ANOTHER DAY* in the Plague Year, hanging loose at home, chilling out or performing some necessary and overdue chores.
Watering potted plants in the downstairs veranda, shoving yard cuttings into a giant plastic bag to take to the dumpster, sweeping the terraza, thinking about what to make for lunch,** that sort of thing. Looking around, being grateful I’m not in sweat-drenched Houston or New Orleans in June though I do miss hot crawfish and cold Dixie Beer.
On Friday I actually got down on the ground on my butt to cut, with hand clippers, a section of overgrown grass around the orange tree. For a person on the cusp of 76, getting down on your butt in the grass is no quick chore. Getting up is even less quick. Though we’ve had some rain to encourage the lawn, it’s still not high enough to warrant calling Abel the Deadpan Yardman for a complete mow.
I did get the mower serviced last week. It’s ready to mow! It’s a multicultural machine, Sears Craftsman down below, the body, and Briggs & Stratton above, the motor. Actually, more Frankenstein than multicultural.
I broke up my chores by sitting now and then on one of the rockers in the downstairs veranda. From there I took these photos. I think the roof tiles in that veranda will need to be renovated soon, maybe next year. They are 17 years old, some are broken or cracked, and raindrops fall through during a heavy downpour.
Not many but enough.
Here’s what will happen. My guys will remove each one, brush it off and replace it. If it’s broken, a new one will take its place. There are bats up there in some corners, so that will give my guys some interesting moments. Should I warn them in advance, or just let them discover the homesteaders on their own? Fun times.
In closing, here’s a bit of color to offset the dreary but emotive black and white.
* This was all yesterday, Saturday, not today.
** Lunch ended up being a plate of spaghetti covered with bottled tomato sauce mixed with canned tuna (packed in water, never oil). Atop that we sprinkled Parmesan cheese that comes in the green plastic bottle. All was served with jalapeño strips to provide razzmatazz.
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.)
THERE ARE MANY happy reasons to live in Mexico. One is sheer convenience. It’s usually easy to live here.
Here is a typical example: I had to leave the Honda today at the repair shop, which is about halfway between our hardscrabble neighborhood and downtown.
I drove to the repair shop, explained the problem, and the mechanic got to work immediately. I stepped outside to the street and waved down a minibus, which costs seven pesos, about 40 cents in American money.
Fifteen minutes later, I was deposited directly outside the Hacienda’s front gate. The car will be ready in the afternoon, one imagines.
Another example: The water heater in our downtown casita must be changed. The current heater is too small. We drove to Home Depot in the capital city and purchased a hefty heater, which just fit into the back of the Honda.
On returning home, I called my plumber-electrician, an independent operator. That was Saturday. He said he’ll do it tomorrow. He’ll come on time, and he won’t charge much.
A third example: We’re doing renovations here at the Hacienda. When I decided to do that, I phoned “a guy” in the neighborhood. He came over immediately on his bicycle.
He started the work two days later. His work is incredible. He’s an artist with stone and cement, plus he installed a new toilet. The work is over half done. More on that later.
And the price is quite right.
Example No. 4: Need a doctor appointment? Call and make it for the next day. And the waiting room will not be full of folks. It will be full of just you. You won’t wait long.
Mexico, in most respects, is a far easier place to live than in the United States. And when the problem with the Honda is resolved, I’ll get a call. Then I’ll step out the front gate, hail a minibus and retrace my route of this morning.
Another 40 cents, and I’ll be at the garage’s door.