Water & chocolate

AFTER A FIVE-DAY, unusual dry spell here last week, it’s raining again, which is what the Goddess intends for our neck of the woods through all of September.

And, as usual too, I headed downtown yesterday afternoon for a café Americano negro, which I normally get free at my sister-in-law’s coffee shop. But she closed yesterday to rest.

Seems the Independence Day festivities over the weekend pooped her out. She had to sit with her cigarettes and Coke while watching the cash register fill with tourist pesos.

Darn near did her in.

So I walked to another side of the plaza and sat at a different coffee shop where I had to pay. I ordered hot chocolate. It started to rain. I grabbed my camera and panned around.

You might have heard of our latest earthquake. It did quite a bit of damage in Mexico City, more than the previous one a couple of weeks ago. When it struck yesterday we were in a supermarket in the nearby capital of our state.

I was walking down an aisle, and about five little cartons of something fell off the shelf directly in my path. I had felt nothing, but the store alarm went off, and we had to stand in the parking lot about five minutes.

Then we went back in and finished shopping. It was only later that we learned of the extensive damage and deaths in Mexico City. We had initially planned on making our twice-yearly visit to our condo there the first week of this month.

That was when the last quake struck. It was centered far away in the Pacific and didn’t do much damage, if any, in Mexico City. But our neighbors emailed us it was quite a jolt.

We rescheduled the trip for the first week of October, but now I’m a bit concerned. Gotta do it, however. We’re in the northern part of Mexico City, and our building suffered no damage yesterday. Bet it scared the neighbors, however.

Would have scared us too had we been there. Our apartment is on the fourth floor of a five-story building.

The call of cow

cow

AS A CHILD, I loved milk. I drank gallons of it. My mother tried to control me, but she was rarely successful.

If it was in the house, I was on it like puppies on a bitch tit.

I harbor fond memories of milk with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And there were sandwiches of sliced banana, mayonaise and peanut butter too.

I’m still fruit for peanut butter.

In late adolescence, I found myself in the military. One aspect of military life left me giddy, and it was in the Mess Hall where there were literally faucets of endless milk, and you could drink as much as you pleased. And I surely did.

All through my adult life, I drank milk with most meals.

And then I moved to Mexico where milk is sold differently than anything I had previously encountered.

Ninety-nine percent of milk in supermarkets is not sold refrigerated. It sits on the regular shelves in hermetically sealed cartons, room temperature.

My reaction: Yuck!

This stuff cannot taste right, I told myself, as I placed the first carton in my shopping cart.

But it did taste right — after it was chilled — so my milk habit continued as always in my early Mexican years. Then I got married, acquiring Mexican relatives.

When I had lunch with these people, I would drink milk. They would drink Coca-Cola, water or — quite often — nothing at all. And they would snicker and roll their eyes at my milk.

Especially the kids.

Gradually, I quit drinking milk with lunch and supper, though I still pour it on my morning cereal. It was not so much peer pressure, which I am not very susceptible to, it was simply a different world, a world in which few people drink milk.

Nowadays I drink water with lunch and supper.

I still drink milk on my breakfast cereal and with the occasional waffle and maple syrup, all of which screams out for milk, but that’s the limit of my milk. Habits perish.

This morning, pouring milk on my cereal, I wondered when Mexico first started selling milk at room temperature in hermetically sealed cartons. I asked my wife if that was how her family got milk when she was a child. No, she said.

Her family’s milk came from a street vendor who poured it out of stainless steel containers into the family’s pots, or something like that. That is still common in Mexico.

Straight from the cow. I see these street vendors often.

But I get my much-reduced milk intake from the supermarket in the hermetically sealed cartons. These cartons wait on the kitchen counter until they’re needed in the fridge.

And like so many things here, it seems so normal now.

Christmas horror

THIS TALE OF terror is true. It was posted by me almost a decade ago on another edge of Mexican cyberspace.

But due to the passage of time, plus the fact that the audience has changed — new people have come in, and others have stormed out — I feel justified in repeating this Christmas grotesquerie.

We were newly arrived here at the Hacienda. If memory serves, it was our first holiday in the new home. We put up a huge Yuletide tree and invited a horde of Mexican relatives, which is the only kind of relative I have now, which saddens me deeply, but that’s another story.

A brother-in-law whom I dubbed the Eggman in those distant days (yet another unrelated yarn) was in charge of the festive meal. Mexicans do their Yuletide dining late on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas Day.

Due to the many people on the guest list, the Eggman purchased an entire sheep and ordered it catered and cooked.

headThis main dish arrived on the afternoon of the 24th. It looked like a brown meaty stew in a massive tub, and it required two people to tote it into the kitchen, placing it on the floor.

Flash forward a few hours, to 10 p.m. or so, music was playing, people were eating here, there, everywhere, because there were more folks than suitable seating.

I had ladled one serving of the stew into a bowl, and found it tasty. It went down nicely with Coca-Cola.

Returning to the  kitchen, bowl in hand, I bent down to the tub and submerged the ladle. At that moment, he rose to the surface from the murky depths. The sheep’s entire head, its dead eyes staring me squarely in the face.

I froze in place, dropped the ladle, turned quickly and decided I had eaten enough for one Holy Night.

The fireplaces

Upstairs fireplace
Upstairs fireplace
Downstairs fireplace
Downstairs fireplace

FIREPLACES WERE a part of my childhood because we spent lots of time at Granny’s House. Actually, we lived at Granny’s House until I was almost 7 years old. There was a fireplace in every room save the bath.

After moving away — to Florida — we returned often, for decades.

There is something primal and savage about fire. It speaks to us, and warms and comforts us too. Before building the Hacienda we lived in a two-floor rental nearer downtown. There was a fireplace upstairs and down. The first year I lived there alone, not long after moving over the Rio Bravo, wondering what the devil?

It was very cold that first winter, and I would sit long spells with a coffee cup in the mornings in a chair placed quite close to the fire. I would watch those flames, which are fascinating if you pay sharp attention. If you are spectacularly alone, fire can become a dear friend. Like love, it warms you.

When we built the Hacienda, we told the headman, a stone mason among other things, that we wanted a huge fireplace downstairs made of stone. He did just that, but we would have preferred something even larger. I don’t recall now why we did not stop him in mid-work to get something bigger.

He was a stubborn old man.

See that chimney from the downstairs fireplace snaking up the wall toward the ceiling? It continues on through the second floor, also against the wall, providing an architectural touch with cornices on the floor above. The chimneys of both fireplaces are not inside the wall. Instead they abut the walls inside, not out.

I would have liked to have one of those chimneys that are so immense a person can stand inside or nearly, but what we have, especially downstairs, is pretty grand. We don’t use them much, however, but they’re great to admire.

When my Granny died in the 1980s, my parents moved to the Georgia farm and renovated the house. All of the fireplaces were covered, and central heat and air was installed. The ceilings were lowered. A new entrance was constructed. My parents were practical people, but I would have kept at least one fireplace.

Perhaps that one in the kitchen where I heated Coca-Colas on the hearth on cold mornings. Small Cracker kids sometimes do the craziest things.