Archive for May 27, 2014

Susi’s Mexican Adventure – Day Two

SMA Rental CourtyardI awake at 5:00 a.m. to the sound distant fireworks and the neighbor’s barking dogs, after eight mostly-uninterrupted hours of replenishing sleep. We loll around a bit, then sit in our sunny courtyard drinking tea as Jack breakfasts on amaranth cookies and oaxaca, the Mexican string cheese, from the corner Oxo store – a sort of south of the border 7-11.

At 11:00, as the temperature climbs to 90˚, we head out for Centro, the downtown district. We’ve been invited to noon brunch by former Minnesota residents we connected with through a mutual acquaintance back home. A chance to ask all the questions I’ve been jotting down over the past few months and get a feel for what they love about this place.

This should be a 20 minute brisk walk, but steep pathways make it tough on Jack’s unaccustomed legs. With frequent rest stops as I march ahead to scout things out, we finally reach the main town square 45 minutes later. Here, the streets are often not labeled; the residences and shops are often not numbered. We ask four different people for help and get four different sets of directions, eventually wandering onto the right block of conjoined structures.

At 12:03, we knock on what we deduce must be the door we are looking for. Success! This is a home different from any I have ever entered. Darker than I expected, in spite of the multiple courtyards; smaller rooms than I expected, because of the multiple courtyards. More of that closed-off feeling that results from the outdoor areas being surrounded by house walls or solid fences.

Our hostess serves a delicious ham and egg, cheese, and vegetable casserole, warm from the oven. And the fruit. Makes a person misty-eyed, senses awakened to the honeyed juices of uber-fresh, perfectly ripened local pineapple, cantaloupe, mango, raspberries.

I pull out my list of questions, some already answered by the five American ex-pats assembled around the table with us: Medicare doesn’t work here, but health care is incredibly inexpensive; utility costs are high, but usage is very low; mail service is utterly unreliable and telephone service only slightly more dependable.

And the deal-breaker question for me: Bullfighting. Repulsed by the thought of living in a country whose national pastime involves animal torture, but also knowing the flaws in my own culture, I might consider sequestering myself in an enclave that has rejected this inhumane practice. Does San Miguel have, as I had heard, a moratorium on bullfighting? No; they do not, our hostess explains with casual lack of concern. The arena is just at the edge of the city. My heart drops, thud, into the pit of my belly. Acid creeps over my tongue. I pop another cube of succulent cantaloupe into my mouth, but the bitter taste remains.

And stray animals. We have seen several malnourished dogs wandering the streets already. Now our hostess introduces us to the two cats they rescued after someone had dumped a litter of kittens, in a bag, in the street. I may forfeit my lovely lunch right here and now. I know this stuff happens, to some extent, everywhere. But there are usually organized efforts to fight it; not so, it seems, in San Miguel de Allende.

In spite of liberal sunscreen application, my neck is burned a sunset pink by the time we’ve made our way to daughter-in-law Esther’s house late afternoon, a stop on our way out to her brother’s ranch for a cookout this evening. Wrong shoes, meandering routes, blistered feet.

Esther’s family compound, a multi-level series of flat-roofed, concrete buildings left to her and her siblings by her parents, begins curbside and extends five-or-six residences deep, one rectangle after another of grey slab walls, floors, ceilings.

We sip cautiously at the tap water offered to us by her brother and his wife, meet numerous children, cousins, friends, and neighbors who move in and out of the area as we walk and talk, discussing possible improvements Esther plans to make to her place.

Eventually, her brother’s pickup truck sputters up curbside to collect us – two in the forward cab; Jack and me, facing each other, in pop-up seats behind the driver; and six or seven people piled into the open bed of the truck. It’s okay, stepson Jason assures me. We do it all the time here.

Still, I am closing my eyes. Nudge me when we get there. But this is too noisy and bumpy a ride to nap through, as the truck rattles and gasps its way, mostly empty milk and juice bottles discharging from under the seats like flipper-powered pinballs in an arcade game at every corner. A spider web windshield crack partially obscures the driver’s line of sight and a piece of transported furniture blocks our view of the truck bed behind us, but the crew in back is having a raucous good time. Closing my eyes again.

The “ranch” is a cactus farm. Today the small concrete-walled, one-room main building holds a dozen females aged six to eighty-six. Smiling, laughing. Slapping out homemade tortillas in quick succession on a huge homemade metal cooking oval over a butane-fueled cook stove. No English here, but many handshakes and warm greetings. More laughter, as we try to mentally register all the new names and faces. Once we leave the building we do not see the “cooks” again.

There is another small unattached concrete building housing a toilet, with a water spigot outside to accommodate hygiene. Esther’s brother leaves to go pick up a second load of attendees, but soon her cell phone rings. He has not made it back to his house before the truck breaks down. The second group will not be coming.

Carne asada on the grill. Roasted nopales cactus leaves and giant spring onions. Warm homemade tortillas. Charred corn on the cob, fresh salsa, barbecued lamb. Semi-chilled beers from the cooler and many jokes about Jason’s acquired appreciation for tequila.

Riding home, we wedge four people into the back seat of some Juan’s tiny 1998 Chrysler Concorde, and I work in some quality prayer time. Back at our rental, and wishing I had learned a bit of Spanish last month as I promised myself I would, I nod off over my book around 10:00, smiling over Esther’s carrying of toilet paper to the “ranch,” and her jests about the bathroom there being a tree, and the leaves, “our Charmin.” It is good to be with family, even if you don’t speak the same language.

May 27, 2014 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

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