Thursday, December 28, 2006

La Fiesta en El Jaguey

Yes; yet another fiesta. Yesterday, we had to choose between a large celebration in El Jaguey, about 3 miles east of Las Cuevas, or the local one, at Mateo and Chucha's house. As we had already committed to attending the El Jaguey*, so we went.
(*Jaguey- a pond or charca.)

First, we picked up Mari, her mother and her son, Alejandro at their house. When we arrived at the crossroads entry to the pueblo, several people excitedly rushed up to our Ford Windstar. It turned out that they were expecting the imminent arrival el Obisbo de Morelia. There was a small band, there were dignitaries, there were señoritas bonitas vestidas como guarecitas, there was a police pickup to act as an escort.
The Obispo was late, but eventually arrived. The band struck up, the march commenced, the
cohetes launched skyward, and 10 minutes and one half mile later, we arrived at the church. We left our camioneta at the crossroads but later brought it in closer.

This time, Susan and I sat outside with Alejandro and did not attend the Mass, which was already far beyond the capacity of the larger church. I wandered about, talking with the men cooks in the dining area across the street. They were preparing two huge cazos each of barbacoa a la penca y carnitas. As it turned out, we didn't get to eat any of this, as Mari had an invitation to some friends' home on the outskirts of El Jaguey.

After the Mass, we went to the car and drove less than a mile down and unpaved side road. This area is notable
for its extensive irrigation. A small acequía ran alongside the road.
Soon we arrived at the rancho of Sr. Águstin and Sra. Ángela. They have extensive farm holdings by the look of it. Their several grown daughters were in attendance and displayed great enthusiasm and offered us plates abundantly heaped with mole rojo de pollo (o de guajalote—no estoy seguro de cual), arroz y tortillas. There were plentiful cervezas y refrescos a la mesa, and several dishes filled with pickled chiles Jalapeños of especially fresh, crisp, snappy character. I should have asked where they bought them.
The mole was especially appreciated because it was rich but not excessive, and did not have much, if any sweet taste in it. Further, to our benefit, the bird in question was skinless.

I was still dipping rolled tortillas in my mole when a plate heaped with carnitas arrive. I was just able to try a modest slab of chewy, tasty fried pork. These are the kinds of Mexican foods I most appreciate: relatively simple but well-prepared, unpretentious fare served among friends and family.

We were preparing to leave, when the desserts arrived: a huge sheet cake and at least two large basins of gelatinas. Of course, we had to stay to sample these, although Susan and I had no gelatina. The Primera Comuníon girl, her mother and aunt cut and served the desserts.

After thanking our hosts for their generous and warm hospitality, we drove Mari and family home. Then we had a few minutes to catch our breaths before going over to Chucha and Mateo's house for a sip and some conversation. Their son-in-law, the man married to Verónica, asked me my opinion of the demonstrations
that had taken place in the US by Latinos. I replied that I had a policy of not discussing politics. But, when pressed, I ventured to say that although I was sympathetic to their cause, I thought that the method they had chosen was no effective, but perhaps alienating US citizens. The conversation ended amicably.

Click image below for more photos)

Monday, December 25, 2006

La Noche del Pozole

How we celebrated Christmas Eve

Last night, we were invited to a pozole supper at the house of Santos and Teresa, halfway down the street. Their son, Armando, is married to Emilia, an interesting American woman. They have 2 teenage sons. They are working on finishing the house above Teresa and Santos so that they may move here to live full time in a few years when they retire.

The pozole was cooked in a big, clay olla over a wood fire, on a raised platform in the small kitchen, even though Teresa has a pretty modern stove. Talk about atmospheric! Her husband, Santos, is a weather beaten ranchero, but on top of that, the Abuelito, whose name I didn't retain, was there also. He looks like an 89 year old, Mexican Clint Eastwood. He had the serape and a beautiful, gold-banded cowboy hat. (Unlike the accompanying picture, Abuelito hads no scar.) It was just too cool.

The dining room table was limited in capacity, so we ate in turns. We, the guests, were served first.

The pozole was the thick, red kind, with dark chunks of what might have been beef. Later, a bowl of cooked boned chicken breast was passed around to enrich the pozole.

The accompaniments were chopped onion, coarsely shredded cabbage, and a bowl of coarsely cut Chiles Manzanos, the very hot yellow kind. Armando, caught a stray seed the wrong way and was trying various folk remedies, such as salt, banana and lime wedges to squelch the heat. (I, on the other hand, was careful not to eat any of the black seeds and was fine.) Paquito, a 9 or 10 year old boy, took a dare from his American cousin too eat a little piece, then went running outside to wash out the heat from the pila (outside tap). They jokingly told him to go outside and lick the dirt!

Emilia gave us White Zinfandel when we arrived, from the vineyard in South Carolina where she works. Then we had champurrado, a mildly chocolate form of atole, the corn-thickened and flavored hot drink popular night or for breakfast. It was pretty good, until it started to set up like pudding in our plastic cups. Susie and I brought freshly baked Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Rugelach and some wedges of Panettone. Oh, and a neighbor or another relative came with a plate of buñuelos in syrup, which looked not so unappetizing to me. Imagine gefilte fish jelly chopped finely over well-browned matzo brei, except that this is a sweet dish, not at all like my description. Susie tried a little, but I passed. She reports that "It was definitely sweet."

We left at about 9:50, thanking our friendly hosts, walked home and
at once fell into bed .

Sunday, December 17, 2006

La Fiesta Marcha

El Día de La Virgen de Guadalupe...continued.

Just before noon, we went to the little chapel down the street. Susan was dressed in her almost full rig (less braids and ribbons) as a guarecita. The church is a modern building, not of the old, Spanish Colonial churches which to many of us represent México. But this church was as "Real México" as could be. It is a church of and for the people of Las Cuevas in which to worship.
It is a building of simple, block construction, painted in blue and white, with the forecourt decorated by garlands of pine needles and colorful banners. Inside it is tranquil, plain, and beautiful.
The congregation was called in by Doña Chucha ringing the church bell from just outside the door.

We were seated inside toward the back. There were not enough seats for all the congregants, so we squeezed in to our bench to allow more to sit.
Little girls, dressed in white, wedding-dress style outfits whirled about in their hooped skirts while the little boys clustered in suits and ties. There would be a first Communion for them this day.
The priest arrived, the perfect picture of a genial and somewhat plump Mexican padre. He heard the confession of first the primeras comunicantes, then of anyone else who wished to confess.

Soon, the service began. I could follow much but not all of it. I did enjoy listening to the sermon. Before it was over, María beckoned us to come outside. She wanted to let us know that our friends, Luis, Lety and their two sons had arrived. As we sat chatting, there was a rapid fusillade of ear splitting explosions not 12 feet from where we sat. We were pelted by shell casings and ceramic plugs from the string of cohetes that had just been ignited. These blockbuster firecrackers are fused together in a string for maximum effect. Fortunately, no lasting damage resulted.

Soon, the services were over, and we waited briefly to take seats at long tables. Before long, our hosts and hostesses were ladling up generous platefuls of copper kettle simmered beef in red chile sauce; rice, and beans. (I think that the "recipe" called for 1 medium sized yearling calf, cut into 2-3 inch chunks, a whole lot of water, enough chiles, soaked,pureed and strained; a gunny sack of onions, cut up; sufficient garlic for a year, salt, vinegar, and possibly, freshly squeezed orange juice.) It was tasty and tender, to my taste needing a litle more salt and "picante", yet very good. I didn't complain!

Thick, homemade-looking tortillas arrived, stacked high in towel wrapped baskets. We had Pepsi to drink, until the Padre turned around from the adjacent table and offered me una cerveza. Excellent fellow! Soon he was opening and passing beers to whoever wanted one. After we got the supply line going from another source, the older fellow at our table would open the bottles by prying the caps off with another bottle. We lacked for nothing.

After comida, there was a break, allowing people to go rest a bit, the cooks ladling out the large quantity of stew into the plastic pails some señoras had brought.

After the break, during which the hired band "Olas Altas de Tzintzúntzan" toodled, noodled and drank a few beers, we sipped a little Presidente Brandy offered around by María. Then it was time for the procession. The Padre got everyone lined up according to a plan, and the band struck up a merry tune, while Rosa carried the statue of the Virgen down the street and out onto the road, towards Sanabria. We got to the house of Doña Lidia's daughter at the edge of the pueblo, where we stopped for the "First Mystery". I think it represented the Annunciation to Mary of her forthcoming carrying of Jesus.

Becuase of traffic, we turned around and went back up the street, toward the house of Doña Chucha and Don Mateo. There we found another Misterio, representing Mary's visit to her cousin, Elizabeth. (Isabel).
More cohetes were ignited, close to our fence. This time, we faced away from a distance of 20 feet. The procession returned down the street, but we took leave and went into the house to recover from the events of this wonderful day.

Later, in the night, there was a baile on the school grounds, about 150 yards away. We could hear the music, but it wasn't too loud nor lasting, and we slept as well as usual.

More photos click here

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Fiestas Continue: La Virgen de Guadalupe

Today, December 14, the Fiesta de La Virgen de Guadalupe is celebrated in Las Cuevas. The usual date in most of México is December 12. I don't know why there's the local variation.
At any rate, our street is decorated, at least in part, with papel picado strung from the houses and utility poles. The people have some more work to do the complete the task before the celebration starts with a noon Mass in the Capilla.

Yesterday when we drove out on errands, we saw a pick-up truck backed up into the driveway of the house below us. I glanced in and saw a young beef animal, legs up, dead on the pavement. They were cleaning hairs or something from its chest. Undoubtedly this was the animal sacrificed for the churipo that would be served to the celebrants after mass. I'm hoping that they will serve corundas with it, in the traditional way. (I wanted to photograph the making of the churipo, but that is taking place in Tzintzúntzan.

The most notable aspect of our involvement in the celebration was Rosa and María's invitation to Susan and me to wear traditional outfits. They would fit us with the appropriate clothing. I declined, with thanks, but Susan went tentatively yesterday to the Las Cuevas Ladies' Sewing & Embroidery Circle up the road for her fitting. We had some concerns with this offer, as we had always been well-indoctrinated not to wear "native" costume while in México, as it is considered inappropriate, if not offensive to local sensibilities. But we considered that as we were sincerely invited, and that we weren't just passing through, but involved in various (we hope) positive ways in our little community, that the invitation should be considered an honor. So, here, in the photo below, is Susan displaying her (loaned) outfit.

The festivities commence at noon with a Mass in the church, followed by a comida and then a procession to carry the Virgen through the street(s). Afterwards there will be a baile at the school, just halfway down the street and off to the left.

I'll report back afterward our impressions of the day.
Música (SAVAE): Las Mañanitas de Guadalupe

Monday, December 11, 2006

Una Fiesta Or Two Or Three, Or More

December is Fiesta Season here at Las Cuevas as well as in other parts of Mexico.
Our party season started off Sunday.
Susan and I had a few, mostly local, friends over yesterday for a "convivio", or get together, with a meal. This was the largest group we'd ever hosted in our little casa del campo.
Perhaps this should be posted on "My Mexican Kitchen" blog, but as it was social, I decided to post it here.
We had invited a lot of people, but the attendance was actually around 20 or so.
When planning and executing a party, there are always more small details that you didn't think of. That was true this time.

The culinary theme was "Italian, with Mexican touches"
My plan was to make a large pan of roasted vegetable lasagna and a few large pizzas with varied toppings.
Some friends were bringing dessert, salad, Italian style sausage, rice, beverages, (Ponche Navideño Caliente—more on that, later), etc. Another friend brought us a rented table and chairs, as well as desserts.
We had 3 tables, up to 6 ' long, and enough chairs for everyone.

Our work began Monday by making the sauce for the lasagna. I was interested in making this project relatively easy, so I was going to use no-precooking Barilla Lasagna sheets. These really work, but they are so thin, that I couldn't even use a up a 500 gram box for two very large pans of lasagna.
Tuesday I shopped for last minute ingredients . One item was queso requesón, which is an excellent substitute for ricotta.

On Friday AM, early, I seriously got to work. I prepared the lasagne, all the way through the baking.
The fillings for the lasagne were the aforementioned roasted vegs, corn, bechamel sauce and the homemade tomato sauce. The other cheeses were mozzarella, a little parmesan and some smoked provolone. A bit redundant, I think, but good. On Saturday, I assembled and baked them. The Monster Lasagna took an hour and a half to bake.

Before starting to bake pizzas, I divided the lasagnes up into smaller casseroles, so that they would warm more thoroughly in the oven, but could if needed, be zapped in the microwave. That proved to be a good move.

The pizzas presented a different challenge. I did not want to spend ALL my time rolling out dough, topping and baking pizzas, instead of (occasionally) visiting with our guests.
Thus, I decided to make up and pre-bake 7, 16" pizza crusts. At least that would cut the final baking time down. I was able to keep almost everyone supplied with pizza, but for a 15 minute gap.

We served everything with disposable picnic ware. Not ecological, but practical. Nevertheless, there were more than enough soiled pans and utensils to wash, to assuage our guilt feelings.

The Ponche Navideño Caliente, cooked by Doña Chucha in a huge stock pot , over a fire of ocote, was carried into the house by two strong hombres. It was colored like dark tea, and in its depths held a trove of sweet spices and tropical fruits. I had a bottle of dark rum alongside for those who wanted a "spike" in their punch.
Dessert were two "bought", but delicious and rich chocolate-cajeta cheesecakes. There was also panettone.

I think overall, our guests enjoyed themselves, and I enjoyed cooking for them. There were a few minor crises, but we overcame them. But, at the end of the day, we, the hosts, were seriously frazzled. I have promised Susan 3 nights in Zihuatanejo for recuperation. (And I am not fond of beaches.)

But first, we have to rest up and get ready for Thursday. We have been invited to the Fiesta in honor of the Virgen de Guadalupe, which will start with mass in the chapel down the street, followed by a community comida, a peregrinacíon and a baile. María and Rosa, our amigas of Las Cuevas Ladies' Sewing Circle, have offered to outfit Susan in traje tradicional. Vamos a ver.

Monday, November 06, 2006

El Pic-nic de Los Muertos

The day after our night visit to the local cemetery, we returned, this time in our van, to join our friends for a comida at gravesite. Like so many events, it was both festive and sad. A local woman had died two nights before, and the interment had just concluded as we entered the cemetary. There was a huge mound of earth over the grave, and her family and friends were pushing cut flowers into the earth.

In the daylight, the panteón was of course much less mysterious, but possibly sadder. There were tiny graves of infants. One grave consisted of twin mounds. In it were two sisters who had died at the age of two. Another, somewhat larger child's grave was aof a boy who had fallen off a roof. Life is fragile.
Our neighbor, Sr. Orozco, was there, and he kept urging us to have a seat. I looked around and replied, "
Gracias, pero por lo visto, vamos a tener mucho tiempo para descansar." "Thanks, but by the look of things, we'll have a lot of time to rest."

In the midst of all this, Rosa and María had set up a charcoal brazier and had been trying to get a fire going for over 3 hours. The excess of charcoal used was blocking the airflow. Some relatives came, and when the men removed the surplus, the fire caught hold.
Rosa seasoned a stack of thin cut
bisteces de res in a plastic bag, using only a generous handful of salt, while María first washed and diced a bag of tomatoes, then diced then over a pottery dish balanced on her lap. Aurora, Rosa's 25-year old daughter, diced onion, and when the tears started to flow, she placed a cut stem of onion atop her head. I remember that kitchen trick from opening scenes of the movie, Like Water For Chocolate. Aurora then cut up two chiles perón for the "salad", while María opened a can of chiles jalapeños, seasoning the salad-salsa with the juice from the can and a few chiles were slivered and tossed in as well. A pinch of salt, juice from one lime, and we tasted it. Mmmmm ¡picante!

Now the carne was on the asador, but as they had neglected to bring tongs or any kitchen implements other than a couple of knives, we resorted to flipping the steaks over with our seared fingers after loosening them from the grate with a knife.

Tortillas were then reheated over the fire and a few unfilled
gorditas. Precooked frijoles were in several glass jars.
I'd brought 3 loaves of warm garlic-parmesan bread, wrapped in foil. They served as our appetizer. The heavy-duty aluminum foil wrapping became plates for a lucky few. We ate with our hands, tearing the salty, smoky meat into shreds and putting it into toasted tortillas. For a beverage.we drank the limeade Susan had made, and when that ran out, the Coke was opened.
When we were finished, the fire was overturned, and the trash we had gathered was burned. One might say that the whole thing had been feast and sacrifice with ritual burning of the remains at the end, but I wouldn´t go that far. It was just a picnic amongst the graves.

In the course of conversation, María told us in hushed tones that another neighbor had died the night before, and we were invited to the
velatorio. I turned down that invitation, for the two days had been interesting, even comforting experiences, I wasn't quite ready to stare death in the face at a wake.
Aurora and Laura both wanted to come to our house on Sunday to practice English, and we told them they were welcome. I much prefer to feed the living.

Our First Noche de Muertos

Papel picado at Hornos Los Ortiz, Morelia 
Although we've lived in the Pátzcuaro area for over a year, we missed most of the observances of el Día de Los Muertos last year, as we were away at the time.
This year, two nearby señoras invited us to come to the small panteón, where one's husband is buried. The cemetery is a longish walk from our house, set in a grove in the valley that spans our area.

First, we went via a soggy wet path to Rosa's house, a humble building, yet scrubbed clean and neatly arranged inside. She was delighted to see us. Her 16 year old daughter Laura, came out and introductions were made. She is a beauty. Then, one by one, other daughters came, all very attractive, and our other acquaintance, María, who lives closer to the highway.

We had brought them some sewing notions, especially 3 pairs of scissors in 3 sizes, from Costco. It was like Christmas two months early. They lead a sewing club of local women, and we knew from our previous meeting that they lacked certain basics, like scissors and cloth!! So they divided up the goods, and we went on out to the cemetery. It was a pleasant night, not too cold, with a nearly full moon to illuminate the otherwise unlit roads.They carried a pail of hot tea and small, folding chairs. I helped with one of the chairs.

We arrived at the panteón after dark, but it was well illuminated by candles, small fires and even the headlights of some cars. The scene was vivid, with the smoke and flowers decorating the tombs and gravesites. There were sounds of laughter and children's merriment mingled with the chanting of prayers and sacred song.

From what I could see, the majority of those in attendance were women, but there were some men. Children were playing at some of the tombs. At our site, our amigas provided small folding chairs for us to sit on, and we drank hot, sweetened lemon tea that they'd carried in a cooking bucket from home. There was a lot of smoke in the air from the fires, but it wasn't unpleasant.

After cleaning the gravesite, the widow and her friends first made a cross from cempasuchil (orange marigold) blossoms, then arranged used cans and jars as candle holders to light the corners of the grave. The block wall of this humble but well-cared for grave was further illuminated by candles in glasses. (Reminding me of the yahrzeit candles my grandparents burned in their apartment in honor of their dead.)

More cempasuchil flowers were stripped of their petals and strewn over the bare earth of this grave to make a carpet. A few, simple offerings of the deceased's favorite foods were placed at the head of the cross. Paper napkins were found and included.
There were other flowers: crimson cockscombs, "flores de nubes" and lilies.

A group of women friends gathered, and a cycle of prayers and song began. (I am not very familiar with Catholic ritual, but I think it was the saying of the Rosary, although no beads were in evidence. One women took the lead in the prayers (in Spanish) and the group responded. They knew these prayers well, and only a few songs were written on notebook paper for occasional reference. It was quite a moving experience, yet no tears were visible. They were dressed in everday clothing, some with varying rebozos wrapped about their heads and shulders.

We did not stay for the prayers at another tomb, but our amigas escorted us to the cemetery gates, where we began to walk home. It's a bit circuitous, as some large corn fields lay between us and the highway. Although we could have done it on foot in about 30 minutes, we were grateful when a passing pickup truck paused and the couple inside offered us a lift. We jammed ourselves in, and I started to introduce myself, but the señora said we'd already met the day before. They live in the house in front of our other amigas.

From where they dropped us off, it was a quick walk up the deserted streets to our house, silent except for the barking of the watchdogs.

The next day, we reunited for a picnic amongst the graves. The only tears shed were those of Patti, who was chopping onions for the salsa to accompany the carne asada.

Graveside in another year

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Country Pie

Now that we are moved into the new house and 95% of our home furnishing shopping forays are complete, life here at Las Cuevas has settled into a quiet routine. We did give our first dinner part on Saturday. We had two couples of Mexican friends. I made a simple, Vietnamese style meal, with a Key Lime Pie for the desssert. It's really nice working in this kitchen. It's possibly the nicest I've ever had.

We have exchanged foods with our neighbor landlady's family. I sent over some fresh baked cinnamon rolls a week ago Sunday. The next day she sent a steaming plate of Tamales Dulces de Elote.

This past Sunday, as Susie and I were contemplating which (tasty) leftovers to eat for lunch, her son arrived with a plate full of Mole Rojo de Codorniz con Arroz. (Quail in red mole with rice.)

Yesterday I made a cross-cultural, cheese and potato stuffed breads; somewhere between potato and cheese knishes and Georgian (former Soviet Union Georgia) khachapuri.
I may want to slow down this exchange a bit, as I don't want to strain anyone's time and resources.

One of the best things about living out here is the tranquility and the friendliness of the neighbors. Friendly but not inquisitive. I have to remind myself from time to time to get up from the computer and go outside for a walk, even a short one. The walls of the houses and their gardens are glorious with flowers, and the surroundings of fertile valley and mountains, marked by rough walls of volcanic stones, is a deeply fulfilling vision.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

It's Beginning To Feel Like Home

It has been a while since I sent an update about our life here near Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México.

Beginning July 1st, we rented a house in a very small village, really part of a rancho, some 15 minute's drive from Pátzcuaro center. Some of you have seen these photos, but here's the link for those who haven't.

Yesterday we received delivery of our refrigerator, gas stove and queen-sized, wooden bed frame, and 2, filled LP cylinders.
Here's the kitchen, afterward. (Since the photo was taken, there have been numerous additions and improvements to the kitchen, but the basic layout is the same.)

While we waited for the furniture store truck to arrive, we carefully unpacked many of the boxes, most of which had remained sealed since our departure from Little Rock, and we placed them in various likely spots in their new home. It was very satisfying and pleasurable to do this.
Today we rest; tomorrow we go early towards Lake Zirahúen and to Rancho Agua Zarca, to pick up the trastero, or china cabinet, on which we put a deposit 3 or 4 weeks ago. We have arranged for a taxi de servicio mixto to haul it to our new house, for the unbelievable sum of $18 USD. I'm hoping it has sufficient capacity to carry the 7-ft long, up to 5 ft. high, and 28 inch deep cabinet.

As you can see from the above photo, the handsome trastero is now in our hallway, after a very succesful trip from its former home. It holds a tremendous amount of clothing, the "wine cellar", and whatnots.
The only thing we lack is closet or armoire space, in which to hang our clothes. We will go to the nearby town of Cuanajo, where the main industry is furniture, and shop for an "armario" or "ropero". We are considering the more economical option of clothes trees, which are considerably cheaper.

If we weren't so busy, I'd take more photos.. The house needs some tidying up before it's ready for occupancy the first week of August.

Now it's August 14th. We picked up our friend, Jimmy, at the Morelia Airport last Tuesday, August 8th, and on Wednesday evening, we moved in. The keys to the move on that date were Jimmy's return and the transfer of the wi-fi antenna and router to the new location. Sr. Bolívar Díaz Galarza and his assistant had the job done in an hour. I plugged in, and it worked from the start.

Yesterday, we completed our move when Jimmy helped maneuver our 12'x6' cargo trailer through tight maneuvers and into our lot. He then skillfully backed it to a location near the rear of the house. We again felt truly at home, as we sat at our oak dining room table an hour later, and had our first, real sit down meal: Chilled Beet-Cabbage and Apple Borscht with horseradish; fresh green bean salad in garlic dressing, fresh peas, and toasted challah.

Here's Susan, enjoying a quiet moment in our living room.

We are already enjoying the tranquility, the spaciousness of the house and the surrounding countryside, clad in different shades of green.

(Updated May 4, 2008. Three year anniversary coming soon.)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Friend and Neighbor Has Died

Mel O'Hara, June 20, 2006

We only met Mel for the first time less than a month ago. In the short time that we became acquainted, he introduced us to his home and his landlady, at Las Cuevas. Because of him, we are able to rent the nice house next to his. He helped us out with much advice about living there.

We last visited with him at his neatly arranged home on Saturday. We talked about various things, including the sometimes balky Internet connection; water quality, cigars and life in an RV. Using the Google Earth program, we looked up his daughter's address in Iowa. Then we pulled up his favorite RV park in Deming, New Mexico onto the laptop's screen. Distant yet familiar home places, thanks to technology.

After getting our fill of technology, he led us up the low hill behind the house, to a flat place with a great view of the village of Las Cuevas and the valley and distant mountains beyond. We kidded about setting up a couple of chairs there to drink beer and smoke cigars at evening times.

Las Cuevas, Michoacan

Susan and I are saddened that we will be unable to have this gentle and friendly man as our neighbor. We realize that he was one of the reasons that made living there was so attractive.

While on the knoll, Mel told us that at night, just about all you could hear were the occasional howl of coyotes. The much bigger cerro rose up behind us, and we talked of how long, and what route one would take to hike to the top of that. What a view there must be from up there!

On Jun 21, 2006, at 11:00 AM, Ric Hoffman wrote:

Mel passed yesterday peacefully in his sleep. We will miss him. Bueno
adiós amigo, entra la paz.

Ric Hoffman

--- In, Mel OHara wrote:

Howdy to everyone. My name is Mel. I have been
retired for 3 years and have travelled Mexico from
Texas to the Yucatan and across Chiapas and up the
west coast. I have been to Morelia twice and stayed at
the campground in Patzcuaro. I am trying to sell my
house in New Mexico and head south about November. I
can't decide where to stay but I will head to San
Miguel for a start and continue studying Spanish. I
am very interested in Morelia and Patzcuaro. I have
been told by one lady who spends the winter in Morelia
that some folks have a weekly get-together and I would
love to be able to attend if possible. My aim is to
eventually live in Mexico and hopefully become fluent
in Spanish. Hope to hear from some of you.


--- End forwarded message ---

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Berea College Country Dancers in Pátzcuaro

Yesterday while doing casual errands in Centro, I saw posters for a performance of the Berea College (Kentucky) Country Dancers. This seemed to me somehow a pleasant anomaly, or more precisely, a bit of a cultural/geographic time/space reality warp.

We decided to attend the show, at 7 PM in the
Teatro Caltzontzin, on the
Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra in Pátzcuaro.

Srta. Catalina accompanied us. As we approached Centro, traffic was heavy ( being Friday evening) and we decided to park at the first available curbside spot, some 4 or 5 blocks from the Plaza. Catalina led us on a picturesque "shortcut" through narrow callejones (small streets), which although saved neither time nor distance, were tranquil and charming.

Admission to the performance was free to the public. We went up the steps into the very old, but well preserved theater. I was impressed by the classy fixtures in the auditorium, although the stage was pretty basic.

After 3 "llamadas" (calls) and dimming of lights, the MC introduced the troupe. The performance began. Four musicians, playing fiddle, mandolin, accordion and keyboards accompanied the bright, young, wholesome dancers. My impressions were of Colgate-fresh, smiling, scrubbed wholesomeness, and while there's nothing wrong with that, I was worried that if the show continued along those lines, it would soon grow insipid and boring. I needn't have worried, as when the first sets of English Country dances passed to a few very lively Danish folk dances, salpiconado (seasoned) with near acrobatics, my fears vanished.

Between major sets, the musicians entertained us while the dancers rested and changed costumes. The musical selection was eclectic, broadly based Americana, ranging from Bill Monroe to George Gershwin.

The dancing grew livelier or even stranger at times, during the third set, of Morris Dances. Some dances seem to be a way to work out community aggressions in an approved manner, eg, a group of men dancers in odd costumes, jingle bell sets on the lower legs, with crossed chest bandoliers, shaking short tasseled "flagella" in each other's faces. It seemed a strange ritualistic dance.

In another dance, where the men dancers hit sticks in a ritualized "clash" (In my opinion), almost reminiscient of Kendo fighting. (The photo is of another dance group)

Equally as odd was the "Lollipop Man" Dance, where the boys stood up in front of the audience as the dance began and chanted a brief set of rather risqúe double meaning lyrics before commencing the dance. I imagine that most of the audience didn't understand it.

The "Molly Dance" was a near free-for-all of women dresses in whatever colorful old schmatehs they had. I wasn't at all clear as to the symbolism, although the Spanish interpreter told us it was a bit "rojo", or naughty.

There was a Scottish " Pipe Dance", involving a solo woman dancer at first, doing intricate steps over a set of crossed "tobacco" pipes . The accompanying story was that as she danced each of 3 progressively more difficult variations over the pipes, if she by chance kicked the pipes, then she was doomed to a life of spinsterhood. (Unless immediately kissed by an eligible bachelor.)

Although she negotiated the steps successfully, she kicked the pipes because two handsome "bachelors" were waiting their chances, stage rear. The dance then became a broadly humorous conflict between the two rivals.

The show concluded at an appropriate time, it was just about the right length. We are grateful to the Berea College Country Dancers for their talents, and to the Michoacán Ministry of Culture, and its Pátzcuaro counterpart in bringing us this entertaining and different cultural experience.

(I have to say that there are very, very few photos of the Berea College Country Dance Group available on the Web. It would be good P.R. for them and nice for enthusiasts to be able to access more.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

La Masajista

Soon after we arrived in Pátzcuaro, after a month or more of stressful planning, packing, moving and driving (culminated with our car transmission failure), I learned that our local doctor's clinic offered temascal, traditional sweat lodge. But more attractive to me, they had a masajista on call. I arranged an appointment.
While the massage room was none too plush, the skills of the masajista were impressive. Like our doctor, she is an adherent of natural and herbal medicine. Some of the treatment was briefly uncomfortable as she worked out the knots in my body, but at the end, I felt considerably better. I was wishing that there had been a more comfortable table, especially desiring a head rest, but considering that the fee was $100 MXP, (about $9.25 USD) I had little room for complaint.

When I decided to return for another treatment, circumstances prevented us from using the treatment area at the clinic, so we drove to her home, up in the barrio. I had some qualms, but they dissipated that this kind massage practioner would be sure that I was "in good hands." In her home studio, la Señora provides a few more amenities and comforts. There are pillow and bolsters.

It is a small estudio off the patio of the modest family home. The setting for your treatment is unlike any before experienced in the U.S.
There are cages of lively talking parrots just outside the door. The extended family is out in the patio and the other rooms, going about their daily life. Sometimes rollicking música ranchera plays from a CD player or radio. On one visit, the family was finishing up their comida at a table near the estudio.
There is no New Age music there nor scented candles burning.

Inside the small treatment room, lit dimly by the sun filtering through the curtains, is a narrow massage table. To the side are shelf after shelf of herbal remedies, oils and unguents.
On the back wall, large posters of La Virgen de la Salud, and of Jesu Cristo gaze down benevolently but watchfully. This is a serious place and no funny business is part of the deal.

Every treatment has a background of local sounds: the music, children playing, the cocks crowing, the parrots showing off their language skills, but fortunately, not all at once all of the time. Yesterday, I went in the late afternoon and was greeted by a surprise. The family is adding a second storey to their home. So, the first part of the massage had the background of workmen loudly dragging and scraping materials on the rooftop directly over the studio. That didn't affect the quality of the treatment. About midway through, the rain began, and the ruferos ceased and took shelter. It was especially pleasant to have la Señora's skilled hands at work while listening to the downpour.

When it was done, it ended in the customary way. La Señora gently and lovingly puts your socks on your feet and leaves you to rest a ratito on the table.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Trippin'—Potholes in Paradise

I went for a long walk last Wednesday morning on the tip of a fellow US expat who had told me of a traditional panadería in an outlying neighborhood beyond the railroad tracks . That is a story in itself, which I hope to tell after I return and take more and better photos of the unpreposessing, well-hidden bakery, La Espiga.

After locating the bakery and visiting for 20 minutes, I went back to the market area on the old Pátzcuaro-Uruapan highway, well known as being the location of Don Chucho's store.
For a block or so, a row of small stores has food stands in front, offering shoppers and passersby various desayunos y comidas caseras. I was looking for the one that cooked Carne de Cerdo en Salsa Negra. I found what I was looking for at the last stand of the row of stalls, Taquería CIA. The dish was very tasty, and I enjoyed the simple meal, in spite of not getting any utensils until two-thirds finished. As I got up, I wished the other diners "Buen provecho" —good appetite.

I got up and paid, and walked a few steps along the street, stepping off the sidewalk to avoid some construction. Suddenly, I was falling forward. I cursed aloud in English as I twisted to the right, (to avoid hitting my head on a parked truck) impacting my right hand, knee and shoulder and the right side of my head. I moaned curses and was on the verge of passing out.

As I lay there, assessing the damage to my body, a passerby asked me if I was all right. I told him no, I didn't know my condition, but that I was very dizzy. When I was ready, he helped me to my feet and we walked over to a wall where I could sit. Two of my right fingernails were torn down to the quick, and I had a small wound on my right hand. The right side of my head also hurt somewhat. (Amazingly, my digital camera and my open shopping bag of breads were intact.)
As I leaned back against a pillar, a metal sign clattered to the ground. The shop owner came and replaced it to a safer position.
I quickly dismissed the idea of walking home or taking the colectivo, so I called Susan on the cell phone. I could hardly hear her, but she got the message, and arrived 5 minutes later.

At home, I changed out of my messed up clothes, took a shower—sitting down— and called our Doctor's office.
She instructed me to go to the lab for x-rays. We got to the lab quickly, but I had to wait an hour or so before the authorization for the x-rays came from the Doctor. She had had unavoidable family matters to attend to.

X-rays in hand, we walked the 4 or 5 blocks, across the Plaza Grande to the consultorio of our doctor. As she checked my shoulder's mobility and reviewed the x-rays, the good news was that there were no fractures. She prescribed a steroid tablet for a sort time to alleviate any brain inflammation, should there be any. For the shoulder, warm applications of a strong solution of sea salt in hot water. For pain, ibuprofen. She also offered the possibility of going to a chiropractor friend of hers, and/or having neural therapy of the shoulder (this involves needles, but apparently is different from acupuncture. I wasn't keen on either of the last two, but would consider them if the need arose.

By the time we were finishing up the exam in her office, I was feeling a lot better; that is, the shock had passed although I still had considerable pain.

Back home again, I was going to take a nap, but certain cooking tasks needed attention, so I applied myself to them, greatly aggravating Susan. I told her that it was a form of therapy for me, and I think she understood. Then I rested.

As the days progressed, I felt energetic the next day, Thursday, and walked from the Lavandería Las Américas
to centro. There were other days, and especially sleep-interupted nights of gradually diminishing pain.

Yesterday, Tuesday, almost a week after my fall, I awoke and felt almost pain free. When I was at the bathroom mirror, I saw that my shoulder had a very large, very discolored bruise. That was a new development. I called the doctor and we discussed this. She reassured me that it was normal, although it was strange thet the bruise had not been seen until then. I also got her enthusiastic appoval to have a therapeutic massage from a wonderful masajista, Sra. G— S— I made an appointment for early afternoon. I will describe Sra. G— S— in another blog post.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Atrapado en Casa

Sad goings on here at the Casa. We keep our various doors open in the daytime, for fresh air and for warmth. It's our heating and air conditioning system. There are a few drawbacks.

About a week ago, we found a hummingbird in the front parlor, desperately thrashing against the large front window. The cats waited patiently, licking their pointed, polished feline teeth.
Unfortunately, we couldn't unlock that window. We tried to gently guide the bird to a safe exit, but it persisted in flying either upward to a non existent sky, or into the transparent barrier of the window.
Later, there was silence...

Two days ago, Srta. Catalina pointed our views up to the skylight over the office desk. A small opossum was trapped inside. That was the source of the clattering glass we'd heard at night. This morning, only an creepy silence.

Susan and I had seen the Big Mamá Possum crossing the front garden last week. We suspect that where there is one young possum, there are several. It is likely that this animal was the source of the "footsteps" in the attic that had been heard for some months.

We will have the gardener, Paco, do a thorough inspection of the attic crawl space when he comes to work on Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Fun In Morelia

We went to Morelia yesterday in order to take Catalina to a doctor's appointment and our guest, Rosa, of guesthouse back to her place, visit one of my doctors to get a prescrip filled (as our Pátzcuaro doctor was on vacation), and do some heavy grocery shopping.

As many of you know, Morelia is located in a valley or a broad plain some 1000 feet lower than Pátzcuaro. There is a distinct warming up when you drive down the slopes into Morelia. It's a welcome warmth in the wintertime, but can get uncomfortable in the spring before the rains have begun.
This part of the year, the end of the dry winter season, is characterized by dry heat, smokey haze and a lot of pollen.
Morelia is a medium sized city, and the narrow Spanish Colonial streets of the historic center were not intended for automobile traffic. Not all the city is, of course, Colonial, but it is often congested, particularly the commercial steet, Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas.

Coming in to the hospital where Catalina's doctor's office is located wasn't bad.
But when we took Rosa back to her casitas, we became ensnarled in difficult traffic, in fact, we had our main route, Avenida Madero, cut of by chanting demonstrators on the march. We were detoured by cops (the wrong way, of course) and doubled back, seeking an open route to cross Ave. Madero before the marchers intersected our path again.
After missing a likely spot due to our inattention, we found a street headed the right way, incredibly jammed with cars.
At that moment, an ambulance came up in the queue behind us, sirens wailing. Fortunately, a traffic cop at the intersection of Madero took heed, and let our line of cars across the Avenue so the the ambulance could get through.
The marchers were maybe 100 yards from us as we just barely slipped into our escape route.

While the street plan or layout of Morelia is not difficult to suss out, knowing which streets are one way or which intersections allow a left turn is not easy. But eventually we got Rosa back to her house, but not before a car equipped with a mega blockbuster boom box, pulled up behind us and gave us a free, full bass and vibe serenade of the latest Mexican rocanrol.

Then Susan and I had to navigate a new route back to the hospital where Catalina was waiting. After several tries and one inquiry, we got it right. Fortunately, my doctor's office was not far away, and there was even—get this!—parking spots close by.
I waited maybe 35 or 45 minutes, no AC, (I didn't actually have an appointment) and then I was admitted to his consultorio. we chatted a few minutes, he filled out the prescrip, and charged me nothing (You gotta love the Mexican doctors, for the most part). I made an appointment to return in June, and the receptionist started to write the appointment on the back of the prescrip!! I stopped her, as these documents are taken very seriously at some farmacias, and any alterations or annotations are a very bad idea.

I walked around the corner to fill my prescrip without delay. It was one of those nice, air conditioned Farmacia Guadalajaras where they bake off fresh cookies and pan dulces (although, in this store, the pan dulces were burnt.)
After a brief wait, I got my medicine.

After all this exertion, we needed a treat. We drove a relatively short distance to Mariscos Los Delfines, on Ave. Lázaro Cárdenas, but parked about 5 blocks away, as there was a free spot on the "right" side. We all had seafood coctails of various combinations and then some tostadas de marlín. It's a smoked marlin spread, cooked with tomato and spices. It's especially good at Los Delfines. It's just an open air stand, but one of the more enjoyable seafood spots around. The family that runs it, and the in-laws that run the adjacent parking garage, are warm, friendly people.

We then drove to our super market destination on the outskirts of the city, fortunately on the route to Pátzcuaro, where we loaded up on cheese, wine and other stuff, before heading home. There was a welcome drop in temperature as we drove less than 10 miles from Morelia. When we got home, at 4:30, to the house, it was pleasant outside on the patio, and cool indoors. We could relax in the tranquility of our temporary casa., enjoying the breeze from the freight trains hurrying by.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tricks of the Trade

Our first challenges came all at once, as our hosts were leaving for the airport. "Catalina" had called the cable TV company to come and change the cable over to her new quarters. The workman showed up, but without a ladder and seemingly untrained. When he "realized" he needed a ladder, he phoned his boss, who sent out a ladder in a taxi.

Catalina says she had to tell him how to do everything. She wasn't happy with the service. When it came time to pay, she was willing to pay $100 MXP, not the $250 demanded.
As our hosts pulled away, the boss cable guy drove in to get payment. Catalina let him know how displeased she was. The whole standoff ended with the cable boss telling her, "Keep your money! You need it more than I. I GIVE you my work!"
We had stood behind her for moral support, but there was no way I was going to get involved in that dispute.

Next, Susan went to wash up the dishes, but there was no hot water. Sometimes the pilot flame goes out. I tried to light it, but to no avail. We put a pot of water on the stove, but the burners wouldn't light. After a few moments of consternation, I realized that the gas tank must be empty!

We went outside to the gas taks area, I selected one by opening the valve and hearing a whoosh,removed the empty, and attached the new, not without some difficulty.
Back in the house, I was able to light one hot water heater pilot, but the other, for the kitchen, would not stay lit.
New lightbulb: the tank I'd chosen had been nearly empty.
Back outside to change it once again.

On Tuesday, the new gardener showed up, to tell us that he, too, was leaving for the US, but he would work on Wednesday, bringing an new new gardener, whom he would train. Of course, we'd have to pay the apprentice the same amount.

While we were contemplating this peculiar reversal, we got a call from the housekeeper, that she wasn't feeling well, and wouldn't be in the next day.
(My suspicion is that these absences and leave takings are ploys to leverage more money from us.)
When the old new gardener showed up the next day (without his apprentice, by the way), Catalina told him that we had contracted with someone else. (Not quite true at the time, but we did hire the kid brother of the old gardener. He is thought to be reliable.
Thus ended the first three days.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tu Casa es Nuestra Casa

Six Months after arriving in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, to begin La Vida Buena of retirement in México, we were out of space and patience for the cute, 2-bdr, 1-bath cabin we had rented. During the winter, I called it "La Hielera de Michoacán", for the uninsulated cabin walls allowed cold drafts in to make us residentes bien frías.

It was also getting tiresome to have to dodge each other when we needed to pass along the sides of the dining room table. The dust, the electrical and water cutoffs from the nearly constant development at the fraccionamiento were a drag as well.

In February, we had a stroke of luck: an old acquaintance whom we knew from back in the Arkansas Ozarks where we used to live, also has a spacious house outside of Pátzcuaro. He and his mother needed someone to house sit for at least 3 months, beginning in April.

It all came about because of a Pumpkin Pie a few months before. His grown son was having a birthday and asked me to make a pie for dessert. Pumpkin was not available at short notice, so I used camote and carrots for an effective substitute.

We began our move the last week of March, making 4 or 5 trips in our Windstar van, with the passenger seats removed, and the penultimate trip with our greatly lightened cargo trailer attached.

By Sunday, April 1st, we were in the new house.

Our hosts left on Monday, a day ahead of schedule to facilitate arriving on time at the airport. The daughter-in-law to be, "Catalina", remained behind, waiting for certain immigration issues to resolve before joing her fiance in the States.

Susan and I continued to arrange our household articles, unaware that certain challenges lay ahead.

Challenge and Response, our Mascots

Meanwhile, we reveled in the ample spaces, our bedroom here is probably larger than our living-dining room in the old cabin.
In fact, the living room is considerably larger than our old house. In fact, there is even a mini living room near the entrance hall. In most houses in which we have lived it would be most satisfactory.

The best part was having a large bathroom of our own, with tiled walls and a domed, brick ceiling. (I've always wondered what a brick schpritz house was like.) There is a seemingly unlimited and responsive supply of hot water, and I got in the habit of inundating myself with torrents of wonderfully scalding hot water.

La cocina, the kitchen is a tale in itself. I'll describe it in another installment.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Going Postal, Mexico Style

Getting a Post Office Box
Here in Pátzcuaro, apartados postales become available to rent after the first of the year. Not necessarily the first working Monday, but when it's time.

To obtain one is easy, you will have had practice with similar situations already, such as getting an FM-3. You go to to the Oficina de Correos, inquire, you are given una carta de solicitud (application form), you show your passport/FM-3, give them a copy of the first pages of said documents; Comprobante de Domicilio (copy accepted), and, ¡que milagro! no copía de fotografía needed. No waiting period either, the clerk helped us fill out the application.
We then paid the rental fee, which had risen a few 20 or 30 pesos from 2005.
(I think it was $185MXP, but I'm too lazy to look it up.)

We chose a box, and stood there, expecting to receive a key.
But no. The clerk went with us to our chosen mailbox, unscrewed the lock mechanism from the inside, and handed it to us. ¿Y, ahora?

We were expected to go to a cerrajería to get our own keys made. There was one about 6 or 8 blocks away, so we waited while la Señora cerrajerista changed the lock combo and made us two new keys.

We then walked back to the Correos, got the clerk, and he screwed in the lock. Handshakes all around. ¡Éxito!

Now we are waiting for someone to send us some mail; but we have advised our friends and relatives NOB never to send valuables. I guess we can get promotional materials for Domino's Pizza or something.

(Thanks to Miguel Dickson, creator of "Tales of Zapata Street", and other Pátzcuaro blogs; who bugged me to move this post from my Mexican Kitchen blog, to the Surviving La Vida Buena blog.)