Beheading Birds of Paradise

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Survivors. Birds of Paradise who made the cut … or didn’t.

THIS SUNDAY MORNING, I awoke and thought of Sundays of Long Ago, specifically when I was married to my second wife and living in Houston.

We had a routine. I’d retrieve the fat Houston Chronicle from the lawn, pour coffee for the two of us — maybe we ate something too, can’t recall — and back to bed we went for an hour or more, reading the newspaper. It was fun.

I wonder if the Houston Chronicle still publishes a print edition. The world has changed so much in the past two decades. Another former employer, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, does not. It’s only online.

Just like me.

But this morning, here at the Hacienda, a far cry from Houston and New Orleans in all aspects, after coffee and bagels and cream cheese (lite), I went out the veranda door to do a bit of yardwork.

Madeleine Peyroux was still singing on the music machine.

I deadheaded a few Birds of Paradise. I whacked back one of the small bougainvilleas. I picked up rotting golden datura blooms from the ground in the Willy-Nilly Zone. And I cut stalks of defunct aloe vera flowers.

The weather was wonderful, and it appears the rainy season, which long overstayed its welcome this year, may have retired till June. I pray so.

We have plenty of work planned around here,* and it awaits the genuine end of the rainy season because it’s outdoor work. Not work I will do, of course. Work that people I employ will do, guys who do cement and stone.

And colonial tile.

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Potted plants sitting on a scruffy surface. But you just wait!

There are three arches in the veranda, as you can see in the photo. There are potted plants resting on the three ledges below. They sit on a dingy brick surface. In about a week, a guy will come and lay beautiful colonial tile. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this 15 years ago or even last year.

It will be a huge — Yuge! — improvement. I’ll post photos.

In the meantime, I wonder if my second ex-wife still reads the Sunday newspaper in bed. I almost emailed her this morning to inquire. But I didn’t.

* * * *

* More work than has been done by far since the Hacienda’s construction. Roofs will be razed. Stairs will be moved. Floors will be ripped up. The Jesus Patio will be destroyed. Fruit trees will fall. More on all that when it happens.

Tube Steak’s mystery vacation

(The following is a true story. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent because who is innocent and who is not is unknowable.)

* * * *

AT A CONSIDERABLE distance in the past, I lived alone in a slave quarter apartment on Dauphine Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Alone as far as human companionship is concerned, which is not to say I lacked human companionship on occasion, especially of the female variety because this being decades ago I was young and quite the manly looker.

I still hold my own in the geriatric category.

I lived with a fellow whom I kept in a cage. He was a small parrot, and his name was Tube Steak. I don’t recall his specific species in the avian world, but he was smaller than your usual parrot, but about twice the size of a parakeet.

One morning, on leaving for work, I left the kitchen window open. It must have been a pretty day, and there were banana trees in the small patio that grew up to my second-floor apartment, which consisted solely of one largish room, a small bathroom and a tiny kitchen. A bachelor pad. I was between wives.

There was a small balcony that overlooked the lush patio, and I occasionally purchased a burlap bag of oysters, invited friends over, and I’d shuck the mollusks, which we enjoyed with cold Dixie beer.

Tube Steak exhibited no interest in raw oysters or Dixie beer.

But, as I said above, one morning I went to work, leaving the kitchen window open, not thinking of the cat that I knew lived in the patio below. Neither did I think of his being a second-story man which, of course, all cats are.

When I returned in the afternoon, the cage sat on its side on the floor, the sliding bottom was open, and Tube Steak was gone. I reached the logical conclusion that the cat had entered via the kitchen window and made off with my bird.

Sadly, I retrieved the cage and stashed it in the closet.

About two weeks later, I was sprawled on the bed for a nap with the French doors opened onto the balcony. It was not an oyster-and-Dixie day. I was alone.

And then I wasn’t. Tube Steak walked through the door from the balcony. He did not fly in. He strutted in, right there on the floor. He seemed no worse for wear. He appeared unconcerned, offering nary an explanation.

I pulled the cage from the closet. Tube Steak hopped in, and life returned to normal with one exception. On leaving for work, I shut the kitchen window from that day forward.

* * * *

(Note: What brought this to mind was another bird yarn that I read yesterday, The Myna Bird by Ray Clifton, an Alabaman who wanders in the woods and writes good stories to boot.)

Bridge over troubled water

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Sitting on the dining room table last night.

YOU MAY RECALL last January’s post, A better way for water, in which I bragged about our new filtration system. Prematurely, it seems.

It was simply a small gizmo that connected to the end of the faucet, but it had rave reviews on Amazon, which is where I bought it. One for the Hacienda, one for my child bride’s pastry kitchen, one for the Downtown Casita and one for the Mexico City condo, and they were not cheap, $1,500 pesos each.

Almost immediately, my wife started to have urinary issues that were misinterpreted by three gynecologists and one internist as a mysterious female problem. This went on for months till she finally took herself to a lab and discovered she had a bad bacterial infection. That was solved by antibiotics.

In April, I began to have problems with my digestive system, which led to a colonoscopy in May where a bacterial infection was found in my colon. That too was solved by antibiotics.

* * * *

A lightbulb appears

New ImageA lightbulb went on over my head, and we returned to bottled water.

Whether that simple filtration system was the culprit remains unknown because I took a water sample that had passed through that filter to a lab in the nearby capital city, and an analysis found no bacteria.

No matter. All four filters have been removed. However, I am getting too long in the tooth to sling around those five-gallon bottles. I am sick of it.

Enter our new filtration system. See the photo. Significantly bigger and higher tech. The water even passes through ultraviolet light that kills bacteria and Lord knows what else. We installed one at the Downtown Casita, the pastry kitchen and, just this morning, here at the Hacienda.

At the store in the capital city where I bought the new system, I also purchased a small gizmo that measures water quality, and grades water at seven levels from Ideal to Stuff You Don’t Want in Your Mouth.

It measures TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) but it does not measure bacteria. I measured the water we buy in the big jugs. It registered as ideal.

The next level down is water akin to “carbon filters, mountain springs, aquifers.” Then comes “hard water” followed by “marginally acceptable,” which it says is the average U.S. tap water. The two following levels are not for drinking.

The previous little filter registered TDS at the borderline of mountain streams and hard water. The new one registers just a tad higher into hard water, but both are below the average of U.S. tap water. And only the new system kills bacteria.

Let’s see what happens now. Pray for our tummies.

The dead-quiet aftermath

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All that remains of the artisan market on Monday was the canvas roof circling the plaza.

I WAS A FAN of the Day of the Dead long before I moved to Mexico.

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Catrina

There was a ceramic Catrina that stood on the bathroom counter in my Houston condo on Braes Bayou. I had purchased it at a Mexican artisan shop in a trendy area called The Heights. The place was owned by a real Mexican who charged me $200 for it.

When I moved down here, I discovered the same thing was easily available for the peso equivalent of $20 U.S., so I wuz robbed.

It was sheer coincidence that I moved to what is likely the most famous Day of the Dead town in Mexico. Oaxaca gives us competition. Never been there.

When I moved here 19 Days of the Dead ago, there was, and still is, an artisan market on our big plaza. It was haphazard, poorly organized, and many of the offerings were sheer crap that you might find in a Five & Dime.

Things have really changed. The artisan market years back was open to the vagaries of the weather, i.e. rain. Now the whole shebang sports a canvas roof. And the offerings have improved 100 percent. The junk is gone, and spectacular, high-quality goods are on sale. You should see it.

It lasts a week, going up the weekend before the Day of the Dead and coming down the weekend after.

* * * *

Two ways to do it.

We have two ways to experience Los Muertos, as the Day of the Dead is called in Spanish: the traditional and the carnival, what I call Party Hearty. The latter appears to be the more popular option, which is unfortunate.

To experience the traditional, visitors have many options. There are numerous small towns and villages in the area where residents do what’s long been done. They clean up the cemetery, decorate the graves with flowers, mostly marigolds, light candles and sit through the night, the theory being that the spirits of the departed return to visit.

What this produces is an eerie, incredibly beautiful, silent scene. It’s what takes place in my neighborhood cemetery, which we’ve visited on the Big Night a number of times, but not the last two years out of laziness. It’s walking distance from the Hacienda, which is great since traffic in the area all week, and especially on the Big Night, is beyond belief.

The second way to experience Los Muertos is Party Hearty, and it goes like this: You go to the island of Janitzio, which floats out in our large lake. The only way to get there is via motor launch. For some reason, Janizio is incredibly famous throughout Mexico and beyond for Los Muertos, even though their cemetery is like other cemeteries, and the locals do what locals do at other cemeteries.

I think it’s the novelty of the boat ride and the fact that it’s an island that’s given Janizio its celebrity. But whatever it is, tourists flock there is droves, mobs, hordes, incredible quantities of people. And they visit the Janitzio cemetery and more. There is music, dancing, food! And all is experienced while rubbing elbows with swarms of other sightseers.

It is not an “authentic” representation of the Night of the Dead. It’s a party. If you want a party, go to Janitzio. If you want to have a more traditional experience, go to one of the other villages. There are quite a few. But traffic will be bad wherever you go on the Big Night.

The artisan market on the big plaza of my mountaintop town lasted till Sunday. The next day, I drove downtown. Most of the tourists had fled. The vendors on the plaza had packed up and gone. It was peaceful again, as I prefer it.

* * * *

The aftermath

I sat with a café negro Americano and a sugar donut, looked toward the plaza and shot the photo at the top. The only thing remaining of the jam-packed artisan market was the canvas roof that will come down this week.

Later I walked to my car, which was parked just two blocks away on the street you see below, drove home and breathed a sigh of relief that peace has returned till next year. The market will appear again on Easter Week. The crowds will be big, but not quite so big as Los Muertos, and there will not be two ways to do it.

Just one. It involves Jesus.

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Walking back to my car, two blocks from the plaza, amid the sounds of silence.