Tag Archives: Gringos

The arrival

vista
The view that changed my life.

I’M FOND OF noting milestones.

I just missed an anniversary, but only by three days. My arrival here on the mountaintop on September 10, 2000. I was not entirely new to Mexico, but I was quite green.

I’d lived seven months at a lower altitude, 40 minutes away in the state capital. Four of those seven months had been dedicated to attending a language school because when I got off the plane in Guadalajara I didn’t speak Spanish.

I was a language ignoramus.

My decision to move from the state capital up here was made while sitting at a coffee shop and looking in the direction shown in the photo. I looked at that view and told myself, I’m gonna move here. And I did. Lickety-split.

My first challenge was to find a furnished place to rent. While my town now is chockablock with real-estate agencies and lots of furnished rentals, there was not even one real-estate agency in 2000. I knew no one here, and I had no idea where to start. I was alone, and my Spanish was dicey.

Someone online pointed me to an old Gringo named Gray who’d moved here after the Second World War.  He had married an indigenous woman, and they had multiplied.

Gray had some furnished rentals that catered mostly to the sparse Gringo crowd. I moved into a two-story house on a main drag with furniture that aspired to the junk heap.

The first thing I did was buy a new mattress and sheets. The second thing was to buy an equipal love seat and matching chair. The store here neglected to inform me that the set would be made in and shipped from Guadalajara.

I got it about four months later.

I lived in that rental for two-and-a-half years. My child bride was there the final year while we constructed the Hacienda.

It wasn’t a bad place if one didn’t cringe at the hordes of mice during the rainy season or the two times I found dead rats in the toilet. They had come up from below, and I flushed them back to where they came from.

And there was the matter of the house abutting a open sewer/creek that provided a notable fragrance during the dry months. And the lights went out a lot.

It was an interesting home along the lines of the Chinese curse, May you live in interesting times.

We were elated when we moved into the Hacienda in May of 2003. It’s been a great 17 years here at altitude. The changes are considerable. Plenty of rentals available now. With rats or without. Ten times the number of Gringos. Some people regard that positively. I’m not one of those people.

But I’m glad I sat at that coffee house that long-ago afternoon, gazing up the street. It was a decisive moment.

The photo’s from yesterday. It hasn’t changed much.

Music and whiskey

TWO HOURS after shooting the video above from the upstairs terraza, I was sitting on the Jesus Patio eating seedless green grapes and listening to the hog next door expressing displeasure with her situation, which she does often.

This is being written yesterday, Saturday. The previous night had seen a heavy downpour that lasted I don’t know how long because I went back to sleep after waking briefly to notice it.

Some things don’t change much in these parts, and the sounds of sunrise are one of those things. Roosters, tractor-trailer trucks on the highway up the mountain behind us, crickets, the loudspeakers of the house-delivery propane trucks.

However, some things do change, and they’re generally for the better. We got some great news recently. An international chain of movie theaters, Cinépolis, is opening here in our mountaintop town. Hooray! Now we won’t have to drive to the state capital for first-run flicks.

The changes that have occurred over the past 17 years that I’ve been here are considerable. There were no major supermarkets. Now there are two. There were no stoplights. Now there are many. There were few Gringos. Now there are way too many!

I wonder how they’ll react to the Cinépolis chain. Over a decade ago, the Mexican convenience store chain Oxxo opened its first store here, and the Gringos, many of whom are aging hippies, went bananas. Egad! Modernization!

We have numerous Oxxos now, including one directly on the major plaza. Another sits on the nearby smaller plaza. Their signs are subdued, not intrusive.

I’m praying for a full-blown Walmart and Costco.

Convenient shopping is a good thing, and it does not detract from the morning views I get from the upstairs terraza, something I love and that never changes.

* * * *

An old friend emailed me this week. I rarely hear from people above the border, so it was a welcomed event.

He and I worked together on newspapers for decades both in New Orleans and Houston. Like me, he is divorced more than once. Unlike me, he is not currently married. He’s three years older than I am, and he lives alone in a home he bought in Colorado after he retired from the Houston Chronicle.

I had sent him a note after seeing him briefly on a Netflix documentary of Janis Joplin who was a close friend of his in high school in Port Arthur, Texas, and later in her early years of fame and drug-addled degeneracy.

My friend is a much-published poet, but not in recent years. He said his life now is mostly whiskey and music. And that all his major life decisions were wrong ones. That last resonated with me because all my major decisions were wrong ones too. Till 1996 when my major life decisions did a 180.

What happened in 1996? I stopped drinking. My friend is 76 years old, and I doubt he will do that.

I didn’t even mention it.

Here’s to music and whiskey! And staying the course.

Time for lime

MAY IS THE warmest month of the year here, some might even call it hot, depending on where you’re standing.

In the evenings, upstairs at the Hacienda where, alas, live the Samsung Smart TV and the computers, it can get unpleasant in the late afternoon and early evening.

It’s even been known to chase us downstairs prematurely when we’re trying to relax with Netflix.

And, of course, we have no air-conditioning because 99 percent of the time, it’s not necessary.

Most of downstairs, however, never gets hot due to the high ceiling in the living room. In the bedroom, which has a somewhat lower ceiling, it gets a bit stuffy at times.

We have a ceiling fan in the bedroom, the sole ceiling fan at the Hacienda if you don’t count the fan in the ceiling of my child bride’s pastry kitchen, which stands apart.

May is our worst month. There is the “heat,” the dust, the dead grass in the  yard. May is just a period that one must endure  in order to enjoy the other 11 months.

One way we endure May is by making limeade.

The first limeades of 2017 were made this morning, a little tardy this year due to this May’s being somewhat less stuffy than the average. We’ve been lucking out.

That’s our limeade station in the photo. One nice limeade requires three limes, three tablespoons of barroom sweetener, water and ice. That’s it. Stir and serve.

Those limes are called lemons down here, limones. What the Gringos call lemons are rarely seen. The yellow things.

Doesn’t matter. Limes do the trick. Every May. Until it starts raining daily in early June.

Then you don’t hanker for limeade anymore.

Just like home

SEVENTEEN YEARS ago when I packed my two bags and flew to Mexico alone to reinvent myself in late middle age, I arrived in a spectacularly strange world.

Many of the things I was accustomed to simply were not available down here, and most of those things were commercial. I am a fan of capitalism and the goodies it offers.

Flash forward from 2000 to 2017 and — oh, my — how things have changed. Just about anything you can buy above the Rio Bravo is now available Down Mejico Way.

There is even a Mexican version of Amazon.com even though I much prefer our homegrown MercadoLibre.

The list of Gringo chain stores in Mexico is too lengthy to repeat here, and it seems to grow longer each year.*

I was particularly delighted when Bed Bath & Beyond, one of my favorite stores when I lived up north, opened recently in the nearby state capital. I shop there often.

There are eight BB&Bs in Mexico. Six are in Mexico City or its environs. A seventh is in Cuernavaca, the not-too-distant Mexico City playground,  and the eighth is in our capital city, the only one relatively remote from Mexico City.

Why were we chosen over the considerably larger burgs of Guadalajara or Monterrey? God knows.

Mexico commercially improves on a daily basis. You can now get most of what is available to the Gringos up north. Plus, we have great tacos, fresh avocados and beautiful babes.

Best of both worlds.

* * * *

* Very incomplete list: Best Buy, Sears, Costco, Walmart, McDonald’s, Burger King, Chili’s, Sirloin Stockade, iHop, Home Depot, Office Depot, Office Max, KFC, DQ, Starbucks.

(Note: We don’t depend entirely on the Gringos for great shopping. For example, the Mexican chain El Palacio de Hierro — The Iron Palace — will knock your high-end socks off, especially the flagship store in Mexico City’s Polanco.)

The 23 percenter

I HAVE NOW spent 23 percent of my life in Mexico.

new-imageWere I a young buck, this would not be so many years, but I am an old moose with mossy horns. The years are plenty.

I stumbled thorough most of life with no intention of leaving the land of my birth. Georgia rednecks don’t move to Mexico. It was only within a year of moving that I started to think about it.

And then, within a one-month span, I dumped almost everything, got on a plane and came on down. For the first nine years, while my decrepit mother was still alive, I averaged one trip back a year, usually about a week.

I returned only once following her death in 2009, a few months after, and I’ve never been above the border since. I don’t miss it, and as time passes, I miss it even less.

From what I read on Gringo internet forums and websites, most everyone who “moves” to Mexico, be it for retirement or, much less often, to work, the draw of the Old Country is powerful. People can’t let go, and return often.

It appears compulsive, but it’s likely grandchildren.

Don’t tell my wife, please, but I have no intention of ever crossing the Rio Bravo again. I say don’t tell my wife because she really likes it up there, and dreams of another visit.

I have no tight family ties there — wish I did — so here I am, alone with a pack of Mexican relatives, including a number who’ve been illegal aliens above the border.

I speak Spanish almost exclusively. I live in a big Hacienda on what’s just above the U.S. poverty-income level, an interesting phenomenon since I’ve never felt richer in my life.

new-imageCan’t help but wonder what percentage of my life will have passed as a Mexican when it comes to a halt. No matter.

Pass the tacos, por favor.

Leave balls at border

WE’RE DRIVING to San Miguel de Allende this week for a couple of days. The primary purpose of visiting that Gringo-infested outpost is to renew my expired U.S. passport.

Now sure exactly why I’m bothering to do this, especially since it’s going to set me back over $100, money I could more profitably use to keep myself in tacos for many years.

We do little (next to none) international travel, and my Mexican passport will serve for anywhere except the United States, a place that is not hollering my name anymore.

That nation is on a downward trajectory, something that grows more painfully obvious by the day. Pathetic and ignorant people are now running the American farm.

The U.S. Marine Corps has been forced to remove the word “man” from 19 job titles. I can easily see this happening on university campuses, but the Marines?!

New ImageI predict that soon the Marine Corps will consist of troops who look like Pajama Boy and this smug news lesbian.

Just below is a brief discussion about the issue of feminism by the wonderful Christina Hoff Sommers and the always interesting Camille Paglia.

Meanwhile, the neutering of a once-great nation marches on, and nobody seems to be able to apply the brakes.

The Russians and/or Chinese will do it in time.

Or maybe the Mohammedans.

Faces of Easter

jesus
A very unhappy Jesus passes in a street of San Miguel.

WE SPENT two nights in San Miguel de Allende that, by pure chance, sat in Semana Santa, Easter Week.

We drove there to visit an old friend who had flown down from Texas with a couple who had invited him to share a few days in a vacation rental in the Gringo-infested town.

The old friend and I had planned this get-together months ago, neither realizing it was Semana Santa. It just dawned on me about two weeks ago.

Semana Santa, to Mexicans, is Spring Break with Jesus Christ. We have a multitude of religious ceremonies and Easter parades here on the mountaintop and tons of tourists, but I figured it would be calmer in San Miguel.

I could not have been more mistaken.

It was almost like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Downtown was mobbed with people. Lines waited outside restaurants.

Streets were blocked.

We arrived Thursday for two nights and one full day — Good Friday — in a downtown hotel, and we left yesterday.

We had a great visit with the friend, and we came away with these two faces — photos — of Semana Santa.

A third photo shows another face, a sad one, a man who passed on the street in the best way he could. Every few feet he would stop, squat upright on the street, and jiggle his coin can.

What struck me most about him, apart from his disability, was that his hair was trimmed and slicked back very neatly.

Everyone has pride.

family
Everybody smile for the cameras, theirs and mine too.

That time of year

RETURNING WEDNESDAY from three nights on the road, it dawned on me that it’s that time of year. It hadn’t seemed so obvious when we departed Sunday morning.

That time is the season shift, which is pretty stark here on the mountaintop. The rains have gone — we may still get a surprise, but it doesn’t matter — and I need to water yard plants, a chore.

I have no warm spot in my heart for chores.

And the hour changes next weekend in a good direction. I can never keep it straight which is correct, and which is man-made.

The end of Rains from On High comes almost always with the arrival of the Day of the Dead. Perhaps there is some celestial connection.

Candy-Skull-01b-1As some passers-by know, my mountaintop is one of Mexico’s hot spots for the Day of the Dead.

After so many years here, I’ve grown a bit weary of it, jaded, mostly due to the tons of tourists.

After 18 years in New Orleans, long ago, I had also grown weary of Mardi Gras, another massive tourist draw. But it’s good for the economy, and I love capitalism so very much.

It gives one the opportunity to be a One-Percenter, something communism does not do and socialism discourages. Even though I am not a One-Percenter, I want that path open for me, for everyone.

It’s only fair.

So get in your car and drive up here. Bring cash for hotels, tacos, sugar skulls and souvenirs. The enormous tree-lined plaza will be full of art, some quite stunning, lovely and affordable.

On the Big Night, head out to one of the cemeteries to marvel at the candles, the marigolds, the old women in rebozos, the men with tequila, lime and salt, the babies crawling about. The spirit guests.

Some of the cemeteries have surrendered to tourism. Others haven’t yet. Your task is the find the latter, avoid the former.

* * * *

Yes, we just returned from three nights away. We had planned for months to spend this week at Palenque, down in the Maya area of Chiapas. But at the last moment, we just did not want to.

So we got into the Honda and drove four hours to Mazamitla in the State of Jalisco, just south of Lake Chapala. Mazamitla is a mountain town that puts on airs of being Alpine. Lots of wood and A-frames.

A Mexican Twin Peaks without the weirdos.

We spent two nights in the Hotel Huerta Real, and decided Tuesday morning to drive the short distance north of Lake Chapala to spend a night in Ajijic, a place absolutely crawling with Gringos, mostly of the geriatric variety. We slept at the Hotel Casa Blanca.

There are two famous places in Mexico where Gringos love to gather. San Miguel de Allende is one, and Ajijic is another. I’ve spent many nights in San Miguel, but this was only my second in Ajijic.

The best reason to go to one of these Gringo havens is the abundance of good restaurants. In Ajijic we discovered the Meson Don Quijote, which is run by an actual Spanish gentleman.

I am a fan of paella, which is a Spanish dish, not Mexican as some less-swift people sometimes think. My second ex-wife and I ate superlative paella often at a Spanish restaurant in Houston.

Since moving over the Rio Bravo almost 16 years ago, I’ve encountered paella occasionally on menus. I have ordered it three or four times, and it’s always been disappointing. Mexicans cannot cook paella.

But there we were, standing in the lovely patio of the Meson Don Quijote talking to the Spaniard owner, when I saw paella on the menu. I decided to risk it once again. Call me crazy.

It was very good paella. Not quite what the Spanish joint in Houston served, but it easily merited four stars out of five.

While conversing of food, let us back up a bit, to Mazamitla where I had a culinary religious experience at a place called La Troje. The religious experience manifested itself in salmon. Yes, fish.

We had lunch at La Troje both days. The first day, by pure luck, I ordered that salmon and, Good Lord Almighty, that was some fine salmon.

If you ever find yourself at La Troje, know there are two styles of salmon on the menu. One is called Mediterranean, which is what I ordered. The other is called something else. I do not remember.

* * * *

And we’re home again. The salmon is gone, and so is Twin Peaks. Gringo-crowded Ajijic, which sounds like a spice, likely won’t be visited for another decade. And I may never eat paella again.

* * * *

A tip of the sombrero to Bonnie and Bill Garrison who pointed me toward Mazamitla, the Hotel Huerta Real and La Troje restaurant.

Sparrow on the edge

bird

SIX WEEKS AGO we returned from a two-night visit to San Miguel de Allende, which is about a three-hour drive northeast of here.

During our stay in that artsy Gringo town that rests prettily in the desert we drove a short distance north to Dolores Hidalgo and paid about 30 bucks for this spectacular birdbath.

On returning to the Hacienda, I set up the birdbath in the same spot where another bath, totally brown and drab but hugely popular, had sat for a decade. The birds ignored the psychedelic bath.

This went on for a couple of weeks. They would perch nearby, on one of the web chairs or up on the pumpkin wall, looking at their new bath, but they would not take the plunge.

But finally they came to their little birdy senses. However, it still isn’t as popular as the old, boring birdbath was. I haven’t seen any birds on its colorful rim save house sparrows, but that could be because it’s not springtime when the birdy array is wider.

Particularly noteworthy in their absence are the grackles, and I do not miss them. They stood in the middle of the old bath and splashed most of the water out with their big, fowl wings, like little, angry chickens.

May they never return.

I shot this photo with my new camera. Contrast it to the photo taken six weeks back with my far older camera. The new camera is clearly superior, but I’ve been thinking of selling it.

It does not fit in my pocket. It’s too big. I offered the camera on two Yahoo forums that focus on my area. No bites. No matter. The day after I offered it, I had already started to waffle on the issue.

It does take great photos.