Author: Jillian Sandrock

Retired in Mexico after a number of varied careers in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors - married, am a classical music and opera nut, have my own ceramics studio (not enough time to work in it!). Aside from running a household here, I am trying to learn as much as I can about Mexico and its culture - every day brings some sort of new lesson, that's for sure!

Happy Birthday, Mom

Prior to my surgical adventure, in full Princess mode, I had planned several weeks lying abed in frothy negligees being waited upon hand and foot by everyone around here, time to read stupid magazines, do my nails, feigning agonizing discomfort so I could string it out a bit longer. Well, as they say, not so much! I sort of HAD to call a halt to all that after a couple of days enjoying the obligatory painkillers, and get out of bed and resume my life. Oh well, next time.

The saga with my mother goes on and unfortunately it requires, to some extent, that I be on my feet and functioning. Both my parents – as my sister so aptly put it – somehow managed to be fifty years old until one day they woke up at 85 and were completely bewildered as to how to respond to what was happening to them both physically and mentally. We both theorize that because in both their cases – family members on the East coast had done all the “elder care” for their failing parents and in addition to those responsibilities, had seen the other members of the family age and die ‘up close and personal’.

Gradually, after my father’s passing, my mother’s world has shrunk from the beautiful houses she shared with him over the years, to a hospital bed in a convalescent home here in Ajijic, where she lies week in and week out, bedridden and blind, not even really able to speak any more. Her care is wonderful, the Mexican ladies who work there dote on the patients; she and her airy room, which has a sliding glass door opening on to a pretty garden, are kept immaculate. It’s as good as it could possibly be for her given that she is growing weaker month by month and losing what little she has left of her faculties. She’s not in any pain, though, and seems to be happy “wherever” she is mentally – and that is a blessing for all of us.

The only good thing you can say about me, Arnold and my sister having to deal with this situation ourselves is that we have learned a great deal about aging and planning for it, the hard way. After watching both their decline (and my father’s death) over the past ten or fifteen years, we are big into carpe diem these days, whatever that might mean to us at the moment. But it is terribly sad and it has just been, truthfully, a colossal burden for all of us. The taking apart of their much-loved house in Santa Fe was horrible; for years before he retreated into whatever shell he constructed for himself, my dad kept saying “one of these days we will have to move to a smaller place” but never could or would take any concrete steps to move in that direction.  So in spite of insisting  that he didn’t want to leave that enormous undertaking to the three of us, as a practical matter, as both of them faded away, there the house was, intact, staring us in the face.

We finally had to at least get them both out of Santa Fe, for a whole variety of reasons. I tell friends it was like some opera where conflict and confusion dominate the plot and then there’s an intermission where you mull over the fates of these characters, until whatever the final act’s resolution might be. In Rossini, those closing ensembles where everyone is completely at their wits’ end can be hilarious, but in our case it was no fun. We had the neurologist telling us my father had some form of dementia resulting from mini-strokes and a brain hematoma, and the worst possible thing for him would be to remove him from his familiar surroundings.

Then my mother’s doctors, seeing her suffer from (in addition to diabetes) COPD and emphysema, insisted that we needed to get her to a lower altitude than Santa Fe’s 7,000 feet, and someplace warmer for her crippling arthritis.  She was on oxygen 24/7, and the machine was cranked up to the highest output a home machine was capable of – next stop for more oxygen was in a hospital. My father retreated further into himself and only wanted to sleep on the couch all day, stopped listening to music, stopped reading, stopped talking for the most part. My father who spoke several languages, rather well.

We spent a couple of years going back and forth trying to figure out what on earth to do, during which they only declined further. We tried desperately to get them to think about coming to be nearer either me or my sister, but by then neither of them were capable of planning such a giant move, nor did either of them want to leave the house they loved. The financial stress on them and on us only made it worse. Finally, we got them down – with their two cats (now ours, see earlier posts) to Mexico “just for the winter” (they bought the ruse), where at the very least, they were a ten minute drive away from us and it was sunny pretty much all the time. We knew they were never going back to Santa Fe, but they didn’t. Indeed that winter, there was a major break in a gas distribution line somewhere in Texas, and much of New Mexico was without gas to heat their homes as the temperatures plummeted to below freezing and stayed there for several days. When the house caretaker finally made it up there, she found my dad’s piano in four inches of water because the pipes in the living room had frozen and burst. Meanwhile my parents, happily enough, were sitting in shirtsleeves on the terrace of the house we had rented for them, watching the hummingbirds zip around the little garden, and gazing out at the view of Lake Chapala below, glittering in the sun.

Once we got their new care arrangements in place, full of dread, the three of us trooped back up to Santa Fe to deal with the house and its contents.  I was not really surprised to discover that my parents indeed left the whole joint – including zillions of dollars of deferred maintenance- kind of frozen in place like Pompeii. There were dried-out toothbrushes by the sinks, clothes still in the laundry hampers, with more dead toothbrushes and the like scattered in all the bathrooms, and it went on from there.  Like so many “adult children” who find themselves in this situation, dealing with the house was de facto left to us because the house was big, crammed with two lifetimes’ worth of possessions, and as my parents aged and failed physically and mentally, they totally lost control of it.

It took a couple of months out of our lives to be up in Santa Fe working twelve hours a day to figure out what to do with every pillow, pan, item of clothing, piece of furniture, book, CD, DVD, music score, piece of art, along with the plethora of balls of string and rusty coffee cans every Depression-era senior citizen seems to save. Our wonderful friend Sylvia came to help, as did others, thankfully. We filled a couple of moving vans and Goodwill trucks, and closed the house up. Their house is STILL sitting on the market, price reduced ad absurdum, but still no one wants it because it is now such a white elephant. Very sad for us, who have wonderful memories of family dinners and parties in that wonderful spacious living and dining room.

Of course we are certain that if we do something impulsive to give ourselves a break from all of this, like try to nip off to Europe for a couple of weeks, that will be the moment she chooses to make her exit, and we’d have to turn around and come right back, so for several years now we haven’t gone anywhere terribly far, though we are (pun sort of intended) dying to. This week Arnold wants to go to Cordoba. Not happening right now, alas.

Now that Mother is pretty well settled in at the convalescent home, where, barring something really unforeseen, she will remain till the end, as things have stabilized, however, we are ever-so-cautiously asking ourselves what WE want to do next for ourselves. Thank god she is here in Mexico where things are so much more affordable and she could live on indefinitely and it won’t break the bank. Having of course inherited my mother’s love of buying, remodeling and decorating houses, in thinking about our future, my first impulse has been to start looking for a new and in all likelihood, a bigger house.  Some people never learn.

Well, since yesterday was her 90th birthday, Arnold and I brought her some flowers, and set the arrangement by her bed in the home. I’d asked the lady at the flower shop to pick bright colors she could see, so she put together some enormous orange and yellow lilies, and hot Mexican pink Gerbera daisies, one of her favorites.  A couple of people she knows also brought her flowers and those were by her bed too. But when we brought ours over, she didn’t open her eyes, didn’t even really try to talk. Maybe after we left she was able (or chose to) see them, but we couldn’t tell. We just said “Happy Birthday, Mom, you made it to 90!” To which there was no response whatsoever , not even the blink of an eye trying to open, and after sitting with her awhile in silence, she nodded off, so we came back home.

A Fond Farewell?

Our house, a fond farewell?

Our house, a fond farewell?

In recent news, Arnold and I have decided to put our house on the market and uproot ourselves once again looking for a house that better suits the way we are living these days. It will surely be an adventure, and hard for me, who doesn’t do well with big uncertainties, to say the least.  I wish we had the money in hand to just buy whatever new place we fall in love with and sell ours later, in a leisurely fashion, but we don’t. And friends here who tried that gambit ended up not able to sell their original house and now have it rented out. They are enjoying being landlords and having the extra income but we – alas – will need every penny we can wring out from the sale of our present casa to propel us into the next one.  As our real estate market here is so tied to whatever is going on in the States, the market for sales is awful, and as you’d expect, the market for buyers is full of relative bargains. There are loads of absolutely beautiful places up for sale here so finding something that we will both love will be the least of our worries, I think, once we know how much we can get for this house and have an offer on it that looks reasonable so we can forge ahead.

The good news about living in Mexico is that with few exceptions there are no mortgages. Every sale is “all cash” which frees you from the stress of worrying about those horrid payments every month. Being free of debt in a house I never could have afforded back in the States was one of the things that I found attractive about the idea of retiring in Mexico. But propelling yourself out of one house and into another is in a way more crazy-making, because no matter what price you negotiate on both the sell side and the buy side, you still have to arrive at the notario’s office on the day of your closing with the requisite fistfuls of cash for the entire purchase wired to your seller’s account. So you dare not fall too much in love with any house that is more than what you can scrounge up in real money  – but on the other hand if you don’t go out and look you have no idea what is really, truly, out there for sale in your price range, so it is a little bit crazy-making, but  this is where we are right now. First step, get ours on the market and see what happens over the next few months. Our real estate agent is telling us – and we know she’s right – that right now, when all the snowbirds are in town till April – is a good time to be putting it up for sale. In spite of all the bad publicity about Mexico, there are at least a few buyers out there, apparently.

It will tear me up to leave this place when the final days here come, especially the garden, which I carved out of what was basically a cobblestone parking lot. It has become really beautiful, a sanctuary for birds and butterflies, with two fountains and dozens of flowers everywhere, plus we are growing all kinds of fun things – bananas, mangoes, papayas, limones, avocados, and all sorts of herbs and spices – all the bounty that a Mexican garden provides year-round as a matter of course. I am hoping that someone else will in turn fall in love with it on the spot and want to live here. But there is no doubt in my mind – nor Arnold’s, I suspect – that in many ways we have outgrown the house itself and need something with a different configuration. Short of remodeling this place, which doesn’t make economic sense as we have way more into it now than we’ll ever get out, given how the market has declined – to get the space and quiet we are looking for these days, we will have to move.

So this week the preparations have begun.  I called our trusty construction guy, Ricardo, last week, who has sent over three or four workers who are now crawling around painting, plastering, repairing, redoing the floors – the cosmetic stuff you know you should do when you are simply living in a house (but never get around to). Of course these repairs become imperative once you decide to put it on the market, and it has to be if not impeccable, then more presentable than what you just ignore most of the time before you make the decision to sell. It’s weird; we have even rearranged some furniture and reorganized things  “for showings” and realized that we should have made x change years ago because it looks so much better now. Why didn’t we do it before, why didn’t we see it before?

It is interesting how a stay in the hospital for surgery, heart procedure, whatever, can change your perspective on your life. In my case, my ailments were painful and inconvenient but not life-threatening; but Arnold’s heart adventures – plus the fact that he’s ten years older than I am to start with –  have made him more aware of the passage of time in recent months.  It seems like getting into, or approaching, your seventies can put your own mortality into sharper relief. Especially dealing, as we do every day, with the agonizingly slow departure of my mother, who will turn ninety in a few days, but has spent much of the last third of her life in an inexorable physical decline (much of which she could have fought against but didn’t) that has left her completely bedridden and unable even to talk these days. Thus we are both in a “if we are going to do things, we need to do  them NOW” kind of place, and dealing with the house, the inevitable addition of some of my parents ’ treasured Mexican furniture, and the changes in the way we are living these days, is inevitably pointing to moving rather than trying to patch something more accommodating together here.

Everyone is asking us – since our present house is two stories – and actually three, if you count the rooftop mirador where I take my morning coffee for a view of the mountains and the lake – if we’re downsizing and looking for something on one level. Typical of us, al contrario, the one house we both managed to fall in love with is three levels as well, with breathtaking views of the lake from high up on the mountainside. If we get serious about it we will have an elevator guy come from Guadalajara to look at it and tell us whether and how they could eventually put an elevator, or one of those chairs that move up and down stairs, into it. But we don’t want or need to anticipate being incapacitated just yet. Neither of us needs it now and we seem to be doing fine with the stairs in the house we have , so we can know it’s possible and leave it at that until or unless we need it down the line. Since my surgery, I have not been allowed to do the kind of exercise I was doing before, so the stairs actually are about my only exercise right now, for the next few weeks, at least. Arnold refuses to do the “look at a one story place” routine; we’ve always lived in two-story houses and I think for him it’s a kind of surrender. Anyway, pun intended, many steps before  we get to the rearrangement of x new house wherever it may be and whatever tweaking it might need.

We shall see!

December 31, 2012

For some strange reason, it is pouring rain tonight in normally bright, sunny Ajijic. It has been dark and cloudy the last couple of days, just enough to wring all the warmth out of the air, and now Arnold and I, Reina the dog and the cuatro gatos are hunkered down in our house in warm clothes, wrapped in sweaters and rebozos, to try to get warm.  The kitties are all too cold to fight, each one has found a nice toasty place, one on my stereo receiver, one on the TV satellite box, two others tightly curled up on sofas. The good news about not having a heating system in your house  = no heating bills. The bad news = when it does get cold out there you freeze, especially after the sun goes down. We do have a gas fireplace with cement logs in the living room, and in desperation we’ve been turning it on the past couple of nights. It does help, but it isn’t in a room we really frequent, and I wonder how quickly we are going to have to call Javier, our liquid propane guy, to come and fill the tank again. Hopefully not tomorrow, as it’s New Year’s Day and nearly everything will be closed up tight.

Less and less frequently do they shoot off pistols in the air for New Year’s – it used to be a bit dangerous to be out late at night on December 31. But it is still enough of a concern so that I’m just as glad we are staying in. Before we moved into our house, while we were still living in Santa Fe but had actually completed the purchase, our gardener reported a huge, growing puddle of mysterious origin in the garden. For the life of him he couldn’t figure out where the standing water was coming from, so, fearing some long term damage to the house’s foundation, we told him he’d better dig up the whole water line to see what was going on. Turned out some undoubtedly inebriated loco had fired a pistol into the air over our wall on New Year’s Eve and it landed buried several inches in our lawn, severing the water line. Puzzle solved.  We may be living in a fantasy world, but it does seem to us that at least in our very Mexican neighborhood, those shenanigans have diminished somewhat in recent years. Or they know the house is occupied now so they very kindly shoot somewhere else.

We won’t even be able to hunker down in bed and watch the midnight ball drop in Nueva York on TV because of course, our TV is out because of the rain. But – we can be reassured that things haven’t gotten totally waterlogged –  we can still hear a few rockets and firecrackers going off here and there, rain or no rain. We’ve been invited to a little party tomorrow, so that should be nice; then we will stop off and see my mother and tell her “Happy New Year”, which won’t be so nice, but it is obligatory and with any luck she will be at least a little bit awake and will recognize us.

Having survived the surgery about as well as anyone could, I am full of gratitude that things went so well and exactly as planned and predicted; but still, it’s unnerving that I seem to have lost a couple of months out of my life to medical tests, x-rays, CT scans, trips to Guadalajara for medical appointments and much worry – whoosh, gone, just like that. And now, suddenly, it’s practically 2013.  So I’ve been a bit unsettled and over the weekend, my first couple of days of being truly pain-free and with a bit more energy, I did the only thing I could figure out to do, to re-establish some relationship with quotidian life – went into girlie mode and fiercely emptied out and rearranged all my clothes closets.  Gave some things away, took some things to the resale store. Most Mexican houses don’t have great closet space (that’s what those wonderful painted armoires are for!) and ours is better than most, but I still complain constantly that pants are here, shirts are crammed in another closet a room away, coats and sweaters somewhere else and I have to traipse all over the house to find things.

I keep arranging and rearranging, trying to find a system that will work for me to have access to my wardrobe  (This time I’m trying a “color wheel” system for organizing clothing that I read about online….hey, it’s worth a shot!) Arnold says “it’s just stuff, get rid of it all” – but at this chilly moment I am very happy indeed that I have not given my winter clothes away. In fact, contrary to what a lot of people do when they move here from Michigan or Canada (and jettison everything but their Teva sandals and their Bermuda shorts), I kept enough of a variety of winter clothes left over from my old Santa Fe days – where I gather it is snowing tonight – so that the fortunate fashionista even has a choice of which warm sweater to wear. And, of course, the sun will be out again in a day or so. Naturally, keeping all this winter stuff has only made my closets more tightly packed, but what’s a girl to do?

No one is talking about it much, but it feels to me like much of Mexico is really ready to bid a not-so-fond farewell to 2012, with the horrific bloodshed and violence brought  on by Calderón’s six-year war against the cartels. Our newly installed movie-star president, Peña Nieto, is promising everyone here the moon; and we all know how far he’s gonna get with all that fol-de-rol given Mexico’s intractable disregard for the rule of law and pervasive corruption inbred from the days of Spanish rule. Still, from what I can tell, perhaps things will feel a little calmer, but one will never know whether the perceived tranquility is just an illusion with the same unthinkable things going on but with less publicity – or whether the new regimes, both local and national, really will be able to get things settled down a bit. One can only hope.

In any event, if tonight was to have been an evening of wild parties to ring out the old and ring in the new, whether with pistol shots into the air or not, it probably ain’t gonna happen in our little town, or at least not to any great degree.  One thing is for sure, the people around here are very spoiled by their normally superb weather and a cold, driving rain, expected to go on for awhile, will undoubtedly keep many people in their houses and off the slippery cobblestone streets. Probably, actually, not such a bad idea.

So, having said all that, feliz año nuevo everyone, stay safe.

Back in the saddle?

Day of the Dead, midnight, Ajijic. Where I left off writing in November....

Day of the Dead, midnight, Ajijic. Where I left off writing in November….

Surely I am not the only blogger out there who has taken a break from writing for awhile.  Once again, life intervened and obliterated my good intentions to write at least SOMETHING over the past couple of months. But, in brief, here are my excuses.

We decided, for financial reasons as much as anything, to move my mother yet again, into a nearby convalescent home, basically, and begin the process of taking apart  her house here (we keep having to take apart houses my parents – or now, just my mother – have lived in, and it’s time-consuming and draining, to be candid). Since she is now pretty much blind and bedridden, keeping her where she was, in her own private home, was not making financial sense any longer.  But this time we found a much more economical and reasonable solution for her, where honestly, we are pretty sure this will be her last stop. They take terrific care of her there, as only doting Mexican ladies can, feeding her wonderful chicken caldo (broth), vegetables and, by doctor’s orders, chocolate milk whenever she wants it, which gives her enormous pleasure after years of obsessive dieting and diabetic diets. She has been so weak and immobilized that now she actually can use the calories – and the enjoyment to keep her spirits up. To whatever extent she is capable of rallying now, she does have occasional moments of more lucidity and we even get to see faint glimpses of her old wicked sense of humor, which is heart-wrenching in a way, but also lightens the load a bit. Much of the time she is just asleep, but in the rare moments when she is candid, it is good to see that for that moment, at least, she’s still “in there” and can manage a faint smile.  She will turn ninety in January, and when I reminded her of this and told her we’ll have a big party in her room at the asilo, she barely could get out a whisper, but she did say “wow, amazing”. And so it goes.

Then I was surprised in November by a couple of medical problems that pretty much required immediate surgery – I tried to figure out alternative therapies or ways around my medical issues, but after all my hesitation and resistance, I finally had to surrender to the reality that I probably couldn’t fix things on my own, and I had to face the situation head-on and deal with it. Mid-December, I had a three-day stay in a private hospital in Guadalajara that was just terrific. Through that experience, I also found wonderful new doctors who can take good care of me going forward, so in that respect, it was fortuitous. Now, I’m on the mend and surveying the wreckage of everything (I seem to have utterly missed Christmas this year, and my birthday December 23!) that was left undone and littering my path before I disappeared from view for awhile. Well, surprise surprise, all that stuff is still right there where I left it lying around while I dealt with more pressing matters – unfinished projects, unanswered e-mails,  and of course my poor lonely blog. It’s all still here, sort like our dog Reina lying patiently at my feet, none of it went anywhere, so I guess I can pick up where I left off.

The good news is that we are about to start a new year, which gives me an excuse to say about this last one that – well, I’ve seen better. As I have gotten older I seem to feel that way at the end of every year, and last year I had a REAL excuse for giving 2011 a bad review because we did go through my dad’s death. I mean, that would have seemed a much better reason to wish the year was over and hope that next year would be better. This year we had a horrific crime wave here in Ajijic that terrified all of us but now when we look at it from the perspective of the murder of all those children in Connecticut, the random murder of people, especially young people, doesn’t seem any weirder here than back in the Ancestral Homeland. Whether you get snatched from the street in a kidnapping or mowed down at your school, your friendly local mall or at the movies, what’s the difference? The final outcome is the same, I guess, for you and the people who love you.

So we stay – cynically perhaps? here in our paradise, which, after all, by now is home, and hope for the best. Undoubtedly the weather here is better than anywhere else we can think of and if for no other reason – and inertia – here we shall most likely stay, year after year, enjoying the sunshine and flowers. Sometimes we talk about a different house, but as a practical matter it isn’t something we can tackle right now. Perhaps mañana.

My mother is still alive, doing as well as can be expected in her pretty and, as such spaces go, large and bright room at the rest home. Arnold, Wendy and I brought in a few decorative items and linens of hers from the storage unit when Wendy was here a couple of months ago, so on the days when she can see – some days being better than others – she knows that some of her own things and art are in there; we made it as nice as we could given that her real world has shrunken down to a hospital bed with occasional moves to a wheelchair for bathing and such. She has sliding glass doors out to an eternally green garden, and I hope that she makes it long enough for us to have her crack a few more jokes before she takes off.

Is It Or Isn’t It?

Between the cuatro gatos,  my mother’s ongoing deterioration, adjusting to the new realities of Arnold as a “forever” cardiac patient, we have been just twitching from stress. We decided we needed to escape for a little while; just a short break from all of it to play somewhere. A few weeks ago, the perfect deus ex machina appeared in the form of an email from Christie’s in New York, saying they’d like to have a look at my mother’s violin.

I must digress a bit to share the history of this violin, which has been, for better or worse,  a telling part of my family’s in-house folklore for my entire life. My mother insisted to all who would listen that it was at least a part Guarnerius, and always referred to it as “The Guarnerius”, showing anyone who exhibited the slightest bit of interest the tiny little label inside that said “made by Joseph Guarnerius, Cremona”. My dad, the guy with the actual, real, Ph.D. in musicology, always dismissed mother’s airs about the “fiddle” being some rare, priceless thing. “Yeah, sure, Shirley,” he would sigh; “we know at best it’s only a partial Guarnerius, don’t get your hopes up.”  Even though the violin indisputably has this label, he would remind her that “we just don’t know enough about it, it could well be a fake, one of these days we should have someone really look at it definitively” (which of course he never did). But the violin repair people who HAD looked at it over the years, even casually, concurred that it was probably at most 1/4 or perhaps ½ a Guarnerius with a new neck and various other parts cobbled onto it over the centuries. It is, after all, an eighteenth century instrument; it has been around a long time. Clearly it has been damaged and repaired, so we  know from the outset that chances are overwhelming that we aren’t going to have one of those Antiques Road Show moments where all the cameras are on you when it’s determined that your funky old treasure is actually worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For decades, we all tolerated mother’s flights of fancy about the supposed staggering value of this instrument and basically ignored her inflated notions about it. We did know that it had been a wedding present to her from my paternal grandfather, George Steiner, also a distinguished composer and musician. The part of the story we thought was true, confirmed by my dad’s sister, was that George had almost certainly brought the violin with him to the United States when he emigrated as a very young man from Hungary, in the first decades of the 20th century. It wasn’t at all far-fetched to imagine that my grandfather, who had studied composition with Kodály and was first violinist of the Budapest Philharmonic at the age of 15, would somehow have come into possession of such a fine violin in the first place.

Reconstructing the family history as best we can, as he was transitioning himself from the violin to the viola, giving the “Guarnerius” to my mom was probably a logical and very cool thing to do. As a young woman, (my dad was her accompanist when they were college students) she was a gifted violinist, a student at the Oberlin Conservatory, and if nothing else we figure George knew she would play the bejesus out of it, love it, and take good care of it, especially under my dad’s incredibly compulsive and watchful eye. The good news about the family history we know to be true is that it places the violin in our family throughout World War II, so at least we don’t have to worry that it was stolen from some family by the Nazis and would now have to be repatriated.

And the “Guarnerius” did indeed, throughout the earlier part of its life in our family, see a great deal of use and even as a kid, listening to my parents and their friends play chamber music in our living room, I could tell this violin was quite wonderful, with a special sound. The fact that it happened to have a beautiful sound just fed my mother’s unwavering belief that it was indeed a real Guarnerius.  Back then, it was indeed played and enjoyed; but as my mother grew older, frailer, sicker, sadly, it was increasingly relegated to life in its case. My dad obsessively put humidifiers and thermometers in there, to protect it, especially once they moved to the high desert climate of Santa Fe. But as something to make music with, its voice was heard no more. I found this all terribly depressing, being the sort of person who likes to see fine things be used for whatever purpose they were intended.

With my mother now blind and immobile, incontinent and entirely bedridden, obviously her days of playing her beloved fiddle are now over, and Wendy, Arnold and I had a pow-wow about what to do with it. There wasn’t anyone in the family seriously studying violin, and certainly no one at a level that would merit a gift of this stature. No, we thought; our hope is that someone begins to play this thing again and bring it back to life — we need to sell it. Let some younger person have it, hopefully, as a thing that actually produces music instead of serving as a wannabe status symbol.  And whatever we do get for it when we sell it, we’ll do something to remember Mom by – maybe all nip off to Venice, a place she loved more than anything, and raise a glass to her at the bar at La Fenice or order a fifty dollar plate of pasta at Harry’s in her memory. She would love that, too.

So Arnold began contacting dealers in New York to see who might be interested; Christie’s asked us for a series of rather detailed photos, the taking of which made me decide that on our next trip I was going to update my camera (topic of another blog post!). I did my best photographing it just as they required, with special attention to that mysterious little paper label inside the f-hole. Not an easy job but good enough so that they got back to us and said “yes, we’d like to see it”. Soon thereafter we packed it up in its case and off we went. We had to hand-carry the violin with us onto the plane; for whatever it may turn out to be be, it is not the sort of thing one sends to Nueva York via Correos de Mexico in a box, or even via Fedex.

As I mentioned above, in any event we were dying for a fall foray to Nueva York, and right after we got there we took the violin to Christies’, for our appointment with their fine instruments expert, which turned out to be utterly fascinating. They asked us, of course, to tell them what we knew about the violin, which we did, to the best of our ability. It occurred to me in the course of that part of the conversation that an unintended consequence of my dismissive attitude toward the whole business of my mother and her bloody violin over the years was that I never had the slightest interest in actually asking her – or my father – anything about it. Sad, because particularly my father, could actually have recounted in a trice how it had come into George’s possession.

At the end of the day, It’s unfortunate that my impatience with my mother’s tendency to self-aggrandizement ultimately resulted in my failure to be able to add much in the way of factual history to the whole story of the violin which now lay, denuded of all its embellished attributes, under a fluorescent light on an examining room table at Christie’s. As though they were studying a patient on an operating table, they pronounced the label inside to be of uncertain origin “probably Dutch” (e.g. not Italian and possibly fake but maybe not); it has some sort of indeterminate catalog number and they need to figure out who catalogued it and when. And, they noted – that the entire instrument was warped and needed some serious repair work. Finally they said “it’s been played a lot, and it’s been played hard”. You could see what they were talking about as they pointed out every little flaw and crack and repair to you. It was actually totally cool. I thought “Poor little violin, now after decades of lying mute in a case, this may be the very first steps in someone beginning to actually play you again – just be patient, and soon this awful period of silence may be over….” Anthropomorphic, to be sure, and silly, but that’s what I felt.

Well, they said, before we can properly assess its value for auction, here is what we’ll have to do to find out more about this instrument. “We would like recommend that it be sent to London for dendrochronology studies and then we’ll know what we have here.”  It turns out that this is what they do with anything made out of wood where they’re trying to determine the age of the object in question.  In the case of antique musical instruments, these experts in London can look at the wood patterns, analyzing the summer growth and winter growth, and they can match what they see to a database of hundreds of thousands of wood patterns to see, first of all, how old it really is. Then, they search for a match to the documented wood grain of any known Guarnerius violins. Because these workshops traded pieces of wood from time to time for use in specific instruments for various reasons, they also check against the woods used by other renowned violin makers of the time – Stradivarius, Del Gesú, Amati, and so forth. Apparently, these makers would just order up a whole tree, cut it into pieces, and age the wood – and use many pieces from the same tree or trees for various instruments, just as violin makers would today.  These folks in London actually have a database of a certain set of trees on specific forest slopes in Austria that were favored by the makers of that time. So, if you get a match to the grain, voilà, you might actually have a real Guarnerius. Or at least part of one. We shall see.

They also were interested in the two bows – seriously shedding hairs and obviously in need of some work – in the case. They even carted the bows off to a lab upstairs to be x-rayed and further studied. One of them may turn out to be valuable but there are mysteries connected with that as well – the pins are wrong to be from the maker the label says it’s from, and on it goes. Even at Christie’s, though, oddly enough, no one put bow to string to actually hear how it sounded. I guess it will have to wait awhile more before anyone gets serious about playing it. But, perhaps, in the lifespan of a thing that dates from the mid-1700’s, hopefully not too much longer.

Anyway it was all fascinating and no matter what the outcome we will have learned a great deal! Too bad WE don’t get to take it to London, though.

Well, there you have it…or something!

Kitty wars update….

Kitty wars update – today’s tally, one vase with flowers in it knocked over TWICE in early morning skirmishes, water all over the floor, the dining room table soaked, and water in and on several bags of books I was planning to donate to Sofia’s school library. Before I could figure out where to move it, they knocked this poor vase over AGAIN and this time demolished my lucite salt shaker. Dr. Jesus did come over and drop off the pills and we have been experimenting with different dosages – they DO help but we obviously haven’t found the right formula – giving them enough to quiet them down but not so much that they are comatose or their health is endangered. It is apparently a delicate balance. The two big ones continue to stalk and pounce upon the two smaller ones, but not quite as often and not quite as enthusiastically, given that they are a bit stoned. S

Rosie, who continues to be a nervous wreck, threw up all over the dresser and all over the runner my sister wove for me. It will have to go to the cleaners…

Tab is eating her food AND Luigi’s food, we have to sort of feed them sequentially. That kitty’s eating disorders make me with my weight problem look like a rank amateur. She REALLY has a problem. Definitely kitty-shrink material.

Tonight we are just going to let them all have the run of the house and see if we get any sleep at all. Rosie and Missoni will hide I am sure and be really upset at the loss of their preferred spaces on the bed. But I have this weird theory that we should try it because if Tab and Luigi can sleep with us it might ratchet down THEIR anxiety levels and make things calmer all around. Either that or it’ll be all out third world kitty war all night as they duke it out. My weird theory will probably turn out to be just exactly that – a weird theory – soon to be tossed onto the pile of other cat owners’ weird cat behavior theories that turned out to be -well,  dead wrong.

As they say, vamos a ver!

Meanwhile the weather here is absolutely gorgeous, blue skies cooling off a bit, and big puffy clouds. We are awaiting the annual arrival of the snowbirds which marks the beginning of “high season” here – with all sorts of concerts, activities, charitable events. They stay until April and then when the spring rolls around, they all head back to Minnesota or Canada, sort of like flocks of geese.  While they are here, though it’s lively, with restaurants and shops full,  you can give up hope of finding a parking place in the village.  But right now it is still calm; we are going to enjoy it while we can.

The Kitty Psychiatric Ward

The cuatro gatos are still battling each other for domination of our household, four months to the day after their “introduction”, and we have just about had it. Just when you least expect it (like when you’re in the shower) one jumps another and you have to race to wherever the confrontation may be (probably diagonally across the house and either up or down a flight of stairs), squirt bottle in hand, to break up the fracas. Both of us have struggled with what to do about the fact that they just seem not to be adjusting to one another, and it has become for us a terrible moral dilemma. Tabitha, my mother’s hugely overweight tabby female, and jet-black and big-eyed Luigi, the male, arrived on the scene just wanting lots of love and attention from us, but the minute they spotted their two rivals in the living room, war was declared.

I had promised my mother years ago, when she was still “compos mentis”, that we would take her two in if she and my dad could no longer care for them. In retrospect, my promise to her to keep them with us “forever” may have been not such a bright commitment to have made. And now, to be honest, if I wanted to weasel out of it and give them up for adoption, I surely could, because she is completely gone mentally at this point. Still, a promise is a promise, aside from which the shelters here are overflowing with stray kittens and cats, dozens of them, needing homes (that’s how we got Missoni, after all). But neither Arnold nor I could do that now to both my parents’ poor kitties. They have been traumatized; starting with being brought down here from the States and adjusting to that, then going through the death of my father last year (he adored both of them and they were really disoriented when he died) and then they suffered, not  comprehending, as my mother stopped petting them and talking to them (they used to sleep on my parents’ bed in the old days). They don’t understand why or how she became bedridden, blind and suffering from dementia, eventually not relating to them at all.

I think cats do understand death and dying, and sadly, they both reacted to the loss of their master and mistress by becoming hugely depressed and hiding in a closet in my mother’s house, pretty much all day and all night long.  Well, I’d promised to take them in. So, seeing these two poor cats confused and disoriented, if we have to run a kitty psychiatric ward once they come here to live, I thought to myself, so be it. Guess we’re stuck; and Arnold agreed. In the old days, back in Santa Fe, roaming around my parents’ house and enjoying their affection, they were the world’s sweetest pair of kitties, but they have been upset now to a point where – good news – they get it that we are their new masters, but – bad news – they want us ALL to themselves. Desperately, both of these poor cats want security and lots and lots of affection from us. From their point of view, there is no room for any other cats to compete for attention.

Thus, we quickly found that my daughterly devotion unleashed upon our household two panicky felines who, starting the day they arrived, began incessantly to stalk and attack our two delicate, much more sensitive cats, who are half their size and terrified of these two invaders. As a result, our original two have become nervous wrecks. This turmoil was, of course, on top of the stress we were enduring with Arnold’s coronary adventures and his stent procedure. We tried everything “natural” we could think of to calm them down, and which Dr. Jesus suggested, including various and sundry herbal and flower-based aromatherapy sprays and drops in their food, none of which have really worked, or at least not to the point where it’s made any difference that we can see. In exasperation, one morning I went out and bought collars and tags for both of them, and threw them both out onto the terrace. I had hoped that keeping the newcomers out of the house for much of the day would mean that Group 1, and we, had a break from the catfights and we could go about our lives for awhile each day in relative peace.

At first they were scared and hung out near the door meowing incessantly to be let back in – having been indoor cats their whole lives – but day by day they have timidly ventured further away from the house and thankfully, now they are totally digging being out there, chasing bugs and rolling on the grass for the first time in their lives. Our garden walls are so high they can’t escape and of course Tab is too gordita to climb anything, sadly for her. (That’s our next job, getting her on some kind of kitty diet …I keep saying she needs Dr. Catkins). If anything, her metabolism is now more messed up than mine from stress. Luigi doesn’t have front claws so fortunately he can’t really climb too much either. He was declawed when we adopted him from the shelter in Santa Fe, and luckily, now that he’s older, our garden seems to be plenty big enough for him to explore.

By now they are generally content to find chairs on the terraza and just hang out there.  Jet black Luigi also strolls around contentedly and has found a nice maguey he likes to crawl under for his afternoon naps. The only thing you can see, if you need to find him, are those two huge green eyes! After sundown, though, we still feel we have to bring them into the house. First of all, even though Ajijic is warmer in winter than many other places, the nighttime temperatures here in the winter can get down to the high thirties and frequently the low forties. And the creepy crawlies we do have – black widows, scorpions, and brown recluse spiders, are out there and much more likely to sally forth at night.  So while peace has begun to return during the daylight hours, we still are having battles in the evenings. Missoni and Rosie find high places and just stay hidden, trembling and wary. Winter is coming and the days are already getting shorter. Not good.

Well then, what to do? Mexicans are very paradoxical about drugs – some pills, like Viagra, it seems you can buy by the handful in any farmacia in the country. But anything that might be even vaguely addictive or dangerous is now controlado (controlled) and it’s every bit as hard to come by the stuff as it is in the U.S., even for animals. At my wits’ end and ready for a stay in an asylum myself, I went in to town to see Dr. Jesus, the classical-guitarist vet.  I said “I know you like all this natural stuff and don’t want to prescribe drugs for them, but honestly, we need to try to put at least the two new ones on kitty tranquilizers for a while to see if it ratchets down their “chase and dominate” instincts. It’s not fair to our two: their whole existence now is about being pursued and/or hiding in high places”. I confessed to him that I had dug around and found a few pills left over from when Arnold brought Group 2 down in the plane. Even though the medication had expired long ago, I figured, let’s see what happens – and I tried chopping the pills up into quarters and giving them this small dose. Thankfully, for we were at the end of our ropes, it seemed to quiet things down quite a bit. Dr. Jesus agreed to get us some kitty calmante drops – they have to be ordered from Guadalajara and it takes a few days to get them. We can experiment with different dosages and “medication schedules” to see what works best to settle the four of them down. I am hoping that  we won’t have to  keep them doped up for more than a couple of weeks, I suspect, till their little kitty motherboards are reset and hopefully we can all go on about our lives. Better living through chemistry.

Today, we brought  Group 2 in at sundown and gave ‘em two of the four little pill fragments I have left. Stoned kitties means that we don’t have to race up or downstairs, with squirt bottles in hand, to break up altercations when we hear screaming and hissing from some part of the house where someone has been cornered and is about to be pounced upon. I have enough until tomorrow; I’m praying that Dr. Jesus does indeed get the stuff from Guadalajara for us or we will be back at Square One. For now, at least for part of the evening after dinner, thankfully, Luigi and Tabitha just LIE there, right in the middle of everything, sort of like meatloaves. But no stalking, no switching of tails, no narrowing of the eyes followed by chasing and the inevitable attack.  We are so preoccupied over my mother right now that we just don’t need the house to be insane and tense from the cats. As I write this three of them, for the first time, are calmly in the same room. Rosie is still hiding upstairs in a closet, but I’m grateful for what I’ve gotten. The two newcomers are lazing on the dining room table, eyes kind of glazed (anyone who grew up in the ‘sixties knows that look!) but mellowed out, at least for the moment, with Missoni underneath the table perched on a chair. No one is hissing, no one is growling. I decided to make a run for it, put down my weapon (the squirt bottle), and came upstairs to write this. Maybe, just maybe, peace will reign in the land.

The Regata de Globos

I guess a lot of towns have a couple of crazy things they do every year – special traditions that take root somehow and resonate with local folks as annual events, so they get repeated each year, and they evolve and change – or, sometimes even better, they don’t. It’s basically just the same thing each year, which is what helps people feel rooted to their communities, I suspect. When we lived in Santa Fe there was the Christmas Eve walk up Canyon Road by candlelight , singing carols as we froze in the snow, and in the late summer, the burning of Zozobra, a huge paper-filled mannequin that supposedly took all our cares up with him to the great beyond as he was incinerated with much fanfare from the assembled crowd. As one who has always had an interest in traditional culture, I have always enjoyed these unique events wherever I’ve come across them.

Mexico is full of such festivals, many of them religious, of course, but some of the most delightful ones are secular. They just evolve and become a part of the local calendar of annual fiestas along with Christmas, Dia de la Independencia, and the other “obligatorio” Mexican holidays. We have a couple of them here but one of my absolute Ajijic favorites is the annual Regata de Globos held each September around the time of the Fiestas Patrias, Mexican Independence Day.  It’s a homegrown balloon festival where the community gathers to watch impossibly fragile tissue paper balloons rise giddily to the heavens – if they don’t burn up first. No one really seems to be able to definitively describe how the globo festival got started here. People remember their fathers and grandfathers making them, though, and I’ve heard various stories of how the tradition “really” got started. Just like the sturdiest of the balloons, which manage to get lost in the mists above the soccer field and fly off over the lake, the real roots of the regata are probably now lost in time.

Having spent years in Santa Fe where one’s idea of a balloon festival was the enormous, world-famous annual International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, ours here definitely assumes its place 180 degrees opposite that one on the balloon scale, I am sure. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta attracts enormous and spectacular balloons, flown by licensed pilots, who descend upon Albuquerque each year from all over the world, many sponsored by corporations. Its gorgeous, carefully planned, mass ascensions are televised in their entirety every October. So you can imagine my surprise when I first learned that there was a baby balloon fiesta right here. Big or little, there is just something people love about seeing something they made – kite, model airplane, balloon, sail up into the sky as if by magic, defying gravity.

We love our local version, and Arnold and I go now to see it down on the Ajijic soccer field every year. The difference being, of course, that our balloons are still – mandated by tradition – all made of colored tissue paper; there is no helium or gas or professional races or television cameras or anything like that – just hot air, and neighborhood teams of volunteers who work all year to painstakingly piece dozens of the fragile balloons together with scotch tape, and hundreds of people taking the afternoon off and simply having a good time.

I could describe it in great detail but it was so much fun to shoot these pictures that I assembled a video. I suspect that it will give you a better sense of the goings-on down on the Ajijic soccer field than I ever could write. Just sheer madness and fun!

Piles of Signs

A street in the village….

Sad to say there was another narcobloqueo in Guadalajara the other day – major roads blocked, buses set on fire, a bus driver killed, the usual. Rosa said they found two men hanged in Zapopan too. To the north, it sounds just horrible, gunfire and grenades in the night. Supposedly our fun and games here was in revenge for the federales having captured a big drug kingpin and extraditing him back to the States. Guadalajara continues on “Alerta Roja” (red alert); the scuttlebutt is that they are zeroing in on another capo or two. No matter, alas, if they get the one they want another is right behind him (or increasingly, her) in line to move into the top spot. It just never ends.

But at least over the past couple of months, we have been spared anything too horrible here in our little village, though everyone is always somewhat on edge, because of course it can all start up again at any time.  Still, for a change, there are the stirrings of some good things happening  – signs that people are coming out of the shadows after so much recent violence.  At least this week, instead of dealing with mayhem, our local government has been trying to spiff the place up a little bit, in hopes of encouraging tourism and “quality of life”, one supposes. Our much-loved contractor and volunteer-about-town, Moctezuma (Chuma for short),  has organized a charming remodel of our town plaza, with mosaic floors, new plantings, and art donated and commissioned from a number of  favorite local artists and craftsmen. The crew does as much work as they can till they run out of money, then they stop.  Chuma puts on a fundraiser or two, and they then continue on. We ran into him in town today and he said that next month there is going to be a folk dance performance we have to attend – to benefit the plaza redecoration project, as the project is once again broke. Of course we will go.

Then, the last time we took the bus in to Guadalajara, we noticed a little cement block bench at the bus stop, where before, people waiting had to stand in the blazing hot sun in the middle of a knee-high weed patch just off the highway in order to avoid being killed by oncoming traffic. The grass around it had just been trimmed and someone had painted the little bench white. This was really nice because so many of the people who wait for the bus are elderly, or are parents with little kids or babies in their arms. And then a few days later, a steel roof magically appeared over the block bench to shield people from the sun.

They have also been putting up new street signs all over the village to replace the now rusty and faded old ones. When I saw them being put up everywhere I thought “Boy, our corner could really use one of those.” The original one got knocked down or stolen years ago and now, since there are no street signs anywhere on our street, people are never quite sure where they are. So I went into our little city hall and stopped at the entrance, where a tiny desk was flanked by three police officers (one a young woman), their scary-looking automatic weapons leaned against the wall in a corner as they chatted amongst themselves over styrofoam plates of tacos. I asked, as respectfully as I could, given the armaments just a few feet from where I was standing, where the Street Sign Department was. I told them I wanted to find out how to apply to have one put up. “Oh, just go upstairs, Señora, they are working on them now and someone will help you.”

Upstairs consists of two rooms, a tiny office where the delegado – basically the mayor – works, and a second room, which was filled with boxes and piles of street signs all wrapped in plastic. I went in and pled my case – that we really needed one of those on our corner, people often got lost, there had been one before, etc. “Of course, I think we have an extra one here, and I know exactly where you mean for it to go”, said the nice man who was on all fours in the middle of the room organizing all the piles of street signs. “We’ll run out there tomorrow morning and put it up for you…” “Muchas gracias”, I said, carefully backing out of the small room. “De nada, señora, que le vaya bien”. Once back out on the street, I thought, sort of growling to myself, oh, sure, I know I’ll be back here twenty times asking about my famous sign before I ever see it, if they ever DO put it up. There are a zillion signs in there they are dealing with, they’ll never get around to it…but at least I tried. I went off on my other errands and forgot about it.

Well, damned if I didn’t walk to the corner early the following morning on my way to my exercise class, when lo and behold, there was the new sign in all its glory, gleaming in the sunlight, nailed up precisely where I had suggested they put it. Not completely straight, but there it is. Que le vaya bien.

 

Podando (pruning)

This week, we had a crew of guys crawling all over the garden in hard hats and tree gear pruning our trees. They grow like weeds here, especially during the rainy season, so this monster haircutting has to be done once a year at least. There was a huge wood chipper parked outside, partially blocking the calle, and our gate stayed open all day long so they could haul debris out to put in the chipper. Adding to the stress, chain saws and pruners were everywhere, with branches falling all over the place, so we and the animals all had to be locked inside all day. We have the “nicest” house in a very Mexican neighborhood, and I am always a little jumpy about who can peer in and check out the property. Having the driveway gates open makes me nervous since I don’t like passers-by being able to see into our garden.

Then the plumber was here trying to figure out exactly where our septic tank is located; we have never had a set of plans for the house and no one ever has known exactly where it is.  “It’s by the back wall somewhere” was the best the guy who painted the house originally could do, trying to remember back to when the house was built in 2003. Thus no one had ever inspected it or cleaned it out. So, fearing a seriously unpleasant disaster somewhere down the line (literally and figuratively), I said, if this plumber has one of those cameras – as he said he did – and can figure out where the bloody thing is and look at it and tell us it either needs cleaning out or is okay, that would be well worth the investment.

So he also was out there banging and running drills and equipment, poking holes in the lawn and chipping out our exterior walls every few feet trying to locate the septic tank itself and the lines that lead to it. He did locate it out back, finalmente, and put a nice new sort of manhole cover on it, so now, if there are problems, it’ll be easy to get septic cleaning equipment down there. This new plumber is replacing the guy we’d used for years, who – sadly – has developed just a little bit too much of a drinking problem. The terrific new plumber-designate, is gradually working his way through all our temperamental and problematic plumbing and electrical systems, correcting all sorts of things that – as it turns out – had been done halfway, or totally wrong. It’s costing a fortune but step by step, things are undeniably improving around here. Or so we like to think.

But we still are suffering the ongoing battles of the cuatro gatos, which adds to the craziness. The new arrivals are still fighting to establish territory, mercilessly chasing and ganging up on our original two. Poor little Rosie got cornered on the kitchen counter by Taby this morning and took a flying leap down into the open empty dishwasher. The poor kitty, who is tiny, landed right on all the upright prongs in the lower rack. She seems okay, but pobrecita, who knows. I decided enough is enough and I called our vet, Dr. Jesus, to come over and a) give them all the shots they need, especially rabies for Group 2 who are venturing outside now into the enclosed garden with its high walls. I asked if he could prescribe some calmantes (tranquilizers) for all of them so maybe we can ratchet down the inter-gato tension a bit. Group 1 is completely stressed out and maybe Group 2 will be less aggressive with a little relaxant. He said he’s going to try some natural remedies first and see if that helps the situation. He says some Vitamin B will help with all their stress (in their water bowl!) and there are herbal remedies to try to see if it helps the territorial battles before we go to real drugs. Thank god he makes house calls – we did not look forward to bundling four yowling cats, plus Reina the dog, who also needs booster shots, into carriers and going into the village to his office.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the chaos, we had one of those Perfect Mexican Moments when Dr. Jesus did come to the house. He arrived with only half the vaccinations he needed, however, having forgotten the others. He gave the kitties what shots he had with him, and then our house call came to a screeching halt. Oh well, mañana. He is a wonderful veterinarian and much-loved by pet owners here, but in his other life he is a very serious classical guitarist and everyone in his family is musical. When he realized that he could go no farther with the vaccination project, we began chatting, as we often do, about music. In passing, he mentioned that he had his guitar in his car.  Well, we said, since you don’t have the other vacunas with you, how about you play us something? A little Sor or Tarrega etude, or perhaps some Bach? Claro que si, and he ran out to his car and brought in the guitar and serenaded us for a half hour with several pieces.  It was just delightful, hearing the music float through our house as the afternoon began to fade. The kitties, having been spared for the moment, ran off and hid for the rest of the day.

Then he had to go to minister to some other cats and dogs and took his leave, saying he’d come back tomorrow with the missing vaccinations – which he did.  But no recital on the second trip.  Sadly, he said he had to get back to his office because two guys had a very old, much-loved Rottweiler he was going to have to put to sleep, and he said “I know I will have to stay with them for awhile, it will be very hard for them to say goodbye to this poor old perro, even though they know his time has come.” This is how he is; he consoled both of us so wonderfully when we had to put our much-loved Korat cat, Achille, to sleep a couple of years ago. I said to Arnold, “So typical, he forgets half of what he is supposed to do but then, also SO typical –something completely delightful and unexpected happens instead.”  If you can just let go of your assumptions about precisely how things are to be done and in which order – difficult for us gringo types – sometimes you get really nice surprises, like the sound of a guitar  echoing against the masonry walls of your house for awhile.

In all the chaos and noise of our week of home maintenance, I tore a contact lens and without even knowing it really scratched up one of my eyes. Looks like I was in a bar fight. It’ll be okay in a few days but who needs it? But the good news is that the crew is all down there singing and bantering back and forth over the horrific racket of the chainsaws, drills, and the chipper outside. Without being too colonial about it, it is good to hear them belting out Mexican favorites at the tops of their lungs as they work. It reminds me so much of one of my all-time favorite pieces of music, the chorus of sailors in Act I of Britten’s Billy Budd, the sea chantey they sing while they are fixing the sails, readying the cannons, and scrubbing the decks of their ship, the Indomitable.