The Middle Ages

AROUND  6 P.M. yesterday, I was watering the yard with a hose. Six months a year, this is not necessary. The other six months, it surely is. Just plants. I don’t water the grass.

If grass grows, it needs mowing.

I started with the Alamo Wall, spraying the ivy that covers the far side. Had you told me when I was middle-aged that I would spend my waning years behind an ivy-covered wall, I would have thought you daft or worse.

I went on to water things on the wall’s other side, where the yard sits. I only water plants I like. I do not like the loquat tree or the peach either. Not too fond of the pear.

They are trash-tossers.

I do water the sole remaining banana stand, the four rose bushes and the two daturas. I water the towering nopal cactus because I don’t want it to die and thunder down.

I do not water the huge maguey, but I do soak the two beefy aloe veras and the surrounding greenery. I douse the pole cacti, which are over my head now.

I water no bougainvillea. Damn things are on their own.

While watering I was thinking about history.

I have a bachelor’s degree in history. There are few degrees more useless than history. I almost topped myself, however, because when I first attended a university right out of high school, I majored in philosophy.

That was at Vanderbilt in 1962. But I soon dropped out and dropped philosophy too. What was I thinking?

I read lots of history these days. Recently, I’ve been focusing on the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, but it’s unfashionable to say that now. Maybe it’s a race thing.

There was lots of fun stuff in the Middle Ages. There was Charlemagne; his daddy, Pepin the Short; Vikings; Dual Papacies; tribes with names like Lombards, Franks and Jutes; and women named Gerberga and Himiltrude.

Nobody is named Himiltrude anymore.

lady
Gerberga

About a thousand years passed between the Roman Empire’s demise and the Renaissance. That time in between was the Dark Ages. We’re about 200 years shy of another millennium passing.

We’ll enter another Dark Age because people never learn. When baby girls once more have names like Gerberga and Himiltrude, you’ll know it’s time to dig caves and stockpile canned goods and hand grenades.

In the meantime, I wake every morning in the king bed next to my child bride, feeling fine and looking ahead to another day of blue skies, cool breezes and flocks of snowy egrets flying between here and the green mountains.

My Middle Ages were Dark Ages, but now my Old Age is a Grand Age even though I gotta water the yard.

Night lights

light

WHEN WE built the Hacienda 14 years ago, we installed a motion-activated light out in the carport. When we drive in at night, it illuminates a nice section of the yard.

It goes out after three minutes.

Alas, that light only exists when we arrive from the street. When we walk out of the house toward the carport at night, there is total blackness on moonless evenings.

You can’t even see the sidewalk.

Now, after all these years of stumbling around in the dark out there, I hired an electrician who installed another motion-activated light just where you see it in the photo.

I am a slow learner. Perhaps a bit stupid.

Now, when we exit the downstairs veranda heading thataway, the light flicks on, and the path ahead is unmistakable.

¡Qué bueno!

There to the rear where you see a raised stone-and-concrete semicircle is where there was a humongous stand of banana trees. I had them removed two years ago.

Hanging on the wall is a big ceramic frog. That’s aloe vera to the left, and a towering nopal tree to the right with a big maguey in the nearer, right, foreground.

Looks a little spooky at night.

I’m really proud of the new light and wonder why the Devil I didn’t install it over a decade ago.

There’s another motion-activated light in the Garden Patio out back if you’re ever thinking of sneaking in here.

Spring cleaning

before

THAT’S MY CHILD bride, in the old, pink, gym pants, leaning against the stone Olmec head, just so you have a sense of perspective, the size of the trash pile. It’s even bigger than it seems.

Every Springtime I have to whack the yard back and, with every passing year, that work becomes more onerous because the serious plants get bigger and bigger, and I get older. This year I did it over a period of about two months, picking away at it, depending on my morning mood.

What you’ve got in there are thick trunks of banana trees, mostly ones that birthed bunches of bananas, the lousy ones we get here on the mountaintop. And there are dead or dying limbs of the fan palm, which have mean-spirited spines. There are swords of a huge maguey, which is also a sourpuss piece of greenery that growls and bites at each opportunity.

An astute observer will note the cardboard box at the right, rear. It’s one of four, the others being just offstage. Those boxes contain paddles of nopal cactus from my towering nopal tree. Every year I cut parts in an effort to keep it growing just upward, not outward. It’s an easy 12 feet high by now, maybe more. You don’t really pal up to a nopal tree just to measure. You steer clear.

The final addition to the pile, around Wednesday or so, are cuttings from the loquat tree. If you don’t count the banana, it’s the only resident of the pile that does not stab. Its distasteful trait, however, is that it’s full of bird crap. Dunno why, but birds love to dump in the loquat tree.

By Wednesday, the deed was all done, and I walked just past the sex motel to ask Abel the deadpan neighbor if he could haul it all away. I told him he’d need to find a pickup truck, something he does not own. He said he’d come Saturday with a truck and clean it up, which he did. I have no idea where he dumps it, and I do not care. It’s all fruit of the Earth anyway.

fini

The locals have a little routine when it comes to being paid by a Gringo. When you ask them how much for whatever they’ve done, they never have a clue, leaving it up to you to decide. They do this because they know we invariably overpay.

Though I have been preaching against this overpayment for years, I often do it myself. The reason one should not do it, and that includes the scandalous overtipping in restaurants, etc., is that it solidifies the locals’ conviction that we’re all filthy rich, stupid with our money and easily duped.

But I’m a soft touch, a dummkopf.

I paid them $300 pesos, which is about $10 each. A bona fide Mexican would have paid less. The boys departed here with smiles on their faces, and I was pleased to have the pile removed for $20.

Early blackbirds

DSCF1770
Upstairs terraza photographed in some distant springtime.

I CALL THEM blackbirds, but they’re really just soot.

Every springtime the rural folks in these parts burn dry fields, and this produces soot like you wouldn’t believe. Some days it’s like black rain, but with “drops” the size of feathers. And these fall into the yard, drift into the downstairs terraza and, of course, the upstairs terraza.

But it’s not springtime, so I don’t know what the Devil’s going on, plus it’s not falling anywhere near the quantity that drifts down in true springtime. No matter. Here it is. Like shedding blackbirds.

This morning, before 8 a.m., I decided to sweep the upstairs terraza before going downstairs for bagels and Philly cream cheese light. The feathers were plentiful, and I disposed of them.

Speaking of blackbirds, we have real ones, lots. There are ravens and black vultures and grackles. The ravens and black vultures — that sometimes circle high above in scores — I enjoy. The grackles, no. Those big, black blokes land in the birdbath and splash all the water out. It’s not neighborly.

If only I owned a shotgun.

* * *  *

The Angry Corner

Ouch

THIS IS THE angry corner, and I have no one to blame but myself.

Every springtime the yard gets a good going-over. This entails removing lots of stuff. If it’s frozen over the winter — and it often does at night, but not so far this year — the amount of dead stuff to be cut is considerable. I do much of it myself, and then hire someone to haul it off — to somewhere.

But even during this (so far) mild winter, plants must be cut. The lower, drooping, limbs of the fan palm, nopal, lots of banana leaves, maguey fronds, which grow endlessly and cussedly.

I have taken care of most of that this season. The only place that I keep procrastinating about is the Angry Corner. Years back, I planted a sole, small banana tree, about 18 inches high. And then I planted a cute little maguey, the yellow-green one, that we bought in a nearby village. And I clipped a piece of aloe vera and stuck it into the ground one day. And let’s not forget the sole pad of nopal cactus, four or so inches high.

Flash forward a decade. The stand of banana trees simply takes up lots of space, but those other things are armed, huge, and dangerous. It’s a risk even going near. I’m trying to work up the nerve.

* * * *

Mexico City

WE’LL BE HEADING to our nation’s chaotic capitol soon for a few days. It’s a necessity. Pay some bills for our condo. Dust and mop. Air it out. See what’s changed in the neighborhood. Eat some caldo de gallina in a new restaurant just three blocks away.

And we’ll try to make some headway with getting the condo’s deed into our hands, yet again. We paid it off years ago, but it was purchased from a government agency. Many arms of Mexico City’s government have improved immensely over the years, but the agency handling our deed is mired in the inefficient past.

Don’t try any funny stuff here while we’re gone. The two rottweilers, Rolf and Rachel, will be on duty. We don’t leave food, so that keeps them hungry and on edge. It might get ugly.