week? Or will I try to deal with it, starting all over again, with a person at a Telcel distributor here in town? No matter how I slice it, the acquisition of this new phone will probably take a month before it’s actually done.  Now I’m thinking that I will take another tack and attempt this with one of the Telcel dealers here in town. Even though it’ll still take weeks, at least I can go in and harrass them and inquire about my order every few days without the hour’s drive into Guad. Stay tuned.

It never ceases to amaze us how when you actually want to purchase something – ready, willing and able – the bureaucracy rears its ugly head and the answer is NO, it just doesn’t/can’t/won’t work that way, Señora.  Oh well. At least Arnold and I had a nice lunch at an Italian restaurant in the  mall after we were rebuffed by Telcel and we got back home before the worst of the rush-hour traffic got started. I did manage to get a horrible headache from all of it though. Arnold says he thinks it’s just stress – my mother is dying, we’re scared to death that we’ll meet our maker in a gunfight or god knows what other horror show (though in fact it’s been pretty calm here, at least compared to other places in Mexico); our visas are in to the Immigration Department for renewal and there’s a big backlog and we might not be able to leave the country for our long-planned, and pre-paid (opera tickets and such) trip to New York in May. Stress? Surely he’s kidding!

Home Again….

Back from L.A. What a whirlwind! It was wonderful to spend hours talking with my sister Wendy (especially given our mother’s slow, awful decline), touch base with my family again and to see old friends from my school days. And it is always the same going to the States and then coming back – with a jolt –  to my reality at home. Where my sister lives there are those wide, clean, tree-lined streets, houses with immaculate gardens and clipped lawns; no discarded bags and bottles lying around, no stray dogs, and it is so quiet and peaceful at night that you can actually get some sleep. Then there is the astonishing variety of stuff in every market, with lots of stores open late for your shopping convenience. So tempting and I go nuts buying waaay too much stuff every time I cross the border. Of course it’s also retail therapy and there ARE things up there I can’t get down here…like petite sizes. Essential for five-foot-tall me. But I sort of go into a trance in those stores…Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Target, even the huge and well-stocked pharmacies with all that fun drugstore makeup and other items I am sure I must have. Then when it’s time to pay, when I’ve first arrived back in the U.S., I always forget the swiping the credit card part. I stand there fishing into my wallet for cash (in Mexico EVERYTHING is cash, which is actually a very good thing, for me, at least) and they look at me like I’m crazy. Then I get with the program and prepare to fork over my credit card to the cashier and they say “no, Ma’am, you have to swipe it – over here. Just put it through the slot on the side”. Of course I know how to do this but I always forget – this is the way the stripe goes, and all that. Half the time you don’t even have to sign the little screen any more. In and out of the store, in a split second, your wallet lighter by some amount that seems very abstract.

But all good things must come to an end, and I am back home in the land of magical evenings and the riot of every flower in town coming into bloom, so it seems.  When I got back last night, Reina went nuts licking my face and Rosie and Missoni, the two kitties, purred and nuzzled and jumped on me and carried on, glad I was home. The carpenter delivered the new platform for our bed today and had a lot of fun playing with Reina, telling me his favorite show is “El Encantador de Perros” with Cesar Millan, dubbed into Spanish for Mexican television, naturalmente. I think how amazing it is that Cesar himself migrated to the U.S. to make his fortune training dogs, which he most assuredly has, (with his own foundation, even, not lost on me as a former foundation executive….) and how ironic that the Dog Whisperer show is now translated back to his native language for millions of his perro-loving Mexican compatriots. Carlos – the pool Carlos – wants to come over tomorrow and pick up the three months’ worth of payments we owe him. We keep telling him we would be happy to pay him every month if only he would drop off a bill once in a while. Gardener Carlos (we have many Carloses in our lives including Baby Carlos) worked for awhile this morning weeding and raking, but had to leave suddenly because his father-in-law Jorge called to say his truck broke down not too far from us and would he walk over and borrow our battery cables and try to get the engine started?

Rosa took very good care of Arnold while I was away, bringing fresh tamales for him to eat and not letting him lift a finger to do anything. Tomorrow she comes again to clean though everything is spotless from when she was here Monday. She left bouquets of fresh flowers all over the house to welcome me home. I know she will want to greet me and make sure nothing untoward has happened to the house in the past thirty-six hours….and I have to rig up how I am going to present the three little bathing suits I brought back for her grandchildren (America, Nicol, and Baby Carlos)…just hand them to her in a plastic bag? Get the kids to come over and have them unwrap each bathing suit and make more of a fuss? Not sure, depends on how busy I get later on in the week. We’ve been invited to a fiesta and I have to make dessert for seventeen people. I had assumed that the worst thing that had transpired in my absence was that Arnold found a half-dead alacran (scorpion) in the kitchen which he had to dispatch because the kitties were interested in playing with it. But before he took off to rescue Jorge, Carlos told me that there were four people shot and killed in town over the weekend – actually not too far from the famous donut shop — but no one seems to be all that concerned about it because it was “entre ellos” –  “between them” – meaning rival drug factions or a drug deal gone wrong or something like that. Just glad I wasn’t here. Very glad indeed that while all that was going on I was otherwise occupied at the open-till-midnight CVS drugstore prowling the eye makeup with my sister.

Ardillas Redux

Well, as we were basking yesterday morning in the felicitous outcome of our Baby Squirrel saga, we heard MORE terrified screeching from upstairs and it turned out that another tiny squirrel had been brought in by the cats! Ay Dios Mio. But this time we at least knew what to do and we offered to deliver this second baby straight to the Critter Squads’ offices, which thankfully (this being L.A.) are really close to where we are. It’s odd – we thought the cats were hunting, but maybe they are just trying to rescue them? Who knows.

For this second one was also, fortunately, in perfect condition – just scared and dehydrated, and it turned out that this one was a GIRL – Squirrel #1’s sister. Anyway they are now both in the good hands of the Critter Squad and we can go and visit them if we want … the little boy squirrel we had rescued on Sunday is now happy and doing well – he had just had his lunch of squirrel formula and was fast asleep in his little box. So all is well, for the moment, in ardilla-landia. (in Spanish they are ardillas though Arnold calls them “esquirlos” which cracks Rosa up).

The Critter Squad folks did tell us that often squirrels have litters in threes, so there may be yet another baby squirrel lurking out in Wendy’s garden. No squealing or scrambling around upstairs at this moment, but we remain on high alert.

The Angel of Mercy

Two hours and fifty minutes on Alaska Airlines and I am in an entirely different universe…the Ancestral Homeland, the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, where I spent much of my childhood, at my sister Wendy’s house.  Broad avenues, tree-shaded streets, houses without ten-foot walls to protect them from god knows what predator or threat. Everyone can drive really fast because – well, no cobblestones, and no pedestrians, no dogs or livestock to watch out for, no street vendors, no taco stands in the calle, and no buses. If there ARE foot-deep potholes, somehow they seem to get fixed quickly, unlike the one I hit a few months ago that blew out our right front tire and left us stranded at sundown on the side of the road driving back from Guadalajara with a car full of Costco stuff.  (As is often the case in Mexico, two incredibly nice government topographers on their way home from work on the highway above us took pity on us and stopped to help, but we’ve been wary of that road ever since).

Well, they do have buses here but one hardly ever sees them. Wide lanes, and everyone has to get wherever they are going as quickly as they can because they know that once they leave the residential area and get on the freeway, they could be stuck there inching along for hours. So where they can drive fast, they do. But it all seems to work in its weird L.A. way.

There is no noise, either, except for the sound of the occasional car starting up – some poor devil who has to leave home at 5 a.m. to get to work on time. Not the raucous morning noises of the birds screaming in the trees, the various trucks advertising their wares with megaphones, the incessant crowing of roosters (they do not start at dawn, contrary to the folklore, they start at 3 a.m., if they are worth their salt), radios, car stereos. Add to this mix insanely loud fiestas with music amplified by speakers as big as refrigerators, and the roof dogs’ barking at whatever little thing is going on below. The biggest complaint everyone seems to have here is the gardeners’ blowers to which my reaction is “and THAT wakes you up?”  So many of my gringo friends back home have learned to sleep – especially in the summer when you pretty much HAVE to leave your windows open or you suffocate from the heat – with earplugs, white noise machines, running fans. Anything to block out or at least minimize the incessant racket.

However on Sunday morning Wendy and I were sitting having breakfast when there WAS some unexpected noise – the terrified screaming of what turned out to be a baby squirrel one of her cats had captured and brought into her bedroom. Wendy ran upstairs screaming at the unlucky cat to drop his prey. Once released from the kitty’s jaws, Wendy put the baby squirrel quickly into a box where it laid terrified and trembling.  We didn’t see any puncture wounds on him, but we still couldn’t tell if it had any internal injuries or what was really going on, but suckers that we are, we were determined to save its little life if we could; even in his panic he was awfully cute. We covered the box so it would be dark and just peeked inside every so often to see if he was still breathing, which he was – his little sides just heaving in terror. But his eyes were open and pretty bright, and even though he was motionless, he was still clearly alive.

Here is what they have in my sister’s neighborhood which we don’t have back home: an outfit called The Critter Squad, which Wendy found after a few frantic calls to friends and some anxious searching online about “how to rescue an injured squirrel”.  After Wendy got in touch with the Critter Squad they sent their truck right out along with delightful young Jeffrey, a volunteer maybe in his twenties or early thirties who is, as it turned out, extremely knowledgeable about wildlife rescue. He examined the baby squirrel and actually told us what kind of squirrel he was – definitely a male. It also turned out that he was a European Fox Squirrel, a species not native to the Valley, which is running all the native squirrels out of their habitat here. Oh great, we both thought, so we should have let him die after all? This darling little baby thing is an invader? It is just so ridiculously complicated. It had been very windy, as it often is here, and his nest probably blew down from one of the tall trees or he just fell out. Jeffrey noted that usually the fall injures them or kills them, but this little guy might just have been incredibly lucky, notwithstanding his adventures with the cat who found him, probably dazed on the lawn.

Indeed as we were getting our biology lesson on squirrel species and habitats from Jeffrey, the baby began to crawl around in the box and it seemed  that – un milagro! – he was going to be okay. We just put ourselves into Jeffrey’s hands and asked “what will you guys do with him now?” Not to worry, invader or not, he was a tiny terrified living thing who apparently had nothing wrong with him beyond being traumatized. Without expecting a penny from us (though we did make a contribution), The Critter Squad would take care of him, feed him the correct formula for a baby squirrel, and if he had no injuries from his fall that would prevent it, at the appropriate time he would be released back into the wild. If, however, it turned out that he had a bum leg or something like that, he would become part of their education program for kids. So, I joked with my sister, not only did they come promptly to the house, rescue him, and promise him therapy, but he may well have a job offer with a lifetime contract! What a deal! Soon the box with the baby squirrel, wrapped gently in an old towel because he was cold and dehydrated, was whisked away in the gaily painted “Critter Squad” van to his new life. No, Dorothy, we are not in Mexico any more.

It occurred to usually cynical me that our morning had all the lessons of an adventure of mythic proportions. Here was pure evil, in a sense – an overfed house cat who probably could live on the Friskies stored on his body for months trying to kill a little baby thing for the sheer instinctual pleasure of it. One gets it that “that’s what cats do” but it doesn’t make it any more fun when they bring the terrified and helpless tiny creature into your house. Wendy and I both see ANY baby thing and go “awwww” like so many people do.

But then, as we frantically try to figure out what to do on a Sunday morning – call a shelter? Call a vet? Who would be around to guide us? —  we find out about this wonderful outfit. Within an hour the Angel of Mercy arrives at the house and the evil is outshone by pure goodness as the baby’s life is saved. It is so indiscriminate and weird . Here a life is saved by this wonderful young man in an exquisite act of compassion, giving up his Sunday morning to help us, and how many people in Mexico, Syria, god knows where else, get randomly mown down today?

The philosophical lessons implied in this adventure were all too complicated for us to fathom so after we returned to our morning coffee  (a bit like Scarpia going back to his dinner with Tosca after arranging for the torture of Cavaradossi, though with a far happier outcome), we decided we needed some trauma treatment ourselves, and planned a therapeutic visit to the mall. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi!

The Baby Squirrel!