A FREQUENT warning to people visiting Mexico is not to eat food from street vendors, advice that I’ve ignored for 17 years, and I haven’t died yet.
This afternoon, sitting at a sidewalk table on the main plaza with a café Americano negro, I hankered for something solid. I narrowed the options down to two.
One was a shrimp cocktail from a street vendor on the small plaza a couple of blocks away. Two was whole-wheat fig bread from another vendor quite near the shrimp stand.
I chose Option Two, the fig bread. That’s it in the photo. I brought it back to my coffee shop sidewalk table and cut into it with my pocketknife, the one you see there.
The fig bread is a great example of an amazing phenomenon you often encounter down here. Persistent food heat. I purchased the fig bread out of a basket. The bread had a cloth covering both it and its compañeros, all awaiting diners.
The vendor likely had left home, or wherever the bread was baked, a couple of hours previously, but the bread was still quite warm as she tucked it into a plastic bag.
I walked the two blocks back to the coffee shop, sat, opened the bag, and the bread was warm still. I cut it in half for the photo. Then I ate a good deal. Still warm.
How do they do that?
After slipping what remained of the bread back into its bag, I was surprised by the sudden appearance of the inimitable Jennifer Rose who sat with me a spell.
Three days ago I was enjoying a nice café Americano negro at a sidewalk table downtown when the skies opened with a vengeance.
In short order, the street vanished, and a lake took its place. Passing cars pushed waves onto the sidewalk, so I retreated closer to the wall with my chair and table.
The temperatures have dropped. The dust is washed into the gutters, down the drain pipes and into the lake.
And now my grass is greening. Soon it will need mowing and edging. Yesterday I pulled the mower from under a table on the Garden Patio and wiped it off with paper towels.
I poured fresh gas into the tank. I primed the carb (three times), and I yanked on the rope. Roar! The first yank!
Craftsman makes good stuff.
That leaves the weedeater, which I bought just last year, a Stihl, which is also a good item, but all weedeaters are a bitch to crank. The Stihl is just a little less so. But it has a rather complicated process you must observe to start it.
And being along in years, my arm is not what it once was. If the Stihl does not crank quickly, I’m out of the game. I have not tried to start it yet. I am procrastinating.
While I let Abel the Deadpan Yardman mow the grass with the Craftsman, I am hesitant to put the Stihl in his mitts. The last time I let a local use a weedeater, it ended up in tatters.
Mexicans tend not to take care of things owned by other people. It’s a cultural trait and not one of their better ones. But I may be forced to hand it over to him.
After shooting the mower and Stihl, I photographed these cacti. I’m a cactus man. I planted them in Houston, but they never did squat.
Here, however, they’re right at home. I planted these cacti when they were small. The ones at the far end are now taller than I am.
So summer and its accompanying rains are here. We love it when that happens after the stuffy, dry, dusty spring. But by soggy September we’ll be praying for an end to it.
MOST WORK around here gets done in the morning, and that would be after the bagels and cream cheese.
The labor this Good Friday morning included the yearly cleaning of the underground cistern.
Our concrete cistern holds 9,000 liters of water.
The reason you don’t want to drink tap water in Mexico is less because the water didn’t come from a clean source at the get-go. It may have. For instance, our municipal water comes from an underground spring. It is quite clear.
What happens is that almost everyone stores water in an underground cistern. From that cistern, water is delivered, one way or another, to a roof tank, and from there it’s dropped into the house faucets via gravity.
There are variations, but basically that’s how it works.
I have no statistics, but I’d bet a pocket of pesos that few homeowners ever clean their cisterns. I’ve peered into cisterns that you could use for a horror-movie scene.
But we are better than that.
Here’s how we clean ours. First, we turn off the incoming water. After that, it takes almost two weeks to empty as we use the water in the house. Finally, the cistern is empty, and we switch to a small backup tank for a day or two.
We leave the lid open overnight, and the cistern’s dry in the morning. I go down and sweep. She goes down and mops. We turn the water back on, and toss in half a liter of bleach.
It takes three or four days to refill. The municipal water runs six days a week for six to eight hours daily.
* * * *
Having finished that work, it was time to reassign cacti.
You’d think that after what happened with the monster nopal that I would have learned my lesson regarding prickly plants.
But I’m stupid that way.
I love deserts and the things that live in them. I used to plant cacti in my yard in Houston, and they never did squat.
Next to the verandah, there’s this stand of pole cacti that I started years ago with one small one. The tallest now is six and a half feet high.
Another shorter — but not by much — stand nearby provided a cutting about 15 inches tall. It has been planted out by the property wall, and I anticipate a nice stand of pole cacti there in a few years — if I live so long.
Being a newbie, it needs a little support from string and a stick.
Following these two chores, I only had to water the potted plants on the verandah, dust the shelves and sweep the floor.
The only other labor for the day will be cooking pasta and broiling salmon. After that, it’s a café Americano negro on the downtown plaza, watching the beautiful tourist babes.
It will be a Good Friday. Even if I’m not a Christian.
* The lad on the right in the photo is John Zimmerman. We were good friends. He went on to become a pilot in the Vietnam War and later a captain for a major airline. He sent me this photo a few years ago when we reconnected on Facebook.
WALKING ACROSS the plaza Friday heading to the coffee shop, I was unaware that soon I’d be hauling cheese.
No sooner had I sat down with my café Americano negro and opened my Kindle to Charlemagne than my child bride walked up and deposited a bag with a container of cream and a half-kilo of cheese on my table.
Please take this home, she said.
She was heading to the gym.
One of the many things you’re warned about on visiting Mexico is not to eat the cheese. Isn’t pasteurized, they say, or something like that. I pay it no mind.
If someone puts a tasty cheese in front of me, I eat it, no questions asked, and it has not killed me yet.
This is named queso fresco — fresh cheese — and it’s my favorite. We recently found a butcher shop in a bad neighborhood that sells great queso fresco.
When I got home, I took a photo for you. Half a kilo is a big hunk of cheese, and it will last us a while.
OUR MOUNTAINTOP is a magnet for tourists, especially during the Christmas holidays, Easter Week and the Day of the Dead. Most of the tourists are Mexicans.
But in all the years I’ve lived here, I don’t recall our having the hordes that we have right now.
We live on the outskirts of town, and every day we face a long line of creeping traffic heading downtown. Luckily, there is an alternative route, but I’m not going to advertise it.
A twist to this year’s Christmas season is a gasoline crisis. Lots of gas stations are out of fuel, and those that have some often have long lines of cars. A number of Mexican states are affected, and nobody seems to know why.
Our “Energy Reform” starts Sunday, the first day of 2017. Gradually, the Pemex monopoly will fall as foreign gas stations are phased in around the nation.
In theory this will lower prices, but on Sunday prices will increase from 15 to 20 percent, so people are angry.
But Mexicans are usually angry about something or other. Along with the Energy Reform, we’re getting a reform of the legal system, and reform of the educational system.
That latter has the teachers, a gang of union leftists, foaming at the mouth, which tickles me no end.
Mexico is changing.
The last gas crisis, earlier this year, only lasted about a week. The current one has gone on more than two weeks. Nobody seems to know how long it will last. I fill the Honda tank every time I pass an open station with no line.
Mexico is ever entertaining and challenging. If it’s not severed heads rolling down cantina floors or teachers apoplectic at having to take competency tests, it’s something else.
One way to stay mellow is to sit at a sidewalk table on the main plaza with a hot café americano negro, reading my Kindle and sometimes seeing street musicians.
WE DRIVE down the mountain every week to the state capital, mostly for shopping at Costco and Superama.
And to grab a lunch.
We rarely go directly into the center of town because traffic is snarly, and free parking is hard to find.
Yesterday, while my child bride was doing chores, I drove downtown for a look-see. That array of sidewalk tables sits across from a music conservatory called Las Rosas.
When I lived in the capital for seven months in 2000, I occasionally ate here. At the time there was only one establishment on this end, and another on the far end.
Those in the middle were not there.
Mexicans are fond of protesting in the streets and highways. More often than not, it’s teachers who want guaranteed jobs and the right to bequeath those jobs to unqualified relatives at retirement. Teachers also loath competence tests.
To counter these malcontents, police often take to the streets en masse. That’s what you see in the second photo. They were just standing there in body armor and shields.
I saw no impending strife nearby, so …
Being a cop must be very boring at times.
Sidewalk restaurants, cops and churches. The state capital is full of churches. That’s one just above. I snapped the photo while sitting on a bench in a plaza of yet another church directly behind me. Churches galore.
We sit at sidewalk eateries. We want guaranteed jobs. And we kneel and pray everywhere. All of those things happen in quantity down the mountain in the state capital.