The Hacienda marks its quinceañera

WHILE THE BIG adolescent birthday above the Rio Bravo is Sweet Sixteen, down here it’s the 15th, which we call quinceañera. Quince is 15 in español.

The Hacienda marks its 15th birthday this month, which is to say it was complete, more less, and we moved into the house in May of 2003. It looked like this:

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Home done, but the yard still a mess in 2003.

We hired no architect, and we used no blueprints. We drew what we wanted on graph paper and handed it to “the guys.” This is how part of it looked:

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My civil engineer child bride drew the top part, which is the downstairs terraza. I was not planning on arches. That was her good idea. The bottom part was drawn by me. It’s the downstairs floor plan.

Now you know where everything is. Downstairs, at least. We only planned on building the downstairs initially. We were going to wait to do the upstairs, but “the guys,” three of them, plus a helper, were so responsible and talented we didn’t want to lose them, so we continued nonstop with the upstairs.

I took photos of the entire construction process that lasted nine months. They were digital photos, and I stored them on my computer, a computer that suffered a hard-drive meltdown when all was done. I lost all the photos.

Moral: Always create backups.

Here’s a view from 2014. It’s not much different now:

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One of my favorite photos. I took it in 2014.

I often crow here about the place because I’m proud of it. While the two of us did it, I did the lion’s share, most of the design, almost all of the color, almost all of the interior artwork. Some folks find it overboard, especially inside.

I don’t care. I love it.

I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in my life. Runner-up goes to a house in Jacksonville, Florida, where I lived with my family from age 7 to 17.

Second runner-up is the Houston home I shared with my second ex-wife from 1986 to 1995, just one year less than the spell in Florida. There is no third runner-up because I moved around too much.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself, a middle-class Georgia Cracker, living in a place like this, but here I am. Not only that, but with a lovely child bride. At times, life exceeds expectations greatly.

Sometimes I think I should pinch myself, but I might wake up.

I sure as shootin’ don’t want that.

Felíz quinceañera, Hacienda!

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(As always, a horde of Hacienda photos available here.)

Mexico City lives!

THERE WE WERE, walking down the sidewalk in the middle of the leafy Calle Amsterdam last Tuesday in the trendy Colónia Roma, one of the worst-hit, we had read, areas of Mexico City during September’s killer quake.

We did not see any damage whatsoever.

Quake? What quake?

Not only that, we didn’t spot any earthquake damage at all during the four days we spent in the nation’s chaotic capital.

We go to Mexico City twice a year to air out our small condo and pay a few bills we can’t pay online. About the only thing left in that category is the security service, listless guys who hang out at the entrance to our “gated community.”

This condo, one might recall, is where my child bride lived when we met during a visit she made in 2001 to my mountaintop town. The rest, as they say, is history.

She worked as a civil engineer for the federal highway department, and the “gated community,” a series of five-story buildings, each with 10 apartments, was constructed specifically for, and sold to, employees of the highway department.

Deed at last!

We paid off our unit years ago but only received the deed last Spring. Mexican bureaucracy moves at its own laughable pace.

Aside from airing out the place and paying the security service, we didn’t do much. Washed sheets and towels from the previous visit and hit a few dining spots, our favorites being Rock N’ Burger, a food truck across the street, and a new restaurant a short taxi ride away that serves the best caldo de gallina on Earth.

The caldo de gallina was served at a restaurant named La Jefa. I wrote a review for TripAdvisor, but since the eight-month-old restaurant had never been reviewed, it has not yet appeared on that travel website.

We found La Jefa by sheer luck, walking down the street.

Caldo explained

FYI: Caldo de gallina is chicken soup, but it’s better than your mama’s chicken soup.* It comes with garbanzo beans, rice, and other ingredients, depending on the eatery in question. La Jefa serves a knockout caldo de gallina.

I view our Mexico City digs only as an investment for my wife. It’s worth a good bit more now than when she signed the mortgage in 1997. We spotted a For Rent sign on one of the identical apartments, so we called to inquire.

They were asking 6,000 pesos monthly, which surprised us, favorably. We may rent it in the future, especially when I cannot walk up the four floors due to decrepitude. That day, however, has yet to arrive. I still bound up like a teenager.

Sardine can

The two-bedroom condo is small, so small that it would fit, literally, inside the living room here at the Hacienda. This makes it easy to tidy up. It gives me claustrophobia at times. However, entire families of four or more, plus dogs, live in some of the adjoining, identical units. Incredible.

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Here’s the living room. We sit here evenings and watch DVD movies and, like back at the Hacienda, dine on salads made by me.

I remember well the first time I set hoof in this place back in 2001. She had invited me to visit. The furnishings and wall colors were entirely different, but I recall the visit fondly.

Memories

I took this photo that first night while she was in the kitchen fixing something for supper. It’s one of my favorite shots, and she hasn’t changed much in the last 16 years.

Some women age very well.

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* Unless your mama’s Mexican.

18 quiches, to go

quiche

MY CHILD BRIDE is a baker, a very good baker.

She hawks her wares downtown on the main plaza most Saturday afternoons. She does it for fun and profit, the profit going into a separate bank account that sports only her name, not mine. It’s her mad money.

On very rare occasion, she does special orders. That’s one in the photo, 18 individual quiches that were delivered to a private party Tuesday. They were ordered by a woman doctor who runs a chain of medical labs in town.

Finding quiche in this neck of the Mexican woods — well, probably in most parts of Mexico — is not easy to do. It was my suggestion in the first place, way back when.

Quiche, that is.

Many people who pass her basket downtown pause, point at the quiches, and ask: What is that? Pizza?

If the locals don’t spot a tortilla around it, they’re perplexed.

She cooks a variety of quiches. These have spinach, bacon and some other tasty stuff. And she sells them for just 25 pesos each, which is about $1.50 U.S.

When we met in 2001, she was a civil engineer for the federal highway department. Now she’s a love slave and part-time street vendor. Life changes, often for the better.

Home sweet home

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On the highway in central Mexico, passing humble homes.

HOGAR DULCE HOGAR, if you prefer. In any event, we returned Sunday after a week in Mexico City.

It was a good week. I wasn’t in a rush to return, as has been the case in recent years, an inexplicable change of heart.

For anyone who hasn’t been keeping up, we have a condo in the capital, a unit in a government housing development built specifically for employees of the Mexican highway department where my wife worked 14 years as a civil engineer.

She purchased the place in 1997, and was living there when we met here on the mountaintop in 2001 while she was visiting her sister who has a business on the plaza.

When we married in 2002, and she moved here, we rented the condo to a coworker. He stayed until 2007 when he bought his own home. Instead of renting it to an unknown, a dicey proposition even when you live nearby, we decided to keep it for ourselves for the occasional visit to the Big Tortilla.

We arrived at the condo in January 2007, painted everything and bought new furniture and appliances.

For the first four or five years, we were in Mexico City about two months each year.

Then I grew weary of it. Traffic is horrendous, and we drove from the mountaintop in our car. After about six years, I abandoned the car idea, and we switched to buses.

There are basically three ways to get about Mexico City. The subway (the Metrobus is just a ground-level subway), which is almost always jammed, microbuses, which are almost always jammed, and taxis. It’s taxis all the way for us now.

They are metered and quite cheap.

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Driving by a “lagoon” the size of a small ocean.

For some reason, I was in no rush to leave during this last trip, so we did a few things other than the usual cleaning of the condo and paying a few bills.

There was time to visit the Pastelería Ideal, one of the most incredible bakeries you’ll ever see. And we even caught a play at the Gran Teatro Molière where we saw Peter Pan, the Musical, a Saturday matinee.

The theater is located in one of Mexico City’s most-chichi neighborhoods, Polanco. We got there by taxi, of course.

Were I wealthy and required to live in Mexico City, I would purchase a nice home in Polanco.

The most momentous aspect of the trip is that it appears that we’re on the verge of getting the deed to the condo, something we’ve been trying to wrest from the grip of the government since we paid it off about seven years ago.

We visited our notario — a type of lawyer who does deeds — and he says he may be notifying us in a week or two that my wife must return to sign the final papers. Let us pray so.

What brought this about was that we were able to provide a final piece of paperwork to him, something we could have done a year ago had he been a bit more forthcoming instead of indulging in typical Mexican vagueness.

My wife paid 100,000 pesos for the government-underwritten condo in 1997, about $5,500 U.S. at today’s exchange rate. It is now appraised at 600,000 pesos, about $33,000.

An identical unit nearby, however, was sold last year for more than 1 million pesos, about $55,000 U.S.  For years, we had planned on selling when we received the deed, but we’ve changed our minds. We’re keeping it.

The surrounding area grows more upscale by the day, and the condo value is rising at the same rate.

We got the place tidied up, purchased and installed a new, instantaneous, water heater and headed home to the mountaintop via the snazzy ETN bus line.

The photos were taken from my seat.