Sweeping and drinking


WHEN I LIVED in Houston, I did not sweep the street in front of my house, and neither did the city or anybody else. Yet it stayed clean, a phenom I cannot explain.

But here in my funky Mexican neighborhood — perhaps due to living on the area’s main drag — somebody’s gotta do it, and that somebody is me. I did it this morning.

It is a multi-step process. First, you rake. This collects the stuff that is not biodegradable, like plastic plates and beer bottles. I am not making this up. I live among slobs.

I toss this material into a trash can. Second, you sweep the sidewalk and street near the curb. This collects pure dirt and the occasional plant material. I put this into a bucket and walk past the sex motel next door, cross the street to a wooded area and let it fly. Dirt upon dirt.

What I never do is sprinkle. Those who live here know what I mean. The humorous but widespread practice of sprinkling water on the sidewalk or street. This is to keep the dust down, and it does that for the 10 minutes it takes until the water dries and you’re back to where you started.

Sprinkling accomplishes nothing useful, but everybody does it. Sometimes the sprinkle is allowed to just sit, but sometimes it is followed by a sweep. Of course, sweeping a dry surface is easier than sweeping a damp surface, but no matter. Everybody sprinkles.

You encounter odd doings in Mexico, but it’s not just the Mexicans who are odd. We have odd Gringos too.


A Yahoo forum set up by Gringos and that focuses on our area recently had some back-and-forth over full-house, water-purification systems, which are pricey.* Some folks take the old saw about “don’t drink the water” to extremes. This is understandable for newbies, but there are people who’ve lived here years who are still antsy about the water, needlessly.

My second ex-wife and I vacationed in Guanajuato in the early 1980s, and I recall that I showered in the hotel with my mouth clamped shut, and I brushed my teeth with bottled water. No way was I going to let my mouth come near Mexican water, which I knew was pestilential or worse.

I am to be forgiven because I was ignorant.

aguaHere at the Hacienda, our tap water for years was spring water that was delivered in a tanker truck and pumped into our underground cistern. It looked very clear, but we did not drink it or cook with it. We used bottled water for that.

And then about three years ago, the neighborhood’s municipal system was upgraded, and we hooked into it. The water is nice, clear and lovely, but we still do not drink it. Perhaps we could, but I’ll let somebody else test it first.

This is how most Mexicans live. Tap water for most everything except drinking. Bottled water for drinking, and the bottled water is available everywhere, including home delivery from trucks that work the streets daily. I get mine from the Pepsi-Cola Company.

If tap water gets into your mouth while showering or brushing your teeth, just swish it about and spit it out. You will not die. I promise.

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* Gringos move to Mexico and often cancel the considerable financial savings by insisting on bringing their American lifestyles with them. My advice: adapt. It’s cheaper and morally satisfying.

Water, water, everywhere*


WHEN WE PURCHASED the double lot in 2002 on which to construct the Hacienda, someone told me, “but there’s no water out there.” He was referring to the outlying neighborhood where we live.

That puzzled me because the neighborhood is full of folks, and I was sure they had water. It was only after we’d moved in that I understood. Sporadic municipal water was available, but it was the color of tea.

Now everybody knows you don’t drink the tap water in Mexico, but I would like to take a shower in it without toweling off to find myself looking like Al Jolson. So we did not connect to the municipal water supply. We dug a 9,000-liter cistern and a tanker truck filled it about once a month for $20. Not bad.

Years passed. About three years ago, a middle-class neighbor mentioned that he receives municipal water, and I asked: “Isn’t it dirty?” “No,” he replied, “not anymore.”

So, we connected, and it’s crystal clear. Seems that the neighborhood system had undergone an upgrade. We connected to the street pipe out back to fill the cistern near that wall, and we also connected out front to the underground pipe on the main thoroughfare.

We already had tanks, tons of tanks. The below-ground cistern out back is next to an above-ground backup tank. Out front, which is what you see above, are two tanks. The smaller is filled automatically from the street, and I fill the bigger one with a hose. Each has its own electric pump.

The municipal water costs about $4 a month. It is not metered. I use what I need.

Now I realize I’ve written about this before, but as we walked out the front gate this morning in the cool sunshine, I had my camera, so I took that photo, and after it was developed, it cried for an accompanying tale.

And you’ve just read it.

Pan to the right and ...
Pan to the right and …

Speaking of water, this is what lots of rain does, especially after a few years when a plant has made itself at home in its personal plot of dirt and staked a claim.

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* From the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.