WE ESCAPED the Mardi Gras celebration in our hardscrabble neighborhood over the weekend by heading to the Gringo-invested burg of San Miguel de Allende.
I always find San Miguel unsettling to the soul. There is something just not right about it. It’s about as Mexican as I am, which is to say legally yes, spiritually no.
Perhaps Disneyland, but better: Mulatto* Ville.
It’s a combination of two very different worlds. Two mindsets, two races,** two cultures. And they do not stir well.
Oil and water.
Walking around downtown San Miguel, it’s all I can do to not burst out in howling laughter. The rayon shirts, the Bermuda shorts, the Birkenstocks, the berets, the feathers in the hat bands, the old white women*** wearing native blouses, the art paint smeared preciously on khaki pants.
So one might wonder, why do you go there? The main answer is restaurants. Mulatto Ville has great places to eat.
I enjoy eating.
And this recent trip was also to visit an old friend from high school who was wintering there, a retired university professor who included Marco Rubio among her students.
We took a drive north to Dolores Hidalgo where we had not gone directly downtown in a long time. We were pleasantly surprised, shocked even.
It’s a wonderful city that’s been undergoing renovation for a few years. Most of the plaza has been closed to vehicles. The church has been painted. Much of downtown too.
Some good restaurants and hotels can be found. And, unlike San Miguel, which has horrible streets and sidewalks, Dolores Hidalgo is flat, smooth and easily walkable.
It’s also one of Mexico’s main sources of talavara ceramics,**** the quantities of which are astounding and beautiful.
Next time we flee our area due to Carnival, we’ll be staying in Dolores Hidalgo, not south in Mulatto Ville.
In Dolores Hidalgo I spotted nary a Birkenstock*****.
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* I am playing loose with the word, of course. A true mulatto is the offspring of one white parent and one black one, à la Barry Hussein Obama who “identifies” as black.
** Oh, I know Mexican is not a race, but bear with me.
*** Why does everyone complain about Old White Men but never about Old White Women?
**** The other is Puebla. FYI.
***** My second ex-wife, now an Old White Woman, used to cringe at my own Birkenstocks, so perhaps I should avoid this point. Nowadays I sport Crocs but only at home.
SATURDAY MORNING, yesterday, and Elvis is crooning love songs on the living room’s music machine.
The far edge of July.
I was communicating via email at dawn with my friend Ray in Alabama who was telling me what I already knew, that Alabama is no place to be in summer, weather-wise.
Here, of course, it’s cool and damp all summer, even into autumn. After that, it’s just cool but not damp.
After talking to Ray, whom I hope to meet in person one day, I ate a bagel with cream cheese, light, with my child bride, and she hastened out to her pastry kitchen for final touches on Saturday’s sale on the plaza.
First, I went to the living room to turn on Elvis. Then I went outside to chores like wiping the tabletop and chairs on the Jesus Patio, pulling weeds, pushing the mower out for Abel the Deadpan Yardman who arrives at 10 o’clock.
I swept the cushions on the rockers on the veranda before taking the photo above. We bought the big ceramic tile with Bart Guevara on our last visit to San Miguel. We found it on the highway between San Miguel and Dolores Hidalgo.
Though cool and damp, as always, the morning sky was blue and the sun shone sweetly. It’s a great place to live.
As night fell on Saturday, the grass was shorn, we’d lunched on roasted chicken, rice, chiles and soft-drink Sangría out by the highway in a humble place with earthen walls, afternoon rain had fallen and departed, pastries had all been sold on the downtown plaza, and it was cool and damp.
While my child bride is up to her neck in dough, sugar and strawberries out in her own kitchen by the big gate, preparing for the weekly pastry sale on the main plaza downtown, I have my own responsibilities.
I start with wiping off the glass-top table on the Jesus Patio. I swipe the web chairs while I’m at it. This is done most every morning, not just Fridays.
The birdbath can be quite yucky because birds have no sense of personal hygiene, so I have to change the water and wipe clean that ceramic, which I purchased in Dolores Hidalgo.
The plants in the big pots in the veranda must be watered. I do that at least once a week, Friday, but sometimes twice. Some plants have been changed since last I posted this scene.
I sweep daily too. Well, nearly.
Surely, you’re wondering where I get the water to irrigate these plants, and that provides me the opportunity to do something I recall showing just once before.
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The Garden Patio
This is the Garden Patio, such a lovely name for the most butt-ugly part of the Hacienda. If you visit the Hacienda, you will not see it unless I lead you there.
Look at the top photo. The Garden Patio is behind that red wall on the left, and the only way to get there, aside from a gate to the back street, is through that narrow, arched opening.
This was a grassy area, more of the yard, after the Hacienda construction ended in 2003. I have since had everything added. The clay-tile roof, the concrete floor, the shelves.
Those two big, black trash bags await the garbage truck. One is yard garbage. The other is non-biodegradable kitchen trash. The white barrel on the left is for kitchen stuff. The big, black can to the right stores yard garbage.
I am too shiftless to compost. Sorry.
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Those two big, black bags ended up atop the garbage truck which arrived around 2 p.m. while we were eating fish burgers, sauteed vegetables and rice prepared by me.
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Weedeaters and me
I‘ve long had a love/hate relationship with weedeaters, and now I have a new one in the Garden Patio. Even though Weedeater is a brand name, I’ll be lowercasing it because Mexicans use the word to refer to all trimmers regardless of make.
Weedeaters, in my experience, are colossally temperamental. They are cranky to start and prone to stop running for no good reason whatsoever. They can be infuriating.
I’ve had a Truper weedeater and a Weedeater weedeater here at the Hacienda. I loathed them both. Two years ago, I switched to an electric, Sears weedeater, which runs fine but there’s that mile-long cord to contend with.
Last year I learned that Abel the Deadpan Neighbor who mows my lawn with my lawnmower has his own weedeater. He started doing the trimming too, but his weedeater is prone to frequent siestas, undesired timeouts.
In a moment of madness last week, I purchased a gas weedeater, a German Stihl. I then remembered I couldn’t let Abel use it because Mexicans abuse tools that aren’t theirs, so I hope Abel’s weedeater keeps siestas to a minimum.
Meanwhile, my Nazi Stihl will rest in the Garden Patio.
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All the yard gear in the Garden Patio was stored for years on the opposite end of the property, out by the front street wall and under a red-clay-tile roof there.
My child bride’s pastry kitchen now occupies that space. You can see her walking out there Friday morning in the following photo. She was unaware of the photographer.
Speaking of plants, one of my favorites is multiplying madly as everything does here. They are the spikey ones you see below. I don’t know what they’re called, but they multiply like, well, like us Mexicans. Catholic plants. Good breeders.
So there you have it, Friday, a busy day, at least until 3 p.m. when all is done, lunch is eaten, dishes are washed because I don’t procrastinate with dishes.
And then it was off to downtown to sit on a sidewalk table with my Kindle and a café Americano negro.
WE JUST ended a month of nonstop renovations here at the Hacienda. It all started with the driveway.
The incline from the street, when we bought the double lot 13 years ago, was already in place.
Mostly, it was big stones buried in dirt which allowed weeds to flourish wildly in the spaces between.
The area at the top between the work zone and the Alamo Wall was dirt and grass when we bought the property, and it was mud during the five months of the rainy season.
Seven or eight years ago, we had that section covered with stone and cement — empedrado in Spanish — a treatment that’s quite common in these parts.
But that incline from the street remained an eyesore which I was hesitant to improve because it would block the cars from coming and going during the work.
And it surely did.
While this renovation was happening, we parked the Honda in a parking lot downtown. Every morning, I took a minibus there and picked the car up. Did the same in the evening to leave it. The Nissan was simply left trapped at the Hacienda.
That situation continued for nine days.
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THE NEW THRONES
We also replaced the john in the downstairs bathroom.
The original, which my wife describes as “folkloric,” and which we purchased in the talavera capital of Dolores Hidalgo, was a bit smaller than standard in size.
It was a conversation piece but not the best place to sit, so it was out with the old, and in with the new.
Now here’s a regal place to squat. The old throne was given to a nephew who’s son recently busted their toilet.
Gifting the “folkloric” johnny means we won’t be using it as a yard planter, the initial idea. Just as well because I was told by a high-born woman that it would have been very cheesy.
This is the first time in my life I’ve changed a toilet, especially just for the heck of it. This new baby is Mexican-made, and cost the peso equivalent of about 120 bucks.
It was installed for about 10 dollars. I could change my ride every couple of years just for the ever-living thrill of it. Different colors. Oval versus round, whatever.
The initial plan was to replace only the john in the downstairs bathroom, mostly my wife’s environment. But I began to seethe with envy, so I bought an identical one, and had it installed in “my” bathroom upstairs.
Here’s the old throne upstairs:
The new toilet is exactly like the new one downstairs, so no need to duplicate a photo. Your time is valuable.
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Now let’s turn our attention to the rear of the Hacienda.
What you see here are the first-ever photos published of the backside of the Hacienda, which fronts — if that’s the proper term — on what I used to call Mud Street.
So these photos are collector’s items. That’s the tail of the sex motel in the distance of the second and last photos.
The work done out there was a civic gift. It is not on our property, but it was an eyesore. It was a dirt strip between our property wall and the street.
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NEW VERANDA ENTRANCE
There are two arched entryways to the downstairs veranda. One serves a dual role. During the five-month rainy season, it doubles as a conduit for rainwater which creates lakes inside the covered veranda, a colossal nuisance.
After 12 years of cursing this phenomena, we decided to do something about it, a redesign that directs the water outside instead of inside the veranda.
Next Spring we’ll also have metal gutters installed along the tile roof of the veranda, long overdue.
As mentioned at the get-go, this work took a month, exactly. It was done entirely by one guy, a very talented workman who lives in the neighborhood. Unlike all work we’ve had done in the past, we paid him by the day, as he requested.
This can be a mistake because it can lead to slow work, dragging it out to earn more. We prefer a set price. Then work can be done at whatever speed the workers prefer.
I watched his toil closely. He did not foot-drag, but he was very detailed, which took longer than necessary. However, the results were spectacular.
And he did some painting to boot.
He arrived on the dot at 9 every morning on his bicycle. He took an hour off for lunch at 2 p.m., and he went home at 5, working steadily in between. We’ll hire him again.
The entire project cost about $420 for labor and $555 for materials, excluding the two toilets, which were about $120 each. Those are dollar equivalents at today’s exchange rate.
Month’s grand total: $1,215 or about what a U.S. plumber would charge for a one-hour house call.
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(For your architectural pleasure, here is a photo collection of the Hacienda over the years. Come visit, but phone first.)
PLACES, LIKE people, change over time. I climbed the circular stairwell today to take this year’s roof shot. The one I posted recently in black and white on Mood piece was a photo from a couple of years ago.
The horse shot was fresh though.
We’re off to Palenque, Chiapas, for a week later this month. Will be my first visit since 1999 when I flew down there from Houston to attend an entheogen conference. It’ll be interesting to see the jungle again.
It won’t be interesting to sweat, but there’s no avoiding that.
On returning we’ll start some work here at the Hacienda. The driveway up from the street, behind the stone wall and not visible in the photo, will be renovated with a nice mosaic design. The windows looking out to the upstairs terraza need lots of work and varnish.
There’s a weed-filled dirt strip that runs the width of the property between our back wall and the street surface that we’re going to fancy up with rock and cement even though it’s not our land. Community service.
And we will replace the toilet downstairs. The current johnny was purchased in the talavera capital of Dolores Hidalgo in 2002. It has a painted desert scene all over it.
Though interesting and lovely, it’s a bit undersized and has never been very practical. We’ll replace it with something modern from Home Depot, and the old toilet will start a new life as a planter in the yard.
SIX WEEKS AGO we returned from a two-night visit to San Miguel de Allende, which is about a three-hour drive northeast of here.
During our stay in that artsy Gringo town that rests prettily in the desert we drove a short distance north to Dolores Hidalgo and paid about 30 bucks for this spectacular birdbath.
On returning to the Hacienda, I set up the birdbath in the same spot where another bath, totally brown and drab but hugely popular, had sat for a decade. The birds ignored the psychedelic bath.
This went on for a couple of weeks. They would perch nearby, on one of the web chairs or up on the pumpkin wall, looking at their new bath, but they would not take the plunge.
But finally they came to their little birdy senses. However, it still isn’t as popular as the old, boring birdbath was. I haven’t seen any birds on its colorful rim save house sparrows, but that could be because it’s not springtime when the birdy array is wider.
Particularly noteworthy in their absence are the grackles, and I do not miss them. They stood in the middle of the old bath and splashed most of the water out with their big, fowl wings, like little, angry chickens.
May they never return.
I shot this photo with my new camera. Contrast it to the photo taken six weeks back with my far older camera. The new camera is clearly superior, but I’ve been thinking of selling it.
It does not fit in my pocket. It’s too big. I offered the camera on two Yahoo forums that focus on my area. No bites. No matter. The day after I offered it, I had already started to waffle on the issue.
SUMMER STARTS on June 21, so we’re still in Springtime or, as my Mexican paisanos call it, Primavera.
We step outside each morning with long pants and a light jacket. It will be about 60 degrees. It’ll soar to the mid-70s at midday. Invariably I think of folks I left behind in the sweat pits of Houston and New Orleans.
We sleep at night with only half of one window open to avoid having to pile blankets atop us. We have no air-conditioning, of course, because that would be downright silly. Not much heating either.
Most of the greenery in the photo was planted by me a decade back, and they were just little tykes. When I planted little tykes in Houston, they usually stayed that way or died. I’ve yet to figure that out.
There is some horticultural magic in the Mexican air. You expect that on the tropical coasts, but it seems less likely here on the cool mountaintop 7,000 feet above sea level.
Most spring and summer mornings are similar. I eat a bagel and Philly cheese. I sweep the terraza and pick up the cursed peaches that have fallen overnight from their tree. I wipe dew or rain off the glass table and web chairs that sit on the yard patio, and I hoist the umbrella like a flag.
I take a deep breath, smile and walk back inside to wash the Philly cheese off the ceramic plates we purchased years ago in Dolores Hidalgo. Maybe do a little laundry. Take a shower, get dressed.
Life doesn’t change much. Nor do I want it to.
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While the above is a typical morning, I detoured a bit today.
At 8 a.m., I was parked outside the little lab downtown as the young nurse opened for business. It was time for the twice-yearly peek into my blood vessels and veins, to see how the old coot is getting along.
I check my cholesterol, blood sugar and triglycerides.
No appointment is necessary, no doctor’s permission. Just show up, fork over 18 bucks (would have been 10 if I’d waited for the sale next week), step into the adjoining room, roll up my sleeve and wince.
The results will be available this afternoon. I’m feeling fine, but you can put in a positive word with the Goddess on my behalf. It won’t hurt.
NO VISIT TO San Miguel de Allende is complete without a drive north to Dolores Hidalgo, one of Mexico’s primary sources of talavera ceramics.
We purchased a few items during our recent San Miguel Holiday, and here you see the major attraction, a bird bath.
This is quite a leg up for our birds. For years, they had a bath on this very spot. It was a carved, rotted tree trunk with a dull, brown ceramic bowl sitting on top. Nothing to look at, but the birds loved it.
The beautiful baby costs the peso equivalent of just 30 bucks, one of the best reasons to visit Mexico and Dolores Hidalgo if you’re hunting lovely, ceramic things. I hope the birds find it to their taste.