Thursday, September 27, 2007

Radiation Therapy

A few days ago I found antifreeze fluid on the otherwise shiny tile floor of our cochera (garage). After a brief day of procrastination, we took the Windstar into the radiator shop of the Refacciones Santa Clara, located on the Libramiento (free bypass to the Pueblo Mágico, Pátzcuaro. The Libramiento is the gritty, working part of Pátzcuaro, not mentioned in tourist guides.)

The radiator shop is across the busy street, where heavy earthmoving equipment is chewing up the sidewalks and widening the avenue, to the incessant noises of vehicle backup warnings.
The dingy shop has an old sign, "El Chumina". I have no idea what that means or if it's relevant to the present day operation. Its next door neighbor is the municipal car pound, populated by wrecks and tow trucks.

Javier, the Chief (and only) Mechanic of the Radiator Shop, listened to our problem and presented us with various options. In the end, only one seemed to make sense: pull the radiator and check it and its peripheral connections for leaks.

Usually we don't linger to watch our car undergoing surgery, but as we were already there and there was no waiting, we hung around. At times it was scary. I'd never seen our car's engine eviscerated before, accompanied by various gases and liquids hissing and sizzling as lines were disconnected. It all ran out onto the pavement and into the gutter. As the collection of bolts, screws and bigger parts grew alongside the car, so did my queasiness. But in watching him work quickly and dextrously, I had confidence that all would be well.

Javier would examine the undercarriage by lying on a large sheet of cardboard box.
After an hour and a half of dismantling, he pulled the radiator and took it inside to test in El Tanque. This is a painted metal tank with an overhead beam, spanned by a couple of narrow wooden boards. The contents of the tank would probably give the Environmental Protection Agency fits. A rubber cup or two was fitted over the inlet/outlet of the radiator, then submerged while a hose blew in compressed air.
The radiator passed the leak test. Much tension was relieved when one of the rubber cups blew off with a loud pop and shot out of the tank. We all laughed.

Meanwhile, during the dismantling, he'd found a cut line. How the line came to be cut is a mystery, as it is difficult to access. Measures were taken to prevent cutting the other line.
Then the reassembly began. Somehow this went faster than the disassembly. We went to the nearby food stand and got refrescos for ourselves and for Javier.

In about an hour and twenty minutes, all was assembled again, in a state closely resembling its previous one, except without antifreeze and Freon and a small loss of transmission fluid.
One hundred pesos to Javier, and he wheeled off on a bicycle to a friend's supply place for the antifreeze.

Next. we turned on the engine, and ran it a while to dry out the radiator and for a final check for leaks.
Our minds were silently turning over how much the final bill might be..."four hours hard estimate...gringos cetera..."
In the end, the labor bill was $280 pesos. Nothing for parts. One hundred pesos for the antifreeze (we took the remainder home with us). We gave him 300 and called it even. About $27.45 USD.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Secret Language of Plants

It's been found that plants are able to communicate amongst themselves in a complex but poorly understood way.
If one plant in the network is being attacked by insects, it communicates with the others, who then fortify themselves against the attack.

There are vines of spiny chayote here that grow rapidly and in an almost aggressive manner. They quickly form intertwined networks, covering walls and rooftops in a green tangle as their ugly, spine-covered fruit develops. The gourds dangle like spiny green reptilian huevos. (A few weeks ago, we were given some boiled chayotes. Ugh. They were bitterly metallic in taste and didn't even smell good.)

But then, when millions of little grasshoppers come and start humping in an orgiastic frenzy, munching on the leaves to sustain their activity, the chayote vines are quickly reduced to ragged remnants. There goes the network.

If you were to walk with me in the morning along the Las Cuevas road, the valley enveloped in mist, plants of innumerable varieties sprouting from every crevice in the stone walls, lines of eucalyptus trees forming a fog-shrouded palisade against a backdrop of lushly mature maíz, you would wonder at what the plants were saying to each other. What piropos are passing between the macho tassels of corn and the female silk? There is an herbal oloroso, an odor of fecundity there.

In my more fertile fantasies, I imagine amantes slipping out of their casas in the dark of the half-moon, furtively meeting in the furrows to make
pollen-dusted love amidst the corn rows.

The plants are whispering chismes as the tassels shake over the silk.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jeepers, Creepers

We are fortunate to live in a region of a rich biota. Besides placid cows, noble horses, wonderful songbirds and soaring white egrets, we have the Dark Side of biology as well. Out in the rock pile in the back yard, and now scuttling along the base of the wall surrounding our compound, a fat lizard makes his or her way, searching for prey. I have no issues with the lizards, as long as they stay outside. Fat and shiny horned black beetles creep slowly under the burden of their carapace out on the "porch". Sometimes we find them inside. They seem to spend a lot of time on their backs.

The baño is especially congenial to creepers, owning to the moist environment and the floor drain that connects to the general drainage to the septic tank in the back yard. The concrete slab covered septic tank has two PVC pipes that serve to vent off miasmic effluvia, but look like periscopes on a land locked submarine.

The prevalent bathroom denizens are the pill bugs. They are small and harmless and make only a slight crackle when you squash them. Sometimes there are ferocious looking spiders of considerable girth. I would like to leave them unmolested so that they can devour the insects. In the end, I can't bear the thought of a nocturnal encounter with one of them.

Only once have I seen a scorpion. It was an itsy-bitsy baby, on the bathroom floor. I whammed the living crap out of it with my shower shoes. Last night, as I prepared for bed, I spotted a large, ferocious spider, camouflaged to match the brown curtain (near MY side of the bed) on which he/she was lurking. Its liquidation was a challenge, as I had to apply sufficient force to kill it without breaking the window glass. I used a paper napkin to delicately complete the shuddery task.

I made sure I inspected the bedclothes before slipping into bed, and spending a restless night.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Dark Visitor

"It was a dark and stormy afternoon." one day last week. I went out to the veranda to watch the storm. There I had a surprise: a very large and dark Moth was resting on one of the carved wooden shutters. I went quickly into the house and got my camera. The photos do not do justice to this quiet and somber creature.

This morning when I went out onto the porch to turn of the light for our departing neighbors, I had a second surprise. There was a silent flutter of wings and a swoop as something flew into the open door. I thought it was a swallow.

Drat! I really dislike having birds in the house. But when I turned on the light, I saw it was the Moth.
Now, I have no problem with a temporary visitor, as long as he is quiet. But i wouldn't be pleased if the Moth were a female, looking for a place to lay eggs.

OOPS! There goes my sweater.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pinturas, Gas, y Almohadas

Since our return from a visit to California, there haven't been very many events to report here, so I have collected some small things that might give a glimpse into our life here.

This week, our landlord's teenage son and his friend came to finish painting the decorative, dark blue band around the base of the house. I joke that it's a barrier intended to keep out evil spirits. It really adds a touch of class.
It only took them a couple of hours to do the job, having marked a more-or-less straight edge for the upper limit, then kneeling on the tiled floor to apply brush strokes. They kept an old string mop handy to clean up spills.
The outcome was slightly irregular, but we are satisfied. (Especially considering that it was at no cost to us.)

Since we moved here over a year ago, we've noted the various mobile services that drive in regularly; for example, the propane gas trucks, each with their own distinctive recorded, often musical pitch. My favorite is the one that starts, "Señora de la casa, aquí viene Gas Del Lago, su gas de confiAnza...". It's backed up by a string orchestra playing dreamy, romantic music.
The most disliked is the rival company with the raucous pitch of bugle charges and loud cries of "¡GAS! Toodoo loootle too to doo! ¡GAS!" But, they sell good gas.
Gas Express trucks pitch a come-on which involves a series of prices, something like, "How much would you pay? $32.99? NO! Only $26.99!" I've never quite understood it exactly.
Incidentally, all the gas trucks charge about the same per tank, and they all accept the empties, no matter from whatever other company. I like that.

Now, I have just discovered, on the Gas del Lago website, that you can order gas by Internet! What is becoming of the old values and traditions?

We also have trucks of varying sizes and types bring foods such as fresh, hot tortillas, vegetables and fruits, and even pan. There have been mobile vendors who offer cleaning supplies in bulk. The housewife brings out the empty 2 liter refresco bottles, and gets a fill up out of drums of Fabuloso o Don Limpio at a good price.

In contrast to the regular mobile vendors, there are occasional passing salesmen on foot. We have seen a man laden with cheap, enameled kitchen ware; another hombre carrying a table for sale, on his back; a young man hefting long planks of wood for sale, at $250 pesos each (seemed a bit high to me); and the oddest of all, a few days ago a man walked up our street, crying out something about "¡Almohadas!" (pillows.) I went outside to look, and there he was, carrying 6 or more pillows.
We can sleep well, knowing that there's a source of pillows nearby. (Sometimes).