sister wendy

Hither and Yon

From this.....

From this…..

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to this, in just a couple of easy months!

Finally, we have come to the end of the tales of my mother’s violin, and all the follies surrounding its place in our family’s lore. Over the years we admittedly rolled our eyes but also tried to sympathize with the mythic status it held for her (she always referred to it as “the Guarnerius” even though my father would chide her as he knew there was a virtual certainty that the label inside it was a fake and that it was no Guarnerius, but rather something else entirely, though no one knew quite WHAT it actually was. The sad thing is that he, with a doctorate in musicology, would have so enjoyed the process of figuring out the mystery of its true provenance, but even he couldn’t handle the idea of separating mother from her beloved fiddle and the family legends that surrounded it, even years after she was no longer capable of playing it. So there it sat for a decade, and like their enormous house, the whole issue fell to us to resolve. Once the decision had been made to sell it, the process of determining what it in fact was, and doing what we needed to do to get it out of our rather sad clutches and off to a new life somewhere, took on a life of its own.

Finally, after having been flown hither and yon, cleaned and examined, scrutinized and evaluated by both Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York and London, and lastly Ingles and Hayday, the new firm started by the former stringed instrument experts at Sotheby’s, the violin was accepted for auction in London on October 29. “Let’s go”, said Arnold, always eager for a travel adventure and thinking it would be appropriate for him, me and Wendy to all be present for the final step in our family’s caring for this iconic heirloom. Kind of like those Piaget watch ads where the mother is wearing the Piaget watch in a domestic scene with her little girl, and the ad says “you don’t own this, you just take care of it for the next generation”. The wood in the violin was dated to 1681 and thus that violin has been around a long, long time. So maybe close to a hundred years in our family and then, on to its next stop.

Wendy was dying to go to London anyway, and we all agreed it would be fun to jump on the Eurostar and include Paris in the visit (why not…it is SO close….we all said). So we cashed in a bunch of miles so we could go Business Class as a treat and respite from all the dust and chaos of remodeling, and off we went. The timing was perfect because Arquitecto Roberto suggested that as the guys were going to be taking out the massive (beautiful but leaky, dangerous, and damaged) skylight in our living room and replacing it with far safer and more practical glass block, the next couple of weeks would be a really convenient time for us to be GONE. How could we resist? We knew the removal of the skylight was going to be a nightmare of noise, falling glass, possibly perilous for us and the pets, and Rosa insisted that she was happy to stay in the house, and take care of everything while we were away.

So on October 16 we got on a plane for Atlanta, thence nonstop to Paris where we spent a delightful ten days or so. We all just loved it, had some wonderful food and shopping, spent hours in various museums, saw my young cousin Katie who lives there with her family. We all drank in the civilization, the quality of everything – and yes, the expense. The elegance of the Parisian women, the interesting way London has become a truly global metropolis. It was interesting to sit in restaurants next to Muslim women with headscarves and contrary to our perception of them as oppressed and miserable, they were chatting, laughing, and at least outwardly seeming to be having a great time out and about in the city. We saw great art, wonderful shops, and admired the smoothly functioning and readily accessible public transport in both cities. I prowled around Westminster Abbey for old times’ sake (back in the day, it was a major grantee of the Skaggs Foundation and part of my honeymoon in England was spent on a memorable site visit there). We took tour buses and gaped at Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, saw the Crown Jewels, had fish and chips in pubs, ate all the Poilâne bread we could cram into ourselves, and walked both cities for hours on end.

However, shortly before it was time for us to head for London, I knew I was coming down with some awful cold thing. Horribly sore throat, fever, chills, coughing, sneezing, the whole nine yards. I knew that the stress of the last few days at home getting ready to leave, combined with the noise and dust and chaos of the house, had gotten to me at last. I had a big list of things I wanted to do in both cities but I just felt too awful to press on after awhile, with fever and chills and aches and all that. I soldiered on as best I could but by the time we got to London I was too sick to even contemplate getting out of bed, so I thought I’d just take a couple of days off and try to lick the bloody bug.

It helped, but sadly, I was just too sick to go to the violin auction itself. Wendy and Arnold went, off on the red double-decker bus down to Oxford Circus and Sotheby’s, where the auction was held and I stayed back in our rented flat trying to get some rest. When they came back later that day, they reported that it had all been rather perfunctory and that in fact I hadn’t really missed much, though they were very glad they had gone. My mother’s violin was Violin #8 in their beautiful printed catalog. The theory of the Sotheby’s folks was that rather than having been a Guarnerius it was a Venetian maker, late 18th century, and that was pretty much that. A dealer had expressed an interest in it when the violins (and there were some in the auction that sold for six figures) were available for inspection and playing, and he ended up purchasing it for the reserve price of £11,000, about $17,000 USD. There were no other bidders. We were both relieved that it had sold relatively painlessly but of course, our secret hopes for a last-minute Antiques Roadshow moment where we found ourselves in possession of a half a million bucks were forever dashed.

We would have liked to have met the buyer and told him all about the violin’s history with our family, sentimental types that we are. We thought for sure someone would be interested in its coming to the U.S. from Hungary close to a century ago with my grandfather, its having been a wedding gift to my mom, its life with our very musical family, the hours it played chamber music in my parents’ living room, and so forth. But, apparently not. He picked up the fiddle and the two bows that were sold with it, wrote out a check, paid for it and was gone. The funds are to be wired to our bank account, after they deduct the auction house’s costs – commissions, the back and forth to London for study, cleaning and so forth. We split it with my sister and that was to be the end of that.

Well, sort of.  For many years when my niece Saida was a young girl and later an art student, my mother promised her a trip to Venice when she graduated from college. Saida of course took this promise seriously but when she did graduate years later my mother had become too sick and frail to go, aside from which we honestly think she had forgotten all about it. So we decided to hit the reset button on that one and both in honor of my mom and to make good on her old promise- especially since my mother loved Venice more than anything in the world and the violin is now thought to have been Venetian – the three of us decided that if the violin sold for anything reasonable at all, we would use  some of the proceeds to take Saida and her husband to Venice finally after all these years. Now, a couple of weeks after our return, a very thrilled and excited Saida and Eric are now figuring out child care and such for next year and we are planning yet another European jaunt with them. It will be a lot of fun and we can only hope that if Mamá is looking down from that Great Saks Fifth Avenue in the Sky, that she would approve.

Meanwhile we are still slogging through the construction here, though we actually are contemplating the end of it, or at least the end of the worst of it. My office is done and I have moved what I can into it, with an odd assemblage of boards-and-bricks, folding card tables and baskets, and cartons still unpacked serving as tables to set things down on. Soon we will bring over some real furniture from the other house, which of course still hasn’t sold, and it will be a little more civilized in here. But I love the space…it is everything I wanted, light, bright and airy with a filtered view of the lake and a spectacular view of the mountains behind Ajijic. All mine to enjoy through enormous glass pane windows until the lot next door gets sold off for a condo complex or something equally dreadful and the wonderful, open vista toward the cerro (hill) is blocked.

But at least right now there is no sign of that happening and it is really beautiful to see the mist and sun alternating on the tops of the hills as we move into the winter here. The snowbirds are back; it is impossible to park in town, but it’s all part of the great circle of life, I guess. I am pretty much over the horrid bronchitis and sinus infection my cold had become, thanks to some killer antibiotics and cough medicine from the doctor. I gave it to Arnold and Wendy for which I feel very guilty but they seem to be surviving, though coughing, hacking and dripping along with me, as well. With any luck in a couple of weeks we will all be over this wretched thing and we can carry on without having to have boxes of Kleenex at our sides.

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.

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.

A Romp Through Andares

Last week it was time for Arnold to go have his new stent checked out at Dr. B’s office – and I also was due for a checkup and a stress test (just to be sure I would survive at least as long as Arnold will now with all his new hardware).  This required us going in to his main office, in the gleaming new Puerta de Hierro medical center in Guadalajara. Both of us got poked and prodded and tied to various machines and after two hours of this, Dr. B. said we were both fine, he’d see us in three months. Then Dr. B’s topic turned to where we were going to have lunch at the splendid Andares mall right next door. Have you tried this place, have you tried that place, this one has fantastic steaks, this one has a very fine wine list – and so it went for fifteen minutes before Dr. B. sent us on our merry way – after offering us cappuccinos to strengthen us for the arduous shopping ahead — and he had to see his next patient. How many cardiologists have espresso machines in their offices? We are getting very spoiled.

I spent most of my childhood in the San Fernando Valley, where many of the first of the “outdoor” malls cropped up. Instead of being under a roof you walked across landscaped courtyards with splashing fountains from store to store. The first one that I recall was Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks. It was always fun for my sister and me to go there with our mother to pick out clothes for school, home décor items, whatever we needed. Andares shopping center is located in a new community of tall glass office and condo towers, taking shape in one of the nicer parts of Guadalajara. It is similar in concept to Fashion Square because like Los Angeles, Guadalajara’s temperate climate allows for the mall’s restaurants and stores to be clustered around open gardens, green all year round. So of course the Valley Girl feels right at home there. We lucked out too, because there was lots on sale, it being August. It made for very good prowling through the men’s department for Arnold (who didn’t buy anything but enjoyed looking).

Anyone who still thinks of Mexico as being a land of mustachioed campesinos sleeping in white cotton pajamas and huaraches beneath a cactus needs to pay this place a visit. It’s anchored at either end, as malls tend to be, by Palacio de Hierro and Liverpool, arguably the two fanciest department stores in Mexico. You can wander in to the gleaming marble atrium of Palacio de Hierro and find pretty much anything your acquisitive little heart requires – after you pass through the sizable cosmetics section, which has counters for just about every international brand you can name from Chanel to Lancome to Bobbi Brown to Clinique, Yves St. Laurent, and many more.  Then for insane luxury purchases, there’s a Tiffany, a Louis Vuitton, a Cartier, Gucci, a Ferragamo, an English gentlemen’s club kind of store for men, – well, you name it, it’s pretty much there. The dozens of  stores in the mall itself are loaded with the latest fashions and crowded with shoppers. Mexico has more and more high-end merchandise for sale, so if you wake up one morning and decide you must purchase your Rolex watch that very day, you no longer need to get on a plane to hunt it down; there are plenty of places – not only Andares – in Guadalajara where you can find the watch of your dreams.

How times have changed. One of my favorite high-end Mexican shops (which has boutiques located in the main Mexican airports, fortunately or unfortunately) is Pineda Covalin, where exquisite items in silk and other fine fabrics are adapted brilliantly into prints from traditional Mexican folk textile designs. Their designers are endlessly creative and find the most wonderful embroidery and other images to transform into silk scarves, shawls and accessories you could wear with perfect elegance into any opera house in the world.

But what has made my Jewish American Princess heart sing of late is that there is now (yippee!!) a Sephora cosmetics store at Andares mall. I know, how superficial, how ridiculous, overpriced makeup when you could buy the same thing at the drugstore. Well, here, you CAN’T buy the same thing at the drugstore; in that respect it is still different from the States. Back in the Ancestral Homeland the scruffiest CVS or Duane Reade has a boatload of modestly priced and fun makeup and beauty accessories (hey, I’m 65, I need all the help I can get), but here, the farmacia pretty much sells medications and a few household items like diapers and toilet paper, and that’s it. Farmacia Guadalajara, the big chain around here, has hardly any cosmetics at all.

Thus I was looking for a few things I missed picking up in New York; I knew that Sephora would likely have them. So I went in with great anticipation as they have just recently opened their first stores in Mexico. To my great delight I found most of what I needed but a few things were not to be found, and the very nice young man who seemed to be the manager said “Yes, I’m so sorry we don’t have that in yet, Señora, but we will. Every week they are shipping us more things and soon we will pretty much have what Sephoras elsewhere in the world have. You must come back soon.”

We had a lovely lunch, along with dozens of stylish, professional Mexicans, executives having business meetings, elegant women having ladies’ lunches, young families with kids turned out in all the latest gear, at a terrific sleek, gray and steel Italian restaurant. We wandered around afterwards and bought a few more things, having had a much-needed (after all the medical stress of the last few weeks) dose of retail therapy. Just knowing it’s all there, an hour away, somehow makes more bearable the infuriating lapses of electricity, the home repair people who say they’re coming and then don’t; the petty thievery of the glass from the lamps outside our gates, the garbage strewn around the calle carelessly after every weekend’s fiestas and other stark reminders of the class differences in our village. A romp through Andares, with all its superficiality and contemporary temptations, sometimes is just what the doctor ordered, especially after an in-office cappuccino. From my Encino-bred punto de vista (point of view), every once in awhile one needs a break from the undeniable fact of Mexico being indeed the “land of contrasts” with a return – however brief – to the familiarity of the good ol’ global monoculture.

Apparently they are coming out with a new Andares app for your cell phone that will tell you everything that’s going on in the mall and gives you contact information and such for all the stores. – sales, special events and such. ¡Muy padre! (very cool). I can’t wait to take my sister there when she comes down to visit next month, so we can both wear something pretty for lunch, and channel our inner Valley Girl heritage, at least for a day.  Meanwhile if you want to see what an upscale Mexican mall looks like, here is a link to Andares’ 360 degree photo panorama. And of course, it’s like this all year. No snow in Guadalajara!

http://www.andares.com/andaresv2/recursos/vista/CentroComercialAndares.html

Post-Election Update

On the saga of my new smartphone: I finally gave up on the beyond-provincial cell phone store in the village and bought my new toy in New York. After ditzing around for days with the girls in the office here, who had never heard of this particular phone, even though Telcel clearly says they carry them, I figured it would cost less and be much simpler back in the Ancestral Homeland.  Back there, acquisition of new material objects has been elevated to the highest art. Indeed it was just so much easier to call one of the big electronics stores and say “here’s my credit card number, have an unblocked, international model waiting for me when I fly in” which they most efficiently did. I got it up and running in a trice. It is hugely fun and though there is no way I can justify needing to own so much technology now that I am no longer working, the stoop has been worthy of the conquest: in short, I don’t care!

After I brought it home, we did go in to Guadalajara to a big Client Service Center and had them update my records and put a new Telcel SIM card into it, since apparently the chip that was in my old phone was an antique and the new device requires more current technology. And we just learned that in the “progress in Mexico” department, they are opening a new Client Service Center right here in town, so those treks into Guadalajara to straighten out our bills, deal with our monthly billing plans, etc., (which always involved a trip to a mall and a bunch of unnecessary but amusing shopping!) will cease and we will be able to take care of all those things now five minutes away from our house. This will be a huge convenience to everyone around here, especially the expat community.

On the arts front, Baby Carlos turned out to be decidedly NOT interested in violin lessons. After a huge effort to get him and his mother to the town auditorium where the children’s orchestra was practicing and lessons are given, he met a violin teacher, and saw a couple of kids playing various instruments. But in fact he was far more interested in playing on the stair banisters and running around the corridors. To further the musical analogy, it reminded me of the last act of Wozzeck where the little kid is intently playing on his hobby horse, indifferent to the fact that his mother has just been killed. However, it turns out that in his pre-school there is a brand-new Tae Kwan Do class being offered, and he seems to love that and have aptitude for it, so maybe we’ll see how that progresses. He is of course awfully young – we decided we would try the idea of music lessons again perhaps in a year or two.

My excuse for not writing for awhile: We were in New Orleans for a few days to celebrate my uncle’s 90th birthday. My sister flew in too and it was wonderful to see not only my uncle but my aunt, who is also in terrific shape for her age and all of us young ‘uns (in our fifties and sixties) kept saying over and over that they are our role models for aging, for sure. Active, engaged, still traveling and enjoying their family. It was a great reminder to us that some of my own parents’ awful decline and fall was as a result of choices they both made throughout their lives – painful to acknowledge that but it’s true. Too many pills, refusal to exercise, being unwilling to question and challenge overworked and indifferent doctors who were prescribing this or that medication or treatment or surgery, for decades.

While we were occupied with eating beignets and anything else NOLA could offer us that we could cram down our carbohydrate-starved gullets, back home in Mexico the elections resulted (no big surprise) in the election of the young, fabulously handsome, and telegenic – as they say – Enrique Peña Nieto. There have been all kinds of commentaries on the re-emergence of the PRI in Mexico, ranging from “they’re the same old corrupt bums they always were, they haven’t changed, they will just rob us blind” to a more nuanced “Well, we are ready for a change and hopefully he can do something to move Mexico forward and bring some peace back to our cities and towns”. There probably really was a ton of voter fraud – as Peña’s rival Andres Lopez Obrador alleges – but I also think that people nowadays, in every part of the world, are just so susceptible to the superficial that if someone’s THAT handsome and married to someone THAT gorgeous, they can pretty well count on being elected even if they haven’t a brain in their head. Clearly, Peña is no intellectual, but I’m hoping this turns out to be one of those McLuhanesque “Medium is the Message” kind of situations where what people wanted was – as was the case with Obama in so many ways, someone who LOOKS fresh and young, even if at the end of the day he will be facing the same stalemates in actually getting legislation passed that his U.S. counterparts have. Let’s just hope that the people behind him pulling the strings (NOT Salinas, por favor) do have some brains and are trying to figure out, however complicated it is, what might actually be good for the country and its people.

But here, in Chapala, it’s still PAN country and as I write this there is a monster PAN victory party with an enormous band, going on up at the evento place a block away, with the amplifiers and speakers turned up to “window-rattling”. The fiesta is celebrating the election of our new PAN municipal president. It probably is a good thing; most of the Mexicans I know think the last PRI guy who was president of the municipality stole every peso he could get his hands on and handed out favors like they were cascarones, those eggs filled with confetti that you break on peoples’ heads.

In any event, I suspect it’s going to be a long, noisy night – we may as well get the earplugs out now. It reminds me of a telephone call I made to the local constabulary several years ago to complain – at 2 a.m. and after hours of incessant party racket, about the noise. “HOW long is this going to go on?” I demanded, in exasperation, of the young policewoman who answered the phone. “Well, señora, they have a permiso for a party (permit) until 3 A.M.” “How is it possible, I railed on, abandoning utterly my usual attempts at cultural sensitivity (mostly because I was sleep-deprived and beyond annoyed at that hour), “for the gobierno (the government) to issue a permit for a noisy party that is keeping several neighborhoods around here awake, until 3 a.m.?” She answered me patiently, as if she were speaking to a young child, “Señora, this party is being THROWN by the gobierno, all the important officials are there. It is a fiesta to present the queens for the annual Independence Day parade and celebration in September.” I felt another piece of my American sensibility sort of crack quietly within….and I just surrendered at that point. Since then, I haven’t called the police station in the village very much. For sure, I won’t be calling them tonight!

Cuatro, Count ’em, Cuatro, Gatos

My poor mother continues her slow, inexorable decline. Thankfully, she appears not to be in pain, and her care is fantastic, so all we can do is keep her comfortable and hope that when the end does come, that she does not suffer. I figure, as the dutiful oldest daughter, that it is my job, in addition to helping to manage her care, to honor whatever promises I might have made to her along the way.

Aside from saying to friends and family that I would love to scatter her ashes at Saks Fifth Avenue (or at least a portion thereof), which is just the perfect ending for her, last year, after my father died,  in one of her more conscious moments we talked about the fate of their two beloved cats, Luigi and Tabitha. And in a moment of what was probably terminal weakness, I said quite clearly, “Don’t worry about the kitties, Mom. If anything happens to you, Arnold and I will take them and make sure they stay together with us.” It made sense then and it makes sense now, sentimentality aside, because our local shelters here are full of cats and kittens in desperate need of homes, and anyone who would be willing to adopt two older cats needs to be looking there first, I would submit.

Both my parents’ cats were adopted years ago from two different shelters in Santa Fe. To avoid territory battles, we arranged to bring them to my parents’ house at the exact same hour on the same day. I had read somewhere that doing it that way was a good idea, and at least in our case, it was. The two never fought, bonded immediately, and several years later came down to Mexico with my parents on the plane to Guadalajara when we finally pried them out of their too-big, too-unmanageable, Santa Fe house for what they thought was just the winter, but we knew it was probably for good. I wasn’t on that trip; I stayed behind to make sure their rented house here was ready for them upon their arrival.

But Arnold headed north and helped my sister Wendy to close up their house and bring them all down. He described to me the Peter-and-The Wolf parade through two airports and customs, with him managing the two terrified cats in their airline-approved carriers, plus all their cross border veterinary certificates for entry into Mexico (we called the documents their PussPorts). In addition dealing with my octogenarian parents in wheelchairs, (one with diabetes, incontinence, and emphysema, and the other with dementia) their caregiver also wrangled enough portable oxygen tanks for the plane ride and extra tanks, oxygen, and diabetic-friendly food for any unforeseen delays in the airport (for my mother) and their luggage. The two kitties then enjoyed six months of being with both my parents before my dad passed away, but now that my mother is past the point of being able to even pet them, the moment had come, a week ago, for me to say to José, “We’re in town for awhile, maybe this is the best time for us to bring them over to our house”. This we did, about a week ago. And, as we say in my ethnic group, oy gevalt.

Our own two cats – females who have been the queens of the roost for years – reacted as predicted to the interlopers’ arrival with regular bouts of growling, flattened ears, bared teeth, and bushed-out tails. They continue to escape with much snarling to wherever they can hide out to be out of the way of the two intruders whenever and wherever they happen to come upon them in the house. Since we brought them to our house a week ago, we have developed an elaborate system of feeding them all separately so things don’t get worse; and keeping them all straight proved complicated enough so that I began referring to them as Group 1 – our original two, Rosina and Missoni, and Group 2 – the parental cats, Luigi and Tabitha. We feed Group 1 where we always have, in the lavanderia (laundry area) along with Reina, the dog.  Group 2 gets fed upstairs in the bathroom where they also get locked up at night with their own cat box and water, so as not to invade Group 1’s nocturnal territory, namely our bed.

Someone told us that it takes ten weeks for cats to get used to each other. My recollection was that Rosie took a lot longer than that to get used to Missoni when she arrived, but the good news is that after however long it took, those two are now bosom buddies who sleep curled up together, lick each other and all that good stuff. Now their sisterhood has become a matter of Group 1 school spirit, I think. “We have to stick together, girlfriend, look at what these dreadful humans have visited upon us NOW”.

Meanwhile Luigi and Tabitha (Group 2) are having the time of their lives. I do believe cats are incredibly sensitive creatures, and they knew it when my dad died, and they sensed that my mother was gradually failing and no longer able to even interact with them. José and Sandra did their best to give them attention and affection but Wendy, Arnold and I noticed that they were spending most of their time hiding in a closet at my mother’s house as she lies sleeping more or less permanently in her rented hospital bed. Undoubtedly, both of them were suffering from major kitty depression. So getting them out of there had become a priority. Now, across town at our place, even though they have two other cats hissing at them all the time (and we keep telling them “this too shall pass”), if nothing else, it’s a little livelier for them. We are spending lots of time petting them and interacting with them and they are just loving the attention – purring, nuzzling us, wanting to sleep on our bed with us. This is not allowed yet because it would cause the Third World War but I told Wendy “the second I see all four of them on the bed together – which might be six months from now, god only knows, we can stop closing Group 2 up in the bathroom at night.” Reina is just doing the doggie equivalent of rolling her eyes and saying “good grief, more cats.” But she’s fine and Group 2, at first terrified of her, are already able to be near her without undue concern.

So the games have begun! I am sending my sister periodic status reports : “7 p.m. Report: Luigi stretched out under the table, Tabitha warily perched on one of the dining room chairs,  Missoni grooming herself on top of the bookcase but taking it all in, Rosina watching with flattened ears from a safe vantage point on top of the desk. Broke up major hissfest ten minutes ago but all calm now. Am standing here with squirt bottle at the ready but need to fix dinner & must put squirt bottle down, Pray for Peace”.  My sister is the worst of the multi-cat suckers, however. Ten years ago she agreed to foster a litter of kittens for her local shelter and when it came time to give them up for adoption she couldn’t bear to do it. So she has five huge tabby cats (I think it’s five, there were some other strays involved in her household and I sort of lost count).

Never in my life did I think I would end up with four, count ‘em, four, cats. Much as I love them. One of my friends commented that it’s verging on weird-hoarding-lady stuff to have four cats and a dog. Arnold just sighs and says, as he opens a can of cat food, “Hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.”

And so back to spray bottle duty.  Adelante.

Home Again….

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

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

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