Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Navidad in the Village

Here is a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe painted on the side of a house in our new neighborhood.  This image, although obviously religious, is also a symbol of Mexican national pride.  We often see the image displayed with a Mexican flag.  It’s a uniquely Mexican symbol.  Last week was El Dia de la Guadalupe, and families set up makeshift altars to her image all over the village.

As Christmas approaches, we are settling into our village home and recovering from the hectic month we’ve just had.  Pixie’s mouth and teeth continue to improve.  She’s had a root canal on the tooth that was reinserted.  The front tooth next to this one was also injured, although it did not come out.  She had to have a root canal on that one as well.  Our dentist, Dr. Garcia is working very carefully to be sure that he does not cause any problems with the injured teeth.  It looks as though both teeth will be fine.  She’s finished her dental work for now, although he wants her to return for an x-ray next week.  She feels lucky the damage could be repaired.  Pixie’s lips and mouth are just about completely healed, although she has a bit of swelling that she is treating with warm compresses.  We delivered a Christmas basket to Dr. Garcia and his family on Monday to show our appreciation. 

We are grateful to have the ordeal of moving behind us, at least for a couple of months.  Our little house, although small, is certainly adequate for a temporary stay.  We brought our plants with us from the old house so the garden is much more lush.  We turned over the key to our old house to Sra. Romero, the new owner.  She lives in Guadalajara and plans to spend a couple of weekends a month at the house.  I don’t think she liked our decorating.  She told us she intends to sell all our furniture and paint the inside all white.  Go figure!  Anyway, we are happy to turn it over and not have to worry about it any more.  We are hoping to find a beautiful rental in a couple of months as the snowbirds return north and many rentals become available.  In the meantime, we are happy here. 

Chuy is having to adjust to the new surroundings as well.  We have a much nicer walking space.  Yesterday, he made a friend with this Chihuahua. 

Where we live is very Mexican and very colorful.  People sell food on the street and families sit outside and drink cerveza and play their music.  So it’s not exactly a quiet neighborhood, but the people are very friendly and it’s fun to walk around and explore.  Here are some photos from our new neighborhood.  Notice the large wok-like vessel.  The carniceria, or butcher shop, is cooking pork scraps in lard.  The Mexicans love these carnitas, but we vegetarians, not so much.   The bottom photo shows the outside of our new house.  The entire width of our house is the width of those metal garage doors.  The white and brown building to its right is not our house, but our neighbor's.

One interesting aspect of our neighborhood, and indeed of Ajijic in general, is that very Mexican neighborhoods exist quite well side-by-side with more up-scale gringo homes.  The Mexican neighborhood we are in is adjacent to one of the most posh gringo areas at Lakeside.  So when Chuy and I take our walk, we start in our poor Mexican neighborhood but soon find ourselves among million dollar homes in Las Salvias, a gringo neighborhood.  Here are some photos of this area:

Although Christmas here is more religious and much warmer, there are many Christmas traditions.  Tonight we are going to the Posada, or nativity procession, in San Antonio, the neighboring town.  We have gone several times, and I have posted photos of this posada before.  We had a special musical service at our UU Fellowship last Sunday.  We attended a Christmas party with some writer friends of ours last Monday, and we have our New England Gathering tomorrow night.   We will be having Christmas dinner with some Maine friends.  We are wishing we had been able to make our trip to see our children in early December, as planned, but we are now scheduled to fly to Boston on  January 14, to Indiana on January 22, and back to Guadalajara on January 30.  We will surely be in for a climate shock!  But, of course, celebrating a late Christmas with our family will be wonderful.

So, we are finally getting some down time and enjoying the Christmas season.  To all my family, friends and blog-followers around the world, I wish you Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Good News All Around

Finally, I am able to post again. It’s been an exhausting week, needless to say, but things are looking up at the moment.  The best news is that Pixie is recovering very well from her injury to her mouth.  The tooth which was reinserted successfully and, so far, seems to be staying in place with no problems whatsoever.  She has a fabulous dentist, Alberto Garcia, in Chapala.  He not only reinserted the tooth in the middle of the night, he has been caring for her ever since.  He has completed a root canal on the reinserted tooth, and is in the midst of a root canal on the other front tooth, which was also traumatized in the accident.  So far, everything is going very well.  Pixie’s mouth has little swelling left, and she is able to eat soft foods (she was on a liquid diet for two weeks!).  So that is good news.  We’ve rescheduled our trip north for January 14 through the 30th.  

When I first met Dr. Garcia, I was very impressed.  He is a kind man who works slowly and carefully.  I had three crowns done for about $150 US apiece.  He impressed me so much that I wrote a poem about him which was published int he Lake Chapala Review.  He was very pleased with the poem and told me he would "never forget" that I wrote a poem about him.  Here is the poem I wrote in 2008: 

Mi Dentista

Going to my dentist
Is Mexico itself.

It’s a long, slow process,
But full of care
And courtesy.

He chats when I sit in his chair,
Not to rush
Not to rush me.
I wait as he sets up his space,
Fills my water glass,
Lays out his tools,
Stopping to ask of my family,
Telling me of his,
Asking if I have pain today,
Always deliberate,
I do not feel rushed.

At last, ready to work,
“Are you ready for the pain?”
“Yes!” I continue the joke,
But he wants to be sure
I know it’s a joke.
“Up your hand,” he warns,
“If you any pain.”

Managing alone, stepping to
Retrieve a tool,
He works competently
Checking on my pain
And I drift, relaxed,
As he works
On my old, battered, tooth. 

“You are a good dentist,”
I proclaim, after I rinse
And spit.

“I hope I am,
Sometimes I hope I am a good dentist.”

“You are.” I reply. 
Glad to be
Enjoying my afternoon
With this kind man.  

The other thing that has been keeping us busy is selling our house and finding a new place to live.  We have moved into our temporary rental in the Ajijic village.  We were supposed to close on our house today, but there was a delay as the money from the buyer was not sent to the correct account, so the transfer of the money took a bit longer.  We are now scheduled to close tomorrow at 4:00; let’s hope there are no more delays.  At any rate, we are today spending our first night in the new rental .  It’s in a very Mexican neighborhood, complete with live music and lots of character.  The house is a hacienda style, which means that the house wraps around a central garden.  It’s very Mexican and a bit dark in parts of the house, so we are using lots of lamps to make it bright.  Here are some photos of the house taken tonight, right after we moved in. 

You can see the house is very Mexican.  In the bathroom above, you can see they have a funky sink that looks like a bowl on the counter, but is actually a sink with a drain.  This type of tile/ceramic is called Talavera, and is very typical of this area of Mexico.  

We are exhausted with moving.  We will be glad to have some down time after we close on our old house and get it cleaned.   In the next entry, I’ll include more photos of the neighborhood; it’s very interesting.  Soon, we will be looking for a more permanent rental.  For the moment, we just need to catch our breath.   

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Unexpected Twists

Well, as John Lennon has pointed out, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.  I have been thinking about John Lennon more these days and listening to his music.  Perhaps this is because he was shot on my 30th birthday.  As I approach 60, it’s difficult to believe that was 30 years ago. 

Anyway, back to the unpredictability of life, we have decided to postpone our trip north because Pixie injured herself Sunday night.  We were walking back to the car after viewing the fireworks at the fiesta when she fell on the cobblestones and hit her face.  She knocked out her front tooth, bruised her lip, sprained her finger and banged up her knee.  Our wonderful dentist met us at his office at 1:00 AM and was able to reinsert the tooth.  He thinks it has a good chance of “taking” since the bone did not appear damaged.  But she will need a root canal in a few days to help prevent infection.  Mostly she needs healing time.  She can’t eat solid food and is still very uncomfortable.  So we have decided to postpone the trip until January or February.  The dentist, Alberto Garcia from Chapala, would not even take any payment for his two hours of emergency care.  “You are my friend,” he pointed out, “And I didn’t really do much.”  Not do much?  I beg to differ.  We will be sure to buy him a nice Christmas gift. 

The other big news is that our house sale is now assured, regardless of the peso rate, because we have decided to accept payment in pesos.  We can invest the money in banks here with a guarantee of 8%+ returns, then, when we choose to, change the money into dollars and transfer it to our bank in the US.  The danger of this is that there could always be a devaluation in the peso, but that seems unlikely for awhile.  So now we will definitely close on the house and move into the village on December 14.  I’ll post photos of the new digs after that.

Despite Pixie’s accident, we had the 60th birthday bash for me at Delicias Restaurant in Chapala last night.  We had over 50 friends gather for the occasion.  Unbeknownst to me, Pixie had asked our children, Eric, Wendy, and Cassie to each write a letter to me which could be read at the party.  She was going to read them, but could not, obviously.  My friend and MC for the evening, Fred Harland, read them.  They each wrote beautiful, eloquent letters that left many of us teary-eyed.  I was blown away.  How do I deserve such wonderful children?  The party was a great success with the staff of the restaurant preparing a wonderful Mexican buffet including hand-made tortillas, chicken mole, pork chile verde, chicken fajitas, frijoles, chile rajas, soy with brown sauce, red rice, and chile rellenos.  Four of the dishes were vegetarian; remarkable for a Mexican meal!  Some of my writer friends composed poems for me, including Don Edwards, Mark Sconce, Susan Wagner, and Mel Goldberg who wrote an Italian sonnet in honor of the occasion.  Here are some photos from the evening:

So, as Pixie convalesces and we putter at some remaining packing, we are concentrating on making the move and starting to think about when we can reschedule our trip.  By the way, we received full refunds from American Airlines, with no penalty for cancelling.  Amazing!  

If you are interested in seeing two short films of the castillo fireworks in Ajijic Sunday night, go to this link and click on the film photo:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Packing to Visit the kids...Packing to move...

Life has been a bit crazy for the last couple of weeks as we try to pack up the non-furniture contents of our home, preparing to vacate the property should the sale go through as planned on December 14.  Of course, we don’t know for sure that the sale will occur because, as I explained in the last post, the buyer is released from the contract should the peso weaken to above 12.5 pesos to the dollar by the closing date.  It seems to fluctuating between 12.3 and 12.49 at the moment, so anything could happen.  

In the meantime, we are boxing up our lives, and sorting our lives into two categories: items which we plan to store in the casita of our temporary rental and those items which we will need to use in our rental until we can move into a ‘permanent’ rental.  It’s not always easy to decide into which category a particular box should be placed.  The good news is that we’re making good progress.  Most of the ‘casita’ boxes are packed and in the bodega (like an outdoor shed) here.  Our house is looking more empty, although we are continuing to show the house and entertain ‘back up’ offers.

In addition to this uncertain business about packing and moving, we are also planning to leave for our pre-Christmas trip to Indiana and Maine next week to visit our children, their partners, and our granddaughter, Isabelle.   I am looking forward to this.  It will be great to see everyone and spend some special time before Christmas.  We are scheduled to arrive back in Guadalajara on the 13th of December, just hours before the closing.  Being a good Boy Scout, I am always prepared, and asked our friend Ron, from Kennebunk but here for the winter, to act as our power of attorney and be there at the closing in case winter weather keeps us from returning on time.  Just the bureaucracy of getting that power of attorney took us several hours in the real estate and attorney offices.  Thanks Ron!

In addition to all this, we are preparing to celebrate my 60th birthday in style Monday evening with a birthday party at a local Mexican Restaurant.  We had to limit the guest list to 50 for economic reasons, and there were some I wished to invite but could not.  We will have the party on Monday evening with a Mexican buffet (including four vegetarian dishes) and a Mexican harpist.  I will, of course, post some photos. 

We celebrated Thanksgiving in our usual way, with members of our Unitarian Universalist fellowship at the lovely home of Lew and Trudy Crippen.  We prepared a sweet-potato and fruit casserole that I found in the New York Times in a section devoted to vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes.  It didn’t thicken as it was supposed to, but Pixie added some corn starch to help it along.   It was good, and we enjoyed many non-turkey dishes!

We have had an extra dog around for the last couple of weeks.  Curly, Jeanne and Paul's dog, has been staying with us while they went to Virginia to visit Jeanne's daughter and her family.   Chuy has been enjoying having a canine friend around, and it give us an opportunity to teach him some dog manners as well.  Chuy will be staying with Jeanne and Paul when we go north next week. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To Manzanillo for Pixie's Birthday

We took our annual trip to the beach for Pixie's birthday on November 10.  This year we tried a new place, Manzanillo, between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco on the Pacific Coast.  Manzanillo is actually closer to us than Rincon de Guayabitos where we have gone the last two years.  Manzanillo is a working port and is not as picturesque as some other beach towns.  It is Mexico's largest port, I think, and we could see many container ships coming and going.  there is also an active Navy base there, so we could also see gray military ships as well.  

Here we all sat each morning under this palapa to chat and watch the ships. 
We stayed at a wonderful little hotel, La Posada, affectionately called the Pink Posada.  It's right on the beach and provides a good breakfast every morning.  With a discount for those of us who live in Mexico, the room rates are about $40Us per night.  We met a number of people who visit year after year, some have returned for over 20 years.  Here are some photos of the hotel with some of of the people we met there. We had a good view of the harbor and watched ship pass through.

Old Manzanillo in the background
Our friends, Ron and Jean, from Kennebunk, who just arrived for the winter season. 

Jessie and Bernie, a couple form Portland, Oregon

We spent a good deal of time playing Canasta with Ron and Jeanne.  They taught us to play this last summer when we were in Kennebunk.  We tried a different restaurant each night.  They were good, but a little pricier than we are used to here in Chapala.  They did make a big splash in an Italian restaurant for Pixie's birthday, with he entire staff marching out to the table and singing for Pixie.  
One day we went into the old city.  It wasn't really very attractive,but we did find an unusual place to visit, an iguanario, a preserve for over 400 iguanas, some up to several feet long, who live in the treetops, except when the staff feeds them lettuce and other vegetables.  A tame raccoon also lives in the preserve and is very attached to the staff.  One unfortunate incident occurred when I was standing under the trees taking some photos of the iguanas.  It appeared to start raining, but it wasn't rain.  To my chagrin, one of the iguanas was urinating on me!  The Mexican staff found this absolutely hilarious, as did Pixie and Ron and Jeanne.  

Well, we do have other big news.  While we were at the beach, we were on our cell phones every day with our real estate agent.  After having our house on the market for less than three weeks, we have a buyer.  We plan to close just after we return from Indiana and Maine in the middle of December.  There is one hitch, however. the buyer is a Mexican woman from Guadalajara who has her investments in pesos, so there is a clause in the contract which allows her to cancel the contract if the peso exchange rate is over 12.5 pesos to the dollar at closing. It's been trading recently at 12.2-12.3, but it could fluctuate.  If it weakens enough, the deal will be off.  We are being optimistic, and we've found a very Mexican house in the village of Ajijic. It's a house which is owned by a friend of ours, Bebe, from our fellowship.  She was having no luck finding renters this year, so it works well for both of us at $600US  a month.  So we're now packing up, since we will have to be out of the house in mid December.  We're keeping our fingers crossed that the peso remains relatively strong.  Finding this house will allow us to stay in the village for the winter, which will be fun.  Then, in March or April, we will have our pick of house rentals as the snowbirds head north.  We will be in walking distance from just about everything, although it clearly won't be as quiet there!    

I'll end with a photo of my student, Francisco, who is making spectacular progress in his English.  he is also a member of the choir at our fellowship.  This gives him even more practice with his English.  

Saturday, November 6, 2010

El Dia de los Muertos, Once Again

Well, it’s that time of year again, and instead of watching  the leaves change, we see colorful altars pop up around the village, in the graveyards, and in a huge display on Calle Cinco de Mayo in Chapala.  It’s El Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, of course, Mexico’s colorful, celebratory, sometimes a bit irreverent, celebration of those souls who are no longer here but live on in the memory of those who remain behind.  As long as there  people who remember you, the tradition goes, you are still able to connect back to the living world, especially on this day. 

We enjoyed our annual Day of the Dead service at our UU fellowship.  We set up an altar of our own, and we all bring photos of friends and loved ones who have died and we remember them during the service.  Here is a photo of our altar this year.  In the right front, you can see a photo of our ex-sister-in-law, Janine, who died suddenly several weeks ago of a brain aneurysm. I've also included a photo  of our UU choir singing during the service.  Can you identify Pixie?

Although I was alive and well this week, I didn’t feel so alive as I was suffering from a common Mexican ailment: the infamous amoeba!  In developing countries like Mexico, where sanitation is not up to US standards, it is common for people to get infected with various parasites.  I didn’t go to the doctor because I felt as though I had some simple gastritis; my stomach hurt whenever I ate, but then it would feel better.  I had thought an amoeba would have symptoms comparable to “Montezuma’s revenge or something.  At any rate, I finally went to the doctor.  Luckily, Mexican doctors are very used to diagnosing this and he put me on a wonderful medicine to take care of the problem.   So now, I’ve parted with my little friends and am back in good health.  Over the last ten days, I lost 9 pounds though, because I had no appetite and couldn’t even tolerate much food.  I’ve gained back three in the last few days!

Our new next door neighbors, Wayne and Claudette, are having some work done on their house,  They’ve had a new pool built, and new den added on, and much redecorating inside.  They recently had Pixie and I over for an Asian vegetarian dinner.  Wayne is an accomplished Asian cook, so we were treated to a spectacular dinner.  Here are some photos:

Here is Wayne in his kitchen:

Here is Claudette standing in her new room, still under construction.  Since their house is identical in layout to our house, this room is where the left side of our terrace is.  Below are two more photos which show how their back yard is now very different from ours.  You can see both the pool and their new room: The photo on the left is taken from the back, towards the house; the photo on the right is from the house out toward the palm trees in the back .

Well, we had some excitement in Ajijic a week or so ago.  An American fugitive convicted of large-scale corporate fraud, Rebecca “Kitty” Parnell, was arrested by Mexican authorities and extradited to the US to serve a 25 year prison sentence.  She was a member of our Ajijic Writers’ Group and a popular lakeside resident.  Friends had absolutely no idea she was a wanted criminal who had been featured on America’s Most Wanted.  I have no idea about the details of her crime nor how she was identified and caught here.  There have been other American fugitives seeking escape here, who have also been caught.  I guess if you are running form the law, Mexico is a reasonable destination.  Here is her photo as it appeared in this week’s Guadalajara Reporter:

Finally, here is a photo of Chuy being very naughty.  He apparently grabbed the clothespin bag and proceeded to dump out all the clothespins.  I caught him red-handed! 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Muchas Verduras!

Now that we have been experimenting with our vegetarian diet for about five weeks, we are learning a few things.  Some of the vegetarian recipes are wonderful, but they often take considerable planning.  The other thing we’re noticing is that when we make a batch of vegetable curry or cabbage tomato soup, for example, we end up with a ton of food, often enough to last for two or even three days.  We’ve been talking so some other friends who happen to be in our New England group which meets for dinner once a month.  Brian and Evelyn have been vegetarians for many years.  Brian is a vegan; he eats no dairy or eggs either.  When they re out, Evelyn will eat cheese and sometimes fish.  When they’re at home, they chop up a bunch of vegetables at the beginning of the week, and they cook a big pot of dried beans.  Then, they do a lot of stir fries or other recipes, using these pre-prepared veggies.

Brian and Evelyn invited us to dinner recently along with a couple who arrived here within the last year, Karl and Janet.  They made a wonderful vegetarian chili; we contributed a salad.  We spent  good deal of time picking their brains about their diet and how they manage it.  It was interesting and fun.  Below are Evelyn and Brian with their dog (left) and Karl and Janet.  

One issue for us was that we weren’t sure how to get enough protein.  Most vegetarian literature says that as long as you eat a well balanced vegetarian diet, you don’t really have to worry about so much protein.  Many plants have protein, especially legumes, and if you eat a variety of whole grains as well, you can get complete protein.  The only vitamin that you can only get from animal products is B12.  We both eat yogurt, and I eat cheese and eggs too.  Pixie is trying to avoid them. 


At any rate, our commitment to this diet is strong.  We both feel good and have lost a bit of weight in the process. 

The big news of the week is probably that we finally officially put our house on the market.  We’re now listed with International Realty, a Mexican-owned company with a number of North American agents.  Our agent is Lynda MacMahon, a Canadian with many years of experience selling real estate here.  We’ve finished our extra painting and fixing things and have had two couples come to look at the house so far.  We are prepared for the long haul, though.  There are a lot of properties on the market now (of course ours is superior to most!) but it could take a while to sell.  We’re happy here in the meantime.

Chuy is almost a year old now, and he’s calming down and developing his adult personality.  One thing he loves to do is dig in the garden, which I am trying to discourage.  Even when he doesn’t dig, he gets filthy.  He loves to stick his head into whatever smells good to him.  We decided to give him a shorter haircut to minimize his grubby look.  Here are before and after photos.

The local Democrats Abroad group has been busy organizing phone banks and volunteering to help states with their get-out-the-vote efforts.  Since many people like us have internet phones to call back to the US (Vonage, Skype, Magic Jack), it’s easy for people to do political calling for elections.  We are not active in Democrats Abroad, but we are interested in the election.  We watched Barack Obama on John Stewart’s show last night on our Canadian satellite TV system.  Doesn’t look good for our team this year, but we’re hoping for some surprises.

I have a few more photos of Ajijic to share.  Chapala and the Ajijic area has been a popular site for expatriates from the US, Canada and Europe since the early 20th century, and it has a tradition of Mexicans and Gringos coexisting here by Lake Chapala.  In the early days it was a well-known place for authors to congregate.  At the time, the place to be and to meet was what we now call the old Posada, or Hotel.  This is where author like Tennessee Williams, Somerset Maughm, and DH Lawrence often met for drinks, according to legend.  Today, it’s still a popular bar and eating place, though far from its glory days. 

Here are a few more street scenes showing  the colorful village this time of year.  We are now seeing the return of many “snowbirds,” many form Canada, who flock down every winter season, making the traffic worse, but filling the restaurants and bringing more prosperity to the area.  We are counting on some snowbirds to arrive with the idea of buying a home here.  We have just what they’re looking for! 

Finally, as we are getting close to El Dia de Los Muertos, Day of the Dead, celebrations on November 1 and 2, it is also Halloween season.  There is a sense of Halloween here; you do see some Halloween decorations and costumes in the stores, but it is really eclipsed by the Day of the Dead.  Yesterday, Pixie and Evelyn (who is now working with Pixie at the orphanage) taught the children about Halloween. They dressed them up in costumes and showed them how to cut a Jack-O-lantern.  They were very excited; these underprivileged children had never seen how one could carve a squash into a face. They were delighted.  Of course they also got candy!  Here are some photos.