Tag Archives: civil engineering

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

One
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.

The blueprints

casa

HERE IS THE “blueprint” for the construction of the Hacienda. It was drawn by me back in 2002. I’m no architect, obviously.

It’s on standard graph paper. It’s the ground floor. For some reason, I did not save the plan for the second floor, but I do have one for the window designs, which I did, and another for the electrical schematic.

I used to be an electrician. Did you know that?

The only changes to the downstairs plan are that the stairwell to the left of the sala (living room) could not go directly up. It had to hang a right up top and continue, a question of physics, and we extended the recamara (bedroom) about a yard farther to the right to make it roomier.

The second floor is one huge space, a fireplace, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with shower stall. The upstairs terraza covers the downstairs bedroom, closet, hall and bathroom, the same fat L-shape.

The second floor extends from the stairwell all the way to the right. The downstairs terraza and the kitchen/dining room (cocina/comedor) have no second floor above.

The “patio de servicio” at the top left is open to sun and rain. That’s where you’ll find the propane tank, the washing machine and the clothesline. At the very top left you’ll see a bathroom. It only has a toilet, and it was there when we bought the property, a brick outhouse. We just left it in place. It’s now a storeroom with a never-used johnny.

The living room is slightly sunken, my wife’s idea. There is one step up to the dining room/kitchen and a step up to the pasillo (hallway) at the right. Both of these have a stone archway above, which is snazzy.

The design below is the downstairs terraza, side view, drawn by my wife who used to be a civil engineer. Did you know that?

Click on either drawing for a closer look.

Before the three albañiles (bricklayers but far more) and the helper began work in August of 2002, we got a permit from City Hall, and that was the end of that. No one ever came to check the work. Construction lasted nine months and cost just under $100,000.

We moved here in May of 2003.

The photo at the very bottom was taken around 2006, I’m guessing. You would be looking at the top diagram from the right. See that baby palm at the bottom left? It’s now about 18- to 20-feet tall.

The only drawback to being our own architects is that the living room could use more light. The windows facing the downstairs terraza are huge, but the downstairs terraza is wide and roofed, so little light enters through those windows. An architect would have seen that coming.

No matter. It’s why Edison invented light bulbs.

And, as always, tons of photos can be found here.

terraza

casa

The first ride

beach
On the Gulf Coast beach at Biloxi, Mississippi.

MY WIFE’S INITIAL visit to the United States was very surprising to her. “How clean,” she remarked as we walked through downtown San Antonio on our first night, having just driven up from Laredo. I think she meant “how orderly” because Mexico is clean, but sometimes it’s not too orderly, part of its romantic, chaotic charm.

It’s not that she was some provincial bumpkin who’d never been anywhere. She spent six months in the mid-1990s in Spain doing postgraduate studies in civil engineering in Madrid. She took advantage of that opportunity to travel all over Europe in her spare time.

But she had never been above the Rio Bravo until we drove up there in 2004 a year after our wedding. Before the trip, she was fond of saying that she had little interest in visiting. Hadn’t lost anything up there, she repeated with a smirk. There was a strain of anti-Americanism in her family.

All that changed immediately when she saw Texas … and Louisiana … and Mississippi … and Alabama … and Georgia. We drove in our little Chevy Pop, which is something like a Geo Metro. No AC, no stereo, no power steering or power brakes or power windows, no power anything. It was the first car I purchased in Mexico.

We spent a couple of nights in San Antonio, strolling the Riverwalk. There was a side trip to Bandera where we ate barbecue on the main drag. It was followed down the street by root beer floats. There’s no root beer in Mexico.

We drove on to Houston, my old home town, for a few more nights. We visited with a few of my previous coworkers who were still wage-slaving on the Houston Chronicle. Then on to New Orleans for rides in the streetcar on St. Charles Avenue and beignets at Café du Monde abutting the river in the French Quarter.

We hired a carriage, horse and driver for a romantic ride. Though she has seen Paris, New Orleans made a big impression on her. We walked the sidewalks of the Garden District. We ate oyster po’ boys.

The stretch from New Orleans to Atlanta is a long, mostly boring haul. We spread it over two days, spending the night in a Holiday Inn somewhere in the sticks of Central Alabama. The best thing about that night was a fried-catfish plate at a nearby restaurant. Alabama knows how to fry catfish.

She’d never had fried catfish. She’d never had oyster po’ boys. She’d never had a beignet. She’d never had a root beer float. She was happy. And her opinion of the United States changed forever. She was in love with the food, the shopping (Target in particular) and even the people, especially Southerners.

Southern people are genuinely friendly, unlike the famous (feigned) friendliness of Mexicans who grin and hug you to death if they know you and cast you a stone-faced glare if they do not.

A Mexican’s face is a mask, and so is his smile. — Octavio Paz.

We made it to Atlanta where we stayed about a week, visiting my mother, doing more shopping, more eating, and then we headed south, mostly repeating the route north but with briefer layovers.

The trip had begun the first week in March, so the car’s lack of air-conditioning was not a problem. But we almost got nailed on the return drive in mid-March, just one day, the leg between Houston and the border at Laredo. We sweated a bit. Ironically, on entering Mexico, things cooled off. There are mountains.

My wife returned a changed woman. Before she loved only one Gringo. Now she loves them all. She wants to rent a home and stay in the United States for months at a time. She wants to eat po’ boys and barbecue and beignets and catfish every day. She wants to roam the aisles of Target with a debit card and a smile.

Other trips followed, but it’s been six years now since we’ve been above the Rio Bravo, and she’s unhappy about that. Maybe we’ll return some distant day, but only the Goddess knows when … or if.

We haven’t lost anything up there.

My child bride

YoungMY WIFE possesses an exotic face. Her eyes are slanty, and she is thin-lipped. I am extremely taken with her face. She feels just the opposite.

Women are goofy.

Looking through an online photo gallery of her recently, I paused at this shot. It’s a detail of a far larger photo taken when she was about 7. She is holding a baby, one of her many siblings. Daddy never kept it in his pants.

The shot was taken somewhere in the State of Michoacán where she was born, raised and educated before moving to Mexico City where she worked 14 years as a civil engineer for the federal highway department.

That ended when she met me in 2002.

totThe second shot is even earlier. She was on Mexican beach around age 3 or 4, and she looks to have a bad attitude. This too is a detail from a much larger photo, which shows that she had been playing in mud.

Her hair is no longer short, and she’s quite a few years older, but still far younger than I am, and she still looks marvelous. She was my best Christmas present this year, as she’s been the best one for the past 14 years, the greatest gift from God ever.