Friday, January 27, 2006

Walk with me

Making new friends has become my primary activity. It seems almost everyday I meet someone new and interesting and then spend the next few days getting to know them. Some are just travelers passing through. You can sit at Cafe Ole, an outdoor cafe off the historic district and be guaranteed to strike up a conversation. Soon you discover some thread of commonality and before you know it you are strolling along taking in the sights together, making plans to meet for dinner. Sometimes these aquaintances end up as impromptu houseguests. Twice this has happened. First, with a couple who were trailering down the Baja stopping wherever looked interesting. I thought they were two of the most interesting people I'd ever met. Vietnam Era hippies turned mainstream. They had children, and communes turned to a nice house and prosperous business manufacturing birdhouses in Oregon. He delighted us with his guitar/harmonica playing in the Bob Dylan style and his stories of adventure treks and monastery retreats: She, her days of professional dancing, her study of Zen Buddhism. They'd lived in a commune in New Mexico, a remote village in Mexico. He'd kayaked the Baja, worked ski patrol in Bavaria, traveled down the Amazon. When they left three days later I wondered if I'd imagined them.

Our second houseguests were a mother/daughter I met at the reception for the Turtle Conference. I was invited to attend the Group Tortuguero pre-conference party at the home of a local town benefactors. Until I walked through the front gate I had no idea such a grand home existed in Loreto. I'm certain it is the pages of some issue of Architectural Digest. It was absolutely stunning. Allison was only taken in by enormous aviary which housed five or six very talkative parrots who practically screamed, "hello, hi, hello, hello" (in English) on our approach and squawked in protest as we passed. I swear one said, "come back." The hosts never spoke to me and I still don't know their story. All I know is that the photo of them with George W. Bush next to the White House Christmas Card told me the were a bit connected.

Anyway the mother, Janet, I had met casually in a shop about two weeks earlier when they were visiting Loreto. We were both there with our husbands admiring some ceramics when we discovered we had shared origins in the midwest, and sons attending college in the same state. We learned they owned and operated a field station in Bahia de Los Angeles, a place where people study the natural environment, particularly, marine life. We parted never thinking we'd cross paths again. So when I saw Janet at the party and learned her plans for lodging included a sleeping bag and since I had this huge house...well. She, her daughter Meghann, and her dog Bailey, followed us home. We spent most of the next day together walking through town, stopping for ice cream, picking up two other travelers who joined us for awhile. Allison was intrigued by the daughter who knew everything about dolphins and whales and gave Allison encouragement about learning Spanish. Meghann spent a lot of time growing up in Baja and went on to become a marine biologist.

We all strolled toward the Malecon to look at the ocean, the six of us, taking up the width of the street, friends for only hours. At the waterfront Allison and her new confidant looked for sea urchins and starfish while the rest of us talked about the state of education back in America (two of them were educators.) We enjoyed such a nice encounter I was actually sorry to say goodbye. But these encounters are not uncommon. I could sit at Cafe Ole every morning and have friends by afternoon. Transient friends, most of them, people passing through. Inviting strangers home is something that I've never done before, but here everything is different. It may be the simple phenomenom of feeling concern for fellow Americans in Mexico. But I think it is more. The type of people we are attracted to are similar in this respect: they are explorers, curious people brave enough to pitch a tent in the desert or travel with only a backpack and a passport. Explorers are fun and have lots of great stories to tell. Explorers have big eyes for the world.

The morning that Janet and her daughter left I found a beautiful ceramic teapot on the dining table. It was from the shop where we first met, exchanged friendly words, and bid goodbye forever, we thought. This sounds silly but that kind little token makes me a bit weepy. You'd have to know me to know why. Or maybe not.

A few days ago I was walking the boulevard in my neighborhood when a large black desert dog began shadowing me. After awhile I thought it might be good to know his intentions so I stopped and turned, putting my hands out in a friendly gesture. Surprisingly, he approached me and offered his greetings with a sniff to my palms. He became my walking companion for the next few miles. Just like our neighborhood dogs, Larry, Curly, and Darryl he was happy to be my companion for the moment. I think its the same way for people here too. If you reach out you'll find a ready amigo willing to accompany you part of the way.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Wait and see

Three more stents for Robert. Six of the seven previous ones were not medicated. If they were it would have helped a lot with his recovery. I spoke to him on the phone immediately after the procedure and he sounded positive and alert. Recovery this time will be quicker. Still, we haven't decided what to do about Mexico. Of course Loreto is not the best place to be if you have medical problems.

Meanwhile Allison and I carried on. This morning our hot water ran out. I stopped at the CaliGas facility and spoke in horrible Spanish to the manager there asking for someone to please bring me propane. Normally, Robert disconnects the tanks and takes them to be filled. They weigh too much for me to handle. Amazingly, the delivery men showed up thirty minutes before the scheduled time. My electricity had also disappeared and when I mentioned it, "Diego" went out to the street and flipped the breaker box. Gas and electricity! Someone was watching out for me. This town is so small it would be easy to enlist help if you needed it. Every day I meet more people from vendors, to shopkeepers, to neighbors. Everyone is so kind even when I am butchering their language.

I had two vistors, one being Martha, the woman who will help me purchase furniture in Morelia for our house. When she entered our courtyard calling my name she found me asleep by the pool. I'd been waiting around the house to get a phone call about Robert. The house was so chilly I went out and laid on pool deck in my warm-ups and fleece jacket and gloves and feel asleep in the sun. What a ridiculous sight I must have been. It sounds unbelievable, but it is really chilly here this week.

I let Allison ride home on the back of A.'s bike to her house where I picked them up and brought them to our house to make brownies. Then on to Hawaiian dance class. Having these two sisters at Allison's school has made all the difference in her attitude. I can see her idolizing them and trying to charm them. She is on her way to being her own little person. Thinking of leaving makes me sad just for what Allison would lose, and me for the pleasure of watching her: Watching her gather with friends after school, hula with little girls over the fabric shop, race around the park on the back of someone's bike. Yesterday I let her walk from the park to the Veterinarian/pet store with the girls. She took her tooth fairy money ( oh this week she lost her third tooth) to buy Betsy a toy. The idea of walking anywhere without an adult was unknown to her. Of course, I was parked nearby using the public phone, looking out. She came back with a doggie sweater too small, but she was so giddy about her step into freedom. It's amazing to behold the awakenening. And the thing is what a great stage for it. A small town.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The guy can't get a break

Well, Robert's news from home is not good. His cardiologist has scheduled him for a catherization with the intent to replace or alter the stents already in his right coronary artery. I guess the rest and relaxation approach was not enough. We came here to remove him from the stress and spend time recovering in a nice climate having fun. If we accomplished anything it was breaking him of smoking. We are certain if he remained at home after the heart attack he would have been right back to work, right back to smoking two packs a day. We looked at our purpose in Mexico as rehabilitation. I always think of Robert as indestructable so maybe I haven't taken this health issue seriously enough. Plus he just turned 49, too young to think of as sick.

So, now what to do? More serious minded people would have had a plan B. We have to think ours through. I should pick up and return home, leaving everything as it stands. Robert is insisting I sit tight until his procedure (tomorrow a.m.) and then we'll decide. Truth is, I couldn't get there tomorrow if I wanted. Flights out of here are limited to a few days a week. It looks to me that our time here is over for now. Again, he says no. He plans to sail through this procedure and come back. The last thing he wants is to spend the worst of winter in the midwest. Well we shall see. The price to pay for living in a beautiful place that happens to have no decent medical care may end of being too great.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

In Mexico, it's tamarind, not tootsie

Today is Saturday. Robert is back in the states for 10 days leaving Allison and I to fend for ourselves which means we do whatever we want and eat cake for dinner. With Allison in school I have a regular schedule again so Saturday has possibilities. Saturday can feel luxurious or lonely. The mood must have leaned to lonely this morning because I found myself urging Allison to come along on a walk with me. I thought we'd drop in on the family of her classmate who live only one block away. The mother I met once and she spoke very good English. I'm trying to cultivate friendships for my daughter.

The father was outside at a work table sanding. His name was Pascal and he was Italian, not Mexican. Two big dogs ran to us sniffing and wagging. He called for his wife who appeared from the house and immediately called out to her daughter and soon we were surrounded by them all. Come in, come in. Their house, newer and modern in architecture, was a little cramped inside from the overabundance of furnishings and knick-knacks a family acquires over time. It looked more American than Mexican except for the buffet; dozens of bottles of alcohol of Mexican origin. I wanted to study the eye-catching labels but I was invited to sit at a large glass dining table and offered a beverage. I asked for water and I watched as she put the drinking glass under the refrigerator dispenser for, gasp, tap water which I still won't drink because I still see myself as too green for Mexico parasites. I would never admit that to someone serving me, it just seems too rude. So the nicer she was the more badly I felt about not sipping.

Ana, is her name. She is tall, attractive, and very lively. She is a Loreto native; her family, town founders. Her heritage is partly German she told me. Loreto was founded by Jesuits and Europeans soon followed. She went to college in San Diego where she perfected her English and continued to live there for awhile. She and Pascal run a local hotel owned by her parents. They own another in San Javier.

I learned that for all America offers she still longed for home, the calmness of this seaside village. She loved America, but, she said, Americans rush and work too hard. I admit to that. I always listen with acute curiousity when people praise Mexico for it's laid-back, manana attitude. I agree laid-back is nice and lately I'm partaking in a big serving of that, but deep down I am a a striver. We are supposed to be hyper-alert and innovative in ways to multi-task in order to get more accomplished. Our culture is about more, more, more. I nod and agree about much but to say more is like bashing your parents in public--you owe them. And I always go back to this--everybody likes our stuff. It was all over her kitchen, from the appliances to the tableware to the Disneyland sweatshirt worn by her husband. (I say that but probably everything was made in China.)

I've been thinking about my heritage as a northern european a lot since arriving here. I don't think I really know who I am because I've not lived within another culture to make comparisons and reach conclusions. Other than why I eat turkey on Thanksgiving, I don't really know why I do things I do, processes and attitudes that have obviously passed to me through generations. Funny, but the past few movies I've caught on satellite have had stereotypical portrayals of British as uptight, stiff, out of touch. Yet I looked at the derided characters differently: they were disciplined and studied in the ways of efficiency and process. They get stuff done and usually quite well. I guess what I'm noticing is that I'm more English than I understood before. I have the faults as well, if I may be so stereotypical here. I don't make a good Mexican. My mind is bent on control. I look for the faults in a thing and the ways in which it can be improved. Not the makings of an an attractive personality. Maybe in time Mexico will thaw me out. The thing is, I want to learn and grow while I live here, and that means some discomfort. The alternative is to behave like someone here for the weather and scenery and proceed to create self-sufficency to a degree of rejecting the culture.

Allison had an invitation to a classmate's birthday party this afternoon. I insisted she go as it was nice to be invited at all. I had difficulty finding the location and arrived about 10 minutes late. I walked in to find no one but the mother and birthday girl preparing. It was truly one hour more before any other guests arrived. They aren't kidding when they make fun of "Mexico time" It has happened to us so much since we've arrived here you'd think we'd learn. The mother was so sweet to us, leaning down to talk to Allison, speaking slowly to me really trying to have a conversation. I learned she works at the Papeleria, unfortunately for her daughter since that's where I bought her gift. I asked to help her with preparations but she waved me off and eventually left Allison and I and a bowl of giant pink and white marshmallows to ourselves.

Mostly, Allison and I were uncomfortable, not being able to communicate very well magnified by being in a situation where one is expected to be social. Of course everyone we met was extremely kind, but after a couple of hours I was wearing down and had the sensation of being homesick. I kept bothering myself over the sight of the enormous birthday cake sitting out on the open. It was on the bar near the door open to the street attracting the Loreto dust to it's sticky white frosting. The sandwiches sitting for hours in the indirect sun kept me distracted. On these matters alone I wonder if I have what it takes to live with the Mexicans. I'm overly hygienic. It's my little secret.

We stayed on for the pinata busting. Allison was given a turn at the very beginning, another considerate gesture by the birthday girl's mother. We've all wailed at a pinata at some time or another back home where it is a novelty. Here, we were participating in the real thing. Here they do it with full enthusiasm. But, again I digress into nitpicking, the candy! Spicy (tamarind) flavored lollipops! That was Allison's take from the booty and was she stunned. Eventually, we bid goodbye and headed home where we put on our pajamas and watched Little House on the Prairie in English while eating french toast.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Getting it right

I hung around awhile after dropping Allie off at school to witness the morning drill. Students are assembled along the upper perimeter of the courtyard while the Director stand solitary in the lower recess. The courtyard brings to mind an emptied, shallow, concrete wading pool. This is the same courtyard where Allie tripped and knocked out a front tooth. It's a disaster in public-space planning besides being starkly ugly. Anyway, the drill: In the morning chill the students are led in what I guess is the Mexican pledge of allegiance. It starts with a little right-left-right-together stomp followed by a recitation then the sign of the cross. Then on to another much longer recitation of what I believed to be a school creed. From what I could make out in Spanish it sounded like a lot of promises of good conduct. It lasted at least two minutes. Those kids have a lot to remember.

After all that the Director began speaking the the children. Again, my Spanish is so bad that I couldn't keep up. It sounded like she was re-emphasizing rules and there was something about examinations. The children stood obedient but cheerful. I could see Allison from the back with her ponytail in it's required green and white ribbons. Her arms hung straight at her sides, totally motionless, a dumb-struck participant. I felt a little sympathy mixed with a little thrill for her.

The last thing the Director did was move around the courtyard pointing to different children to stand in a separate space. I watched carefully to what at first looked like random selection, but a pattern soon developed. When the others were dismissed what was left was a band of children who were obviously out of compliance with the dress code. Some had personal sweaters or jackets or the wrong socks or shoes. But what was interesting was the way the Director chose to address the children, which I thought was a bit brillant. She drew five or six of them at a time to her. It was not to gather answers, but I believe to look each in the eye and send the message in a way as not to be forgotten. She could have easily addressed them as a group, but the effect is stronger when it is personal.

I can almost guarantee that tomorrow not one of those children will arrive to school in anything but the proper Colegio Calafia parochial attire. I was thanking myself for Allison's sake, that I took pains to get the uniform right. Foreigners try harder to fit in--and make the best students because they're so afraid to screw up.

Where the broom still rules

Colegio Calafia, Allison's school, begins promptly at 8 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m. I was warned by other parents that lateness is not tolerated so I make big efforts to make it there on time. This morning my alarm did not go off (I must have shifted the on switch while moving the clock) but I heard the passing of the workers' busses and knew it meant 7 a.m. Busloads of men arrive to Loreto Bay every morning to hustle the development forward. Sometimes 15 or so men are working on our home alone. Currently, they are plastering the walls and installing the electric. Over 500 homesites have been sold. It is amazing to witness a village literally come up out of the ground. It's like watching a barn-raising, except that it's adobe, not timber, Mexicans, not Mennonites, and hundreds of structures, not one.

The mornings are chilly, about 60 degrees. I find myself layering with a sweater and jacket early only to change into short sleeves by afternoon. Kinda perfect, I'd say! Evenings it's back to the sweater. Living in an adobe house is a little akin to living in a cave; it's generally dark and the temperature remains constant. It's very surprising how that works. I love this grand adobe that we are renting. It is so totally handcrafted from the adobe that was built on site by hand to the frescoes on the walls and stone and wood floors. My only serious complaint is that the straw and mud plaster walls inside seem to be in perpetual disintegration. They are so organic they are like real, living things always shedding a bit of themselves. Dust is a problem yet no one here knows about vacuums or Swifters! Here, the broom rules. Every morning you see the shopkeepers sweeping away the dust from their storefronts to the streets. Some use buckets of water to wet the dust down. Our first week here I took the hose and commandeered valuable water to wash down our stone patio and driveway thinking it had probably been months since it was cleaned. My superior attitude of "doing things right" melted into humility when I soon witnessed the Bay winds spit all that dust right back to me.

I'm still hanging my clothes outside to dry even though our dryer works. Maybe it's still a novelty to me having never lived without a dryer. However, I did locate a laundry to wash my king size comforter. The laundry was literally a shack with a palapa roof. On the claim ticket the pick-up date read: manana. I have to handwash the dishes too which I don't mind as long as the hot water doesn't give out. We have to change and replace the small propane tanks every few weeks. There is a service that delivers it but we haven't bothered. But we have satellite television and of course, the world wide web, and that seems like just enough.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Roof-top guard dog

Everyone who's been to Baja comments on the unusual dogs found here. And I've seen quite a few myself. Dogs with pit bull heads on daschund bodies are common. This dog was tethered on a rooftop in Loreto. I've been thinking about photographing all these dogs and creating a coffee table book named : The dogs of Loreto

Loreto Bay village arises from the dust

The wind has picked up in Loreto this week dusting everything with gritty Baja dirt. It's especially bad in town where many streets are unpaved. The wind whips up dust in torrents and makes you wish for a bandana to tie over your face like the vaqueros of past. It's also a bit chilly out of the sun so a sweater is necessary. In Nopolo, where we live, the dust is not nearly such a problem; we are close to the ocean and a lot of scrub brush and desert vegetation plus exclusively paved roads. Still, there is a coating a dust on the surface of everything.

It's been a good day. I spent a lot of time at the construction site chatting with people in charge of our house and walking through the more completed section of the village looking at houses. Today the concrete floor was poured on our viewing tower. Yesterday they practically finished its roof. We are going to have the most spectacular view of the ocean to one side, the mountain range to the other. I don't know which one is better. We are so happy to be here watching the development arise from bare ground to a beautiful village. If you want to look at photos go to the Flickr website and type in Loreto Bay.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Pass the salsa, please

Another tumble for Allison. This time at the construction site after-hours poking around where we should not have been. She tripped on the sidewalk and fell. Now she adds a purple knot on her forehead and a scraped knee to the bruised lip and two absent front teeth. All these accidents are making the adjustment to life here just a little harder. I'm not doing a very good job as her protector, apparently. She says she wants to go home, that this is "your dream, Mama, not mine." My attempts to console her are hollow and I'm angry inside and I ask myself why. It has to do with my reaction to lack of control. I'm angry that she keeps getting hurt. Enough mishaps will sour her feelings about going along with the program. My plan has good intentions if I can get it rolling along. She learns some independence along with a little Spanish, Robert and I benefit from needed interest and adventure and healing.

So tonight to difuse the negative energy we all engaged in a complaint forum. She went first, then me, then her daddy: Hers, the obvious complaints, me the typical rants directed more at Robert--does anybody notice how things magically get done around here? (Our maid was a novelty that lasted three weeks before I succumbed to guilt) Isn't it miraculous how clothes appear laundered and put away and floors are swept and dishes hand-washed, and people's socks and shoes picked up, and sinks wiped clean!!!! Needless, to say, Robert didn't bother with his turn to complain seeing he spent all day on a boat with eight Mexican buddies.

That's another story, the Mexicans. They are builders in the Loreto Bay project who have taken a liking to Robert. We were invited to dinner last evening at their home in Loreto. They live in a compound of smaller buildings surrounding a main palapa-roofed house. Outside, under a full moon, carne asada was being prepared on a huge grill. Most of the people present were related, and there were faces we recognized from our forays into town like the banker who had risen from his desk to gently inform me that my picture-taking was not allowed in his institution. (I was instantly stung with embarrassment realizing that I was treating all of Loreto like a giant photo opportunity and overlooking that real business goes on here.) Everyone present was prosperous and educated, all having attended one university or another. Robert and I struggled along to understand their Spanish now and then filling them in on our background. Since they already knew essential things about Robert, he took great pleasure in presenting my personal history with lots of flourish. I was a televison news anchor and probably would have gone to Atlanta to work for CNN had I not ruined my career by marrying him. I am a writer and photographer and the voice of a cable channel back home. He had a stage and he was saying these things to honor me more than impress them; each little item based in a foggy piece of truth twisted in well-intentioned promotion.

After dinner Robert invited the men to a boat ride following an 8 a.m breakfast at our house. He and I woke early to prepare a big American style meal that included a couple pounds of bacon, scrambled cheese eggs, homemade biscuits and gravy, oatmeal, three kinds of jams, fresh squeezed orange juice. An hour later they had not showed and we joked that that's Mexico for you. Eventually they appeared. The oatmeal was a flop and I learned that salsa beats jelly here.

Tomorrow, it's week two for Allison at school. I'm hoping for a week full of great days, not medium or bad ones, as she would say. No cuts or bruises. Just more opportunities to make friends. I'll feel a lot better when she's better equipped to live with "my dream."

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Milk teeth

A second tooth is lost in Mexico. Shortly before arriving yesterday to pick up Allison from school, she took a tumble in the concrete courtyard and knocked out a front tooth. Looking at the courtyard with it's uneven surface and curbing it's easy to imagine how she lost her footing. Lucky it was only a baby tooth we said. From what I could tell she wasn't receiving much attention for it, no ice bag, nothing to wipe away the blood. I immediately found the bathroom and discovered the water was not running ( I learned today that it was a temporary condition.) All I had was a few tissues in my purse and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Not knowing what I should expect from a school in Mexico I refrained from pitching a fit but made lots of mental notes to myself regarding better preparations on my part. I think I'd be wise to carry a small cooler/first aid kit in the car that includes ice, washcloths, bandages, antiseptic. It is clear to me that 911 begins and ends with me.

For her part, Allison handled it with grace. She was definitely distraught, but also too embarrassed to lose her composure. She looked pathetic, her upper lip bruising and swelling, her hair coming loose from its ponytail, ribbons missing, her knees scraped and dirty. Her friend, J., had found her tooth and someone with English had wadded it into a green paper napkin and handed it to Robert saying in consolation, "milk teeth." On the way home I consoled her about this being a really bad day but tomorrow will be a good day. "No", she retorted,"It may be a medium day or another bad day, you never know, Mom." She's grown a little more realistic since the happiest-day-of-my-life at Disneyland. Mexico ain't no Disneyland. Here she's had the experience of being poked in the face with the sword tip of a yucca plant, choked by a butterscotch candy, poisoned by some intestional germ, thrown into a non-english speaking school where on her fourth day had her front tooth knocked out. That night the Mexican tooth fairy left 60 pesos, up 10 from the first tooth.

One thing I have learned about Mexico: it is easy to get hurt. Every day, every step can lead to disaster. The streets are riddled with holes or uneven spots in the pavement. The curbs are either overly steep or too narrow so as to be out of proportion to the human step. Sometimes an elevated sidewalk will end abruptly, depositing one over the edge. Animals roam freely causing motorists danger. Electric wires hang from store fronts and extension cords snake across wet sidewalks. Tree branches over walkways grow unmanaged and ready to poke out an eye. Wooden steps are rotted, chairs in restaurants are wobbly, door latches and iron trim readily snag clothing, nails pop up from flooring and stub shoes, plants with thorns lurk everywhere ready to stab or poke a passing shin or forearm.

They say if you get hurt in Mexico it's your fault. You should be more careful. This is true. Nothing here is designed with safety in mind. If you hit a cow or goat in the road, if you fall into a hole, forget looking to blame the irresponsible livestock owner, or the municipality for the absence of marked construction hazards. It's so easy to become annoyed at this glaringly unreasonable lack of standards. And I do quite often, especially after the pinch of pain. But it does no good. Better to just adopt the stance of personal responsibility for one's own safety and ramp up the awareness level. I know better than to read a note while driving for fear I'll ease out of my highway lane and unto the gravel towards a possible roll-over. I also can't stroll around town with my head in a daydream; I might stumble into the uneven crack in the sidewalk and sprain an ankle. I am required to be fully awake--and to do it without the help of a neighborhood Starbucks.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bowing to higher authorities

Yesterday when we picked up Allison from school she was immensely cheerful. She'd met two little sisters from Colorado whose father is working with the Loreto Bay Company. I'm certain the girls, 10 and 8 years old, immediately took Allison under their wings based on their shared common origin as gringo kids. I first laid eyes on them that morning on our way to school. The two were obviously late, racing down the main street to make the bell, (in parochial school there is no toleration for tardiness.) That made me smile and like them immediately, me relating deeply to my little fellow Americans in that frantic dash against time. So Allison had a good second day. The friends, and the new Disney princess back-pack loaded with lunch goodies added a level of needed comfort.

Later that day we headed to the fabric store for needle and thread for me to alter the buttons on Allison's school skirt and purchase the required green and white hair ribbons. We saw the two sisters on their bicycles. They were just leaving an Hawaiian dance class(!??) they told us. You should come next time, they said to Allison. Then they asked her to come along to the local park where their father is constructing an adobe shelter donated by the LB Company. The younger one said, get on, and scooted her bottom back in the bicycle seat to make room for Allie. I smiled again remembering those days where I raced around on my bike totally unsupervised. These girls were free-spirited and foot-loose in a small town where kids can race around, until probably, dusk. Speaking for our little cub, we declined their offer but said we'd drive there after finishing another errand. Maybe, in time, we'll grow more comfortable with the idea of letting our daughter roam about, and I hope we do.

At the park Robert and I visited with the girls' father as he worked on the adobe. He is a master bricklayer specializing in construction of the domed ceilings (bovedas) common in Spanish architecture. He went to Spain over Christmas just to view and study the craft. Next to his structure his daughters are building their own little shelter with the discarded, inferior bricks. The oldest showed Allie how to slather mortar on a brick and stack it on the structure. Already, Allison was helping the girl dream up ideas for dog houses or mouse houses. Their father is short on help and Robert, in neighborly fashion, offered his. Tommorow he may be lifting bricks! I overheard Allison (in the way that kids forthrightly ask for things) basically striking a deal with the sisters to be comrades: "You are the only girls I know that speak English so that means we have to be friends." She didn't need to ask, those adorable girls were happy to accept her. I couldn't be more thankful. Allison finally has girlfriends!

That evening I adjusted the buttons on Allison's skirt and set Robert to work prying the rhinestones and enamel Hello Kitty faces off of the only black shoes we brought along for Allison. Then I took a black permanent marker to the embroidered embellishments on the shoes so they would pass as acceptable for school. This morning I helped her dress in her new school uniform, tying her hair back with a rubber band and the ribbons. She looked so darn cute. Of course, she hates tucking in the shirt and wearing knee socks. "It's the rules," we say and how nice that felt to throw the blame for something we actually want but don't want to fight over, to some higher authority for once.

On the way home today we saw the infamous Oscar, the police dog, patrolling with the policia. No, he is not a trained canine but a scrappy mutt the officers took a liking to. This dog has adopted through association the attitude of martial authority. Oscar rides in the open truckbed sniffing the air with serious purpose. When the police pull over to investigate something Oscar jumps out and noses his way into the center of the interest. We have seen him growl Larry, Curly, and Darryl, who rule our corner and are three times his size, into submission. Oscar the policia perro. Just proving that a little attitude goes a long way.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Changes: big and little

Beau and Ryan left for home yesterday evening. Three weeks passed quickly and now it was time for them to go home. I watched teary-eyed as they moved through security and onto the tarmac to the 737 bound for Los Angeles. How many family vacations like this do we have left? There are so many transitions we are all going through right now. Both boys are adults and Allison is no longer our baby. And we are living in Mexico!

Allison started school today. We had to awaken at 6 a.m. to get ready and arrive early to get her enrolled. We were the very first people there and after wandering around a school painted entirely in shades of marine blue we settled on a bench outside the classrooms and listened to a cacophony of roosters crowing. It is written that Loreto has an abundance of roosters and it is true. At a few minutes before 8 a.m. students in green and grey plaid uniforms began pouring in through the blue iron gate, most of them carrying overstuffed backpacks. An older nun greeted nearly each one with a hug.

Overall, the childrens' mood was cheerful with lots of grinning and happy salutations. I could see Allison was curious but guarded. Her body was stiff with trepidation but she never cried or begged to be taken away. Her teacher, who speaks no English, led her through introductions and then to her seat at the front of the room just behind J., her only english-speaking acquaintance in Mexico. I did not hover long, only enough to learn she needed a notebook and pencil. Robert and I went immediately to the supermarket for both. Her required uniform, I learned, will have to be made. We have to purchase the material and find someone to make the skirt. After delivering the notebook and two pencils and a sharpener (on the advice of the store clerk) we walked away and left her to her new adventure. Without us. She's not my baby, but a citizen of the world and she has to take her place. I respected her a lot today.

Robert and I had the rest of the day to ourselves and we were busy meeting with various persons involved in the building of our home. I made some minor revisions to our bath subtracting one sink, adding a linen cabinet. I kept a promise to D. to feed a litter of wild desert dogs while she's away. Toting Purina Chow and a jug of water, I followed her directions to the spot where I am to call out, "here puppies, here puppies," and three scrawny pointy-eared, people-shy mutts peep out. I am glad for the chore since I spend most of the day asking others for assistance, advice, directions, help.

Later, this evening, we had a couple over and the four of us, my mother, and Allison sat down to an American-style dinner. I've come to realize that a home-cooked meal is highly appreciated here and is the one thing I am able to offer in reciprocation. Everyone shared their day's experiences; Allison recounted her day at school with a lot of candor ("the playground stinks.") But at bedtime we had trouble. She began complaining that she wanted to go home. Her brothers got to go home. She was old enough to fly on a plane by herself and somebody could pick her up. Living in Mexico was our dream, not hers. She worked herself into a nausea "from the germs she got from school" and thought she might vomit. Then the tears began and she had a little breakdown. I cheered her up with discussion of lunch box planning that included apple juice and powdered donuts and she finally fell asleep. However, now I feel a little shaken off-center, in need of someone to issue me a pep talk and remind me of my purpose--which is???

I talk to myself and land on the thought that there's no need to work on the big picture, just stay occupied on the dailies. Tomorrow we will get up early, pack the lunch, go to school, look for fabric for the uniform. All the little details. Then I suddenly remembered today on the construction site we met a man responsible for details. His job: overseeing the finishes or, detalles, on each house. He is called something like, Detalle Man. The resulting object under his charge gets the greatest scrutiny as well as the greatest praise when done well. I can relate to that as a Detalle Woman.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Grandma to the rescue

My mother is here for a week-long visit from her home in Arizona. She arrived yesterday afternoon loaded with provisions (I'd made a wish list for her.) She managed to fit into her suitcases things like clothes hangers, an iron, a jar of sweet pickles, kitchen tongs and a spatula, polo shirts for Robert, jigsaw puzzles, dvd's, magazines, cake, jello, and pudding mixes, and most importantly--chocolate milk for Allison. The milk, several quarts, she'd packed in dry ice. Now that's one hero of a grandmother!

Robert made us fish tacos for dinner and then we all took a long walk down the Boulevard with Larry and Curly (the neighborhood dogs) in tow. Darryl is not dead I've learned, but still recovering from his accident. Our puppy, Betsy, is still limping from her sprained foot.

Today, I took my mother to town to look around. After lunch at Cafe Ole I intended to pick up a telephone card at the pharmacy, but it was siesta time. I keep forgetting to plan my errands around the local custom of closing shop in mid-afternoon. My problem is I wake too late and don't start my day early enough. That will change when Allison starts school here, I hear they go from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm. My mother and I walked past the private Catholic school where Allison will attend. It looks more like a government building than a school. In fact, it looks like a prison with it's bars on the windows and a large chain-link fence around a concrete basketball court; a great contrast to the public school off the plaza; every exterior wall painted a bright color or with a mural, and a playground full of whimsical recreation equipment. I'm praying that looks are deceiving in this instance. We'll find out soon enough.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Around every corner

I think Darryl, the dog, may be dead. Our friends told us he was hit by a car and his outlook didn't look promising. Since that was two days ago and I haven't seen Darryl, I wonder. Meanwhile, we see Larry and Curly frequently. They've become very friendly with us following us home daily. In fact, everyone here has been so friendly and helpful. Today Robert borrowed a huge boat with help from our neighbors, directors in the Loreto Bay Company, who've already had us to dinner, lent me a book, found us the home we are renting, offered us dogs, and now were escorting us by car to the garage in Loreto where the boat was housed. From there the owner of the boat helped us pull it out and when it wouldn't start he radioed an employee for help. I was sitting in our vehicle when this person pulled up and had his door opened before his car was at a full stop. That image stuck in my mind all day because it exemplifies the attitude of the people who work for the Loreto Bay Company: helpful.

Before heading to the boat launch we stopped at McCaws for lunch and ran into another LB employee who serves as the I.T. person. Twice she's been to our house to help with our internet and cable connections. Robert mentioned to her we have a problem with our wireless connection and she answered she'd be over tomorrow to fix it. When we went to launch the boat a man standing nearby warned us that the tide was too low. So we put it off until tomorrow. On the way home a oncoming car flashed its lights and immediately we were apon a goat leisurely crossing the highway. For the rest of the way home I reflected on the day full of help. Really, the whole day was about people, some strangers, helping us. This is something I will remember to accentuate when I describe Baja Mexico to others.

I feel the need to give something back. We've been invited everywhere and been treated with extreme generousity. Robert wants to have a big fish fry. I fret that we can't put on a nice spread since we are lacking in everything from chairs to dishes, and if we don't get that boat in the water--fishes! We'll manage...because it's Mexico and how to manage is the first thing you learn.

Tonight, Robert is out with friends listening to quitarists at the Camino. The boys are with friends on the beach where they've planned a bonfire. I'm at home with Allison and our puppy who sprained her foot today and had to be taken to the vet.

This afternoon I took a long walk through the construction site and dreamed about our house being finished. Amidst the new construction are support buildings like trailers that house the construction offices, and little make-shift structures like the one in this photo which serves meals to the workers.(You can double-click on the image to enlarge) I'm taken with the attempt to add holiday cheer to an otherwise colorless site. And again I feel a sense of gratitude to the spirit of goodwill that I'm finding around every corner.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Our not so peaceable kingdom

I took a walk through the construction site at Loreto Bay where our little casa chica now has a second storey. It really is so small. I think, couldn't ya have added just a couple more feet to each room? I mean, what does a little more adobe and stucco cost? Still, the development looks very promising and the views--wow! We will be able to see the ocean as well as the mountains.

The other morning Beau and I took a kayak out into the ocean. After an initial drench from the incoming waves we followed the recommended course around the large outcropping of rock and into the estuary which winds through the golf course. The view back to land with the Sierra de la Gigantas in the background is beautiful. The hotel also looks more appealing in that setting with it's bell tower set against the blue sky. I am not much for water sports, but if kayaking is a water sport, then sign me up. It is so exhilarating, especially in beautiful settings.

Our boys have managed to stay entertained. The other night they witnessed a cock fight. I didn't know they existed here, but apparently it is a very popular bloodsport in the Baja. The roosters are fitted with razors on their talons then thrown into a ring where their natural territorial instincts lead them to battle each other. Were there any cocks that refused to fight?, I asked hopefully. I imagined the birds had the power to decide; maybe some were peace-loving. But no, they fight to the death. Ryan described the fate of the only cock that did turn the other cheek. His owner became so incensed he grabbed his rooster by the neck, slung it against a wall, then gave it hard snap wringing it's neck. Gulp.

The prevailing attitude towards animal life is harsh here. Stray, roaming dogs are routinely round up and shot, I am told. And even though I'm not affectionate towards fish, the stories Robert tells me fishing, of the grappling of a large fish with a spear-hook to hoist it onboard where it chokes for air for the remainder of the ride before being gutted alive ) , make me want to put down my fish taco. Yesterday on the road into town I saw about a dozen vultures picking at the fresh carcass of a dog. Everywhere, everything eats everything, a flawed principal in creation. I know we have to eat. I don't want to give up eating meat, but at least we can feel bad about it and certainly never enjoy killing for it, or watching others kill.

That's why I'm really thankful for the sanitized, miraculous way meat appears at the supermarket; vaguely unidentifiable, wrapped in tight plastic packaging on styrofoam trays. It's all illogical and removed from reality, just the way I like it. This is one flaw in my 21st-century reasoning that I can live with. It's just that it's easier back home in America where we all tend to agree on this matter.