FOLLOWING MY afternoon café yesterday, I stepped across the street to sit a spell on a stone bench. I whipped out the Canon from my man bag and shot a brief video.
It was about 6 p.m., and nothing much was going on. Kids were playing. You can hear them. You can also hear music, which is coming from ground speakers installed around our plaza, part of a renovation about five years ago.
City Hall says it’s the largest main plaza in the country after the Zócalo in Mexico City. Maybe it is.
The rainy season is easing in. We got a good blow just last night, rain and wind colliding with the windows that face in that direction. The bedroom windows.
The Hacienda lawn got cut last Saturday, first of the year. Within three days it needed cutting again, but once a week is the limit. The rest of the time we’ll just wade through grass.
Things are getting cooler, which is the main advantage of the five-month rainy season. Cool summers! Who would have imagined it? I had no idea before I moved down here because I had done little research about anything at all.
I’m writing this at 8 a.m. It’s time to go downstairs for croissants and orange marmalade. Then I’ll sweep the veranda of the crap that storm last night blew into there.
It won’t take long.
(Post-croissant update: We played Pancho & Lefty on the music machine. A hummingbird flew into the veranda and looked directly at us through the dining room window screen.)
It’s out back of the Hacienda. You get there via the back gate. The principal entrance is a block away on a parallel street. I hardly ever come out this way.
There is an annual exception. I come out in late May to sweep my sidewalk and even a part of the street on my side. Yes, it’s my sidewalk because I paid to have it built two years ago.
Stone and concrete.
For most of our time here, it was a very long strip of extremely high weeds. I finally couldn’t take it anymore, and had the sidewalk installed. Now I have pride of ownership.
Late May is the time for the yearly sweep because in early June the rains begin, and if there’s dirt on the street it becomes mud that stays out there till October.
This is only the second annual sweep, and it’s a first for me because last year I hired my nephew, then 13, the lad once known hereabouts as The Young Vaquero.
Watching him “sweep” was amazing. Imagine you handed a broom to a chimpanzee. The Vaquero had no idea what to do with a broom. No one had never taught him.
No clue about dustpans either.
When he was 9 or 10, we were at a carnival, and I paid so he could shoot a toy rifle at targets. However, he had no more idea how to hold a rifle than how to grip a broom.
He’s 14 now and will want a driver’s license in a few more years. I advise you to stay off the highways. He has a bicycle he never uses. He has a skateboard he never uses. He received a toy drone for Christmas. It sits in a closet.
He has a computer tablet, and he plays games all day.
I thought of him as I swept the Outback, and I imagine I will always think of him when I sweep out there. I sweep well. I don’t recall anyone teaching me. I assumed it was innate.
I wield a mean floor buffer too, but I learned that in the Air Force. It was not a skill I learned willingly.
WE USUALLY don’t answer the doorbell because it’s often passing kids goofing around or someone selling something we don’t want. And it’s almost a two-block round trip from inside the house to the front gate and back. That more than anything.
* * * *
A Catholic spell
I come from country people who were never anything but Baptists or Methodists that I know of.
In spite of that, I was deposited in a Catholic school for kindergarten and First Grade in Albany, Georgia, about 10,000 years ago. My mother did it because it had the best reputation in town, education-wise.
My sister was sentenced there too. My sister had imagination, however, or maybe it was just childish ignorance. She came home one day and announced that she’d changed the Holy Water, freshened it up with stuff from the tap.
Neither the priest nor the nuns ever noticed, which tells me that Holy Water’s fame is overstated somewhat.
My mother, before enrolling me, made the nuns promise they wouldn’t try to turn me into a Catholic, and they did so promise because, one imagines, our money looked green.
However, one day I came home with the report that, after having misbehaved in some way, I was made to kneel on rice before a painting of the Virgin and beg forgiveness.
Mother took me out of the school at that point, and I left Catholicism forever if you don’t count that my second ex-wife is a recovering Catholic, and Mexico is full of Catholics.
My child bride does not seem to be a Catholic, but the environment rubs off. Her father was an atheist and her evil stepmother, after father died too young, became a Jehovah’s Witness, one of those pests at your front door.
* * * *
Speaking of doorbells
As I was saying, we rarely respond to the doorbell here at the Hacienda unless we are expecting someone.
But my child bride was toiling in her pastry workshop the other day when the doorbell rang — it rings both out there and here in the house — and since there was little walking involved, she opened the little speakeasy portal in the steel gate.
Two ladies were there, and they were not pesky Jehovah’s Witnesses, but Catholics on a collecting mission.
You see our neighborhood church up top? It is very old, and it’s in bad condition. We were informed that City Hall has agreed to chip in a percentage for a much-needed restoration, but residents here in our poor barrio have to pony up too.
We were being asked to pony up, so we ponied.
We learned that the amount one is asked to contribute is based on how well-off you look. In our hardscrabble neighborhood, we look quite well-off, so we were asked for 1,000 pesos.
We paid for the sake of architecture.
I think the Vatican should pay for the entire restoration, but it doesn’t seem that Headquarters pays us much mind.
I hope enough money is raised because I like the church. I see it every weekday morning during our exercise walk. I’ve rarely been inside, but I hear singing at times, and I see funerals and weddings there. All part of the tapestry hereabouts.
I’VE LONG been a desert fan and the cacti that come with it. There is something spiritual about a desert. The same can be said about rainforests, the desert’s alter ego.
When I lived in Houston, one of my favorite road trips took me west. You didn’t have to go far before the environment turned dry, and nopal cacti appeared naturally along the highways. In spring they sprouted red flowers.
Mexicans are fond of eating nopal. I don’t share this love. Nopal is too much like okra, turning slimy when cooked.
So I just admire the appearance, and I don’t have to drive west to see nopal. I need only to step into the yard where I have about the tallest nopal I’ve ever seen.
I shot the above photo with a zoom lens. That’s just the noggin of my nopal. It soars 18 feet into the air.
I measured, more or less.
It was just two of those paddles when I planted it at least a decade ago, having no idea what I was getting into.
My second ex-wife is something called a Master Gardener. You get that title from the County Extension Service after taking an amount of training on such things.
While I am the yard chief here at the Hacienda, she was the garden honcho where we lived together in Houston.
I often encouraged her to plant bougainvillea. She never did. Perhaps it was out of pure spite. I hope not. But she did the right thing. I see that now.
Bougainvilleas are beautiful. They also sport thorns that would fill the most vicious rosebush with envy.
Our bougainvillea likely tops out at 20 feet, and even more from left to right. It is held in place by steel chains. The plant never stops growing, both upward and outward.
I water the nopal because I don’t want it to fall down. I never water the bougainvillea because I want it to calm down.
THE FIRST five years of my life, I resided in the countryside, a farm not far from Sylvester, Georgia.
The latest census puts Sylvester’s population at about 6,000 souls. Lord knows what it was in the late 1940s when I was toddling around there in the dirt.
My current mountaintop pueblo is home to about 80,000 folks, dwarfing the population of Sylvester, but 80,000 is a far cry from the 6 million you’ll find in Houston’s metropolitan area or even the 2 million in the city itself.
Before moving to my mountaintop, Houston was where I lived and worked. I don’t work anymore unless you count pulling weeds and watering veranda potted plants.
I play and relax.
The switch from Houston to this mountaintop pueblo was a drastic move. I’m a big-city boy. And my child bride is a big-city girl. Why are we here?
Lack of communication.
One morning, about two years after constructing and moving into the Hacienda, we were sitting on the veranda in our wicker rockers, talking. We discovered that we’d both have preferred settling in a big city.
How did we not know this? Answer: I assumed she wanted to live here because relatives live here, especially her favorite sister. She assumed I wanted to live here because I was here and had moved here intentionally.
But we never discussed it specifically. Dumb, huh?
Why not sell the Hacienda and move elsewhere? Actually, about that time, I did advertise it online, and got an offer for twice what we had paid to build this place.
But I chickened out because I love our home, and there is a large city nearby, the capital down the mountainside. But, aside from weekly Costco shopping jaunts, we rarely go there.
We’ve become small-city folks. But every time I see a photo of Houston, I sigh. And she likely does the same when we make our twice-a-year visits to Mexico City, which is where she lived when I found her.
But we can stand in the yard on dark nights and see stars from horizon to horizon. And I never heard roosters at dawn or burros anytime in Houston.
Just occasional gunfire.
* * * *
(Note: We’ll be home this afternoon from San Miguel de Allende where we fled on Sunday to avoid the worst of Carnival in our hardscrabble neighborhood.)
Normally, February is clear, blue and cold at night, cool in the day. The last couple of days, however, have escaped the mold. It’s been overcast, cold and very windy.
This morning dawned overcast, but it’s mostly blue before 10 a.m., and the cursed wind has diminished.
Lots on the calendar. We will soon flee our hardscrabble barrio due to Carnival. We’ll go to San Miguel de Allende where, among other things, we’ll visit a friend of mine from high school. She and her husband are spending three months there.
They live in North Carolina.
She’ll be the first high school friend I’ve seen in over 40 years. She’s a retired professor of Chinese something-or-other. She’s very smart, which is why we were friends.
Shortly after returning, we’ll go to Mexico City for our twice-yearly airing of the condo. It’s highly likely that we will actually get our hands on the deed at last.
On returning from Mexico City, we’ll hire a crew to do stuff both here at the Hacienda and at our downtown Casita, mostly maintenance, but we’ll probably remove the grass, and plant stone and concrete in the yard’s semicircle.
I’ve been wanting to reduce the grass for years. Maybe it will start this year with that semicircle. Depends on the price. But the peso-dollar exchange rate makes me feel rich.
I’ll keep you posted next month because I know you’re on the edge of your seat about this.
In the meantime, I’ve got to walk the plaza now, take a shower, get dressed, drive to an outdoor market, buy veggies for stir-fry, and fix lunch. Pork chops, pasta and that stir-fry.