Home improvement

WE JUST ended a month of nonstop renovations here at the Hacienda. It all started with the driveway.

before
View from street before work started.
Stones removed and piled on sides.
Stones removed and piled on sides.
one
Rebar this way and that.
two
Samuel, the sole workman, cuts space for the art circle.
end
Work all done. Note circle on the incline and paint on sides.
cat
Close-up of that circle. It’s a Big Cat, ceramic.

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.

* * * *

THE NEW THRONES

toilet
Folkloric.

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.

white
Pristine.

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:

john

The new toilet is exactly like the new one downstairs, so no need to duplicate a photo. Your time is valuable.

* * * *

THE OUTBACK

Now let’s turn our attention to the rear of the Hacienda.

beforeback
High weeds everywhere. Butt ugly.
New Image
Weeds gone. Work under way.
sidewalk
Progress made. Looking the other direction. Yes, it’s long.
Feathered overseer of the project.
Feathered overseer of the project. Chickens run wild.
done
Work completed. Far better than the sea of weeds.

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.

* * * *

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.

repair2
First, the problem area is dug up.
drain
Then it’s rebuilt with a slight down-and-out incline.

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.

* * * *

(For your architectural pleasure, here is a photo collection of the Hacienda over the years. Come visit, but phone first.)

Vista, 2015

october

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.

toiletAnd 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.

No one has thought of that before.

The paper issue

sign

THERE ARE TWO primary rules for living in Mexico. Everyone knows the first: Don’t drink tap water.

The second is less known, except in U.S. border states where we Mexicans are all over the place: Don’t deposit toilet paper into the toilet bowl. It’ll clog the pipes.

I doubt we’ll ever be able to drink tap water because bottled water is a billion-peso industry here run, to a large degree, by Coca-Cola and Pepsi. They don’t want you to be able to drink tap water, ever.

Dang capitalists! Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them.

When we moved into the Hacienda almost 13 years ago, we didn’t ask anybody about flushing toilet paper. We just did it, and we’ve been doing it ever since with no problem, which is kinda weird considering the backwoods neighborhood in which we live.

The Hacienda’s wastewater goes out to pipes that run under the back street, and from there it goes to a big hole in a ravine about a block away. Yeah, nearby. I remember when they dug that hole, but I haven’t been down that way in years. It was open when I last saw it, but I assume it’s been covered. Lord, I hope so.

Now we have a new situation with the pastry workshop/storefront we recently had constructed. It has its own septic tank. I had never seen inside a septic tank before. I sure had not been down into one, but I have now. See photo below. The tank was cherry at that point. Unused as a starry-eyed virgin in Victorian times.

We’ve decided that perhaps it’s best to deposit only bodily material down here. Toilet paper will degrade in time, but we’re not gonna put toilet paper in there. So I hung a cute sign that’s directly in your face if you’re sitting on the throne in the new bathroom. That’s the sign in the top photo.

In Spanish, it says “Use trash can for paper. Thanks.”

dump

sink

Just for the fun of it, here’s the sink in the new bathroom. Today a carpenter came to give us a price on installing the Formica countertops in the pastry workshop. He’ll make a Formica-topped worktable too. When that’s installed I’ll post a photo of our totally finished situation.

* * * *

(Note: A friend in Mexico City told me years ago that she always drops the paper into the toilet unless there is something specifically indicating that you should not. Truth is that much of Mexico has modernized on this issue, but old habits die hard, especially among the ill-informed.)

Moon scoop: the cesspool

dump

NEVER BEFORE have you had the online opportunity to see the innards of a cesspool, but here it is before you.

This is the sort of courageous journalism you don’t find elsewhere. As you may recall, the storefront, almost completed, being built here at the Hacienda has a septic tank. And while all the connections are done, the toilet installed, water at the ready, no one has actually “used the facilities.” The septic tank is still cherry.

So, in the spirit of Geraldo Rivera, I dropped a ladder and headed down this morning. On reaching the gravel floor, I looked about and felt I was in the cloakroom of the Democratic National Committee. I glanced around, expecting to spot Debbie Wasserman Schultz or at least Maxine Waters, but no. The coast was clear.

It was just a generic cesspool.

walls

Above, you see a wall detail. There are spaces in the bricks that provide a filtration effect so the nasty matter can simply become one with the dirt behind.  At the top are two pipes. The larger comes from the bathroom, including the toilet. The smaller is a ventilation tube that extends high into the sky above the bathroom.

Yes, this is the sort of reportage you see nowhere else. Were this a just world, not ruled by White Privilege, I would be awarded a Pulitzer. But I am a Mexican, downtrodden and discriminated against. A loser.

But it’s not my fault.

* * * *

(Note: A blow-by-blow photo gallery of the storefront construction is here.)