Crime

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.

Day of the Sacred Heart

Dia Del Sagrado Corazón

After we got back from New York and Arnold’s pacemaker adventure, he dutifully reported to his cardiologist here, who had everything checked out. The marcapasos (pacemaker) is doing just fine, but mysteriously, Arnold’s heart is still not working as efficiently as it should. The doctor said “We need to find out what’s going on” as he suspects a blockage or blockages in his coronary plumbing somewhere. So off he went this week to the regional nuclear medicine center,  PET Guadalajara, to have a PET scan done. With those images, the doctor can tell us where we need to go from here.

Arnold is of course sick of the whole thing and is not happy at all about his new identity as a cardiac patient. Nor am I, but as we keep saying, we don’t really want to consider the alternative. Whatever they figure out, it may well involve more surgery and probably a trip back to the States, where Medicare thankfully will cover much of the expense. So for the moment, we are putting things on hold until we know what he will be facing. More uncertainty, alas.

Since all of the local websites have pretty much shut down any talk of crime (some of them being sponsored by local real estate agencies, of course), many people are happy that things appear to be calmer now after the horrible spate of random kidnappings and murders we had last month. People are slowly creeping out of their houses and resuming their habitual routines. The streets are no longer deserted; there are fiestas resuming on the weekends and expat community leaders are urging everyone to start patronizing local restaurants and businesses again. There is much musing about the best ways to help our Mexican neighbors recover from the recent crime wave by sending some pesos their way, from “Get out and eat at the restaurants” to “Donate to the funds we have set up for victims’ families”. Whether it really IS any safer out there now, who can tell?  Most of the expats around here don’t read Spanish well enough to check the Guadalajara metropolitan dailies; but sadly, even a superficial glance at those will tell you that there is more than enough crime to go around. But if it’s true – as they say – that after the elections things may calm down, perhaps it won’t be all that much worse than what you’d read about in Detroit, or Chicago, or insert-name-of-crime-ridden OTHER city of seven or eight million people. Who knows? But undeniably, the rival gangs are still kidnapping and extorting and robbing and murdering out there.

The unspoken question always hanging above our heads, like one of those cloud comic book balloons, is whether our little expat colony persists in living in a dreamworld convincing itself that they will continue to leave us alone. But in fact, thus far – unless someone got themselves mixed up in the drug scene somehow – they have. Or, as has happened to an unfortunate few, you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. But then I always come back to the crazies that slaughter people in beauty parlors or malls or wherever back in the States. In this day and age, how you meet your maker seems to be increasingly random – and now I am beginning to suspect that with the economies of much of the world collapsing or going through, at the very least, very tough times, it’s going to get shakier and more unpredictable everywhere. People are getting killed all over the place. I could change my tune tomorrow if there is a resurgence of random violence in our village, but right now I’m thinking that one might as well stay in a place where you have flowers and hummingbirds to distract you all year round, your house is your own, not some crooked bank’s, and the coldest it gets makes you put on socks and a sweater.

You don’t have to be reading the morning news to be a nervous wreck, however. Cartels and American psychopaths aside, Arnold is also balancing on the edge of a knife blade just because of what is going on inside his own body – no murderous thug need apply to give him sleepless nights. So we are putting our fretting about being massacred in a balacera (gun battle) aside long enough to try to figure out what we are going to do about Arnold’s heart situation and – to the extent that anyone can relax knowing that they may be facing heart surgery – to enjoy the arrival of the rainy season. Everything is turning lush and green, almost overnight, as it does every year. We were sitting on our terrace the other day, watching not only dozens of hummingbirds racing around, but the big yellow-and-white Great Kiskadees (they call them Kiris here) with the wonderful black racing stripes on their heads, some gorgeous orange, yellow and black orioles, and a couple of brilliant red Vermillion Flycatchers swooping around our fountain.

Then suddenly we heard the remnants of a procession passing by the house in the street outside our garden walls, accompanied by the strangest and most compelling sort of pre-hispanic or medieval melody you can imagine; I thought it sounded like a flute but I’m still not sure. I’d never heard anything quite like it. They’ve been setting off cohetes (rockets) all over town, too, scaring pets and rattling everyone’s nerves even more than they have been rattled by recent events. But cohetes are a big part of the culture here, so their return wasn’t entirely unwelcome; a tenacious tradition reasserting itself in spite of it being a dangerous time. The unearthly music floated around the neighborhood for quite awhile, and whoever was playing it was either in a trance or practicing very hard to get it right, because it was repeated over and over again, almost like a meditation.  The street had been decorated with red and white crepe paper, too. “It’s got to be some sort of religious holiday, doesn’t it?” Arnold said. “Yeah, but which one is it?” I wondered.

Then it dawned on both of us, when we remembered the June date, and that the red stood for blood, the white for purity, that it was Dia del Sagrado Corazón, Day of the Sacred Heart.  It is a actually a very serious holiday for these folks, marked by somber prayers and processions, acts of consecration, the recital of novenas and so forth. It is probably going to turn out, when we see the doctor, that it will have been a pretty serious holiday for us, too. Prayers for us, for those who pray, may well be in order, in fact.

One sees a variety of images of hearts – both sacred and profane – everywhere in Mexican art, from the pierced and bleeding hearts (symbolizing the travails of the Mexican people) of the great muralists to the most naïve and delightful folk art.  Even Arnold’s cardiologist, whose black-and-white office is as sleek and modern a place as you can possibly imagine, in an equally sleek and modern glass tower in Guadalajara, has a wonderful handmade metal tree on the credenza behind his desk – hung with dozens of enchanting, translucent red glass hearts. So while he is telling you that you need to have your chest cut open and your heart patched up, you can enjoy this wonderful piece of folk art. Mexico has come a long way since the day when, instead, they would have cut your heart out and offered it up to the gods as a sacrifice.

And so, still waiting for the results of Arnold’s twenty-first century PET scan, we have passed this year’s Día del Sagrado Corazón. We will see the cardiologist, and his delightful metal tree, in this office this afternoon.

When confused, do nothing

Based on my last couple of posts, and e-mails I’ve sent to friends and family who have read about the violent goings-on both in Guadalajara and around Lake Chapala, several have expressed concern for our safety here. Suggestions range from “come back to the States IMMEDIATELY while you still can” to “Get yourself a gun and learn how to use it” to “get a couple of big nasty dogs” and so forth. Well, we already have a (useless but cute) dog AND we have just adopted my mother’s two cats (more on this later) so we now have FOUR, count ‘em, FOUR gatos, so no more animals for us; and naaah, we ain’t gettin’ no gun. First of all Mexico has stringent gun control laws not only for the general populace, but especially for foreigners. You can get an exception and get a permit but I am not about to attempt to turn myself into Annie Oakley (maybe Minnie from Fanciulla del West would be a better role for me, come to think of it) at this stage of my life. We have really high walls around our house, an alarm system we actually use, and we bolt the place down pretty securely every night.

I remember taking a women’s self-defense class waaay back in Oakland after a couple of bad guys followed me to my car one night when I’d been working late. The good news was, I was driving (as was my wont back in the States) a powerful and fast little sports car and I was able to leave them in my dust. The bad news was, even if I had had self-defense skills back then, I wasn’t able to use them. My only defense in that particular situation was to run like hell and then drive even faster.

But when the guy REALLY had a gun at my head, during the theft of my car back in 2007, believe me, I could have been the aforementioned Annie Oakley and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. He trapped me in a split second in a place you never in a million years would have expected such a thing to happen. He was trying to pull me out of the car by my arm and at that point he pulled the gun. In situations like that you do what you have to do to survive and my instincts told me to just be really nice to the guy and get out voluntarily; back slowly away from the car with my hands visible, leave the engine running, and let him have it. It was insured and I managed to stay alive.

It is true, however, that of late my undoubtedly hyperactive imagination has been tormenting me with every imaginable bad thing that could happen to us here. Undeniably, during the past couple of months the tension level here has soared for everyone. In spite of my tendency to overreact – probably justified because I still DO have some fallout left over from the carjacking  – it occurred to me the other day, that thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, Arnold is still alive.  And for god only knows what reason or sets of reasons, so am I. While I was twisting and turning in the wind, tormenting myself with thoughts of what we might do and how we could extricate ourselves from our lives here and return to the relatively safety of the States, things inexplicably may have begun to quiet down. It further occurred to me that in the “random violence” department we could, indeed, pack up and bail and head back to the Ancestral Homeland only to be mown down there by one of those nut jobs that goes berserk picking off people from a freeway overpass or something. There ain’t no free lunch, I guess.

In any event, I was startled out of my nosedive yesterday, an astonishingly clear and beautiful day, when even Carlos the gardener (whom we refer to as “the Daily Tagblatt” because he watches the TV news and obsessively reports every single crime to me each morning when he arrives) commented “You know, Señora, I haven’t heard anything really bad on the evening news for a couple of weeks now…what do you think of that?” I did think about it, and it did feel to me like the level of fear has subsided; I’ve noticed people out shopping and in restaurants again, and maybe indeed, at least for now, things are improving a bit. There is a whole new crop of white roses starting up to replace the ones I’d brought in and stuck in a vase, and Ricardo had just been by to clean the pool, which had nary a leaf, nary a dead bug, nada, and boy is it warm and nice now. Hmmm, I  thought, maybe I should forget all this cartel stuff for the moment, pour myself an Esquirt Light and throw some good tequila into it and get into the water.

Which is precisely what I did, remembering for some weird reason the motto I painted on a ceramic tray I made years ago: Fluctuat nec mergitur.

For those readers who have forgotten their high school Latin, it means “it is tossed by the waves but it does not sink”. It is the motto of the City of Paris, which surely has seen far worse ups and downs than our little village.