Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Good Riddance 2009, Welcome 2010!

These two boys were the good-natured parking attendants in Tonala, a district of Guadalajara, where my son, Eric, my daughter, Wendy, and I went to do some last minute Christmas shopping last week. I thought these guys were so cute biding their time to collect the money from the people who park there. Tonala is an interesting place where many of the Mexican pottery and other crafts are made. The shops and street vendors sell many wares for cheap prices, so we had lots of fun browsing. We ate lunch at a nice little garden restaurant and generally had a wonderful time. I did get lost, not because I didn't know the way to Tonala, but because I was waxing eloquent to the kids about the ups and downs of living in Mexico, and I missed the turn. Nevertheless, we found it and had a wonderful time. Here are a couple more photos of Tonala:

We enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with TWO of our three children. Cassie was scheduled to fly out of Boston to Guadalajara on Monday December 21, but her flight was canceled because of the big storm on Saturday the 19th. Unbelievably, she was unable to get re-booked before Christmas Eve, very late, and would have had to leave on the 27th, so she decided to reschedule for March, when she could have a full week visit. So we missed having everyone together, which was sad.

We did, of course, enjoy having Isabelle here with Eric. She is almost two and full of beans! She kept Eric, particularly, very busy, but we all were loving having her around. So here are the latest Isabelle photos:

One of the things about experiencing Christmas in Mexico is that it sure doesn't seem like Christmastime, especially if you come from Maine. Even though we have a bit if a chill in the morning, requiring you to wear, perhaps, a sweatshirt, "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow" does not really ring true.
On the other hand, this is a very devout Christian country, so there are reminders of the true meaning of Christmas everywhere. We went to the neighboring town of San Antonio Tlaycapan to experience a traditional posada, where the nativity is reenacted. Young people dressed as Mary and Joseph proceed through town stopping at homes to ask if they can stay for the night. Each home, of course, turns them away until they find the special house with the manger. Hundreds of townspeople follow the procession, singing Christmas songs. They finally end up at the church for the special ceremony. Here are some photos:

On Chrisrtmas Eve, we went to the church in Ajijic and witnessed the very serious nativity scenes being reenacted by young couples with babies:

And here is a rear view of the "naciamento" or cheche, in the gazebo in Ajijic. It is up for the entire Christmas season, but it doesn't include a baby Jesus until Christmas eve.

So, we had a wonderful, yet simple, Mexican Christmas. We capped off the week with a trip to the Guadalajara Zoo on the day after Christmas. This is an excellent zoo, complete with a safari ride through an African landscape, complete with lions, zebras, antelopes, and giraffes, who come up to the vehicle we ride in so we can feed them carrots:

Well, Eric and Isabelle made it back to Indiana and Wendy made it back to Maine...and we were left with an empty nest...until this morning, when we found a lady from Guadalajara who was selling Shi Tzu puppies. So I am pleased to introduce all the readers of this blog to our new puppy. Please meet Chuy!

In Mexico, Chuy is a nickname for Jesus. It is pronounced "Chewy." He is six and a half weeks old, weighs three pounds, and has already developed an appealing personality. His image will likely appear frequently in future posts on this blog as he becomes housebroken and worms his way into our life. We can never replace Maggie, but this little guy will help us fill the hole left in our life by her absence.

So, good bye 2009. It wasn't our greatest year, but it had its good points. May we all have a prosperous and healthy 2010. May we learn to live in peace, may the United States enjoy a better, more equitable health care system, and may the United States of Mexico enjoy a joyous and peaceful bicentennial year!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Christmas to All!

Inside red chiles

Hot white seeds waiting to burn

Her cool Latin lips

(a haiku from Sacred Lake)

Actually, this is a card that has been handed out by a local dental office advertising prices for dental work: cleaning 150 pesos ($12), resin filling 360 ($30), and crowns 1900 ($150). I'm not sure what the other categories mean, but the prices are good. No surprise many Americans come to Mexico for their dental work.

The weather is a bit cooler in the evening and very comfortable during the day as the winter solstice will soon be here. This is a photo taken over the wall in our back yard of a recent sunset. Christmas is rapidly approaching, and we are looking forward to having all three of our children and our grand daughter, Isabelle, visit for about a week.

Wendy has seen our house, but only when we were looking at houses. She hasn't seen it since we've moved in and fixed it up. Eric and Cassie have not seen the house at all. They were all down two years ago for Christmas when we were living on the west end of Ajijic in our rental. Now they know what a wonderful place this is and I imagine they are looking forward to the warm sun, family connections, and some good Mexican food.

We are planning some trips, perhaps to Tonala, the area in Guadalajara where much of the pottery and glassware is made. There are many vendors and tiendas where beautiful Mexican craft items can be purchases very inexpensively. We are also hoping to go to Guadalajara's wonderful zoo with its brand new aquarium. I will be posting some photos of the visit in the next post.

We had a small dinner get-together at our house for my 59th birthday on December 8. Here are Susan and Steve Barr and Jean and (part of) Paul. Birthdays are not so exciting as we get older, but they are a good excuse for a party!

Paul is a great hiker, and he and I hiked up the ravine in Riberas a couple of weeks ago, with his great dog, Curly. Getting Curly to pose for a photo is not easy, but you get the idea. We found a small reservoir at the top where Curly enjoyed playing in the mud! We will be taking care of Curly when Jeanne and Paul return to the states for Christmas. It will be nice to have a dog around again!

Last Sunday we went to Rick and Valerie's annual Christmas Tree Trimming party. Valerie works in Ajijic as a psychologist, and Rick is a retired engineer who is a long time member of our Great Books discussion group. (This afternoon, we are meeting, and it is my turn to be the discussion leader as we examine William James' lectures on "Pragmatism.") Here Valerie poses next to the finished product, and Rick poses in his newly-refurbished beautiful garden.

Now Mexico is full of interesting architectural details. Rick and Valerie have a swimming pool with concrete stepping stones that allow them to walk over the pool from their living room area to their study. It is a strange sensation walking over the stones and the water. It is another unique Mexican detail!

Above, a new addition to the Chapala landscape is this beautiful mural completed on a new concrete retaining wall, illustrating the history of Chapala. Chapala is the largest town on the north shore of Lake Chapala. For many years it was the premiere vacation spot for Guadalajarans (Tapitos) who wanted to come to the lake for a weekend getaway. It was the home to many expat Americans, Europeans, and Canadians during the early part of the twentieth century. (Now, the more bohemian Ajijic, to the west of Chapala, has become the "in" spot for expats with its more quaint village look. But, we could not even afford to buy a home in Ajijic and opted for the Chapla subdivision, Riberas del Pilar.) This mural, by Javier Zaragoza, is stunning in its detail and scope. I even found a YouTube link depicting the mural while it was being painted:

My new book,
Agave Blood, is now out and selling fairly well. (Fairly well means that I printed 100 copies, have sold 34...only need to sell 6 more to break even!). Several years ago, a group of women authors wrote a collection of stories called Agave Marias. We have decided to have a combined book-signing/reading for both "Agave" books at a local B&B, Casa del Sol (a beautiful space owned by a fellow Mainer, Cathy Roberts) on January 28, when our Maine friends Curt and Judy Webber will be here. It should be fun and will hopefully entice a few people to buy our books! Jim Tipton has reviewed my book for the current issue of Ojo del Lago:

Agave Blood, Poems by Bill Frayer

Reviewed by Jim Tipton

Popular Lakeside author Bill Frayer has just published another fine collection of poetry: Agave Blood.

The first, and longest, section, “Mexico,” celebrates the Bill’s deepening connection with Mexico and its people and his discovery of the “delicious now,” where he is learning “That my present moment/Is all I have/And, indeed, all that I need.” These poems are about many things Mexican: for example, Guadalupe, who hangs “from the mirrors of rusty old trucks,” and “who inspires and protects”; and a little girl in a poor village whose “black braids neatly draped” stirs up love in the poet’s heart; and “The Rubber Tree” at Lake Chapala Society, which presides over the writers who sit beneath it “to speak, and to listen/And to finally speak their truth”; and “The Old Mariachi,” who is “Too tired to be young/And too proud/To stop being/A Mariachi.”

The second section, “Points North,” reflects on the nation that he has left, where, aside from family, he feels less and less connection: “I now look at Maine/With Mexican eyes/And shudder.” In this same nation to the north, old friends “…have evolved/Into strangers/Who I only recognize/As shadow shells.” For soldiers in Iraq who “are dead forever,” Bill asks: “Why did you die?/Were you fighting/For a better way of living,/Or were you/Just unlucky?”

In the third section, “Metaphysics,” the poet ponders, often playfully, more philosophical matters, and these include his own loss of “unambiguous belief” as well as a recognition that he is beginning to see more and more with his heart.

Bill also accepts and embraces his own life, which has become more and more simple. “My Favorite Clothes” begins this way: “I hope to live to completely/Wear out all my favorite clothes.” It concludes:

And if I time it right

I’ll be left with

One fine, faded shirt

And a comfortable pair of pants,

Thin at the knees,

Which will be available for rags

When I leave the building.

This is one of those little books that I like to keep on the night stand or on the kitchen table or car seat to return to, one or two of them at a time. Everyone at Lakeside will find Bill’s poetry both accessible and delightful.

Agave Blood, $100 pesos, may be purchased at Diane Pearl’s Colecciones (Colon #1, Ajijic) or through the author at:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pixie's Corner: The Visitor

[A number of people have expressed interest in hearing some of Pixie's impressions of Mexico. Starting with this post, Pixie will, from time to time, share her experiences of living here]

Several weeks ago, I had an experience that opened my eyes to both sides of want and need and giving and sharing. It helped put my own experiences in a whole new perspective.

I heard the bell ring at my gate. I opened the door and there stood a young Mexican girl, maybe ten or eleven. She looked me straight in the eye and said in
Spanish and some English, "My family is hungry; we need food." SHE needed food. My heart dropped. It was a statement not a request. I looked at her as she stood there, in the bright sunlight, drab, dull, and dusty. No snapping, laughing eyes here. No. There was an unmistakable un-childlike dignity about her standing there, still, straight, gazing directly at me. No hunching shoulders, no hanging head, no scuffing toes in the dirt. No shame. She simply was asking what must be done. The responsibility had somehow fallen on her slight shoulders, "probably because she had a handful of English," I thought shamefully. In my halting, pathetic Spanish, I told her to wait. I hurried inside to my well-stocked pantry, and put a bag of rice and a couple bags of beans into a pastel bolsa [bag].

I realized as I was doing this, that my heart had lifted, that there was a gladness in my actions. "I can help her, only a little bit, but... It's not enough to change things but still it feels good knowing that her belly will be full for a few days."

I return with the bag of food, worrying that it will be too heavy for her, wondering how far she has to carry it. She takes the bag meeting my eyes, then, casting them down, she whispers, "Gracias." I smile gently at her, wishing I could do more. She makes no move to leave, and then, perhaps because she thinks I am kind, she asks, "Agua, por favor?"

"Oh yes, of course," I say in English, then catch myself and say, "Un momento." I return to my kitchen kicking myself for not thinking of it myself. I prepare a cup of water as I would for a guest at my house. Ice cold, pure water, fresh squeezed lime but in a plastic cup so she can take it with her. She waits patiently as I knew she would. She is used to waiting, wanting, needing. As I pass her the cup, she looks at it and then at me. At last, a slight smile plays at her lips. Her eyes hold mine; there is a glimmer of more than thanks. It is a moment, one heart touching another. Not a hand out. Not a helping hand, only a glass of water that you would give to anyone who came to your house.

This moment taught me something about asking for and receiving graciously. If others were not in need, there would not be the satisfaction of giving.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Goats, Pelicans, Markets, and Thanksgiving

One of the common features of living in Mexico is the presence of domesticated animals everywhere. This herd of goats grazes at least once a week on our street, Santa Margarita. The owner of the goats seems to take them to various places around Riberas, the small community between Ajijic and Chapala, where we live. Mexicans enjoy goat meat, particularly in the common chili-based stew, birria. They graze on almost anything green and always seem to have a voracious appetite. Cows, or Vacas, are also common sights around the community. They are usually tied up grazing by the side of the road or enclosed in pastures. Because everything is so dry here, especially now, it can be a challenge finding good places for livestock to graze.

Families often keep chickens as well. I can often see them walking around the yards of Mexican homes. Presumably they keep them for eggs and eventually for meat. Every morning we can hear a chorus of roosters who often don't wait for dawn to crow.

Horses are another ever-present sight throughout the community. It is common to see them tied up in front of homes or stores when we're in town. The Mexicans love to ride their horses around town, and some appear to use them as regular forms of transportation. We also see burros and donkeys. In the rural areas it is common to see old men in sombreros leading burros laden with firewood or some other cargo on dirt paths near the road.

This time of year, the American white pelicans have returned to their winter quarters here at Lake Chapala. They spend most of their time in the lake, fishing. The photo below is a common scene as the pelicans hang out with the Chapala fisherman who use the traditional fishing method of using a net. The pelicans are obviously hoping they will get some scraps.

These white pelicans are much larger than the brown pelicans we saw on the coast. (See the last post from Rincon de Guayabidos.) Apparently they are much more numerous on the south side of the lake where they tend to congregate. I rarely see more than a dozen at a time around here, although hundreds can be seen on the other side.

I thought I'd include some photos of the Ajijic
tianguis, or outdoor market. Each town of any size in Mexico has one day set aside for their market. In fact, this practice is common around the world. We saw these local weekly markets when we were in Italy in 1999 as well. In Ajijic, the market is on Wednesdays. Chapala has its on Monday, and Jocotepec on Thursday. We generally go to the Ajijic market which appeals more to gringos with more craft and jewelry tables, English-language movies, and more bi-lingual vendors in general. We generally buy most of our fruits and vegetables for the week at the tianguis, as well as fresh yogurt, fish and shrimp, cheese, granola, and flowers. When you go every week, you get to know the vendors, and they know what you like, which makes shopping easier. It's more crowded now as the "snowbirds" have arrived, so shopping can take a bit more time. Here are some photos of last week's market.

Last Thursday, of course, was Thanksgiving, and we gathered, as usual, with our friends from our Unitarian Universalist fellowship at Lew and Trudy Crippen's house. Turkeys are not a popular food here in Mexico, and so they are expensive to get. Typically a 8-10 kilo turkey (18-22 pounds) will cost about $40US. At our Thanksgiving, the fellowship buys two turkeys, which Lew and Trudy cook, and we all bring the other fixin's. Pixie always makes her New England style cranberry sauce, and this year we also brought pumpkin pie and hot crab dip. As you can imagine we have a wide variety of foods, and we bring containers to bring home leftovers for the next day. It's a lovely dinner on their terrace overlooking the lake. Lew always puts a football game on in his den for those who want to watch, but most of us just eat, drink and talk.

One final photo. Our good friends, Steve and Susan Barr, welcomed their son, David, his wife Susan, and two of their children, Amelia and Kaitlyn, to Mexico for their first visit. They took them to Guadalajara to the zoo, to the Centro area, to Mescala Island, and all around the Lakeside area. Here they are when they stopped by for a visit at our house.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rincon de Guayabidos

For the second year, we went to the beach for Pixie's birthday. After the difficult year we've had, we both were looking forward to five relaxing days in the sun. We chose to return to Rincon de Guayabidos, a fishing village turned beach town, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast. We like this town because it is very Mexican, not very expensive, and friendly.

The trip to the coast is about a 5 1/2 hour drive from Chapala. The worst part of the drive is through Guadalajara, but most of the trip is on one of Mexico's fabulous toll roads, or Cuotas. Cuota means toll, and the tolls are heavy, about $30US one way, BUT believe me, it's worth it! There is always an alternative free, or libre, road, but for a long trip, these roads are very narrow and SLOW. Here is a photo of the cuota we were on from our point of view:
The scenery through the mountains on the way to the coast is stunning. We passed the town of Tequila, where most of the world's tequila is made:
We also passed an inactive volcano, Volca Ceboruco, which had left many deposits of old lava from its last eruption. Here is the volcano and some of the lava deposits:

We stayed at a small hotel, Vista Alegre, where, for about $85US a day, we had a room on the ocean with a private balcony, three good meals a day, snacks by the pool in the afternoon, and an open bar from 11am to 11pm. Here are some photos taken around the hotel and the beach:

We enjoy taking long walks up the beach every day. One afternoon, we ran across a large group of people on the beach. They had collected some newly-hatched sea turtles and were releasing the 8 hour old babies on the beach. They need to find their way to the sea on their own to the experience will be imprinted on them so they will return to the beach in several years to lay their own eggs. We each held a turtle, released it, and watched it make its way into the ocean. Pixie named her turtle, Isabelle. Of course I forgot my camera, but here are some photos of a similar turtle release from this week's New York Times:

Sadly, only one out of each 100 turtles released will live to adulthood. The rest are victims of the many predators. Some, undoubtedly have been eaten by birds already. When I asked the Mexican man what the turtles themselves eat, he replied, "Jellyfish."

On Pixie's Birthday, we drove into Puerto Vallarta for the day. We found it beautiful, but much more expensive and full of tourists from a cruise ship. Here's a photo of the birthday girl and some shots of Puerto Vallarta:

One interesting person we met was Xaime Ximinez, a street artist who, because his hands are congenitally deformed, paints with his brush in his mouth. He is obviously very successful and has a variety of paintings for sale. Here is his photo with a sample of his work:

We're now back in Chapala, back to our busy life. We are both starting to teach English this week. I am teaching three Mexican friends in a once-a-week lesson at one of their houses. I am looking forward to working with a small group. Pixie is going to a local orphanage to help teach English to preschool children on Saturday mornings. We re both looking forward to these new challenges.

Finally, my new poetry book,
Agave Blood, has been published and is now available. This book is bigger than Sacred Lake, with 101 pages and 54 new poems.