Thursday, December 15, 2011


I love the pointillistic effect of a Blackberry in poor light!

We have been here in Mexico off and on for over a year, and I thought a general examination might be in order.

I am happy here. There is really nothing I miss about California life., with the exception of a few wonderful people, and hot water. The bathing water that the family here calls “calientita” is really not even warmer than my skin.

My job as a high school choral teacher was stressful. Each year when I began the year I wished I was not aware of how much hard work was ahead of me. My work here is enjoyable. I like caring for our house. I never considered myself a good housekeeper, but the daily sweeping and mopping of floors is not unpleasant. The frequency means that there really isn’t a lot of dirt. It’s quick and everything smells good afterwards. I’m trying to enjoy dusting as well.

I still don’t cook here - Chon’s sister does that. Since I like to cook, that has been a minus, but still, there is a definite ease of life when you only have to heat up food when it’s dinner time. After we return from Los Angeles we are going to refresh the kitchen with new tile floors and paint, and we intend to do our own cooking when that is finished; we are sending the small stove (with NO oven) to Chon’s sister’s house, and starting with our own electric oven that has been languishing in the patio (it’s 220 v, and, well, nobody has 220 here) or a new gas stove /oven. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. In a check-up do you get to include future plans?

I don’t have many friends, but I think that might change when I am more fluent in Spanish. And about that - it is slowly becoming more easy to have conversations, although I have occasional brain farts when I can’t remember very common words. Maybe that will never change - happens in English, too!

Since inquiring minds want to know, food and household items are LOTS lower in price than in the US. Medicines are rather expensive, but the doctor care I have experienced is efficient,excdellent, and inexpensive. For most people here, it seems expensive, but compared to the California health care I am familiar with, it’s very low-cost. A doctor’s visit is less than $40. A brief, efficient, and very state-of-the-art hospital visit for Chon’s sister to remove gall-stones was completed in about three hours, and cost about $1,500. Really.

Food/groceries are good, and inexpensive.

Mattresses cost about a third of what they cost in the US.


We harvested our fields last month, and made about a 50% return on our investment in seed, tractor work, and labor, and we are opening a savings account to keep the money we made for next year’s farming expenses (it costs a lot to plant and fertilize).
Our garden was a success, but will be much better next year. We were casual in our seeding, and the result was overcrowding. We got a great harvest of zucchini (and lots and lots memorable meals with zucchini flowers). The poblano chile plants, now freed from the shade of the sprawling tomato plants, have now set on tiny chiles. if we don't get a killing frost, who knows! Chiles in January?
Here in central Mexico the weather is temperate. That doesn’t mean that it is warm all the time. Lately it has been quite chilly, with temperatures dipping well into the 30’s some nights. When we brought clothing here, I was told to bring sweaters. Now in December, I’m glad that I did.

We created some space - a new bedroom and bathroom for Chon's mother (the old bath is outdoors and down a step, making it difficult for her to navigate). 
We have a new studio for practice and recording. And a stage on top of our garage, for performances. (Years ago we began a tradition of performing for the town. Come see us on New Year's Eve!)

Does he look like a guitar god?
We finally got the registration papers for our large truck. We use it mostly for band equipment. It took months to get this task done.  There are a bewildering number of laws and rules about importing  cars to Mexico. The truck qualified, but it evidently had some customization that was difficult to explain, or get cleared, or - something. Now, though, it is legal, and has Mexican license plates. 

We have driven many, many miles without trouble. When you cross state lines, however, you may well be stopped by federales, local police, or soldiers. We had an unpleasant experience in Nayarit when federales inspected our PT Cruiser and announced that they had found a marijuana seed in the back. They were insulting and a little scary while they kept us there for about half an hour. They pretended to be insulted when Chon offered to pay them for their trouble, but one of them took some large bills from the travel money we had with us.

Another time when we were stopped by some troops the young soldiers were very happy to accept a mordida although they took it hurriedly so that their superior officer did not see them; probably they didn’t want to share!

Driving here is - different. In general, the rules and laws are the same as the ones we all know and love. But the signs are different, and I don’t mean because they are in Spanish. They are placed differently; not regularized in placement, or color, or lettering. Sometimes you must make a turn before a sign, and sometimes quite a way after the sign. It can be a challenge to find signs for street names. Glorietas (or round-abouts) are a little scary at first, but then they begin to make sense. Just keep to the center of the circle if you are going all the way around, and to the outside lane if you are going to turn right. Many large cities have removed glorietas and replaced them with signal lights.

I can’t give myself a high mark in this, but it is improving. Here’s an example: if I were at my home in California and a visitor was seated on my couch, I would go sit next to them to show I was happy they were there, and that I wanted to visit and be sociable. Here, in Mexico though, if someone is visiting and I go to sit with them, in a few minutes they get up and go. A territorial thing? (Sometimes useful!)

I think this was quite random, but that’s what I can think of right now for my checkup, and I’m just going to quit.

Monday, November 21, 2011

November Treat

Yesterday morning I picked a watermelon from our mostly-dried-up garden. Yes, really - just a few days away from Thanksgiving. Lest you think we have been enduring a long heat wave, well, the weather has been cold in the nights, but still quite warm in the afternoons.

I did not expect anything at all from the volunteer watermelon plants that came up in our garden, but we just let them stay, twining all around the garden. I thought the melons would be just - blah.

We had learned some lessons about pill-bugs and watermelons over the summer, and I had placed the baby watermelon on top of a ceramic bowl about a month ago to protect it. Its mother vine dried up a couple of weeks ago, but we left the melon sitting there on its little throne because it just didn’t have that hollow sound of a ripe melon. But I decided we had waited long enough for whatever was going to happen, and when I cut it open it made that crispy sound you like to hear as it split. And guess what? It was delicious! Really good! Who would've thought?

I cut it up in bite-sized pieces. That is a really good solution to an everyday problem of not-much-food-and-quite-a-few-people, a common practice with all kinds of food here. I didn’t do anything else to it, but usually people sprinkle the pieces with lemon and chili. Ten or twelve of us enjoyed eating it. Now I’m eyeing the next little watermelon for an autumn treat.

To quote my friend Michael, happy Thanksgiving, everybody. I do hope you all have a safe, happy and loving week. My thoughts, exactly!

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Around midnight last night I could hear Chon moving around the room. He said he heard the church bell ringing “doubles”. That is an announcement of death. He went out to the street but saw no one. Later on, very early in the morning, we woke again, hearing bells.

Tio Kiko was waiting at the door at sweeping time. He went in, as he always does in the morning, asking about Socorro (still asleep) and Chon (still asleep). He has to check anyway, and is not satisfied until he finds their doors closed. Then he told me that his compadre Enrique died in the night, and his body was there at the house. This was not really a surprise, as they took him yesterday to the hospital for the umpteenth time. He lacked three weeks of reaching his ninetieth birthday, and his many serious health challenges had kept him bedridden for years.

A few minutes later, the news came that Don Geronimo also died last night. The bells we heard early in the morning were from the next rancho to the east, ringing his death.

The families in these small towns are very closely related. Don Enrique’s granddaughter who has cared for him for the last few years is also the granddaughter of Don Geronimo. Last night both  of her grandfathers died, and people are whispering about that. Nobody cane recall that ever happening before.

The first day of November brought sudden cold weather, freezing the crops, and people say that the cold weather brings “bad things”. The town is full of people suffering from colds and coughs. When we visited the fields in the morning we could see ice crystals sparkling in the sun. Chon’s sister Maria and his mother both have persistent coughs, and we have been sharing home remedies with them.

In the mornings Socorro says her morning prayers, interrupted by frequent coughs. She prays on doggedly in a strong voice. Coming to the end of some prayers, she continues on and on with more. She mentions death several times a day. She will be 90 in December, and suffers from a painful old knee injury, and right now from a constant cough.

Surely every adult in this little town will have many thoughts of death today and during the nine days of novenarios for the two old men who died the same night.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Nena was born into a family of over twenty siblings. When Chon’s mother describes  Doña Mathilde’s and Don Luz’ multitudinous family she always says that Mathilde had 23 children; “tres vezes cuates”; three times twins.

Nena’s name is Maria Elena, but was never called that. She was always called Nena, a common nickname for Elena. Nena is also a word for “baby girl”. Nena was a twin, born second. She was always trailing behind - in everything.  She was not very healthy, and many things just sort of passed her by. As she grew to adulthood she became known in this little town as a viguera; a person with “bad” language. She liked to sit in front of her family’s little store, right across the street from us, and watch the world go by, trumpeting  insulting remarks about nearly everyone.

We met about 26 years ago, and I tended to avoid her; not because of her language so much, but because I was learning to speak Spanish, and Nena was harder than the usual to understand.  As I came to know her better, we would have conversations. I can’t remember her ever saying anything really rude to me, but whatever Nena said to anyone was heard by everyone within a couple of hundred feet because of her extremely loud and focused voice. She was absolutely incorrigible; loud, rude and crude.

Her health, never good, began to deteriorate to a serious level a few years ago. A small-boned person, quite short of stature, she began to carry more and more weight on her frame. She looked a great deal like a ball and she had to lean back to walk on her tiny feet. People said that she carried a lot of water weight, and evidently that was true. They said that from time to time the doctors would remove several liters of water from her stomach. That was not true, except for the amount.

Several times I heard family say that they just didn’t know what was wrong with Nena; the doctors had told her, but they just couldn’t remember what it was that they had said. She died of renal failure.

The last few months of her life she developed a continuous cough, deep, rasping, and painful-sounding. Here at our house we heard it a lot, because she would visit nearly every day. She especially liked to visit on Tuesdays when Chavela would come, because she often brought or prepared here delicious meals. Nena was the first one to the table, not only at our house.  She made herself welcome in many, many neighboring homes.

She and Chon would sometimes exchange mild insults. Other people would avoid her, or just chuckle and shake their heads, saying “Oh, Nena,”. In spite of her insulting and low speech, was quite religious, and attended mass when she could.

There was much conjecture about her coffin - how would they fit the enormous amount of flesh into it? As it turned out, the coffin was a normal one, with a glass window on top.

The funeral mass was very well-attended, and included many family members who had not visited for years. Many of the attendees had never been friends of Nena’s, but attended out of respect for the family, or bald curiosity.

There were fireworks Saturday night, when Nena’s body arrived from the hospital/morgue, and there were more fireworks early the next morning. These are typically rocket-type things that are shot into the air, and explode high above. You can hear the swish of the rocket as it flies.  There was also a mariachi group, only occasionally hired in our little town (mariachis are costly). Nena had a couple of favorite songs, and they were sung, along with popular rancheras, at the velorio.

As far as I know, although Nena told stories about bus drivers and musicians that she had her eye on, she never had a boyfriend. I doubt that she ever had a close friend. She never attended school. She lived much of her life in pain. She was truly one-of-a-kind, and I already miss her.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pests In The Fields

This worm and hundreds of thousands of its friends can ruin a whole crop. 

They get right in the heart of the growing plant.

These are the birds that the pajareros try to scare away from the growing crops.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Recipe For A Construction Acavamiento

A high-up colado being mixed on the street, and carried up to the fourth floor.

For our last big colado we planned a sort of manly party. We wanted it to be festive, as it was the last big construction task here at our house, and the colado was an historic one, on top of a fourth-floor room. 

The colado was to have started at 5:30 a.m., but not even the maestros were here then. However we were on the move before 4:30 in the morning.. We had full barrels of water where they were not needed, and zero barrels where they were  needed. 

We dumped buckets of water into barrels on the ground, from under the tejavan on the second floor. It felt rather festive, and personally, I felt slightly hysterical and silly.

About 6:45 a.m. I could hear the first sounds of shoveling in the still-dark street. The  workers seemed to have an air of excited energy, because they all knew there was to be “breakfast” served after the work. Our nephew Luis, a practiced butcher and large-scale cook had offered to make a Caldo De Carpa. This soup has well-known restorative properties, and is often served for la cruda, or hangover.
Luis, the cook
Sara, who didn't really look quite this "together" on this day, as she had locked herself out of her house, and arrived here by bus the night before, without her overnight things, because - well, I have her spare key.

While Chon stayed to manage the work crew (and play DJ for them) Luis and I went to a nearby town with Sara, our wonderful niece. Luis had set up a fogon, a little rigged up brick fireplace.

for twenty-some hungry people:
In a 50-liter pot with boiling water, put
2 kilos of tomatoes, halved
1 kilo white onions, halved
2 kilos potatoes, in large chunks
a generous handful of chiles de arbol
2 kilos (a very large head) of cabbage, chopped in big chunks
1 kilo chayote, quartered
1 kilo joconoistle, peeled
1 fist-sized can of chipotle chiles
1 liter of tomato paste
a handful of salt
8 kilos (that’s a lot) of carp, in fourths
when the fish is almost done, throw in two or three handfuls of cilantro
We served 60 large rolls that all disappeared. We had purchased 2 kilos of tortillas that were pretty much ignored. There were also 24 large family-sized beers, and 4 liters of tequila.

I had noticed that Luis was pretty quiet while we were shopping  for provisions; he later confessed that he had never actually made the caldo before. He and Sara and I were stepping pretty lively for a while, chopping vegetables,  because the colado was finished about an hour earlier than we had thought. But the workers seemed satisfied to sit around in circles and I didn’t hear many complaints about the wait.

There were many rough handshakes and heartfelt thank-yous when the workers left around two p.m.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Young, developing milo (sorghum) seed head.

Birds are a major cause of crop yield loss. Enormous flocks of blackbirds pass through central Mexico on their way north this time of year, leaving destruction behind. 

Many farmers who plant milo use plants that yield “bitter” seeds that the birds don’t like. 

But some don’t use this kind of seed, and all the fields are subject to bird damage. Here farmers hire pajareros to protect their fields. The tools of the human scare crows are shotguns with special loads, long whips, and voices. They shout “Aijo, yaijo.” crack their whips while striding around the field, and if they have them, shooting  their shotguns. The sounds start about daylight, and go on all day. This is the time of year for the pajareros to work. They earn good wages, and their voices and sounds of their tools color each  day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


La Canicula is a period of time during the year; June 20 through August 20. Historically, it is a period astrologically dominated by Sirius, the Dog Star. It is traditionally the hottest time of the year. Wikipedia says that the duration occilates between four and seven weeks, the “dog days”. In times past, this was an astologically beneficial time to begin to build a house or a church. 

If you talk to un anciano in Mexico, at least in this area, and you get around to talking about the weather (probably right away!), you will hear that the times are changing - “Como han cambiado los tiempos,” says Socorro. She doesn’t mean only that customs have changed, but that the weather is changing as well. El Tiempo De Los Aguas, the rainy season, used to be from some time in June through August, but now the rain comes later, (because of the greenhouse effect?), as well as the effects of La Canicula. It’s a rather ugly-sounding word to me, and some of its effects are ugly, as well.
One year when we visited here during La Canicula there were many little worms in the orange tree and the lime tree. Worms are a symptom of La Canicula. This year some baby swallows hatched in our portål were killed by small orange worms, only last week. Also last week, after the official end of La Canicula, we had to “treat” our fields for green worms that were eating the sworls of the milo.  This is very frustrating to see, and costly to treat. 

We have had several days of rain now, at the beginning of September. Oh, with what anxiety we awaited the rains, because of our “modest” investment in seed, weed killer and fertilizer of about $4,000 for our 26 acres. And now that the milo has passed its initial danger of not sprouting, or dying of lack of water, now the rainy season is here. 

Some days it is too wet to spray the weeds or the worms that are showing their destructive power in the fields. 

 This is NOT a worm, but a friendly praying mantis (you may call it a preying mantis).

There were several local Catholic masses pleading for rain, and now that it is here, some of the old people are tired of it. We supersticiously try not to send the rains away with our wishes or curses.  Because of our construction efforts, we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time sweeping water off the roof, and wishing that our workers could move just a little faster.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Well, when we looked for worms in our milo fields, we found some. It just seemed to me that there weren't that many. But we met up with some other farmers out there, and they looked. They left a message at our house: Worms! Worms! They can destroy the whole crop! Danger!.

Again, some workers found us. (Don Andres and Peña are working somewhere else right now.) Two brothers with farming equipment offered to work for us. We went to visit their machine yard, and drank an obligatory shot of tequila. They offered to bring an enormous tank of water to the fields, and their own experienced selves, to spray a foliar fertilizer and insecticide. We bought the prescribed bottles, and took them to the fields this morning. They showed up with a heavy truck, a very large tank of water in the back, and their spray rigs. They had one with a gas motor, and two that work with hand pumps.

Wondering about their names? Mechin, Monstro, and Chino. I think Mechin (sounds a little like Machine) is the older brother, maybe in his thirties, and then there's Monstro, who from his nickname you'd think he had some feature, difficult to overlook, that would make him look somehow monstrous. You'd be wrong, though, because he has a baby face and a quick smile. Their cousin Chino was the third team member. (Curly hair is called chino, and if you guessed that he has very curly hair, you'd be right). The three of them filled their tanks and sprayed our two fields in about three hours (not three days like the time it took for dry fertilizer and weed-killer).

The early morning was cold. The workers got very, very wet right away. Their pant-legs were wet. Their shoes were wet. They wore bandannas over their faces.  They mixed the liquids quickly and moved fast down the furrows. We were home right after eleven.

There was rain in the evening. The skies are so beautiful here in Guanajuato.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Here is an entirely gratutious photo of El Ojo De Agua, about a half-hour walk from here.

This really is a very small town - and you have heard all the jokes about small towns.

The night before last, at the end of a long afternoon, just before twilight, there was An Incident here. 

Our little rancho, El Pedernal, has two streets lined with houses. We live on the main street, the one you go straight down when you turn off the main road, the carretera. A couple of decades ago the streets were paved, so we no longer have a rocky street, but we do have two topes. These are humps that cross the road to slow down traffic.

In the evenings people tend to come out into the street to visit, and on the weekends maybe to buy a taco, tamal, or a snack. (And of course, there are the everpresent nightly borrachos, drinking in front of the store across the street).

I had gone out to the street just to gaze about, and I noticed right away that Something Was Happening; there were many people who had come quietly out to the street from their houses, and they were all looking up toward the carretera. I could see a pickup’s rear lights. Neighbors were murmuring “He backed up all the way down here, very fast, right across the topes! And then he went back up there, very, very fast!” I recognized the black pickup as belonging to a man who lives apart from his family, in the little community on the other side of the carretera. I asked “Is he mad?” The answer came, “He’s loco!!”

Someone had gone for his wife, and she and a grown son walked up to where the truck was parked. It was a rather busy time for local traffic, it seems, and every time a car or delivery truck would try to get around the black pickup, the driver would move it so that no one could pass. 

The streets were lined with more people, as if for a parade., but I noticed that nobody wanted to approach the truck.

Soon his wife reached the truck, and she stood there for a long time. The word filtered back to me “He’s asleep in the truck, with his arms on the steering wheel”. And “Even his strong son can’t get him out.” There were quiet discussions about what should be done - call the police? tell the local delegado?

In the end, not surprisingly,  nothing was done. I never heard the outcome. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Ex-pat goes back to California after nearly two months in our house in Mexico:

We are professional musicians, and every year for the last 23 years we have done a special show in one of Los Angeles' oldest restaurants, La Golondrina, on Olvera Street.

We left Guanajuato on a Monday.  We had changed our flight date from Friday because we needed to be there overlooking the construction. We had  also thought that more of our things were arriving from Nogales, and the workers were about to start digging for the foundation of the new room.  Chon wanted to be there to make sure they really started, partly because a niece, Irene, had been criticizing  them and us every time she passed by. We weren’t sure if they would keep working.

The flight was the early one we usually take when we leave the airport called El Bajio in Leon, and we arrived in Tijuana about 8:30 a.m.  We tried a new bus company to get to LA.  There are several that specialize, it seems, in taking people across the border (nearly all Hispanic, although once there were ten or twelve Italians traveling on our bus).  The bus stops at the border and discharges all the passengers, then we get picked up again after going through customs.  This company, Coneccion Magica, had nice new buses, and the trip was unremarkable except for the fact that the bus stopped at their own loading spot only about ten minutes from the airport, then stopped again to fill up the gas tank before taking us to the border.  After arriving in LA we walked about half a mile to an AVIS office and rented a gray Ford Focus.

We drove to our house in Lake Elizabeth, congratulating ourselves on the fact that the car rental would be much less than staying in a hotel.  We couldn’t get the mattress down from above the garage, so we made a bed on the living room floor with blankets and and pillows that were still there.  It hasn’t been very uncomfortable sleeping there, warmed with an electric radiator-type heater.

The first day was perfect fall-into-winter weather, but then a large tropical storm hit that has soaked the entire southland. At night the wind tears at the house and it’s a little scary when you are awake.  A window was broken when we arrived, and we temporarily repaired it by cutting a sheet of foam insulation to fit the window so the cracked glass didn’t fall completely out. We also had an adventure getting the water heater lit: the propane tank was completely empty.  We finally borrowed a large propane tank from a local mobile home manager - a long-haired guy who said “I don’t even know you guys, but I’m going to loan you my own tank.  It has nine gallons of propane in it right now, and when you bring it back we’ll see how much it takes to fill it again, and you can pay me for what you used.”  Pretty cool, man, but after Chon hooked it up outside we still couldn’t get the water heater lit.  A cold bath later, I went and talked to the man again.  He said we had to bleed the air out of the pipe before lighting it, and was very stern with me, telling me to really pay attention to his instructions.  We followed them, and now we have hot water.

And there was the deja vu factor - we had left some things in the garage, and it turned out to be much, much more than I had realized.  So we have ended up unloading Foxy, our big  Ford box truck, and bringing things down from the attic space in the garage.  It’s a lot of work, and rather depressing at the same time.

Since we have officially moved  to Mexico I am more aware of how many unnecessary belongings we took with us.  And there are more of them here, so we have the same decisions to make - toss it, deliver it to a thrift shop, or take it with us. We are both unofficial collectors of eclectic things, and most of the things we liked before, we still like.  It’s difficult.

Chon is entirely focused on searching for two bags that he has been missing since we drove to Nogales - a bag with a large collection of guitar picks, hand-selected over the years, and a bag of jewelry - watches, rings, chains, and more importantly, a small digital recorder with probably 180 original songs on it.  We have discussed this loss endlessly, with heavy-duty speculation as to what has happened to the two bags. it’s all speculation, and trying to remember what happened the last hour or so (news flash!! Chon just found two, TWO recorders!! that were not in the famous two bags, after all) of that final day of packing, when we were exhausted.  We just don’t know what happened to the bags.

Our gig at La Golondrina is going well, even though attendance is low this year, matching the economy.  The first night there were only twenty guests.  The second night the entire restaurant was reserved for a family that has been attending for at least twenty years.  There were over 50 children, and the place was packed.  It was the Kilroy family and friends. This year Bob Baker is not performing, and I miss him, although he has sent a very talented young puppeteer, Eric.  I love the marionettes.  I have old, happy meomories of Bob Baker - when I was about twelve, I think, I saw the Bob Baker Marionnettes in a Community Concerts performance at MJC.  It was the story of Hansel and Gretel, and I was thrilled.  I remember the performance lighing was dark blue most of the time, and I remember the odd way the puppets moved, with that floating walking movement that they make.  I seem to remember a grid where the puppeteers stood or lay down above the stage to work the puppets. Bob told me that it was his first big gig, and that he was very young when he got the contract.  We have worked with him now at La Golondrina for about 23 years.  He does pretty much the same show every year, which the return audience looks forward to. For the performance he uses recordings of familiar songs. There is a chicken who sings opera and lays an egg, a tap-dancing cat with a hat and cane, Santa Baby with Chon’s favorite puppet, a tall pink cat with a Santa hat, high heels, and a feather boa; there is a tall couple in red that tangos to Leroy Anderson’s Jealousy; there is also Mamacita, Donde Esta Santo Claus?, and El Jarabe Tapatio, a Mexican folkloric dance. 

I like to tell the audience that they know it was a good performance if your face hurts from smiling.  Last night the audience was tiny (maybe 6 kids total), and the performance was very, very good. Three little girls dashed out onto the dance floor, after their original fear of the marionettes, and were twirling around, dancing with the puppets. For me it was magical!  I never tire of the show.

Here's Bob before a show:

And it’s always fun to see kids reacting to the puppets - their reactions range from fear and delight (little kids) to feigned boredom (big kids).  The performance at La Golondrina takes place on the dance floor.  We invite the kids to come and sit around the edges of the area, and the marionettes get close to them.

The tiniest non-shy children usually wriggle out of their parents’ or grandparents’s arms and run towards the puppets.  The ones who follow the rules, usually the next -bigger ones, sit still and often hold out their arms in a beseeching manner.  Sometimes a child will get distracted for a moment and then be startled by a marionette right in their face.  The teenage kids try mightily to look bored, but almost always end up smiling and throwing sidelong glances at each other to see how their siblings, or friends are reacting.

It’s interesting to observe the families that attend year after year.  The first couple of years we were there it would surprise me to snotice familiar faces gradually.  now I remember some of them when they arrive.  We call the names of the children as they take their turn at the pinata.  I remember some of the names: white-blonde Mia, her cousin Harper, Antonio, Conor, and Freddy.  I suppose it’s that the names aren’t common these days.

One evening I watched a large family.  There was a grandmother and grandpa, both around my age - no, a little younger.  They have three  married daughters and eight grandchildren.  The mothers were not as attractive as their parents, and one of them completely ignored me when I approached her and her sister, who were visiting rather intensely.  I asked “Who are the mommies?” because the children were dressed exquisitely and I wanted to congratulate them.  One woman said “We are,” and the other one just kept right on talking.  I said how wonderful the children looked, but I doubt that either one heard me.  And the children DID look great.  There were six little girls, aged about 5 to 9.  They all wore red velvet dresses. The dresses weren’t exactly the same; some had ruffles around the bottom edge, some were pinafores, but each dress and each little girl looked great.  There were two little boys, too, wearing dress pants, white shirts and ties.  The women weren’t as attractive as either their mother or father,   But their husbands were rather doll-like and cute.  The mothers did all the organization and took many pictures and talked intensely. 

More posada guests:
One night there was a wonderfully nerdy boy (I use the term with full appreciation of the word).  He must have been 10 or 11 years old.  He had blondish hair.  He was wearing glasses, and a t-shirt and sweatpants with tennis shoes.  That separated him from most of the other kids right there, because they usually come Dressed Up to please their parents.  This kid was very earnest, and began visiting with me right away, even trying to talk to me while I was playing and singing.  Perhaps he thought I could add another skill to my musicianship.  He wanted to tell me that I was “doing a great job”.  Later on, when he was lined up for his turn to whack the pinata, he noticed that we asked each child his/her name and announced it on the microphone when they were taking their turn at the pinata; he caught my attention, and said, importantly and confidentially at the same time, “By the way, my name is Sean.”  When it was his turn about four kids later, his glasses were nowhere to be seen - I assume he took them off so they wouldn’t be in danger of being broken.

Another boy, another night, named Charlie, was just so - confidently boyish.  He loved the music, and would dance unabashedly to any type of rhythm.  He must have been about 8.  He hadn’t yet reached that time when he will be embarrassed to dance with his mother or other kids, pick up a small child, laugh at the marionettes.

While we are working there they give us a meal every night (an especially good thing this year since we are camping out here at our house with no stove or fridge!).  Years ago the food wasn’t nearly as good there as it is now, and we sometimes tired of it.  But now, Chon usually orders Enchiladas Suizas, chicken enchiladas with green sauce and sour cream, and I change around - Chicken Salad with a great vinaigrette (with a touch of chile!) or Tortilla Soup, or Beef Soup, or Tacos de Machaca (shredded beef).  It’s all quite good.  We have known most of the staff there for many years and it (almost ) seems like a family.  Well, better, really, because everyone is on their best professional, friendly behavior.  There is usually quite a bit of catching-up to do, hearing who had a baby, or who moved, or started taking new English classes, and the like.

Tonight is the sixth posada dinner show.  There are ten nights altogether.  And last night I came down with something nasty - I have a very sore throat.  I was so happy not to be sick this year...

Well, the final night, Christmas Eve, my voice was pretty much gone.  I sang the Christmas carols anyway, sort of.  Chon set the sound so my mic was very hot, and the voice I heaqd sounded a little like me.  Chon did much of the talking that I usually do, and we made it through the night together. 

Here's a photo of part of our performance set-up.

A few comments about Chon’s skills: he is a very skilled musician.  He doesn’t like to say he is gifted - he says that he has worked hard to be at the level he is now.  Anyway, he is also very, very good at managing sound, something most people just take for granted.  At La Golondrina, first of all, he must consider the space itself.  The restauarant is all hard surfaces - wood and concrete floors, and brick walls.  Chon is given cassettes and CD’s and CD player by the dance group and Bob Baker for the puppet show.  They either have not been well-recorded, or are being played by a not-so-high-quality CD player.  Chon changes the equalization for each act, and often in the middle of a song to make each performance sound better.  He also does this for us, adjusting the sound and volume of my keyboard and our voices - all without missing a note, while we are performing!

Thursday, August 18, 2011


 Most of the people in our town range from lower middle class to very poor. They are all working-level people with well-proportioned bodies perfectly fit for labor. In general they are smaller and shorter than us gringos (Anglos), as I like to call us. I often wonder at comments made in the US about hispanics being “lazy”, and even “dirty”. I have not observed any lazy people. Everyone works, with the possible exception of teenagers who don’t attend school, and old, old people. And the only “dirty” people I have seen are homeless. The most humble clothing is usually immaculate.

Their skin is brown, shading from pale to very, very dark. Children here are generally quite beautiful, and tend to be at their most attractive, in my opinion, until around age fourteen or fifteen. Their bodies are mostly bone and muscle into middle age.

Women do the bulk of the housework, which in many Mexican homes is extensive. From the early-morning sweeping and mopping to hand-washing many pounds of family clothes and blankets to cooking and cleaning for large families, it’s heavy work. Free time is often spent repairing clothing and doing fine handiwork (mostly crochet around here).

Many men work outdoors, doing the kind of work that  machines do in California. When doing manual labor, men often sensibly break up the work day into two periods. At our house the two men who are building with bricks begin at about 7:30 a.m. as a kind of warm-up. At 10:30 a.m. they stop for breakfast. After that they work until about 4 p.m. They make building plans, carry cement, lay bricks, and dig and pry large stones out of the dirt. They have cut dowm trees, chopped them up and carried them in a wheelbarrow. They work very steadily. In the fields, teenagers are often hired to spray herbicides and insecticides, walking down planted rows. The men who work for the water company do heavy manual labor, providing new connections for the water that comes from the main, chopping through asphalt and concrete. Some men cut and sell firewood. Others work long hours irrigating or herding cattle.

On the street we often see women passing with very small children. “Pre-kinder” boys and girls are often sent to the small stores to bring home  purchases for their mothers. From pre-kinder to “secondary” school, all students wear school uniforms. There is, by the way, no separation here of church and state - during school hours there are unison prayers, and there are many references to God in the school and  of course in everyday conversation. The schools are quite good, and the  level of education is  high. Students from Mexico who transfered to the local California high desert high schools invariably entered higher levels than the ones they left. Education in Mexico is “free”, although there are costs involved - there are inscription fees, and book purchases, and families are asked to co-operate for building improvements and other costs.

The levels are Kinder (ages 4 and 5), Primaria (6 - 11), Secundaria (12 - 14, Preparatoria (15 - 17),  University (18 and up).

Most clothing here would not be noticably different from what is seen in most communities in the US to the casual observer. Colors and textures may be different, but many brands or knock-offs of recognizable names are very popular here. Mature women here usually wear dresses or skirts and blouses with sweaters or jackets, depending on the season. Many grandma-age women cover their heads and shoulders with long shawls or rebozos, usually in dark colors. It is not considered appropriate for mature women to wear white or light colors . Common color choices are black or navy blue. Curiously, I don’t see much brown.

Teenagers tend to stay in gender-selected groups. Boys stand in the street, sometimes drinking, mostly always laughing amongst themselves, showing off, and waiting for the girls to pass by. And of course, the girls do pass by, by twos and threes, talking seriously or giggling, usually On Their Way to somewhere - a friend’s house, or to mass.

There is a tendency to marry young here. Many families seem to force their female children out of the house, and this naturally is hurtful to the daughters, who at one time were cherished and cooed over. The anger the girls must feel gets channeled into the new relationship.

If the parents of the young couple don’t approve of the union, the boy will often “steal” his girlfriend. In years past, the stealing was real - a kidnapping that may or may have not been consentual. The couple would stay together for a night or a week, and when they returned, the parents would hastily arrange their marriage. Soon the married girls lose their shiny attractiveness and they become subdued, squarish and very much like the very mothers they rebelled against. Their lives become nearly the same as their parents’, and not the glamorous, appreciated roll they dreamed of playing.

In our little town there are two girls that I knew when they were girls; just little girls, with little girls’ adorable sweetness and curiosity. They came here to our portål to see me, the exotic outsider; to read or listen to books I had brought with me. They are still girls in one sense of the word. Barely adults, they were “stolen” at the ages of twelve and thirteen, and although I see them occasionally, I strain to see the sweet, giggling personalities behind the dull eyes and  slack bodies. They have their own babies now.

One of Chon’s aunts was stolen; truly stolen long ago, by her boyfriend’s best friend. Her life “turned out” well, and her marriage was probably at least as good as many.

Recently, during the same weekend, two girls were “stolen” here in our town. They showed up a few weeks later, with their husbands. Parents of these couples generally hurry to get the youngsters married in the church whenever possible.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


When you are need of workers, you don’t need to do much - they will find you. When we were in our fields struggling to control the Johnson grass, several men came to offer their services.

The first one was Peña. He came on his bicycle, and after the customary catching-up and joking around, he slid into a conversation about the farming. Peña is a very short man. he is not a Little Person, but he is really very short. He demonstrated how he would spray our weeds for us, walking around and miming holding a sprayer in his hand. Chon and Peña were friends long ago, and Peña’s nickname comes from a talented soccer player on the Mexican team years ago.

Soon another guy came on his bike, with his little boy on the handlebars. He was interested in the work, but he mostly walked about hunting for worms (plaga) on our mIlo plants.  It seemed as though he wanted to bring our spirits down, or maybe just to show off his ability to find problems.

A day or so later, another guy came bicycling out to us. He was Don Andres. He looked like the friend-turned-enemy bad guy in an old western. He got right to the point - he wanted work. He needed work, and he was the guy to do the work. Instead of hiring a tractor to spray our weeds (it was absolutely necessary - they were growing faster than the milo), we hired Peña and Don Andres. From our point of view, it was a good move. The tractor would have finished the spraying job in a half-day. It took the two men nearly two weeks. But, we figured, we were investing money in the town, and not in a big-time farmer and his equipment. As the days went by, we were impressed by the work the two men did.

Now we are patrones, and every morning we go to the fields to manage our little crew of misfits. For days and days we filled and hauled barrels of water to the fields for the weed spray, stirred and mixed the spray. The for two more weeks we took 100-pound bags of ammonium sulfate granules and place them strategically in the field so the workers didn’t have to go too far to fill up their bags (called morrales). Being a patron (or a patrona) means you have peones working for you. That's a word I'm having to learn to be comfortable with. But the peones are comfortable with it, even sort of bragging about their years as peones.

Chon is really good about deciding where each person should work, and about giving authority to some. He has to be very diplomatic. Right now Peña the very short man, is working with Don Andres, the man with a limp. Peña seems to sort of look out for Don Andres, filling his morro for him, and adjusts his own faster, steady pace to Don Andres'. You can see the two of them trudging along together, Don Andres' head bobbing, and Peña floating along smoothly. There are some benefits in working the fields that just can't be described in words.

The other two workers are brothers. The older one, Jose Santos, is called El Hombre Lobo because he has a rather hairy face, with a short full beard. I don't know his brother's name. They worked together in another part of the field. But then we had to tell the two brothers not to come - the 10 bags of fertilizer we were expecting yesterday did not arrive, and we drove to the business about 8 miles away to see why. Their delivery truck had broken down, and there were several anxious, angry farmers there. Anyway, this morning we took the seven bags we had out to Peña and Don Andres. They are working now.

The fertilizer should arrive shortly for tomorrow, and the brothers may show up to throw some today. They seem to prefer to start work at a later hour anyway.

Here at the house, the two bricklayers are getting ready for a big colado. The tejaban is up, with all its pieces fitted together. Tomorrow they will put a comparatively thin layer of cement on the top. We are hiring twenty-some guys, selected for their various strengths. The ones who are strong enough (they seem to be the most irritating to the rest of the workers) are put to work on the bottom, where the work is the heaviest. Chon hopes the hard work will keep them busy enough not to piss off everybody else. Short little Peña is working too, (he'll make 50 pesos more than if he were working in the fields) and this morning he said he's a little nervous about it because he's so short, and most of the other guys are young (they call them nuevos when they are young) and strong. Don Andres will work with the fertilizer. The guy in charge of the colado says Don Andres just wouldn't make it through to the end.

For the colado we have to do our part as patrones - we have to fill the water barrels today, before the water goes off at 1:15. There are three barrels to fill, plus the heavy tank we use for our baths. We have to supply beer, lots of it, usually served about half-way through the work. Chon says the workers are coming at 5 o'clock in the morning! That means I have to get the truck with the load of fertilizer out of the parking yard because there will be ladders and other things blocking the driveway.

So in a little while we are going to town. We will try to see the lawyer, who wasn't there when we went two days ago, and buy a carton of large beers, and get a contract printed, signed and mailed to the property manager of our rental house in California. He had lots of bad news for us. Besides the new paint and carpet, there are major plumbing problems: the bathtub leaks into the living room below. The pan in the shower is weak and wobbly, and the downstairs toilet is cracked and un-useable. When it rains it pours. Hope it rains here in the next few days - there is a saint festival in the little town on the other side of the road, and they say it ALWAYS rains on August 7th, the day of their fiesta.