Tuesday, December 18, 2012


The other day we were in a large music store that sells instruments and music equipment, and the clerk politely listened to Chon describing how we had just arrived from Mexico, and then listened more while he described what we would be doing a few hours later, until the clerk’s eyes suddenly lit up in comprehension, and he exclaimed in astonishment, “Oh - then you are actually Working Musicians!”

Yes, we are. And last night, the third night of a ten-night gig,  was one of those nights when things went right for us against the odds, with some magical moments from  the other elements of the show, and some surprisingly  cursed performances from others.

“We are Galileo, and we will be your musical hosts for the evening.”
Audience participation can be stunning!
This gig is a dinner show, and sometimes the results depend on the audience. Well, OK, the audience ALWAYS plays a big part. Aloof teenagers, timorous children, angry adults with obvious issues - that’s just a fragment of the population, and the holiday season seems to aggravate the best and the worst in each person. Last night the audience numbered eighteen, instead of an average of three hundred. So we made adjustments to our schedule and started late on purpose, since we didn’t have many people to handle. We  played dance numbers, and sung seasonal songs for about a half hour, all the while noticing that not a single member of the dance troupe, normally numbering ten or twelve, had stopped by to wave hello. However, as our last “cue” song was happening, I could see the great feathered  headdresses of the dancers approaching. 

We are the MC's for the show, and I introduced the dancers with a great deal of energy, and they headed to the stage, which in this case is the dance floor, at a slightly lower level than the stage where we are situated. Chon busied himself with the audio equipment,  enigineering changes to the sound as I watched three dancers prepare to dance. Normally there are six to eight dancers. 

The first set of dances is “Aztec Ceremonial Dances”, and of the FOUR dancers present, one played (blew) the conch shell. He was not in costume, and remained out of sight. One dancer, arguably the best, had been elected to play a very large (bigger and taller than a child) drum. The two other dancers were the couple who is the moving force of the dance troupe, an experienced middle-aged couple. Are you counting? Two dancers instead of six or eight. The woman is charming and talented. Her husband is rather tongue-tied and shy, and, well, just not a "born"  dancer. That is to say, he dances. In a professional dance troupe. With a lesser sense of rhythm,  the movements and steps of the Mexican dances are extremely challenging and intricate. But our dancer bravely rose to the challenge

I was watching, amused, to see what would come of this extremely diminished dance group, when Chon glanced up from what he was doing, and with a dreadful scowl, his eyebrows shot up in shock as he saw the dancers. The woman encouraged her partner through the steps of the various dances, until the final presentation, the Fire Dance, when a single dancer (and not usually THIS man!) dances around a burning flame in a stone mortar, at times bringing his feet and legs extremely close to the flame, and for the finale, holding the burning flames high above his head, moving them from hand to hand, then returning the flames to the mortar, and eventually extinguishing them with a bare foot. This he did, valiantly struggling along, until he dropped the flame on the floor, quickly recovered it and returned it to the mortar, and then it just, sort of, went out. And that was the finale of the dance. The beautiful, lithe, slender dancer who was beating the rhythm on the drum, also just - stopped. What else?

We quickly began to applaud, and the audience joined us entusiastically. Yay!

Later in the show, the dance group, scheduled to present a group of regional dances from Mexico, returned, this time with the conch player (to us, the New Guy). So there were the four of them on the dance floor. For some technical reason they chose to use a slower, training recording of one of the extremely fast whirling polkas from northern Mexico, and the “new guy” to us, the one who had blown the conch shell, just danced the polka at the speed he was accustomed to - that is, at a much faster speed.  His partner did not - she valiantly attempted to dance to the tempo of the recording, and to assist her partner to hold back, as well. The steps were right. They just couldn’t really dance it together...

And as for US, well, one of our speakers was blown, and we could not replace it. So Chon used a monitor (a speaker that performers use to hear themselves in the all the amplified sound swirling about),in place of the broken speaker, which made the bass sound normal. I play a bass part for all the songs we perform, with my left hand, on a keyboard. The sound is a “real” bass sound, that I normally like. The night before, it came out of the speaker as a cross between an extremely loud belch and a rattle. At first, hesitant to produce such a sound, I played rather gingerly, but as the night wore on, I became more accustomed to it, and realizing that the audience probably really wasn’t noticing, gave it more energy and volume. Using the monitor was a relief because the sound was good - normal, but accompanied by the worry of the possibility of blowing another speaker.

The world-famous Bob Baker Marionettes are part of the show, as well, and do a twenty-minute set. They are charming, OLD puppets, with fading feathers, maribou, felt hats, and chiffon, and the puppet-master is young and very, very good. He can make a marionette look like it’s tap-dancing. Or doing a provocative (not TOO provocative - it’s a family show!) Santa Baby routine. Or juggle. Or fly. 

Normally, there are twenty or thirty children sitting on the dance floor to see the puppets. Last night? There was one. He was about eight years old. His little sister, maybe five years old, was terrified, and spent most of the presentation tearfully huddled in her father’s arms at a nearby table. Soooo, I went to sit with the boy to get a great view of the routine. Then several other adults decided to join us, too, so there were six of us. Having been charmed by Bob Baker's marionettes as a spell-bound child seeing Hansel and Gretel, I am a serious FAN of the marionette show, and the set was wonderful. All of us were laughing and nudging each other at clever details. I hadn’t known that the big pink cat does funny things with her handkerchief! My face was aching from smiling so much. The lone boy was a perfect audience member as well, and was charmed and thrilled by the up-close-and-personal marionettes. 

And later on, when we had a traditional-styled posadas procession around the area, the adults took part, as well, in the part of the show usually done by youngsters. And the piñata, you ask? Waiters and waitresses joined in, as well as the paying audience. 
I had a wonderful time. And as I chatted with the audience after the show, I could tell they did, too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


We went on a pleasant drive to Atotonilco, a very old Mexican town we have visited before. It’s a drive of about an hour an a half, across the treacherous strip of road where we got our flat tire a couple of weeks ago.

Nearby Jalpa’s patronal fiesta was held over the last weekend. Before we left, we drove to there to buy some bread from one of the vendors before they pulled up stakes and left for another fiesta. There were lots of candy vendors, with marzipan and a variety of candies made from squashes and yams. There were several vendors of kitchen items, and plastic buckets and pans of all sizes.The children’s games were still there, too. The bread vendors carry their ovens around with them, and one had large beautiful bread coming right out of the oven. Chon bought one to take with us to Juana, his sister.
Atotonilco is a commercial center located in the “heights” of Jalisco, and was built in a bowl: to enter the town the drive circles down from the flatter lands of agave and orchards. Its known history began in 1528 (yes, 1528), and the conquistadors arrived in 1530. Known for oranges and lemons, it is also a center for tequila distilleries. AND, there are hot springs there!

The drive to Atotonilco was uneventful, and we saw some workers filling the enormous potholes that had tormented us on an earlier drive, and we arrived after noon. We parked a couple of blocks from the very large templo, and walked to the town square.

The  temple of San Miguel Arcangel was built in the mid-1700’s, and appears to occupy most of a city block. The style is very similar to  the famous temple in our neighboring town Jalpa De Canovas, described as renaissance and  plateresco (florid), with a bell-shaped top. It towers above the city, and is easily seen from the mountains above. It is built of quarried stone. Corinthian columns inside draw the eye up to the light-filled dome. When we entered, a woman was mopping the large area surrounding the altar, and singing. The sound of her voice hung in the air, with a long decay time.

We walked around, found ourselves by the old mercado, and remembered the hotel across the street. We went in and the woman at the front desk answered many questions about the area. Rooms are 300 pesos per night. That's less than $30. Right outside the hotel was a place advertising lunch of chilaquiles and beans for 13 pesos. We bit. It was very good, and we felt fortified for more walking. 

In the mercado Chon made a deal for a pair of huaraches for 90 pesos, and we stopped in at a couple of "cibers" to try to purchase a USB extension cord. It began to rain, harder and harder. We wanted to get to Juana's house before it got late, so we headed back to the car, and back towards Arandas, the famous tequila town. We stopped at our favorite "private label" merchant (in this case, private label means no label at all), and bought a garrafon to take home. We headed past the very old church with its very old, very heavy bell still hanging in its temporary spot, and drove toward Juana's house. 

Out in the open spaces, dotted with agave fields and cattle pasture, we headed down a hill only to see a line of many stopped cars, and a barricade made of a truck that had slipped off the road, and was completely blocking passage. We waited with the other travelers until two large tow trucks manages to pull the truck backwards and onto the roadway again. When we passed the truck, we saw the shaken driver, several transit police cars, and the two tow trucks.

Traveling on, we arrived at Juana's house in cold Josefino. She efficiently prepared us tacos of tasty chicken breasts, with beans and some spaghetti with a terrific cream sauce with rajas. We contributed our beautiful fiesta bread, and left after a short visit. 

We wound down the mountain road, passed through Doblado, and arrived home after 8 p.m.

Sunday, October 28, 2012



We were recently invited to Puerto Vallarta for a brief visit, and it was action-packed.

Daughter Laurel and her family went to Vallarta for two weeks, and ended up cutting the stay short because baby Keely had a bad cold with respiratory problems. 

We left on a Thursday morning and headed for Vallarta, having just repaired a little bulge on a rear tire. We followed Mapquest directions, which proved just fine, and the route we had guessed. We went north, through Guadalajara, and headed toward Tepic on a familiar toll road. As you exit the toll road the road falls steeply down and down. We had a lunch and continued through Chapalilla and some other small towns, at times stuck behind slow traffic. The hilly area is at times open, with pasture or crops, and other times is heavily wooded and shady. That portion of the trip is lengthy. When at last we reached the ocean it was almost a suprise, because we had been waiting so long to see it.

We followed the coastline south to Puerto Vallarta and searched for the Marriott, and overshot it by quite a ways, so we got an idea of the town. Although there are luxurious hotels and many tourist attrations, the town is old and rather charming. Drivers: Vallarta is one of those places where to turn left, you must get onto the right parallel road, called a lateral. Then you may turn left, across the traffic on the main part of the road, on a light. After locating the motel and finding our way to the check-in desk through a light drizzle, we arrived at our room, adjoining our hosts who were in a large suite. They needed the space because of all the things they had brought - crib, stroller, sports equipment. There was a refrigerator and a balcony overlooking the beach, and sea turtle release program. In the afternoons you can attend a release of baby sea turtles on the beach. Breilyn and I went for a stroll on the beach, hoping to see that.

The Marriott is sumptuous, especially for folks accustomed to life in a tiny town. There are many shops and many eating choices, and of course, a pool. Dion and Laurel took us out to a wonderful Japanese dinner, with fancy spatula tossing, and a meal prepared in front of us on a large grill. The fried rice prepared by our chef was very good. Normally fried rice is probably not something one would mention, but really, it was wonderful. We had Mahi Mahi, the “catch of the day”. 

The only negative thing about our overnight stay I could mention is the lack of a good internet connection. I was hoping to update some things on my computer that I usually can’t do at home (I have broad band which is limited in megabytes as well as service). The signal there was not good, so that task was frustrating.I couldn’t add anything to my Facebook page either. But hey, it was a vacation and that was a miniscule disappointment. 

We slept well, and breakfast the next morning was impressive. It was buffet style, with just about anything a person could desire. There was a large variety of fresh juices and aguas, coffee and tea. There was sushi. There were fried potatoes cooked with a dark chile. There were fresh breads, bacon and ham. There were little empandas. There was a woman chef preparing eggs to order in front of your eyes.There were fresh tortillas and cooked meats and guisados. I would have sampled everything if I could have!

Much too soon it was time to get ready to leave - Laurel’s family had afternoon flight reservations. We all said goodbye as they were whisked off to the airport in a large hotel Suburban.

We had decided to try a different route to Guadalajara, and we headed north a ways on the coast. After stopping at a music store and a couple of places that made rustic furniture we found the road we wanted, to Guadalajara by way of a town called Mascota. 

This road went UP. The summit was over 6,500 feet elevation. There were many topes to slow the traffic, and several small towns. The road was not good, and there were plenty of large and deep potholes. But is was a gorgeous drive, and I believe it might have been a shorter, more direct drive.

At the highest elevations we began to see signs advertising products of the region: honey, pottery, and something called “raizilla”, which turned out to be a distilled tequila-like drink; very potent, at 40% alcohol. Like tequila, it is made from agave, but the agave plants are called “lechuguilla” as they have lettuce-like, wider, curvier leavves. It was made illgally for many, many years, but now is being marketed. The bottle we purchased was labelled “Raizilla Ilegal”. The area reminded me of the Sonora/Tuolumne area in northen California, that I have always liked. We felt right at home there, but we had to move on.

As we went down after the summit I was curious about the town of Mascota. I mean, who wouldn’t be? A “mascota” is a pet! But no, the place wasn’t all about pets - the name comes from the tongue-twisting “Teco Amaxacotlan Mazacotla (not Spanish!!) which translated to Spanish means a place where there are deer and  snakes. The conquistadores named it Valley of Deer. Another name was Emerald of the Sierras, and it really looks like a jewel when you see it from the twisting road above the valley. 

Once in town, you notice very clean, rock roads, and closed-off houses. The people were friendly, some girls telling us that the daily wage there is 100 pesos (less than ten dollars). That, combined with the high prices for necessities, makes for a difficult life. (Men are sometimes paid 150 pesos/day for labor, according to the same source.) This is another thing, I might venture, that the area has in common with the Sonora area of California.

As we continued toward Guadalajara and home we stopped at a view point high above Mascota for a couple of photos. At the same spot was a pickup with the hood up, and a family watching the daddy peering into the engine cavity. Chon asked what the problem was, and the man told him that suddenly there had been “oil” spraying all over, and it had soaked the right front tire. After some conversation and thoughtful analysis of our own past experience, Chon decided that it likely was the transmission fluid. And it was. The guy handed us 500 pesos (displaying an unusual amount of trust) and we went back down to the nearest gas station and purchased two bottles of transmission fluid,  returned, and added it to the car. When he switched it on again, the fluid  again began to spew. Closer examination revealed a hose with a big cracked place, luckily near the place it was fastened. The man handily cut of the damaged part and replaced the clamp. During the time we were there, we all made friends. There were two little boys with their mom, and we all shared pretzel chips (thank you, Laurel) and chatted. When we took off again, it was with the phone number of the man, who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and a standing invitation to a big steak dinner whenever we might be passing through.

We follwed a pickup full of happy (obviously drunk) workers down the mountain until they stopped at a bar, then continued along a wider portion of highway, dotted with topes and other traffic-slowing devices until we reached Guadalajara. 

Now - we have a history of making wrong turns while returning south through Guadalajara, but the last couple of times we had gone directly through with no unfortunate deviations. This time we missed a “slight right”, took an off-ramp and got turned around, but it took only about a half hour. Relieved, we continued to the famous toll booth and toward home.

You might think that because of our Good Samaritan points we we had earned earlier in the day, we would have a smooth trip home from there,  safe,  with no problems, but that was not to be. A road between Arandas, the famous tequila town and the gas station about 1/2 mile from our rancho, is famous for its potholes. They can be so large that can they stretch like emormous yawning cauldrons all the way across the road.  We safely navegated around and across several nasty holes, and then an approaching driver blinded us with brights (smarter than this driver, I guess). I should have just stopped right there in the road, but instead, continued to progress. Bam!! We hit a pothole with both right tires, and a few seconds later we had a flat. At about 1:00 a.m.  Luckily, we were only about 100 yards past a gasoline station, unluckily closed for the night, but luckily there were living quarters above, with lights on. Unluckily, the man who answered our calls for help refused to help - said he didn’t have a jack, and wouldn’t come down. 

We thought of calling for help. Luckily, we had both of our phones along. Unluckily, neither phone  was receiving a signal. 

Luckily, I had my laptop. Unluckily, its broadband couldn’t find the signal either.

We had a small, toylike jack in the car. We located it and squeezed it underneath the tire after loosening the nuts. With plenty of cursing, Chon managed to raise the tiny jack with its miniature handle  Once up, tire removed, we heard a quiet creaking sound, and the jack just - well, bent, and twisted under the car, leaving the brake right on the pavement.

We were far from any town. We could see house lights in the distance, and occasionally we could hear the far-off barking of a dog when we walked around the car with the light of our cell phone. No cars passed. Earlier, right after we had stopped and were still full of plans and hope, three or four cars passed us, headed toward town, probably leaving Friday night parties. But now, no cars passed.

I got in the car, as it was getting quite chilly, and rested. Chon was outside, and I thought he was probably resting, too. But after about fifteen minutes he called me out of the car to try a new idea. (That’s just the kind of guy he is.) I staggered out of the car, and searched for the large, flat rocks his idea required. But first, we had to remove the twisted jack from under the car. He had found a thick pipe, and he levered the car up with that while I jerked the jack out with a small piece of rope we had in the car. Then he tried to straighten the twisted jack, and we (he) began to raise the car again, in tiny increments. We then placed one of the rocks under the frame, and moved the jack closer to where it needed to be, and he raised it some more. 

A car passed, the driver ignoring my frantic cell phone light signal. We placed another rock on top of the first, and began to raise the car again. A car appeared in the distance, and I raced to the edge of the road to signal it, hoping to cash in on our Good Samaritan points. This car stopped. The driver was not drunk, or an axe murderer. His had been one of the cars we had seen heading to town earlier. He had taken his wife to the hospital, he said, to get some stitches removed. In the middle of the night. We didn't ask. He told us that higher up into the hills, and lower down into the valley, there was phone signal, but we were in a dead spot.

Luckily, the driver had a jack - and it wasn’t a toy jack! We raised the car, placed the spare tire on, thanked the man profusely, and got in the car to leave. Unluckily, the battery was dead. We had used the lights for a couple of hours, for safety, and to see what we were doing. Luckily, we waved the driver back just in time. We had cables, and the car started up right away. 

We were about twenty miles from home. I drove even more slowly and carefully, and we sucessfully avoided any other mishaps. We arrived home around 4 a.m., unloaded our bags, and fell asleep.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


With the official arrival of summer begins the accompanying money outlay and field work. We had bought many bags of milo, nearly worth its weight in precious metal, and planted on June 7th.

We got some rain on June 20, 21, and 22. On the 23, the day before Saint John's Day, the traditional "rain day", (interesting reading on the internet for anyone who's curious)we got a very good, night-long rain. Here are the brave seedlings on the 24th, and then again on the 28th. Note the very healthy Johnson Grass (see post from last summer for information).

We are caring for three fields this year, and they are off to a very nice start, I think.

Monday, May 28, 2012



I’d like to report a success story (it’s a modest one). One day we saw part of a movie from a DVD. The story was, well, different, and the film featured Marianne Faithfull and a British cast. We only saw the beginning half-hour or so, and I wanted to see the rest.

So last night Chon put it on, from the beginning. About five minutes into the picture, Chon stopped it. I said, “Why are you stopping it? I wanted to see all of it.”

And HE said, “My Friend, (that's what he's called me for 25 years) you speak Spanish now! You didn’t even notice that they were speaking Spanish, did you? I’m just pausing it to switch to the original language.”

And I hadn’t noticed! I laughed and laughed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


This was taken from a view-point about San Miguel De Allende when the jacarandas were blooming.
These two houses are right next to each other in a town called Manuel Doblado.

Blues are featured at the front entrance of the famous old templo in Jalpa De Canovas.

Blue is often used for door color in Mexico. Chon wanted to have the picture he had bought for his sister in this photo.

These friends are merchants in Paracho, Michoacan, in a place that sells different types of artensanias. That tall vase is probably from nearby Cocucho.

More jacarancas in San Miguel De Allende.

I like this photo of Chon's mother (she's 90) blessing a new pump we recently used for the first time to move water into tanks above the second floor. (It works great!)

This plant has been living in this pot in this patio for many, many years. I'd like to find a young one like it to live in the same pot, but - I haven't seen one like it anywhere. I'm trying to propagate one from a leafless "trunk". Know what it is, anyone?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Expat Blog, The Expatriate Community

I am a member of the Expat blog (http://www.expat-blog.com/).  Don’t go there right away unless you’d like to get seduced into spending a chunk of time there. If you’re like me, you may get interested in reading a blog about driving in Greece, or a family beginning a new chapter in their lives in India. Or California. Or China, or Canada, or .......... fill in the blank. You'll have Julien to thank if you spend more time than you had planned.

Julien, the founder of the big site, says that he created it seven years ago during his first expat experience , to “gather on a unique platform all the expatriates’ blogs all over the world. Expatriates’ blogs are indeed a great way to get information about real life in a foreign country.”

There are recent new features - a forum (I subscribe to a couple of different topics, and any time someone posts new information, I receive an email - very handy!), guides, albums, a business directory. There are two brand new features, too, for the area where I live part of the year: Jobs and Housing. I expect that these topics will grow rapidly. And it is so helpful to have this information available if you are making a move, or just hoping to make a move. You can do some exploring right from your computer.

So if you are looking for some vicarious adventures in culture or language, or you’d like to research some hard information about a specific place or topic, check it out. And don’t get lost!

Saturday, May 5, 2012


The wares of an herb vendor in Paracho.
We went to Paracho again a couple of weeks ago, in April. Chon was anxious to go because he didn't want to lose the opportunity to buy a guitar that Don Luis Silva had made about 40 years ago. It had been sold then to a young woman who bought it as a gift for her fiance”. Many years later, last December, Don Luis saw the guitar again. A man showed up from Mexico City because of his label in the guitar, and Don Luis remarked to us that the man seemed sick and rather disinterested. The guitar was in serious need of repair, having broken places of the back, and a cracked neck. It looked as though it must have been involved in an altercation or accident.
Don Luis offered to send this rooster home with us. We declined.
Don Luis recognized his guitar right away, and asked about the young woman who had bought it. Evidently, she and her boyfriend did NOT marry as planned forty years ago, and Don Luis could not discover the relationship between the young man and the long-ago boyfriend. Don Luis promised to repair the guitar, and hold it for one month. The man said he would return to pick up the repaired guitar in January, but he didn’t show up. Don Luis made many calls to the number he left, but his calls remain unanswered. Don Luis's SON Juan who works with him said he should sell it to Chon, who was interested in the story, as well as the guitar. We have it now, to the consternation of the OTHER son, our friend Daniel, who originally helped to make it as a young man, and is still expecting the man to show up for the guitar.
Don Luis Silva's guitar workshop.
Chon is excited about the guitar because it is so old (read well-cured and dried, something that doesn't always happen there; many guitars there are made quickly, with wood that is not completely cured). And it is Big - it has a deep body and an appropriately rich sound.
Wedding procession in Paracho - very festive!
While we were at the workshop a truckload of people celebrating a wedding drove by, followed shortly by this cart.

And as Chon was visiitng with Don Luis I walked a couple of blocks to the entrance to the town. Here's the view from the workshop.

As I continued my walk, I passed a drainage ditch with one of my favorite flowers, called mosca, or fly. Mosca likes to grow in cracks, and it sends out baby plants to nearby spots where they can root. The flowers are like tiny violets. I had tried to transplant mosca with little success. But last planting season, some just showed up in our yard - in a pot!
Mosca, a creeping plant with tiny sweet flowers.
As you approach the gas station at the entrance to Paracho, it is difficult to ignore the main industry there:

So - that was the reason for our trip, which turned out to be very, very interesting, and was not our typical leave-early-in-the-morning-and arrive-home-in-the-evening sort of drive. We got to Carapan (CarApan), the turn-off to Paracho, and there were soldiers there, telling us that the ill-named "highway”, narrow, and full of twists and parades of heavily loaded trucks to Paracho was closed, and if we wanted to get there we had to find a different route.

As we drove further along the same road, with fields of raspberries and strawberries on both sides, we passed through several small towns along the way until we decided to ask for directions.

Chon is uncannily good at chosing people to ask for directions, and this time he chose a man and a woman obviously waiting for a bus. The man turned out to be a taxi driver. He gave us directions, but they were overheard by a man preparing elotes to sell, who told Chon to get a paper and pencil. He did that, and the man gave us a lengthy list of towns to go through for our new route to Paracho.

His list of towns we would pass through read like this: turn left to Tangancicuaro; go toward Patamban; go through San Jose, Cumicho, Cucucho and Nurio. IAt the temple in Nurio turn left to Paracho. We had to go Up through the mountainous area. We only made one wrong turn of about 10 miles, and went through beautiful small towns with many native Indians in their colorful dress.

We arrived at Daniel Silva's workshop. He had repaired two cracked guitars for Chon. He and his wife were there, and the workshop seemed very quiet because their teen-aged and older kids who had been there the last two times we visited had returned to school. Daniel told us what had happened to cause the road closing. His wife who helps in the workshop, prepared slices of wonderful mangos for a refreshing treat, so we sat and chatted, and Chon played the repaired guitars and gave Daniel a lesson in how to play a guitar piece he wanted to learn.

And Daniel played for us, too, suggesting that Chon write a song with Purepecha rhythm, a 6-8 rhythm similar to huapango. He sang us a song in the Purepecha language, with that rhythm, too. It might have been called “Cristinita”).

Two towns close to Paracho are long-time enemies, with many unfriendly altercations between them over many years. In the last year or so the government (which has for many, MANY years mistreated and misrepresented the majority Indian population there) promised some "help" to ONE of the towns. The other town complained, there was some kind of demonstration, and the two enemy towns began shooting at each other. It was reported that 8 from one town and 5 from the other town were killed. Thus the road closing. I later located a report on CNN that left out many details (and the article may have been distorted by my understanding anyway).

I had thought that closing a road for two days was over-doing it, but now that I have heard more of the story, I am sure that the road will be closed for a while longer. I am imagining over-wrought, grieving families at their nightly 9 days of prayers for the dead, and the tearful and angry family conversations following that.

There is a community support organization for the two towns, and I imagine that even those meetings have been suspended.

In the afternoon before our drive home. we walked to the mercado, which is as colorful as any I have seen.
It was a warm afternoon.
Sometimes you can catch a glimpse through a door or hallway into a home.

Our morning drive to Paracho had taken us through a small mountain town called Cocucho where we immediately spotted pottery on the street in front of workshops that looked different from any other I had seen in Mexico. The color was mixed dark browns with streaks and spots of black.

We later found out that like Paracho, famous world-over for guitars, these two towns are world-reknowned for their unique pottery. On the way back down through the mountains from Paracho we stopped at one of the pottery places marked by a very old, rusty hand-painted sign (see below). The owner said that just that day he had sold many of his large pots to a man from Chihuahua who had stopped in the morning. All of those purchases were tied with ribbons to mark them. The buyer had evidently gone to get packing material in Paracho (or maybe some guitars!).
A purchase transaction in action.
Loading our treasure in the back of the car. You can see just the mouth of one pot beside Chon.
Chon bought two tall pottery vases (I guess you would call them - the potter just calls them "ollas"; just "pots"). The maker told us that if we put water in them, the water would eventually leak out, but the pottery would not be damaged by the water or by rain. I'll add a photo of the two pots in another post. We later discovered that the regular purchase price is several times more than what we paid!

I was in the parked car across the street from the workshop as this transaction was happening, and a woman in the store I was parked inches from had a handful of clay and was working it. Soon a little boy came our from the store carrying something I could tell was pottery. When he turned it around so I could see it, it was a representation of a cantina, about a foot long, and perhaps four inches wide. There were tables and chairs, and men in various states of drunkenness. The woman tried pretty hard to sell the scene to Chon, but he had already bought the vases, and thought the price for the little scene was too much compared to the tall, graceful, masterful vases he had just bought.

This photo was taken through the car window. That's the boy who made the pottery cantina - Chon is holding it.

In another town close by, San Jose De Gracia, there was more pottery, glazed with green, in the shapes of pineapples. There are other shapes, and other colors, but the green pineapples are typical.

Not my photo - it's from a website offering these typical gorgeous green pineapples.
Peaceful afternoon view of a square templo in Aranza.
 The Purepecha Indians there are beautiful people, and their dress, especially that of the women, is spectacular. They often wear very colorful embroidered blouses. They wear skirts that are fitted to the hip, then burst into many, many pleats. They fabrics they favor are probably not what you would expect - they are mostly fabrics with sheen, probably polyester and blends. The length of the skirt varies - some women wear the skirt almost to the ankle, and others covering the knee. Almost all the women wear beautifully woven wool rebozos of different colors and designs, sometimes wrapped around their heads (or around a baby carried on the back). Even very small girls wear a similar dress. Over the skirt they favor very fancy aprons of contrasting color, sometimes embroidered, and often trimmed with extravagant lace. Their shoes may be leather flats, heels, or huaraches. At one stop for directions I saw two lovely teenaged girls sharing the same rebozo over their shoulders - very sweet!
I was lucky to catch this photo. See the apron, the pleats, the beautiful blue rebozo?
I wish that I could have taken more pictures, but it is clear that they don’t like to have their pictures taken (I really can’t blame them for that!). Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to request permission to photograph their stunning outfits. (And who knows, maybe even their striking faces!)

When you come to visit us, I hope we can take a two-day trip to Paracho and go through the mountain and valley towns. It looks a lot like the area near Sonora, California, and the towns are beautiful, old, charming. You'll probably enjoy the visit as much as I do.
These are popular paint colors for houses and stores.

Friday, May 4, 2012


I won‘t say “only in Mexico”, but see what you think about this story.

Chon’s family has had a long-running problem with officials in regard to the spelling of their last name. On Chon’s father’s birth certificate Vasquez is spelled like that: Vasquez.

Chon’s sister Elena, who has historically spelled her last name Basquez, (yes, birth certificate and all) recently had problems with her medical insurance because someone misspelled her name when filling out an annual form; Elena didn’t notice, and her brand, spanking-new identification read Bosques. She couldn’t receive services for several months, and had to show her birth certificate and other identifications to get a new card. This took several trips to different offices.

Chon is enrolled in a government program for financial assistance for small farmers. It provides help for buying seed, etc. Last year at the end of May the people at the Procampo told him that they had opened a bank account for him, and he should go to the bank to confirm the account. He decided he wasn’t interested in the account. But this year they told him that they had deposited his check in the account. So we went to finalize the account so he could with draw the money when we need it for farming expenses.

At the Accounts  desk the woman reviewed his documents and said. “Procampo has misspelled your name”. (As Vazquez.) She couldn’t officially open the account. She suggested that we get a letter from Procampo stating that no matter how his name was spelled, he was really him. We went right back there and got a very official-looking letter with a seal and an enormous, artful signature and gave it to the bank official. She said that she would send it to the main bank with copies of his identifying documents, and that we could return in three days. But not really three days, because of May 1st, Labor Day. We waited a couple of extra days, because - well, just because. When we returned yesterday the same woman was not there, so Chon re-told the story  to another person. She said that headquarters had not made the spelling change.

She suggested that we go to the branch where the account was located, and see if they could help. (Why didn't they just tell us where the account was located in the first place, I wondered.)

We went there and the accounts woman looked at the documents and said,”You just need a replacement card for the one we gave you originally.” (They hadn’t. Or Procampo hadn’t, or - whatever.) She said, “Your name is correct, so I’ll make you a new card.” We glanced at each other. Correct?
We wisely kept our mouths shut, and in a minute or two she handed Chon his new card and a PIN (here it’s a NIP). And that was that. As he signed for the new card he cautiously asked how he should sign it. The woman casually told him that it didn’t matter. He should sign it the way he usually signs it. Vazquez.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I like nopales. OK, they're not for everyone, (their texture is a bit like okra) but I really, really like them.

Our next-door neighbor Doña Elena has practically no income, but she enjoys bringing us little gifts, usually food. Last week she brought two glasses filled with red gelatin, and some nopales she had harvested and prepared herself. Yesterday when we were sweeping the street in the early morning she asked me how we liked the nopales. We had forgotten about them, I’m afraid, but I told her they were wonderful - very tender. Right after that I got them from the refrigerator and prepared them so I wouldn’t have to feel so guilty.

Nopales are the pads of the prickly pear cactus, and they are low in calories and contain modest amounts of vitamins and minerals.
I cut them into strips and boiled them. As they are boiling, nopales make lots and lots of bubbles, and you have to tend them so they don’t boil over. When they are cooked you drain them and cool them quickly, and throw away all the now-slimy, bubbly water.

After they are rinsed they are not (so) slimy, and you can prepare a salad with them (with chopped onions, tomatoes and cilantro), or use them like a vegetable in main dish recipes. I asked Elena if she wanted to use them and she said yes.

Today she cooked some very pretty flor de mayo beans - they are a pinkish pale yellow, and cook fairly quickly, and then she added the prepared nopales.

I could scarcely believe it last week when a truck came through town with large red tomatoes for sale for 4 pesos per kilo. We bought 2 kilos, and have been enjoying sliced tomatoes often. (Four pesos is less than forty cents, and a kilo is well over two pounds  - figure it out!)

And today i sliced the last two and served them with the beans and nopales, and toast. What a wonderful meal!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On The Radio

This is not my image - it's from Google Images

Last night I drank just a little too much tequila. Maybe that’s why this morning I felt a bit raw and emotional. But that’s how I felt while we were enjoying Breakfast With The Beatles (raw and emotional).

Nearly every Sunday morning we enjoy the program, courtesy of my sister, (thank you, Eileen) on Sirius radio. Today’s program was especially good - the host had chosen songs that seemed to me to flow really well together. There are often a couple of surprises as well, and today was no exception. Donovan was a special guest. As a child of the sixties I grew up knowing the sound of his voice, and liking his songs very much. But today I more fully realized how much I was affected by the music he gave us.
Donovan then - from Google Images

There was always one song that deeply moved me. When I was seventeen or eighteen I had major surgery to shorten a leg that was mysteriously more than an inch longer than the other leg. (Evidently a genetic thing, as my brother had a similar difference in leg length). Years later it seems a medieval idea to correct this with surgery. Medieval as it may have been, there I was in the hospital, on heavy pain medications and I had a little device to call the nurse if necessary. It was was equipped with a radio, clipped to my pillow (remember that, anyone?) and tuned to sounds of the mid-sixties. I kept it on night and day for company.

One night around midnight I was dreaming waking morphine dreams and Donovan’s new song “Hurdy Gurdy Man” was playing though the tiny speaker. The night nurse had not yet closed the curtains and I could see out into the night. It seemed that I was looking into time and the words of the song reached out and grabbed my imagination. The sweet clear voice seemed to speak directly to me, and I felt that I really understood the role of us performing musicians in everyday lives. There was also a guitar making sounds I simply had never heard the likes of before; unbeautiful, raw, emotional sounds that went right to my heart. At the time I knew nothing about the guitar player - it just seemed then that it had been planned as part of the arrangement of the performance.

And today, in April of 2012, there was Donovan on the air speaking with Chris Carter, the program host, about his recollections of events that had happened many years ago with the Beatles in India and in the recording studio. My impression of him was that he is really an “artist” - a bit fey and clever, and - just, well, different.

Donovan willingly agreed to sing, right there in the studio. He played his acoustic guitar energetically and sang wonderfully well. And he sang  “The sunshine came softly through my window today...” from Sunshine Superman and I was catapulted straight back to the sixties.  He followed that performance later with "Mellow Yellow" (quite right-ly)

Then he sang “Hurdy Gurdy Man”. The host asked him about the “lost verse” of the song that was omitted in the recording. The verse had been written by George Harrison while they were in India. Donovan explained that all the musicians, while they were there together in India had sung for each other, and he had sung the song for George who told him that he, George, could write a verse for the song. Then Donovan recited the verse for us who were listening. It seemed to me to fit perfectly into the song. And Donovan explained why he had not included the verse when he recorded the song. During those days there was an exact length that each commercial song was to have, and the verse would have made the song too long.

Here is George Harrison’s verse:
When the truth gets buried deep
Beneath the thousand years of sleep
Time demands a turn-around
And once again the truth is found
Awakening the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Who comes singing songs of love.

As Donovan recited the verse, I wiped away tears for the dead musician who wrote it over 40 years ago, and for the little hole in my life where the words could have been living for decades.

I had never heard of the extra verse. In the sixties I was a young musician hoping and planning to continue music studies. This came to pass (thank you, Mother and Daddy and Grandma). But in those days I knew next to nothing about the details of lives of musicians and the creative, bubbling fermentation of music of the times. I knew the songs, but not their makers. Many years later, Chon told me about how Jeff Beck had been in the studio that day, casually and by chance, and had added the iconic guitar part that had stunned me that night in the hospital. I had had no idea of this collaboration, nor of the friendships of the musicians during that magical time in Britain.
Donovan more recently - from Google Images

So thank you, Donovan, for sharing your recollections, and for singing songs for us today that you must have sung literally hundreds of times in the last 40 years. Thank you for making it as real as when the music was new. It was wonderful to hear your voice again.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Friend Connection - San Miguel de Allende

Michael, My Friend, I’m so glad I got a hold of you three days ago! I called Richard but he hadn't set up his voice mail. THEN I called Beth as you suggested and there was no answer, but I thought maybe she couldn’t get her phone in time. I thought what a bummer it would be to just tell you lamely “Well,we just couldn’t get in touch.” and I called her back, and she picked up!

Richard suggested we meet them in front of the “Parroquia” there in San Miguel, because they would be there in three minutes or so...We had to drive down from an overlook where we were, looking down on the city. We parked where we thought we were within walking distance, and asked directions from two women, obviously from the States. One told us we had about a fifteen-minute walk, but, well, you know us - we were there in about 5 minutes, I think.

Every town and city here has a “parroquia” or two and you must ask the name. But in San Miguel there is only one Parroquia. It is not a modest building. It is directly across from the Jardin, and things were a-hopping when we arrived. There were many, many tourists, and small Indian women selling colorful toys and bracelets and other things from trays they carried.

And we found Richard right away. When we had passed a park earlier on our hike from where we had parked, we saw a tall man with a T-shirt and shorts, and Chon asked “Could that be Richard?”  No, that was not Richard. THIS is Richard! T-shirt and shorts, indeed!

And David and Beth were there, too, very friendly and companionable right away. I felt comfortable after feeling just a little anxious about finding them.

Richard had Plans. He suggested an exploring sort of walk around a few blocks, and it was quite enjoyable, including an art gallery with a friendly artist - “No photos, please! I’ll have to charge you $500!” Richard obediently deleted the pictures from his camera. Chon was looking for information about legal matters, and went into an office and Richard accomodatingly said not to worry, that they would wait in a local restaurant/bar. We took only a couple of minutes, though - most things were closed because of Holy Week - ane we met up with them right away, and had a margarita (two for the price of one - 80 pesos, less than 7 dollars!) And they were delicious, and seemed pretty strong on empty stomachs, so we had some laughs and got to know each other a little bit. I was comfortable with Beth right away - a different kind of artist, a classical ballerina, and teacher.

Soon we pushed on, and visited the local library, well-supported, Richard informed us, by the local gringo population. It was quite attractive, and busy for its small size. There were English lessons happening, and lots of posters announcing upcoming events of music, reading, and book sales.

The streets were old, of stone, and it seemed like everywhere you looked there were beautiful colors and images. Old doors, colorful houses and shops, stones, brick, and lots and lots of people in vacation mode for Holy Week.

Richard knew “a nice spot right around the corner” and we went to order the house specialty, chiles rellenos nogados. They were stuffed chiles with a lovely sauce of walnut cream. They were wonderful - sweetish, stuffed with spiced, ground meat with a few raisins. Chon and Richard ordered the “hotter” version, which reportedly was not hot. The sauce topping the chile was almond and cream. Goodness! A lovely meal, with crunchy French rolls and butter, and a bottle each of the house red and white. The conversation was wonderful, which I enjoyed nearly as much as the wonderful meal, having spoken English almost exclusively with Chon for more than a year or so...

We needed to head home by that time, a pleasant two-hour drive, having said we would return the next day. The business we needed to see to was not completed, the American consulate having closed only a few minutes before we arrived.

The next day we left a little earlier, and arrived at the consulate around 10:30 in the morning. The consul assistant spoke with us only very briefly, saying “No, you do not need ANYTHING from the consul. Stop by the ministerio publico who will give you a list, and then go to the Officina de Migracion, which will give you a different list of requirements. Since it was Holy Week, the ministerio publico was closed. The immigration office was open, but the line was too long for me to wait for the list after I took a number and analyzed the number of people before me, each with a thick sheaf of papers.

We went instead to meet Richard, Beth and David at La Terraza, right next to La Parroquia. They had margaritas in front of them, and Chon ordered a coffee, heavily spiked with rum, with a name, nearly forgotten, “Tarugillo”, like “For Dummies” in Spanish. We heard about the trio’s morning walking tour, given by a woman who had written a lovely book about San Miguel with wonderful photos.
View of La Parroquia from La Terrazza

And for lunch? Richard knew of a very pleasant restaurant right around the corner, owned by a Frenchman. Everything was beautifully served, and delicious: Milanesa steak, salad, with a beet salad as well, chicken in almond sauce, tacos. The young waitresses were pleasant and attentive. And Richard introduced us (well, me, anyway) to a lovely drink, kir, that I had heard about before, but never had the opportunity to sample.

We continued our visit in the lovely and comfortable jewel of a house where our trio of friends were staying - the home of a designer who rents it by the week to lucky travelers. Each space had natural light from above, from skylights (tragaluzes). The furniture and color and art was very beautiful and comfortable.

We needed to leave at 3, but we stayed until nearly 5:30, relaxed and happy from the wine and conversation.

About San Miguel de Allende: it is every bit as lovely as I had heard - flowers, stone streets and sidewalks, gorgeous colors and friendly faces. Everywhere you look there are beautiful vistas. Because of the large gringo population there are shops with different types of clothing and fabrics than can normally be found in Mexico, wonderful food, and thanks to Richard and our new friends David and Beth, comfort and relaxed enjoyment. When we travel to places it is nearly always because of some kind of business, and we don’t take the time to explore. Our two afternoons were like a vacation for us. Thank you, Friend Connection!!