The old man and Sammy

HE LIVED IN the original part of town, which is to say the neighborhood the conquistadors created after landing their boats on the beach. But that happened a long time ago.

french-bulldogHis home was on the second floor, which is actually the third floor the way the Spanish say it, and it was nothing to write home about as if he could write home, which was right there where he lived with a French bulldog named Sebastian or Sammy for short.

Once happily married, she had died 10 years back, and he’d sold that big home where they had lived and bought this apartment on Calle Mango downtown. There was a balcony overlooking the street. He’d paid extra for that, something he regretted due to the noise. It faced the second story of the building that housed the restaurant across the street, a ground-floor spot whose specialty was chicken and rice.

The restaurant was called El Pollo Gordo, and he ate there once a week, sometimes more, and he always ordered chicken and rice because he liked it, and he was a man of hard habits. If there were leftovers, he returned home across the street with a greasy paper bag which made Sammy smile. The dog liked chicken but not rice.

The old man’s days did not vary. He awoke at 7 without a clock, drank black coffee with honey and nibbled toast on the balcony because it was still quiet at that hour. Sammy ate dog food from a can. It never took long to make the bed and tidy the place — he was a neat man — and noon arrived soon enough and the need for lunch, which sometimes was chicken and rice, as mentioned, but often pork tortas he purchased on the street.

After the death of his wife, he’d taken to smoking again, cigarettes, cigars, a stained Meerschaum pipe he’d bought from a Swedish seaman who was short on cash four years back. The old man would sit in a coffee shop on Calle Calypso most afternoons, re-reading novels, biographies and histories he’d brought from the big house after his wife had died 10 years ago, as previously mentioned.

Sammy liked the coffee shop, so he sat at the old man’s feet. Sometimes he slept and snored. Other times, he watched the people, which is also what the old man did in those moments he looked up from a book to order another coffee or to rest his eyes.

About 8 or so, the two would walk the three blocks back to the apartment and climb the wooden steps and into the sitting room where they would listen to radio music from the Dominican Republic. The old man would think of “the old days,” and Sammy would think or not. Who knows what French bulldogs have in their heads?

This routine never varied. One warm morning, the old man did not get up for black coffee with honey and dry toast. He did not sit on the balcony, which no one noticed, and he did not open a can of dog food for Sammy. The old man had died in the night.

And Sammy was on his own.

Colima and beyond

coffee
The coffee shop

WE DON’T travel much. If you live in Paris, what’s the point in going to Topeka?

And we do live in Paris, so to speak.

But we did head to Colima this week. I’d never been there.  It’s almost due west, down the mountain and near the Pacific coast. Colima is famous because there’s an active volcano nearby. We never saw the volcano because of cloud cover.

We broke the drive to Colima into two parts. We went most of the way, and spent the night in Mazamitla, a great mountain town with the tone of Twin Peaks. It was almost four hours to Mazamitla if you don’t count the time lost due to wrong turns because Mexico is lame on highway signs.

We slept in a small cabin provided by Best Western.

Two hours farther down the road took us to Colima the city, which is the capital of Colima the state, where we checked in for three nights at the Wyndham Garden Hotel.

That was the intended destination of the short vacation. However, my child bride began to whine and stomp her feet. I wanna go to Manzanillo! I wanna go to Manzanillo! That’s a beach city an hour even farther down the highway.

So the next morning we drove to Manzanillo, first getting lost in ugly port construction but finally finding our way to a better part of town where we spent a few hours under an umbrella on a beach named La Audiencia.

We returned to Colima in the afternoon where we swam in the pool and enjoyed the hotel’s steam room. The Wyndham Garden is a very nice hotel for a good price.

We breakfasted every morning at La Buena Vida, a superlative place that is wildly popular. If you find yourself overnight in Colima, have breakfast at La Buena Vida. It’s only open for breakfast and brunch, closing at 1 p.m.

On the second full day, we headed just north of Colima to the touristy town of Comala, a nice place but nothing to write home about. We decided to follow the advice of Clete, an occasional commenter here, and drove toward the volcano on winding back roads up toward Yerbabuena.

That was where we encountered the coffee shop in the photo, just three kilometers shy of Yerbabuena. We were the only customers for miles around, and we were served great coffee by the owner who also had grown the beans.

Those are beans drying on the white area of the photo, but they aren’t coffee beans. They are cacao. Mexicans have been in love with chocolate since before the Spaniards came calling.

We still couldn’t see the volcano even though we were close. The volcano exploded just last year, leaving ashes, the coffee shop owner told us, a foot thick on the ground.

Thinking of Pompeii, we decided to run, so we never quite made it to Yerbabuena. We had lunch on the square of Comala, returned to our hotel in Colima, swam in the pool, sat in the steam room and later ate supper at La Valentina restaurant-bar, another great spot that we happened upon by sheer luck.

The following morning we packed. We had intended to spend another night in the Mexican Twin Peaks of Mazamitla, but once we got on the road, we just kept going.

Now we’re back in Paris.