Sunday, November 25, 2007


Our big news is not from Mexico but from Indiana: Eric and Crystal's baby girl, Isabelle, will arrive in early April. I will officially be an abuelo and Pixie will be an abuela. I have to say, the prospect of having a granddaughter lends some legitimacy to our early retirement. Baby and the happy parents are all doing fine. In fact they are getting ready to head down here on December 14. We have bought our tickets for Pixie to travel to Muncie on April 8, followed by me on April 22. Grand news! We will be sure to post photos once Isabelle makes her appearance.

We have also bought tickets to fly to Philadelphia on April 29, then to Providence to visit the New England contingent on May 6, returning to Mexico on May 20, in time to renew our visas in June and move to a new rental house.

We are beginning to notice signs of an upcoming Mexican winter. The evenings and mornings are a bit chilly, although hardly by Maine standards. The temperatures are probably in the high 50's or low 60's overnight, but since we are right on the lake, the wind makes it seem colder. Because the houses here are so leaky, and because our house does not have a lot of light coming in, inside the house is often cooler than outside. Pixie and I often think it is cool and dress accordingly. Once we get into town, it is considerably warmer. The Mexicans, of course, think it's frigid. I might wear a flannel shirt in the evening, but I routinely see Mexicans wearing winter coats in the middle of the day. I guess it's all relative. Even in Maine, 40 degrees would seem frigid if it came in early September, but absolutely balmy in February. It seems to me like we should be bringing our beautiful potted plants inside. Old habits die hard.

We haven't made it into town for the big fiesta as of yet. Pixie has to keep her cast on for another week, and it's hard for her to walk long distances or stand for any length of time. Going to the fiesta at the plaza means parking a distance away and standing around unless we're lucky enough to find a bench. We'll try one of these nights before it's over. We are hearing LOTS of fireworks in the morning, in the evening, and in between. Mexicans appear to love noise.

We also went to the parade to celebrate Revolution Day, to commemorate the 1910 revolution which deposed the long-time dictator, Porfirio Diaz, and established the legends of leaders like Benito Juarez, Poncho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata. The parade was mostly schoolchildren marching with thier schools. Some of the smaller kids were dressed up as Mexican ladies in rebozos and bandidos. It would have been considered terribly politically incorrect in the US, but it was very cute, I have to say.

We have been checking out some different venues to hear some music. Mostly what we've been finding is gringo dance music..ugh. We've seen mariachis at public events, but not in night spots. I know there is some traditional Mexican guitar music, but you have to look for it. There is usually some fairly good jazz, but trying to find out who's playing on a particular night around town is not easy. We're working on that. Last night we went to the "Old" Posada. This is an historic hotel in Ajijic where Tennessee Williams and Somerset Maugham stayed years ago. I hear that both Elizabeth Taylor and Erroll Flynn also stayed there. It's a terrific old building, although the music, billed as "Ricardo," (I, of course imagined a guy on a stool playing acoustic Mexican traditional music) turned out to be a loud band playing old gringo tunes by the Everley Brothers and the Lettermen. We had fun with our friends Jean and Paul anyway. We will continue with our search for the perfect nightspot.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with about 30 other UU's at Lew and Trudy's beautiful house on their terrace overlooking the village and the lake. They cooked two turkeys, and the rest was more or less pot luck. We had lots of great food, although no squash or turnip...difficult to find here. Pixie's cranberry sauce was a big hit, though.

As I mentioned before, I have been doing some writing since I've been here and am having some poetry published in the local magazines. I submitted a column on at topic near and dear to my heart: how to become a better thinker, to the editor of one of the magazines, El Ojo del Lago, The Eye of the Lake. He has asked me to submit a monthly column entitled Uncommon Common Sense. That will be an interesting challenge: having to come up with a monthly column. I am looking forward to that.

Pixie and I had an interesting experience yesterday. We volunteered to lead a conversation group for a group of Mexicans studying English who want to improve their speaking skills in English. It meets every Saturday with different discussion leaders. Most of the participants are hoping to improve their careers with a better mastery of English. Yesterday, we had a homeopath, an architect, a clothing manufacturer and shop owner, a computer technician, a furniture salesperson, and a political activist. We had a great time discussing the difference between the Mexican and US culture in a number of ways: gender, family, drug use, and working life. They were very anxious to learn to speak English well and had a lot of interesting things to say. I must say, their English is more advanced than my Spanish. Although I continue to pick up new vocabulary and participate in my Spanish lessons, any real fluency is still a ways away. I am able to communicate well enough, but I can see it will be a long process, and I admire the progress these students have made.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

As we prepare to spend our first Thanksgiving in Mexico, we are indeed grateful to be here in this beautiful country among new friends, and also grateful that all of our children and their respective partners will be joining us over the next couple of months. It is hard to be away from our family for Thanksgiving. We have already decided that next year we will plan to come home for the holidays.

We are actually also planning a trip back to the US in April and May. Since our first grandchild is scheduled to arrive in early April, Pixie is panning to fly to Muncie to help Eric and Crystal with the new baby the second well in April. After two weeks, I will join her in Muncie and we will spend another week with the new family. We will then fly to Phildelphia to visit some of my extended family there, including my dad and stepmom. Then, we'll probably fly into Providence to visit Cassie and Alana, then drive north to spend some time in Maine, returning to Mexico around May 20. That's how it looks now. We are looking forward to seeing everyone!

Life here has been fairly uneventful. Pixie's leg is healing well, and she is hoping to have the cast removed this week, just in time for the San Andreas fiesta scheduled in Ajijic for November 22-29. This is a 10-day event, of mixed religious and secular celebrations to celebrate the patron saint of Ajijic, St. Andrew. From what I hear, fireworks go off every morning at 5AM to awaken people for mass, religious processions weave throughout the village, and every night, music, foood, and fireworks fill the plaza. I have canceled my English classes during this period because because I am told no one tends to show up. This is apparently a BIG event in Ajijic.

Another event we are looking forward to is our first Quinceneria. This ia an event which is celebrated with a mass and a fiesta when a girl turns 15. It's kind of a cross between a coming out party and a Bas-Mitzfah, as far as I can tell. Daniel and Dora's oldest son's girlfriend is having her Quinceniera on December 8, and Dora and Daniel have asked us to accompany them as guests. I guess the party is similar to a big wedding: mariachi or banda music, dancing, food, tequila, etc. We may be the only gringos there, and we are looking forward to another authentic Mexican experience!

Pixie led our harvest communion service at our UU fellowship this morning with a sermon about Thanksgiving. She discussed how the pilgrims learned how to survive by the Native Americans who were already in the New World. To our congregation of expats living in Mexico she discussed how each of us are, in some ways pilgrims ourselves, and we find ourselves in a foreign land learning important lessons from the wonderful Mexican people we found here. She also talked about what our definition of "home" is. Is it where we came from, where we are now, or where our spirit is? Ultimately she concluded that home is where we are: not a particular place. We each need to bring a sense of "home" with us. The service was warmly received by everyone, as we broke bread together (Pixie's pumpkin bread and grape juice) in our typical UU fashion.

This year, we are going to share a big Thanksgiving dinner with our UU friends at Lew and Trudy's house. We're bringing fresh cranberry sauce. Fresh cranberries are NOT easy to find in Mexico, but Pixie, an intrepid New Englander, found them, albeit for a price. We will definitely enjoy our cranberry sauce this year!

We are thinking of everyone who we cannot be with this year, but please remember you are in our thoughts.

The photograph at the top was taken on the lake right behind our house. This fisherman who fishes every evening and morning uses the traditional method of casting a net for fish in Lake Chapala. This photograph is a bit grainy, but you can see his net if you look closely. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.) I love the photo because it captures, for me, the spirit of abundance we have found here and reflects the simple culture in which we are blessed to live.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

The Day of the Dead celebration was much as I wrote about in the last blog. Pixie was unable to go into the graveyard because of her bad foot, but Daniel and I went and he walked around the graveyard with me. This was good, because I would have felt a bit awkward walking around by myself. Being with him gave me some credibility, so to speak. As it turns out, it would hardly have been a problem. The Day of the Dead is not a solemn event. As we walked around the graveyard, we saw families gathered around the garishly decorated graves laughing and presumably sharing memories of their dead relatives. Some had brought in Mariachi bands to play, which everyone enjoyed. In one part of the graveyard, they had set up a stage with a huge skeleton in the back, where they had a Ballet Folklorico performance, a particular type of Mexican folk dancing popular at all types of fiestas and celebrations. Outside the graveyard, vendors sold all types of candles, balloons for the kids, and many types of food, including the special sweet Dia de los Muertos Pan, or bread. I brought home a loaf for Pixie.

The next two photos were taken by Steve and Susan Barr on their recent trip to Morelia. The marigolds are the flowers used in the grave decorations and altars because they are believed to attract the spirits of the dead.

Overall my impressions are that Mexicans look at death differently than we do. The reason they decorate the graves and set up altars in the streets and in their homes to honor their dead is that they believe the spirits of the dead will remain alive and with them as long as they are remembered. So this annual rite is, to them, keeping the spirit of their dead relatives alive.

Death is not hidden away here. When a Mexican dies, they display the body in the living room of the home, while they set up chairs in the street in front and eat and drink and honor the person who died, not unlike an Irish wake. Then they put the body in a wooden coffin and carry it on their shoulders to the cemetery, while everybody walks behind. Sometimes Mariachis play music. It's kind of like a New Orleans funeral. We have been caught behind these funerals when driving in Ajijic.

We also shared a Day of the Dead service at our UU fellowship last week. Here one of our UU friends, Susan, remembers her husband who died shortly after they arrived in Mexico a number of years ago.

The other big event this week has been Pixie's birthday! And, the good news is, she was able to exchange her regular cast for a walking cast, so she's chucked the wheelchair for a simple cane. This was what she wanted most for her birthday. Her leg is healing well, and she will probably only need the cast on for another two weeks. In the meantime, she's able to get around much more easily. Here she is upright and dressed to kill!

My birthday shopping was made much more easy because the spectacular Feria Maestros del Arte just happened to be on Pixie's birthday. This annual exhibition has artisans from all over Mexico displaying their wares and, of course, selling them. It's rare to see so many of these fine Mexican craftspeople all in one place, this year at the yacht club in Chapala. The artisans are given the space free, so all the money they get goes directly to them, no middle man. Walking around there, you wish you had lots more money; the prices are reasonable but not really cheap, because there are some of the finest artists in Mexico. We saw everything from pre-Columbian sculpture replicas, to fine embroidery, to hand-crafted knives made by the same family for thirteen generations, to Mayan weavings, to incredible Huichol bead work, and more. It will definitely be an event we return to for Pixie's next birthday.

Here are a couple of photos of the craft work displayed at the event:

We went out for dinner at the Blue Agave Restaurant in Chapala with our friends Steve and Sue and toasted Pixie for her first birthday in our new home.

The weather has returned to a more seasonable temperature, with cool mornings and evenings, and warm and sunny afternoons. The huge white pelicans have returned to their winter home at Lake Chapala from Western Canada. We had never seen these birds which weigh 16-20 pounds each and have 100 inch wingspans. Pixie noticed that the fishermen on the lake take their cues from the pelicans and go to where they are congregating.

Here is a poem I wrote last week after visiting the graveyard on the Day of the Dead celebration:

Remember Me With Good Dark Beer

In Mexico, when people die

Their stay on earth does not expire,

Extending on in memory

As concrete offerings require.

Flowers, photos, food, tequila

All that they loved their families share

And gather o’er their loved ones’ bones

To eat, to weep, to laugh, to bear

The tragedy of human loss

A celebration of our fate

To breathe and love while briefly here

Aware it soon will be too late.

And as I watch this ritual

With skulls and food and special bread

I think of mother’s bare, cold grave

Unvisited, of course she’s dead;

She couldn’t know, nor could she care

If we brought her garlic bread,

Or beer, or shrimp, or needlepoint

Or tell her, “Mom, we’re all well fed!”

And as I wander through these graves

My eyes now sting with unshed tears

For soon my bones will lie here too.

Although I know, I still have fears

That no one will remember me

That I liked chips and good dark beer

And think of me when they indulge

And worse, not know what I held dear.