The neighborhood

I CHANGED THE hues here and added the photo up top, which will be a permanent fixture until I change my mind again. That’s the view on a foggy morning of my neighborhood out back of the Hacienda. As you can see, it’s no Beverly Hills.

Though more Gringos move hereabouts every year, they don’t seem drawn to my specific neighborhood, which suits me just fine. When we built the Hacienda 11 years back, there was just one other Gringo living nearby, actually a Gringa, a woman named Judith Diem who was over 90 years old at that time. The scuttlebutt was that she had been a lover of John Steinbeck, and perhaps she was.

Though we lived only about four blocks apart, and she frequented my sister-in-law’s coffee shop downtown, often sitting at a sidewalk table just opposite me, we never exchanged a word. She was a odd one, to put it mildly, driving her pickup around while wearing no glasses.

accordionA year or two after we moved into the Hacienda, she died. Mexicans live in her old place now. Here’s a video of Diem. The fellow playing the accordion at one point is also an artist, an excellent one. He is named Solis, and I like him. He lives downtown.

Solis is exceedingly fond of my child bride’s pastries. Some of his works adorn our Hacienda walls.

Roundabouts when Judith Diem died, a gay bookseller named William, from New England, purchased a good-sized plot about three blocks from us. He renovated a rundown home that was already there, turning it into something downright nice. He was in his mid-50s, not on a pension, and he seemed to have financial troubles. William often seemed extremely stressed.

He brought English-language books from above the Rio Bravo and opened a little bookstore in his home. It was not a profitable concern, and after a couple of years he returned to New England. I heard three or so years later that he had died. Dunno why.

The golden datura that proliferates in our yard comes from cuttings that William was nice enough to give me.

Before returning to New England, William sold his property to a guy we’ll call Joe, his wife and son, a snotty youngster in his early 20s. Joe tore down the house William had built and constructed an adobe palace in its place, much like the Spaniards built the great cathedral in Mexico City’s Zócalo atop the ruins of the Aztec Emperor Cuauhtemoc’s homestead.

EmperorBut William was no emperor, and Joe and his wife were publishers of children’s books.

The new owners lasted about three years before selling the palace and moving to Uruguay under mysterious circumstances. During our morning power walks around the neighborhood plaza we would often see Joe’s son tooling about atop a small day-glo bicycle, the kind you usually see owned by 10-year-olds, but he was not 10.

He was far past puberty, and he had an obvious hankering for neighborhood girls. I believe some subsequent mischief led to the family’s pulling up stakes rather suddenly and moving to the tip of South America.

I could be wrong about that.

The adobe palace stayed on the market for a good spell, but it finally was purchased by an older Gringo couple. The fellow is named Ellis, and I do not recall his wife’s name. I have spoken to Ellis a time or two in passing, and he seems like a real nice guy.

They do not appear to live here full-time.

After 11 years, there are still only two Gringo houses in my hardscrabble neighborhood. That’s plenty.

There are lots of Mexicans, however, plus pigs, dogs, donkeys and chickens.

17 thoughts on “The neighborhood

  1. I think Judith died in 2006. I know that William was selling books in the Village of the Darned in 2005, because I visited his store for the first time there. I think he showed up in town about four years prior to that. He moved to Philadelphia to be with his new husband, dying of a heart attack not longer after. My point? There was a window when there were three gringo houses in your burg.


    1. Ms. Shoes: Judith dying in 2006 sounds about right. She was born in 1911, I see on the internet. My grasp of years, especially now that they are passing like lightning bolts, is marginal at best. And it was a heart attack that got William. Given the extreme stress I almost always saw on his face, that is not a surprise. But now we are down to two Gringo houses. One, actually. The Hacienda is in my wife’s name. She is kind enough to let me live here, rent-free. She lets me drive her Honda too. I own nothing of substance.


  2. At one point, circa 2006-07, our isolated rancho had 3 other Gringos living here besides us, all in houses within 150 yards of each other. They were good neighbors, and we had some enjoyable times together.

    Our village has not reached the level of sophistication of yours. Although one tienda closed, a new fruit and vegetable stand opened up within the last month or so. But so far, as far as I can tell, there are no plans to open a motel de paso here.

    Don Cuevas


  3. My little section of Villa Obregon is very similar to your village — there are but a handful of northerners, and all of them live here full-time. I am being far too generous by including myself in that “full-time” category. The rest are actually here all of the time — keeping up their full-time jobs in Mexico. I, on the other hand, stop here now and then to replace the items in my suit case.


    1. Steve: You are a vagabond. And that’s okay. I think one reason you do not have an address in a more desirable spot in Mexico is precisely because you normally are just passing through to do your laundry and check that the windows are still shut.


  4. I like Diem’s painting style. Especially the Mexican and African pieces.
    I’m guessing the streets and house pictured, at the beginning of the full documentary, are in your town.

    I find it interesting how some people live a great part of their lives in one house while others move from place to place, even country to country, every few years or so.


    1. Andean: Yes, the shots of her when she is clearly very old were taken here. I don’t know how long she lived here, but it appears to have been quite a lengthy spell. I imagine the traveling about took place when she was considerably younger.


  5. Thanks for the video on Judith Diem and her art. I wanted to see all her paintings, in good light. It seemed like her subjects were alive and moving in the frame.


  6. The first eccentric foreigner to arrive in your town with an edifice complex was Don Vasco himself.

    The Purhépecha probably said, there goes the neighborhood.


      1. I enjoy reading books about Mexican history, including Michoacan. Last year I read a book about the Mayflower and Plymouth Colony in the 1600s by Nathaniel Philbrick. There are many similarities between the English and the Spanish, and the Indians of Massachusetts and Michoacan. The Spanish were more successful in Michoacan. They were much better organized and helped to preserve the language and culture of the Purhépecha.


  7. You are the Charles Portis , of Mexico, sir. And I mean that as the highest compliment, as he is one of my favorites. This post could be straight out of “Gringos” or “The Dog of the South,” both novels concerning odd Gringos in Mexico.


    1. Ray: Odd Gringos in Mexico is mostly a redundancy. Normal people stay in their own country.

      Thanks for the compliment. I appreciate it.

      I assume that odd Gringos is correct, and that you did not mean old Gringos. I have never read anything by Charles Portis. Perhaps I should.


      1. Yes, most of Portis” gringos are odd (or “eccentric” to use a more PC term).
        You no doubt have seen “True Grit,” which is an even better read than the movie(s). The other two novels I mention are based on his travels to Mexico.

        Portis is an old newspaper man from Arkansas. I think you would like his work.


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