Mexico

Hopefully, I’m back after two years.

So I can see that the last time I posted anything on this blog was 2017, announcing the arrival of our newly adopted dog Figaro. Wow! For someone who purportedly loves to write, this has been a dismal two year silence, apparently with my having had nothing to say. That isn’t really the case, life just got in the way. But to be honest, for the last several months it has really been nagging at me that I just up and quit writing anything here. I fully intend to reform! But there have been reasons for it; and rather than – as Arnold would say –  beating myself up about it, I suspected that the best thing would be just to sit down at the computer and try to get myself going again and start up in whatever scrabbly fashion I can. Hence this sort of thrown-together post, but at least here I am again. I am hoping that as I get back into the swing of it, news and comments will be more structured. But for now, I think the most important thing is that I just get started again. Sort of swinging at the piñata until you manage to hit something.

So, in brief, a lot has gone in our lives since 2017. Arnold has had some serious health issues – among other things a routine cataract surgery that went badly off the rails last year, almost costing him his eyesight, and supporting him throughout this ordeal has sucked up almost all my energy for pursuits of my own; last year, before the surgery, we managed to do some traveling to Europe, and some fairly substantial work on our house; and it has been difficult for me to pull myself away from all of it and write – or, for that matter, do much of anything creative. My ceramics studio has been pretty much closed up for a year as well.

Meanwhile, sort of like Brunnhilde, I have awakened after this long sleep to of course find that I am a couple of years older, grayer, and increasingly both of us are aware of our own mortality, as is happening to a lot of our friends. We are still in Mexico, still in our house, still planning to stay here indefinitely. The political situation back in the States has become so awful that more than ever now, we’re committed to staying here in our paid-off house in a place with pretty much glorious weather, and a great circle of friends, both Mexican and American. What’s going on in Ajijic and our whole region as Americans flock down here to retire or just to escape, is the subject of another blog post, which in my newly reformed “I promise to keep it up this time” frame of mind, I hope to write soon.

Our much-loved little dog Reina had to be put to sleep in February because she had an inoperable and horrible cancer. Figaro is now the senior dog in the family as he now has a younger sister, an adorable little black terrier mix puppy we adopted a couple of months ago. Her name was Mimi when we got her – and in keeping with our tradition of giving our pets operatic names, we just decided to let her continue as Mimi but we put the accent on the last syllable and called her Mimi from La Bohème. That’s also the way Mimí is pronounced in Spanish, so it was easy all the way around. She has been a lot of fun and Figaro and she are of course inseparable. He just seems to be the kind of dog that needs to have another dog around to play with.

When Reina became so ill at the end, we could tell that he knew what was going on, in that way that dogs have. When Reina went to the vet one day and didn’t come home, he plunged into a real doggie depression, and it seemed to me, at least, that we needed to find another dog soon to bring into the household. Mimi was part of a litter of seven-week old puppies that was dumped at the local cat shelter in the middle of the night – the usual story. She was taken in by a very kind lady who gave her a home until she wasn’t able to keep her any longer due to her own health concerns, and she went up for adoption. I took one look at her picture on Facebook and immediately decided I wanted to check her out….went to meet her and of course came home with her in the car. We got her at about six months (no one knows for sure, because she was a rescue, of course) but she certainly has her forever home as far as we are concerned.

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Here’s a picture of Mimi at six months, with yogurt all over her face. Her favorite thing is to lick out Arnold’s empty morning yogurt container.

We lost our Abyssinian kitty Rosina too, also to an inoperable nasal cancer. She was proud and gorgeous until the end, when we knew she had to be in a great deal of pain. So we have leveled off at three cats and two dogs, and we are hoping the kitties – who are actually becoming quite ancient – can hang in there for awhile longer. We’ve lost a few of our best human friends, too – we are of course getting to the age – me in my 70’s, Arnold in his 80’s, where we are beginning to have friends die, sometimes very unexpectedly, which is incredibly scary. It has scared me into starting to exercise with some regularity, working out with a terrific personal trainer. More on that in a subsequent post!

Our adopted Mexican family continues to be a big and fascinating part of our lives. Rosa and Mirella still are cleaning our house; although Mirella is trying to go back to school and become a nurse. Sofia is entering her last year of college to finish her law degree. We sent her to Madrid this summer to go to summer school there and she returned – as we knew she would – a completely changed young woman. She will be 23 this year – and she continues to be a real joy to both of us, with brilliant grades and tremendous self-discipline and focus. Nicol, America and Carlos are growing up very fast and the two girls are now most decidely teenagers, which is a whole different experience from having them around as little kids.

So, there is lots to report and I hope that I will be able to – having hopefully at least broken the ice with a baby “I am still here” post – begin to write again about the changes in our life here, of which there are many with the political developments both here and of course back in the Ancestral Homeland, the U.S.A. Stand by, I am hoping there will be more!

It was especially beautiful today after a big rainstorm last night. Here is the afternoon view of our village, San Antonio Tlayacapan, and Lake Chapala, from my office…

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The Familia Has Grown!

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Figaro has arrived!

I was awakened at five a.m. this morning by the sound of our neighbor’s dog barking, once again. This miserable dog barks constantly at night; everyone on the street complains to each other about it but no one wants to approach our neighbor about it. The fragility of the peace we enjoy on the block is apparently worth the molestia of this poor dog’s incessant barking. But it also got me to thinking about dogs, what makes them happy and what turns them into neurotic messes, and it reminded me also that in my attempts to once again post something here every once in a while, I have neglected to note the arrival of our newest animalito, who certainly at least hasta la fecha (up until now) counts among the really happy ones.

Indeed, our most significant domestic news is that we have now a wonderful new family member, a rescued Standard Schnauzer puppy we named Figaro after our last schnauzer, who died way too young and was a lovely dog. He has given Reina a new lease on life and the two of them have been inseparable from the moment they laid eyes on each other. Their antics playing and running around the house and garden have had us in stitches much of the time. I had been thinking for quite awhile that it might be a nice idea to look for a second dog to be a companion for Reina – somehow she had severed a ligament in one of her hind legs, and ultimately needed surgery to repair it. While she had recovered perfectly well from the surgery and two nights in the fancy orthopedic veterinary hospital in Guadalajara, she was a bit tentative in running around and had become a lot more quiet. Also, hard to believe, but she is nine years old now….not a puppy herself anymore! So I had been thinking that maybe a second dog might be just the trick to perk her up. But with everything else going on, the usual stream of houseguests and our own travels hither and yon, I never had time to get really serious about it.

Until, one day glancing through Facebook, I saw a post from a woman who was fostering what was apparently a quite fine Standard Schnauzer who had been running loose on the carretera, then had been hit by a car. She and another good samaritan ran to rescue the dog and take him to a vet – it turned out his injuries were minor and after a week of observation and a bath and a proper schnauzer haircut (apparently he had been out there for awhile, and was matted and filthy and pretty miserable) he was now ready for adoption as no one had stepped forward to claim him. When I showed the Facebook post to Arnold he was as curious as I was and – well, it was indeed a schnauzer, his favorite breed. I wrote back to the lady immediately and said we were interested in meeting this dog. It seemed like potentially the best of both worlds: while we both had loved the idea of having another schnauzer, there is no way you can live in Mexico and not rescue a stray. There are just so many in shelters and loose on the streets who need homes. This solved that ethical problem and from the picture he also looked like a particularly fine dog. I just had a funny feeling looking at his pictures, you know, one of those very powerful sensations, that this dog might well be the one for us and I determined to move heaven and earth if I had to, to at least get to meet him. He looked wonderful, cheerful and intelligent, in the Facebook photos. Somehow it just seemed like we had to pursue it.

The lady said “well, there are two people ahead of you who have expressed an interest in him, and I am going to interview them and check out their situations, and if neither of them works out for any reason, I will let you know.” We were of course crestfallen thinking that surely one of those petitioners would work out – it seemed as though quite a number of people had seen the photo of this doggie and suspected that he was something pretty special. The vet had estimated that he was somewhere between six and eight months old; he still had several of his baby teeth. I loved the idea of a younger dog we could train and socialize ourselves. I told her that we were very seriously interested, that we’d had two schnauzers back in the States, and please to keep us posted. Sure enough, the following day she phoned to say Potential Adopters #1 and #2 hadn’t worked out, and were we still interested and available to see the dog? #1, it turned out, was about to depart for a six-week trip leaving this puppy in the care of a housekeeper (or someone) and no, that isn’t the way to bond with a puppy who is newly rescued from what was obviously a terrifying experience out on the streets. #2 was a sadder story – a lady who already had two dogs, a younger one who would have been a fine companion to a new, younger dog, but also had a 15-year-old second dog who was dying of cancer. There was no way the couple fostering Figaro were going to “do that” – e.g. sic an exuberant and playful puppy – on a dog who was clearly in need of as little external stress as possible. So that left us.

It turned out that the dog’s foster parents had a lunch club meeting that day at a restaurant literally a block away from us, so I suggested that they drop the dog off here, see our setup, meet us and our other animals, and then come back after their luncheon and we’d all see how Reina and the new dog were getting along, and take it from there. When they arrived soon thereafter, they could see that our property is totally walled and safe, and it was pretty obvious that this dog was going to have a pretty cool life here.

They brought him in, took his leash off, and we brought Reina out. They sniffed each other, touched noses while all four of us were watching them anxiously for any signs of aggression or discomfort. After two or three minutes of sniffing and investigating, they took off playing and chasing each other across the lawn; then they played and played for a couple of hours until they both just collapsed in a heap for doggie naps; then they woke up and started in again until the foster parents came back from their lunch. When they asked “how is it going?”, all we had to do was point to the black flash alternately chasing or being chased by the white flash across the lawn and then both of them on their backs rolling around on the grass or nuzzling one another. To say they were getting along was the understatement of the century.

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Simultaneous sleeping, after a morning of running around.

So the lady said, “Well, looks like we are just going to leave him with you!” with the caveat that if anything changed they would of course come back and pick him up. It turned out that in her pre-retirement life she had been a dog breeder and exhibitor and she knew dogs and terriers, in particular, very well. She knew this was a special dog and if no suitable new owner had turned up she and her husband were actually planning to keep him themselves.

But he stayed with us; that first night we dragged out Reina’s old crate and he calmly went right into it. He seemed to know what to do; we’ll never know, of course, but we could tell he had been well socialized and how he got out, got lost, escaped, was dumped, and ended up loose on the highway will forever remain a mystery. We have showered him with love and attention; began to “touch up” his housebreaking a bit – there were a few accidents in the house – and get him used to the cats. He is just thriving, of course. He is very smart and easy to train, and Reina continues to think he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Luigi and Missoni got used to him very quickly; we have had more trouble with Tabitha who for some reason is terrified of him – he runs around and barks a lot and he is much bigger, of course, than Reina. But even she, gradually, is a bit calmer now around him now and we are hoping that in a few more months she’ll be back to normal. We have a lot of training to do; he barks a lot and jumps up on people, the usual puppy stuff. But for the next month we are home, no travel, no houseguests – so aside from me wanting to get into my studio and finally spend some time in the art world, we’ll have time to work on his training without so many interruptions.

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Arnold and his new best friend on his office sofa….

So now, our little domicile is populated by two humans, three cats and two dogs. All of them, whether originally from Santa Fe or here, are rescues. We are doing our bit for the dog and cat overpopulation problem and having a lot of fun with them all at the same time. To Rosa and Mirella, he is “Figarito”.  ¡Bienvenido!

¡ Feliz Cumpleaños!

Arnold had his eightieth birthday back in August, and true to his fundamentally reclusive nature, despite the entreaties of Rosa, Mirella, and everyone else in our “Mexican family”, he steadfastly refused to have any sort of commemorative fiesta, even a smallish one for our closest friends. He admitted to me that for him, especially now with several stents in his heart and a pacemaker, the marker of 80 was for him a complicated and emotionally challenging birthday. He was quite clear about it – not only did he not wish to have any sort of public acknowledgement of it, he was angling to leave town and head for New York – his favorite stomping ground – and celebrate it privately there, with me, à deux, in a nice restaurant somewhere in Manhattan.

I was happy to grant him his wish – I loved the idea of going off to Nueva York, especially in August – the heat (unlike the cold, which always makes me end up with bronchitis) wouldn’t bother me, and it would be fun to wander all over the city shopping and prowling and eating, enjoying the city. So off we went last August 7, leaving plenty of time to get in and get settled before his real birthday on the 9th; and cashing in a bunch of mileage so we could go Business Class to celebrate the momentous occasion. We got to the Guadalajara airport in plenty of time only to be advised that Delta’s computer system had gone down, and no one was flying anywhere for several hours at the very least. At least the Delta people dragged out a coffee cart and offered coffee and pastries to everyone who was hanging around waiting.

Finally we made it to Atlanta that evening, but the situation was even worse there, no flights in or out. I feared that I was going to have to call the restaurant where I’d reserved a table for us the following evening near our hotel in New York, and cancel because we were apparently going to be stuck in Atlanta for a while. But being in Business Class had its advantages – they found us a hotel for the night and told us to come back in the morning to try to catch an early afternoon flight, as things were by then slowly coming back on line. It sounded like this whole massive meltdown, which brought all of Delta Airlines to its knees, was caused by some funky router the size of a shoebox! Or so they said.

In any event, we ultimately made our way to LaGuardia, and thence to our hotel, threw our bags on the bed, and walked the couple of blocks to the restaurant, and managed to get there literally eight minutes ahead of our 7 p.m. reservation on August 9, Arnold’s actual birthday. After years of experience with air travel, we had planned the extra day just for disasters such as this. We got ourselves settled in our very nice hotel and then spent our remaining days in New York, just as we had said – nothing going on in the way of big-deal concerts, but we enjoyed the city. Arnold said on several different occasions that this was the birthday he had thought he’d like to have. Thankfully the flight back to Guadalajara was completely uneventful, and I was a happy camper because we’d been just in time for all the end-of-season sales for summer weight clothes at some of my favorite stores.

That was fine, but then there remained the matter of my own upcoming 70th birthday, and obviously it was going to fall to me to have the big fiesta. Rosa and Mirella were itching to plan it, and there wasn’t any remodeling going on, no health issues, no plausible excuse – and we did have a lot of friends for whom we needed to reciprocate for various invitations over the past year, and friends we just plain hadn’t seen for awhile. So I sat down with Rosa and Mirella and we began to sketch out an extravaganza that hopefully wouldn’t break the bank and would be fun for everyone. I was also stuck because as it turned out the actual date fell on a Friday. Given that my birthday is December 23, we’d have to deal with the fact that the evenings here are nippy (even if the days are warm and beautiful) – we wanted to have it in the garden, where people could spread out, and for me, live music was “obligatorio”.

One reality about life here in our little Ajijic bubble is that there tends to be a “gringo” price and a “local” price for many things, and often things related to parties fall into the “you will pay the ‘gringo tax’” category. So Rosa and Mirella offered to make all the arrangements so it would be less expensive, and I would discreetly hand them envelopes at the end of the fiesta to pay everyone involved in cash. But the conceit would be that they were throwing this party for us, which was fine with me because they were going to have to deal with most of the logistics themselves anyway. From parties I had been to here over the years, I had managed to save two business cards – one from a guy who comes to your house with a crew and sets up a taco bar “wherever” in your house or on your terraza, including waitstaff and a bartender. Simple! People come and eat gazillions of tacos and guacamole and whatever else they proffer. And Arnold wouldn’t be stuck behind a card table somewhere pouring glasses of vino.

The other dog-eared card was from a lovely trio of older guys who sang the beloved old Mexican songs from the forties and fifties – no amplification – and I thought that would be just the right touch. There would be a guitarrón, a regular guitar, and a requinto, the tiny little guitar you see in mariachi and jarocho music as well. As the daughter of a musicologist, of course I wanted the real deal. Rosa said “they know all the songs you will want, trust me”. And so I did, and they were perfect, even though as it turned out that at the last minute, we lost one of the trio to a gout attack. His doctor had prohibited him from standing, but he sent a buddy to replace him and all was well. I would have loved a mariachi but since a mariachi is usually ten or twelve guys, it would have been a lot more expensive. I’m saving that idea for the next big fiesta, perhaps, in the summer.

I showed both cards to Rosa and said “can you contact these people and say that you’re interested in a party on December 23, and see if they’re available and how much they might charge? Rosa lit up when she saw the musicians’ card – “I know these guys, I have known them for years! They are right here in San Antonio and the leader is an old friend of mine! I’ll call them right away.” Mirella did basically the same thing. She noted that the taquiza guy (the fellow who has the come-to-your-house taco party service) lived just below us on Jesus Garcia and was also basically a neighbor. So the date was reserved, deposits made, and I came up with the guest list – which wasn’t all that hard. Mexican tradition dictates that when you have a fiesta of a certain size, you invite all your neighbors (ref. Quinceañera de Rubí for those of you who followed that whole recent Mexican adventure!) It totaled more than fifty people – I thought, well, let the games begin!

The taco folks then sent me a list of menu options (by WhatsApp, which is what Mexicans use nowadays to communicate) and I had to let them know what we wanted. They would provide a lady to make tortillas on the spot (yum) and then you picked seven fillings, which they would have available buffet-style in earthenware casseroles on a portable stove. We also had our choice of several “botanas”-appetizers – to be on the tables as guest arrived – chips and salsa, or other options. We could have had dessert too but of course we would opt for a cake (from my favorite local bakery). Of course, since Rosa and Mirella arranged it, it was going to be quite a bit less expensive than if I’d made all those calls myself. We decided to do it in the afternoon, comida style, from 3-6 pm rather than in the evening, because it would be dark and much colder by then. And those of us viejitos who like getting home before dark would have no problem.

Arrangements were made for a big outdoor party tent (virtually no chance of rain this time of year, but, still, mejor prevenir que lamentar (better safe than sorry). Five tables of about ten each, out on the lawn, under the tent. People would get up and wander over to the buffet and load up on tacos, and other fixins and the musicians would circulate and play at each table. All was set.

The day before the fiesta the toldo (tent) people would come and set up the tent and deliver the tables, linens, and chairs. I splurged and ordered some very cool looking plastic tableware and napkins from Amazon to be sent down from the States – I just didn’t want the basically awful and flimsy plastic cutlery we could find in the local supermarkets here. So the tables (my mother would have definitely approved) would be pretty.

The morning of the fiesta arrived – I put on a wonderful old antique huipil I had purchased years prior in Mexico City and threw on a favorite crystal necklace; took care of some last minute details, and then waited – and waited- and waited – with increasing gringo panic -for the food people to show up. They said they would be there an hour ahead to set things up and be ready. Well, a la mexicana, at 2:45 p.m. they were still nowhere to be found. I kept asking Mirella to call them, and they said they were on their way. Meanwhile, I was a nervous wreck when at literally ten minutes after the guests were supposed to begin arriving, they showed up, and in a blur of activity, they had everything ready amazingly quickly. I could only conclude that Mexicans do two things with some degree of organization and punctuality – the long-distance buses tend to run exactly on time, and parties seem to come together perhaps at the last minute, but everything magically was ready by the time the first guests actually came into the garden. I was standing out there forlornly looking at the area of lawn we had designated for the taco guy, who was nowhere to be found, when the musicians arrived, and came around the house looking for me, playing the traditional Mexican birthday song, Las Mañanitas as they walked in.

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(If you would like to hear what Las Mañanitas actually sounds like, here is a nice version with Mariachi Vargas. This is a folk song, so of course there are lots of different variations, but I will bet that you recognize it when you hear it! )

The musicians then surrounded me singing, and everyone in the house who was scurrying around with last minute chores came out to the garden to join them. and I felt completely happy and very loved, and even stopped fretting about the food – which arrived about ninety seconds into my birthday serenade and all was well. Everyone, including me, was crying – a good sign for the soon-to-begin fiesta as the guests arrived shortly thereafter. Rosa had apparently hunted all over the place for a crown, which of course I duly put on.

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The party itself was just wonderful – people ate, drank, visited, we had pitchers of margaritas, beer, great food, a beautiful cake (I swore I was going to eat at least a sliver of my own 70th birthday cake, carbohydrates be damned, which I did), and everyone said it was a completely memorable fiesta.

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I had told Rosa, Mirella, and the rest of our “Mexican family” that they were to be guests, and I didn’t want to see any of them in the kitchen, we had waiters for that. And they obeyed! They danced and participated and the kids practiced their English a little bit with our gringo friends. A great time was had by all.

I woke up the next morning 70 years old and none the worse for wear. I’ve determined that to the extent I can I am going to really enjoy this year; a number of my friends who are already in their 70’s said “it’s the best decade ever” – and I can see how, given our very fortunate circumstances and the amazingly interesting (if complicated!) life we have forged for ourselves here, that might actually prove to be the case.

¡Feliz Cumpleaños!

A Hazy Christmas Day, 2016

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 It’s been a long time, but once again, I am back – I decided that WordPress’ email advising me that they were going to charge my credit card for yet another year, and considering that I hardly wrote anything last year, I either had to bail on the blog altogether or try to get back to writing it to justify the ongoing expense. And some of my friends and family have said that they have missed it, so here I am with an update and hopefully some further commentaries as we close in on (May 6, 2017!) our actual tenth year anniversary living in Mexico.

This year has been fun, but hard in some ways, and even setting aside the political craziness back in the Ancestral Homeland, I am not sorry to see it be over with. We now have a beautiful, finished jacuzzi in our back yard and we are enjoying it whenever it’s warm enough to merit heating it up – but building it took eight months, and a bunch of dust, stress, and money, including the Monday-Saturday all-day-long invasion of a ton of workers digging and bashing around from 8 to 6 each day. We also completely redesigned the front entry to the house, with a high new wall, built by Rosa’s husband Jose Luis. It turned out beautifully but the disruption with construction both in back and in front of the house  was a lot to deal with.

Then in other sorta bad news, it turned out that in the middle of all of that, Arnold needed three new stents put in, so off we went to the hospital in Guadalajara for an overnight visit  and had to deal with that. Then shortly thereafter,  I was diagnosed as diabetic and immediately put on medication – which didn’t last too long because I completely rebelled against it and decided I could manage it on my own with my diet. Probably this is a topic for its own separate blog post, it occurs to me now. We also had to put our beloved little Abyssinian kitty Rosie to sleep when she developed a fatal cancer, which she battled bravely until the very end. It was very difficult and we still miss her.

We continue to support Rosa’s daughter Sofia, now in her second year as a law student  at ITESO, one of the best private universities in Mexico. She is doing brilliantly and absolutely loves being a college kid! She turns twenty on Thursday and we’ve planned a celebratory luncheon at a really pretty restaurant here in town (she picked it) for her and her family. The younger kids are doing well too – Nicol and America entering Secundaria (middle school) in the fall, and they are benefiting enormously from the much better quality of education available in an excellent and established Jesuit school. Carlos, the youngest, goes into fourth grade and he is also doing really well and adorable to boot.

Today being Christmas Day, the whole family came over for presents and comida – two days ago I had an enormous party to celebrate my 70th birthday (subject of a separate post, I promise!) so I was way too tired to actually fix food for everyone – we got some pizzas from Domino’s, which fortunately was open today, and called it a day.  Every year the whole family – Rosa and Mirella – who clean my house, and Dani, who does a lot of the handyman tasks – comes over for presents – most of which are practical things and clothing for the kids, which they desperately need) – lunch, cookies, and margaritas on the terrace for the adults. I really enjoy having them sit down on the sofas out on the terrace,  and I bring the margaritas out on a tray for THEM, for a change.

It should be crystal-clear looking out my second-story office window this weekend, but it’s hazy and my contacts sting a bit. The Colima volcano has been erupting on and off for the last few days and if the wind is in our direction, we get a bit of the the dust and ash here. Hopefully it’ll settle down and the sky will clear over the next few days, perhaps in time for New Year’s.

Remodeling and making ceramics again

I’m back up to my old tricks remodeling our house – this time we decided, after much discussion, to add a jacuzzi to our lap pool. We know we’ll enjoy it and obviously guests and family will too. Right now, they are just digging an enormous hole out there, but when it’s done it’ll be great. We are “between” house guests right now and of course it is the dry season so it’s definitely the time for construction, and we have it going on both in front of the house and in the rear, so it’s a bit nuts around here these days, with two crews working at the same time. And in typical Mexican fashion, they arrive around 7:30 a.m., have a quick breakfast under a tree out there, and then are hard at work by 8.

There were two burglaries on our little “privada” a few months ago. It had to happen sometime. In the first, some garden tools were stolen from a neighbor’s cochera (garage) and in the second, the burglars apparently managed to get into the house – it’s a weekend house and the owners are rarely there – wandered around checking things out but for some strange reason didn’t take anything. Still, it made us stop and think that our front fence was sort of a joke for any determined ratero (thief) and we though we should build it up higher and make a solid rock wall with iron spikes on the top. I of course asked our architect for his opinion and he came up with a couple of really great ideas for redesigning the entryway and front garden, and then I began looking at the whole thing with fresh eyes, and now I am doing a bunch of things out there that will make it a lot nicer, in addition to giving us a much greater level of security and privacy.

Having the new wall go up just forced me to finally inaugurate my ceramics studio, which has been unpacked and waiting for my arrival in there for more than two years. I knew there was going to be a big, new, blank cement wall facing the street that just cried out for me to make our own address tile and some other elements that could be embedded into the cement around it. My plan was to have the tiles all done by the time the wall facing the street was ready to be cemented over — and that day was today. Of course it didn’t happen, too many things got in the way — for one thing I’ve had a horrible flu-like bug for a month and am just now coming back to normal. Then when I finally did get out there and get the long-dried-out clay ready to use and all the equipment functioning, we hit an unusual-for-us-here cold spell and the clay I had rolled out and cut has just refused, for at least a week, to dry. So I missed my deadline but rather than get too discouraged about it, I just told the guys to cement it with a half-inch less at the wall surface so we can loop back in a couple of weeks, install the tiles when they are done, and cement it all over then and finish it. I am working on the whole project every day and it will be done in a couple of weeks, I am sure. No real harm done but it would have been nice to have the pieces all ready to go up onto the wall today!

The good thing about the whole exercise is that it did, by hook or crook, finally get me back into ceramics. I have a great little studio now in back of our house – it is too small to house all my stuff but I’m figuring out how I can work with things spread out all over the place. The kiln is in the laundry, the slab roller and extruder are in the cochera, and all the glazing, painting/forming supplies and tools are in the studio itself. There’s a lot of running back and forth between “work areas”, but I figure the one thing I have learned is that – at least, the way I am wired – a studio that is too pretty and clean just doesn’t get used. In our old house, my studio became the guest casita whenever that had to happen. It was such a hassle to clean everything up in order to switch its purpose every few months as we had visitors, that I just stopped working completely after awhile. Now, it seems like it might be different with this crazy arrangement we have here. The guest room is its own separate thing and I don’t need that space for my work, so I have hope that now that I seem to be conquering whatever demons I had blocking me, maybe I will have better luck this time.

It is certainly harder to do my kind of ceramics here in Mexico than it was in the States, which is ironic since so much of my work is built upon and influenced by Mexican folk ceramics. But as a practical matter, the clay is different, the glazes are different, and a lot of the techniques I used back in the old days need to be modified here. But on the other hand I have found a distributor in Guadalajara of at least one kind of the glazes and underglazes I have used for years, and I’ve bought from him every now and then when we have gone into the city. The last time I was in there he said “you know, Señora, for the gas you have to buy to get here, and the time and stress of you coming into my shop, why don’t you just email me your orders, pay me by bank transfer, and I’ll ship your glazes out to you the next day?” I had filed this conversation in my mind at least a year ago, but this week I picked up the phone and called him and asked if he remembered me, the American lady who was trying to do ceramics in her home studio and needing materials. He said of course he remembered me, and what did I need, and he’d get an order together for me and ship it out right away.

I managed to haul myself into the bank in Ajijic to make the bank transfer this morning after I had emailed him my list, replacing dozens of bottles that were nearly empty, dried out, crystallized, and past reviving. So my new supply of glazes and underglazes should be here in a couple of days and now I am researching some new-to-me, at least, clays that are available here and which I can experiment with. Of course you can have things sent from the States, but it is horribly expensive and slow. Plus, one has to think that obviously Mexico is one of the world’s great ceramics centers, and someone or other here has to be selling clay, glazes, tools, whatever people need to do their work. So my job was just to get over my nostalgia for the way I worked back in Santa Fe and begin to figure out what might work here.

It’s been ironic that I’ve had so much trouble getting myself back into the ceramics part of my life, now that I theoretically have all the time in the world, being retired. When I was working my problem was trying to cram precious studio time into nights and weekends, but Santa Fe Clay and the big ceramics supplies store in Albuquerque had absolutely everything and anything I could have wanted. But such is life, I guess – anyway it is fun to be slowly figuring, or re-figuring this whole part of my life out. When the tiles are installed up on the wall I will take some pictures of them and then hopefully start all over again with a new batch of clay. I had forgotten how much fun it is, and hopefully I won’t forget again going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

QDEP Mom and Dad – April 5, 2015

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Wendy welcoming all the guests.

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The three of us.

We gathered old photos of them for everyone to peruse, setting them out on Wendy's coffee table.

We gathered old photos of them for everyone to peruse, setting them out on Wendy’s coffee table.


Well, I guess I am back to writing – true confessions, I just got too wrapped up in other things for awhile. But people seem to have missed my posts, as rare as they have been, so I have been convinced that I should sit back down at the computer and try to be little more prolific. I mean, let’s try to not have months and months go by without saying anything at all, I told myself. Even Arnold, who is the soul of discretion when it comes to urging me to do anything — I am eternally grateful that he never has hassled me about my weight, for example, no matter how much I was tormenting myself about it over the years – implied every so subtly, in about five well-chosen words, that he thought I might be well served (somehow) to get back to my blog.

Actually, a few significant things have happened – we did go up to Los Angeles for ten days, and scattered my parents’ ashes (Ava’s were scattered on Lake Chapala) back in April. We had a memorial service for both of them in under the big trees in Wendy’s back yard and we were surprised that well over thirty people remembered them enough to want to attend, even after a couple of years since their respective departures.

Wendy found a very nice, very Reform, rabbi to officiate so we actually sent them off – even if a bit late – with Kaddish and the 23rd Psalm and a few other ceremonial niceties in a quite lovely afternoon gathering, followed by an enormous feast procured from what everyone told us was the best Jewish deli in the San Fernando Valley. We figured the “nosh” part they would have loved, especially my dad. We ordered a platter of whitefish in his honor. Arnold made up a collection of music they both loved to be played – some Mahler, some Joshua Bell, and of course a pastiche of some of Dad’s music. But the rest of it — they were both so anti-religion, both so totally secular all their lives, that up till the end we had some misgivings about whether this was what they would have actually “wanted”. But Wendy wanted it and some of our older relatives found it very moving and appropriate. And Wendy still insists that our dad once confided to her that he wished he had had a bar mitzvah and certainly as he grew older – well, both of them, really – more Yiddish crept into their speech. Ultimately, being Jewish was certainly a big part of who they were, no matter how you slice it.

We had gone back and forth – for a couple of years, really – about where to scatter their ashes – here, in Lake Chapala or somewhere nearby? back in L.A.? Venice? We had always joked with Mother about scattering her ashes in the Beverly Hills Saks. But at the end of the day we decided that Mexico wasn’t right, a memorial park (even a nice Jewish one in the Valley somewhere) wasn’t right, the ocean or a forest somewhere wasn’t right either. Actually, other than gathering for cocktail-hour drinks around their pool in Encino they were the least outdoors-y people you would ever meet. Thus, for a long time, and maybe that was just adjusting to the finality of the whole thing, nothing seemed quite right, so they stayed in my bedroom closet in their nice Mexican urns on a high shelf for a couple of years while life went on and unconsciously, I suppose, we sorted it out in our minds. For Mom, hanging out in my closet with all my (and some of her) clothes and Ferragamo shoes seemed perfectly comfortable, at least for the time being. Dad probably would have wanted to be near her (though inevitably they would have hissed at each other and fought) so that part seemed all right as well, at least for the time being.

But we all felt we had to do something more with their ashes, and WHAT to do with them was always in the back of our minds. As horrible as it was, the thought of US dying with them still stashed in my closet was not something we wanted to contemplate. So we mulled it all over and invariably talked about it when the three of us were together, around their – now our – dining room table here at our house in Mexico.

At the end of this process we felt that Encino was, in a weird way, where they had perhaps been happiest – young and glamorous, with the replaced-every-few-years red Jaguars and the restored-every-few-years MG in the carport, and family outings to various restaurants and concerts at the L.A. Opera or the Philharmonic. So the Encino hills felt right and Wendy discovered that since much of the mountain range behind their old house has since been made into a state park, that you could actually drive up into the park and look out over the San Fernando Valley and have their old house pretty much directly below you. The trees had long grown up too tall to see the house itself, but we knew exactly where it was from various landmarks – the water tank on top of the hill at the end of the road, where we had often taken walks, their street itself, the neighboring houses and empty lots where both of us had hiked and wandered around as kids.

A few days before the memorial service we went over to the deli and asked to speak with the catering manager to put in our order. Of course he wasn’t in any way Jewish – he was a Mexican from Jalisco and before we even got down to talking about the food for the event we spent a half hour chattering away with him both in English and Spanish about Mexico and his life as an immigrant in Los Angeles, and how he had started as a dishwasher in the deli but now had worked his way up to being the catering manager. He knew more about Jewish food in his pinkie than I ever will. He so enjoyed meeting us that he sent us back to Wendy’s with (gratis) bags of rugulach and hamentaschen, apart from our catering order. We knew we were probably ordering way too much food but we figured we’d share it with everyone in doggie bags – they even gave us a stack of takeaway containers because “this always happens” – and in the spirit of Mom and Dad, we sort of didn’t care, we just wanted it to be a great spread reminiscent of their own great parties. One thing we knew for sure was that they both would have approved of a fiesta.

Early the morning of the memorial service Arnold, Wendy and I drove up to the park with a discreet bag containing both sets of ashes and we hiked up the main trail. Other people had similar-looking bags, so we figured we were weren’t the only ones with this idea. It was very nice up there, actually, and since it was a Sunday, there were all sorts of folks walking around up there, riding bikes, hiking up or down the more difficult trails. Wendy carefully opened the bags and scattered their ashes – some together, some apart – on a promontory right where they would be overlooking their old, much loved, home on Gable Drive – with the valley spread out below them. It was a slightly foggy morning – but we knew there would be those clear days when you can see every detail even of the mountains ten miles across the Valley where Wendy lives now – and at night, of course, it is a carpet of glittering lights – très Hollywood – and on smog-free evenings, we used to enjoy that view all the time from our living room windows when we lived up there.

We all felt better that evening, after the last guest had gone. I guess there had indeed been some “closure”, and for Arnold and me, who never get deli food down here, the reception after the memorial service was a highlight. It was good to see so many friends and family members there. We tried hard to do whatever would have been appropriate and “what they would have wanted” but as we all know now, with 20-20 hindsight, they were increasingly incapable of dealing with even the most important details of their future lives as they aged. Having any kind of conversation about them about their inevitable ends proved to be impossible (though every once in a while, in financial planner mode, I would take a doomed stab at it), so we ultimately just had to wing it. We did the best we could. Que En Paz Descansan.

Spring and the Jacarandas are in Bloom

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Spring along the malecon and kids’ play area, Chapala

Arnold commented that I hadn’t put any details about our European trip on the blog, and I guess the truth is that when we got home at the end of October, after a month away, I was pretty tired and ready to just chill for awhile back in my own house and enjoy sleeping in my own bed. And of course, traveling to Europe with my professional photographer nephew-in-law Eric made it into a photography trip rather than a writing trip; I took hundreds of images and we had a lot of fun posting them on Facebook and having friends follow our progress through Italy. Then Wendy, Arnold and I went off to Paris for a great week, eating our way through every bakery and charcuterie we could try in Montmartre, where we stayed in a perfectly delightful apartment.

So of course when we got back home and all the excitement was over, everything ground to a halt for awhile, and before I knew it it was my birthday in December, then Christmas, then time for our annual week in Puerto Vallarta, and now here I am realizing that I haven’t put anything up on the blog in months. The months that passed were all so – well, quotidian, and the point of the blog always was to record our adventures adjusting to our lives as expats, and the contrasts between our new life here and our old life back in the States. But the contrasts, aside from the deep differences in the world-view of most Mexicans and ours, seem to me to be be diminishing somewhat, at least here in our little bubble by the lake. Where I look for contrast and cultural differences, more often than not something interesting happens that makes the two countries seem to be approaching each other — even though I know it’s just an illusion…scratch the surface and those deep differences will quickly appear. But, I also think I am just increasingly accustomed to life here; things that would have really thrown me a few years ago seem normal by now.

Still, there are little subtle changes all the time here as Mexico continues to stumble into the First World. I went into the post office the other day to mail a package of real estate information to a friend who is planning to move down here sometime this year; I paid for the package and proudly Jorge, the young post office manager, handed me a little slip of paper with a bar code on it. “Look, Señora,” he said. “It’s a tracking slip. Now you can track your package all the way to where it crosses the border into the U.S.” Of course this won’t tell me whether it will have actually GOTTEN to him in California, or when, since once the envelope crosses the border and hits customs, the Mexican tracking number is useless for the U.S. Postal Service, but, hey, it is a start. Some day they will probably have some cooperative agreement between the two postal services where the tracking number will work in the U.S. too, but that is probably years away. At least now I was able to look up the package and it said it’s en route, which I guess means I don’t have to worry that it’s still stuck in the Ajijic post office, forgotten under a pile of magazines or something. Poco a poco, like we say around here; little by little.

I’m aware that the apparent ease of my adjustment might only be a fond dream for many of the other foreigners around here, who battle daily with cultural differences and the language barrier makes it endlessly frustrating for many of them. I have the advantage of speaking Spanish, so things that might confound me or confuse some other person who is trying to sort out what’s really happening, almost always really have an explanation. Sometimes it might be almost fanciful – like the time a plumber told me that the reason he hadn’t called me nor answered his phone when I repeatedly tried to contact him was because his cell phone fell down into an aljibe (water storage tank) he was cleaning out, and he had to get some money together to purchase a replacement. Many people here simply wouldn’t believe such a tale, and would think the guy was just being stereotypically Mexican, not wanting to deal with clients (until “mañana”) – but I was perfectly willing to accept his alibi and get on with my life. I actually enjoy these screwball stories most of the time, just shake my head, and figure whatever needs fixing will be fixed eventually and I should just chill. Maybe I’ve lived here too long.

So once again, the jacarandas are in bloom, littering the streets with purple blossoms with every little breeze. Life is steaming along for everyone in our little circle; Sofia will be graduating from preparatoria in July, and she is already deep into the process of applying to universities and figuring out where – courtesy of us, pretty much – she will want to go. We tried and tried to get her a visa to come with us to the U.S. but it has proven to be impossible, so we have given up on it. It’s the topic of another blog post, but the long and short of it is that the U.S. government refused her a visa to come to the U.S. as a tourist for a couple of weeks on her spring break, convinced she was lying and that she wanted to go up there to work. They never even would look at the stack of documents she had prepared before her interview there; the whole misadventure was a horrible and, dare I say, expensive, fiasco.

But kids spring back from most disappointments, and after she was denied a visa for the second time, she just recommitted herself to her studies and pulled her grade average up to a 9.6, which will greatly enhance her chances for a nice scholarship at one of the colleges she has picked out. Now she is seeing the end of prepa, kind of like the horse seeing the barn, and she’s working really seriously to get her grades up as far as she can between now and June, when she will take her final exams.

The three younger kids are all doing well in their first year in private school, thriving with nice new friends from good families and tons of homework and real books and real lessons, none of which really happened at the underfunded and overcrowded public school in San Antonio, where they had been going before (and not learning much of anything). It has been fun to watch them blossom in their new environment.

One thing we are facing, rather resignedly and sadly, is that both my parents’ ashes and those of Arnold’s daughter Ava, have been languishing in the bedroom closet. It has been ten years since Ava died, and we have decided we need to send all three of them to their final resting places. More on that in a subsequent post, I promise.