HEADING TO bed the other night, I turned around and saw this, and it occurred to me that I’d never taken a straight-on shot of the arch.
The camera was sitting on a table by the front door just off to the left, so I grabbed it, set it on flash, and shot this picture. I almost never use the flash, but it was necessary.
I was standing in near-total darkness.
Those two large plates hanging on either side of the arch were purchased years apart. The one on the left we bought about a decade ago during a trip to Taxco. The one on the right we bought more recently in Ajijic, Jalisco.
Ajijic, like San Miguel de Allende, is one of the most beloved spots for Gringos who want to live down here, do “art,” and not have to be bothered with learning pesky Spanish.
See those two carved-wood columns at the bases of the arch? That was my child bride’s idea. She came up with some doozies during the Hacienda construction.
About a week after moving into the house in 2003, we had a party to show it off to people we knew here. It was back before I turned into an almost complete hermit.
One of our invitees brought someone visiting from above the Rio Bravo. He was an architect, and he told me that finding someone in the United States who could build that arch would be almost impossible these days.
The old guy who built ours, Don Felipe Gonzalez, did it by hand, and it was interesting to watch the work. He was the boss of the three-man construction crew. Don Felipe turned 70 during the construction, and he’s since died.
He also chipped stone blocks out of rock piles to build the two fireplaces and, later, the Alamo Wall out in the yard. He did them by himself. Don Felipe was an artist.
When we hired him to build the Hacienda, he was 69 and just recovering from a lengthy illness of some sort. He was having trouble finding work due to his age.
Ageism, sexism, almost all the isms, thrive in Mexico.
People thought he was not up to it. He was recommended by a relative, and Don Felipe gave us an exceptionally low price for the labor. We jumped at it.
He’s long gone, but I think of his talent almost daily as I wander around here, even late at night before beddy-bye.
WE JUST ended a month of nonstop renovations here at the Hacienda. It all started with the driveway.
The incline from the street, when we bought the double lot 13 years ago, was already in place.
Mostly, it was big stones buried in dirt which allowed weeds to flourish wildly in the spaces between.
The area at the top between the work zone and the Alamo Wall was dirt and grass when we bought the property, and it was mud during the five months of the rainy season.
Seven or eight years ago, we had that section covered with stone and cement — empedrado in Spanish — a treatment that’s quite common in these parts.
But that incline from the street remained an eyesore which I was hesitant to improve because it would block the cars from coming and going during the work.
And it surely did.
While this renovation was happening, we parked the Honda in a parking lot downtown. Every morning, I took a minibus there and picked the car up. Did the same in the evening to leave it. The Nissan was simply left trapped at the Hacienda.
That situation continued for nine days.
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THE NEW THRONES
We also replaced the john in the downstairs bathroom.
The original, which my wife describes as “folkloric,” and which we purchased in the talavera capital of Dolores Hidalgo, was a bit smaller than standard in size.
It was a conversation piece but not the best place to sit, so it was out with the old, and in with the new.
Now here’s a regal place to squat. The old throne was given to a nephew who’s son recently busted their toilet.
Gifting the “folkloric” johnny means we won’t be using it as a yard planter, the initial idea. Just as well because I was told by a high-born woman that it would have been very cheesy.
This is the first time in my life I’ve changed a toilet, especially just for the heck of it. This new baby is Mexican-made, and cost the peso equivalent of about 120 bucks.
It was installed for about 10 dollars. I could change my ride every couple of years just for the ever-living thrill of it. Different colors. Oval versus round, whatever.
The initial plan was to replace only the john in the downstairs bathroom, mostly my wife’s environment. But I began to seethe with envy, so I bought an identical one, and had it installed in “my” bathroom upstairs.
Here’s the old throne upstairs:
The new toilet is exactly like the new one downstairs, so no need to duplicate a photo. Your time is valuable.
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Now let’s turn our attention to the rear of the Hacienda.
What you see here are the first-ever photos published of the backside of the Hacienda, which fronts — if that’s the proper term — on what I used to call Mud Street.
So these photos are collector’s items. That’s the tail of the sex motel in the distance of the second and last photos.
The work done out there was a civic gift. It is not on our property, but it was an eyesore. It was a dirt strip between our property wall and the street.
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NEW VERANDA ENTRANCE
There are two arched entryways to the downstairs veranda. One serves a dual role. During the five-month rainy season, it doubles as a conduit for rainwater which creates lakes inside the covered veranda, a colossal nuisance.
After 12 years of cursing this phenomena, we decided to do something about it, a redesign that directs the water outside instead of inside the veranda.
Next Spring we’ll also have metal gutters installed along the tile roof of the veranda, long overdue.
As mentioned at the get-go, this work took a month, exactly. It was done entirely by one guy, a very talented workman who lives in the neighborhood. Unlike all work we’ve had done in the past, we paid him by the day, as he requested.
This can be a mistake because it can lead to slow work, dragging it out to earn more. We prefer a set price. Then work can be done at whatever speed the workers prefer.
I watched his toil closely. He did not foot-drag, but he was very detailed, which took longer than necessary. However, the results were spectacular.
And he did some painting to boot.
He arrived on the dot at 9 every morning on his bicycle. He took an hour off for lunch at 2 p.m., and he went home at 5, working steadily in between. We’ll hire him again.
The entire project cost about $420 for labor and $555 for materials, excluding the two toilets, which were about $120 each. Those are dollar equivalents at today’s exchange rate.
Month’s grand total: $1,215 or about what a U.S. plumber would charge for a one-hour house call.
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(For your architectural pleasure, here is a photo collection of the Hacienda over the years. Come visit, but phone first.)
I’VE ALWAYS loved stone, and now I live with it. Loved mountains too, and now I live among them. Don’t forget cool weather, and here I am in eternal cool. It’s a perfect world.*
Normally, the yard doesn’t need a cut in January. Usually, we stop in November, or rather Abel the Deadpan Yardman loses his summer gig in November. I quit mowing years ago.
But we’ve had the occasional unseasonable rain of late, and the lawn gobbled it up, deciding it was summer, and grew a bit, mostly around edges. The lawnmower wouldn’t crank, so I turned to the weed eater.
(Aside: I saw someone with a grass blower the other day, and it was strange. Though Mexicans are always noisily blowing everything above the Rio Bravo — or did when I lived there — a blower here is rarely seen.)
Out to the yard I went. The sidewalk is stone, and so is the Alamo Wall. The mountains soared in the near distance, and the sun was shining sweetly through the 70-degree air. I sighed. It was Heaven, honey.
But there was work to do, so I started the edging. The weed eater is electric, so no physical effort is required. Since most of the high grass was around edges, it didn’t take long. Down the sidewalk, around the property wall, under the bougainvilleas and fan palm and other stuff. Then a good sweep with an old broom.
The first winter cut and, with good fortune, the last.
A month ago, I posted First fire, last rose in which I imagined the sole rose out in yard was the last of the season. Boy, was I mistaken. After a couple of near freezes in December, the climate has returned to November’s style, and it’s wonderful. We have a number of new roses and golden datura.
And more fires have been ignited, the last being on Thursday, dead leaves from the loquat and pear trees. Fires provide the aroma of Autumn, and that’s real nice.
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Once a year I climb the circular stairs to the roof to sweep. But that only puts me atop the second story, which covers most of the house. The kitchen area is just one story, so that requires hauling a ladder to the service patio out back to ascend to that part, which is the part that most needs a sweep.
This is the kitchen roof, swept pretty clean, that you see in the foreground. The tile roof farther on, left side, is the roof of the Garden Patio. Roofs of red clay tile don’t get swept. After some decades, it’s a good idea to remove them for a good shake and brushing, however. God knows what you might find. Bats probably.
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* Most of my life was spent in South Georgia, North Florida, South Louisiana and East Texas, places notable for lack of stones and mountains and an excess of sweltering heat. I’ve done a 180. Praise be, brother!