The Middle Ages

AROUND  6 P.M. yesterday, I was watering the yard with a hose. Six months a year, this is not necessary. The other six months, it surely is. Just plants. I don’t water the grass.

If grass grows, it needs mowing.

I started with the Alamo Wall, spraying the ivy that covers the far side. Had you told me when I was middle-aged that I would spend my waning years behind an ivy-covered wall, I would have thought you daft or worse.

I went on to water things on the wall’s other side, where the yard sits. I only water plants I like. I do not like the loquat tree or the peach either. Not too fond of the pear.

They are trash-tossers.

I do water the sole remaining banana stand, the four rose bushes and the two daturas. I water the towering nopal cactus because I don’t want it to die and thunder down.

I do not water the huge maguey, but I do soak the two beefy aloe veras and the surrounding greenery. I douse the pole cacti, which are over my head now.

I water no bougainvillea. Damn things are on their own.

While watering I was thinking about history.

I have a bachelor’s degree in history. There are few degrees more useless than history. I almost topped myself, however, because when I first attended a university right out of high school, I majored in philosophy.

That was at Vanderbilt in 1962. But I soon dropped out and dropped philosophy too. What was I thinking?

I read lots of history these days. Recently, I’ve been focusing on the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, but it’s unfashionable to say that now. Maybe it’s a race thing.

There was lots of fun stuff in the Middle Ages. There was Charlemagne; his daddy, Pepin the Short; Vikings; Dual Papacies; tribes with names like Lombards, Franks and Jutes; and women named Gerberga and Himiltrude.

Nobody is named Himiltrude anymore.


About a thousand years passed between the Roman Empire’s demise and the Renaissance. That time in between was the Dark Ages. We’re about 200 years shy of another millennium passing.

We’ll enter another Dark Age because people never learn. When baby girls once more have names like Gerberga and Himiltrude, you’ll know it’s time to dig caves and stockpile canned goods and hand grenades.

In the meantime, I wake every morning in the king bed next to my child bride, feeling fine and looking ahead to another day of blue skies, cool breezes and flocks of snowy egrets flying between here and the green mountains.

My Middle Ages were Dark Ages, but now my Old Age is a Grand Age even though I gotta water the yard.

Saturday chicken


A COUPLE OF WEEKS ago, our favorite roast-chicken joint changed ownership. We lunched there virtually every Saturday for four years before heading downtown to sell our tasty pastries on the big plaza.

The new management had changed enough stuff that we decided to go elsewhere. That’s elsewhere you see in the photo. It is not Antoine’s or Galatoire’s, but the chicken is quite good.

It’s humble, to state it mildly. It sits next to a tire-fixing business and almost under a pedestrian overpass crossing the highway that heads to the state capital 40 minutes away. This place likely has a name, but I can’t tell you what it is. After four years at the previous restaurant, I can’t tell you its name either.

I don’t care about such stuff. I only care about the grub. My friend Don Cuevas, who writes a very good blog, can tell you the name of the previous place, and the names of the owners too. He’s a detail man and sociable, unlike me. He also once said the previous joint was the best restaurant in town, which was quite silly.

How can a restaurant that has only one item on the menu be the best restaurant in town? It did, however, serve some mighty fine roasted chicken. At times, Cuevas slips into hyperbole.

Roasted-chicken outlets are enormously popular in Mexico, and they are all over the place, almost on every corner. It may be one of the best reasons to live here. Roasted chicken rivals tacos.

There are basically three ways in which they are served, and the term roasted may not be strictly correct, but I use it as a catchall term because, again, I don’t really care about details. Cuevas knows the details.

Our previous Saturday eatery cooked chicken on a barbecue grill. A second popular way to prepare “roasted chicken” is on a huge, horizontal, revolving spit. The third style is what you see in the photo above. The young man is looking into a bottomless, metal box on the ground. Inside are chickens skewered upright on sticks that are stuck vertically into the dirt surrounded by hot coals. This style is less juicy than the other two methods.

Against the back wall is a homemade wood-burning stove atop which tortillas are cooked after the dough is smashed flat with a hand-pushed tortilla smasher. Rice is prepared there too. The old woman who does all this is off to the left at the moment. She’ll be right back. Click the photo for a closer look.

This roasted-chicken joint may well become our permanent Saturday replacement for the old spot. We don’t know yet — jury’s still out. The chicken-on-a-stick style is my least-preferred of the three methods, but it’s still quite good. And, God knows, these people need our dough. It’s a family business, and they’re neighbors.