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.