Category Archives: rancho life in Mexico

Music Sunday!

OK, yes, it’s loud. We use our big speakers, and I’ve heard that it can be noticed in a town less than a mile away.

Right now we’re hearing The Eagles. People are on their way to mass. They just can’t miss it.

Time for breakfast of tamales at 5 pesos apiece. With beans, and café de la olla – check it out! Delicious!

Church Musicians At Rancho Fiesta

Patronal festivals are an important part of rancho life. They are major events, lasting several days, and they serve to gather family and friends together. People from nearby towns come, and people from faraway places as well. There are plenty of ways to spend money. Colorful booths with vendors offer food, products, artisanal candy, and regional items.

Today we went to play for a mass in a not-too-far-away place where we’d never gone before. It’s a rancho called Sitio de Maravillas and maybe someday I’ll find out why it’s named that.The name means place of wonders/marvels. It looked like a typical rancho, and there were no wonders in sight. It did look typical, if there is such a thing, but the guitar player said, “These people look like they’re from Michoacan, and most of them have the same faces as my family.” As it turns out, the rancho is an ejido. From wikipedia: In Mexican system of government, an ejido (Spanish pronunciation: [eˈxiðo], from Latin exitum) is an area of communal land used for agriculture, on which community members individually farm designated parcels and collectively maintain communal holdings. And the area is only two or three miles from where many of the guitar player’s cousins live. There are some good photos of Sitio at this site: 

http://mexico.pueblosamerica.com/foto/sitio-de-maravillas

It was a rather typical-for-us first time visit. We arrived more than an hour early and began our set up. It was difficult to find a power outlet, and there was no one to let us know where we should sing and play from. 

The colorful umbrellas are masking the equally colorful vendor booths. And that spindly-looking tower is for – fireworks!

Anyway we were a bit nervous, and the church began filling up about a half-hour before the mass was to begin, which was not exactly a calming influence.

Although you can’t see the silent watchers, they’re there – right behind the photographer.

We were surrounded by people, some praying, but mostly silently watching us set up.  We felt more nervous. But when the priest entered, we knew we could relax, because we knew him, and he’s a helpful guy (not a person who corrects you or gives mean looks or cuts you off in mid-sung-syllable). And we went on getting prepared, guessing at which kind of music they might want for whatever saint was being celebrated. There were several Maria statues in the front area of the church, which is not necessarily a clue. But we did the Ave Maria for communion (the guitarist made a good call on that one, because as it turned out, the patron saint was Maria). In the last 6 years I’ve sung Ave Maria more times that I had previously accumulated in my lifetime of church singing.

There was a pretty ceiling treatment there. The only difficult thing in creating it would be using a long, long handle for the paint brush.

Pretty ceiling treatment, done with paint.

Afterwards, the same silent watchers converted in front of our eyes into friends! and wanted to know WHERE we were from, and WHY they hadn’t heard of us before, and, and, and…And WHAT is our phone number so they can call us for upcoming events. They were welcoming, and invited us to eat móle, a famous Mexican dish often served at big gatherings.  

As we were leaving we had to hurry to get the car moved because there were about 40 Aztec/Indian dancers in wonderful costumes setting up for a show right in front of the church, which I don’t recall seeing before. Not right there in front of a church.

Fireworks image from YouTube.

When we got home we took a nap, and now I’m sitting here with a little headache, yawning, and it’s only 8 p.m. I’ll bet they’re getting ready for the fireworks in Sitio De Maravillas.

Time Is (Not!) On Our Side

Yes, we’ve been practicing, but – life happens. Our next gig is coming up fast, and we’re trying to stay ahead of it. On December 8, we’re playing for The Guitar Player’s birthday party and concert. Here, at our house. Yes, we’ve had the very best of intentions, and we’ve made schedules.

Work list:

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Clean up the garden, which is rapidly returning to its natural state. (store the big squashes, haul the dead and dying vines to the lot behind the house, dig the weeds – they show no signs of dying, protect the chile plants from children running through the garden.

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Clean up the yard, which is lined with hand-made-by-us bales of the large sacks our farming salts and fertilizers come in, and sad looking cardboard boxes, and sacks and sacks of plastic bottles and containers. That requires hauling the heavy trash to a recycling center in our big truck.

 

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Get the invitation posters printed.

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Make sure the food people are prepared – yes, we serve a meal to our guests! At least this time we don’t have to go grocery shopping the day before the party.

Practice, many more hours. We have a list of well over a hundred songs that are at the ready, but this time we’re featuring brand-new-to-the-public original songs. We’ve planned a set list of 60 songs, about half of them originals.

We’re also preparing our annual Christmas/Posadas Parties set list, of about 30 songs that we alternate from night to night.

And one of the band members just doesn’t feel good. He’s got a sort of flu-ish thing that’s lasted a few days. What to do? Except for practicing and memorizing lyrics, the rest of the band can’t practice alone, by herself.

What Beautiful Chayotes!

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On the left are two chilacayotas. We can discuss those later. On the right – a “different” type of chayote. Larger, and a darker green color than the ones I’ve seen in markets.

It took me several distinct steps to get to the point of saying that, over a period of a few years.

Step 1: What’s this in my soup? Bleh. What’s a chayote?

Step 2: Chayotes are OK, I guess.

Step 3: What else can you do with chayote besides put it in soup? What’s “agua fresca?” OK, I’m just kidding about not knowing what agua fresca is. I liked that right away. Who wouldn’t? Fresh fruits blended into gorgeously colorful drinks are wonderful in the summer alongside a meal, or just by themselves. Some of them may sound a bit unusual – agua de pepino, for example, is a cucumber drink. I was skeptical, but it was just  as delicious as lemon, or strawberry.

Chayote (chai-OH-teh) – it’s a pear-shaped squash with (usually) thin, pale green skin. It can be eaten raw or cooked. It has little flavor of its own, and picks up the good flavors in soups. Some people make agua fresca with it, and some people put it in salads.

Today I prepared albondigas (Mexican meatball soup) for Thanksgiving, not having had much opportunity to purchase a turkey, and not having an oven to roast it in. I do have a 6-quart slow cooker, but….

A friend, hoping for a favor from us (thank goodness it didn’t involve money), gave us these chayotes the other day. I put one in the albondigas, and blended one with some guayabas for a fruity, vegetable-ish drink.

Ready for Thanksgiving!

 

Quiet Sunday, Except For The Practicing

img_4963It’s cold this morning – 40 degrees! That’s 4.44 Celsius. We’re a little concerned about the two baby ground doves that have been sitting on the tile floor of the patio for two whole days. But we can’t see them, so we’re hoping for the best.

We haven’t been feeling our best, either, but today we’re going to practice anyway (that’s what musicians DO!)

if you haven’t made your Thanksgiving plans yet, well, make them. I’m thinking albondigas, Mexican meatball soup. Have a good day, all y’all!

REAL Day Of The Dead

I love the photos I already posted, but this is what it was really like:

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These women stayed nearly all day. Ask me how I know.

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People – visiting their families, dead and alive.

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Flowers for Don Antonio, a humble and warm man. RIP.

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It’s a large cemetery, and there’s no map. You’ve just got to know, or know somebody who knows.

I felt comfortable here.

October 29 Had “Unique” Written All Over It

I say that today was unique for several reasons. We are jack-of-all-trades musicians. (Can I say that?) We play for religious ceremonies, dances, and special events of all kinds.

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We played for a mass in nearby El Tecolote, and it was an occasion that we had not played for before: it was a mass for San Juditas, a familiar name for San Judas. Saint Jude, patron saint of lost causes. This saint is popular in Mexico City, and people make pilgrimages to temples dedicated to him all over Mexico. Unique.

We were told that there is a temple dedicated to this saint in El Tecolote. In a house. Unique! There’s a story told to us with little detail. An owner of the house promised San Juditas that he would make and dedicate a temple to him if he would answer a prayer about a desperate situation that was affecting him. The temple bears witness to the answered prayer. It’s inside a house on a street near the edge of the town. They say that at one time the house was the very last house in town.  Now the street boasts several more houses, and as we came to surmise, the houses belong mostly if not completely to descendants of this man. It’s their own family neighborhood!

The houses in this area are different in that nearly all of them can be shut completely up. The entrances are very large solid metal sheets fashioned into gates by practiced metal workers. .Some have people-sized doors cut into them, but most of them are just enormous doors or gates, opened only enough for people to slip in and out. There is no view at all of the house for the curious.

It can be trying to figure out driving directions given in another language, and often the gestures are just as foreign. We were told that the church was at the end of the town, so we turned onto what looked like the last street. Since it was a mini patronal fiesta, the street was already lined with vendors, and as we were gawking, we just about tore off the right sideview mirror of our big truck,

Here’s another unusual thing, if not unique – we drove our big truck. It’s a large old panel truck that’s big enough to carry large equipment for playing for a couple of thousand people. One might ask why we took it. I’m really not sure what provoked that decision, but as we were leaving (it’s tricky getting it out of our parking in the back lot) I noticed that the brake pedal was squishy, and I announced it. Chon said we would get brake fluid tomorrow. After we loaded up our regular equipment (that can ride comfortably in the back of the PT Cruiser) we drove about a mile to the turnoff for El Tecolote, and headed down the narrow paved road leading to the town.

We asked for directions. Down there, a woman said. Turn right after the second block. And that’s where we came right up on vendors! and lots of people milling around! By this time, the brake problem had reached noticeably scary levels.  We drove right up to the vendors’ stands, and an enormous piece of plastic that covered most of the street. After the unfortunate mirror incident, I unhappily backed up the truck onto the main street again, and went further to the bottom end of the town. A lovely woman approached, smiling, and said yes; at the next street turn right. It will be much easier for you. It was a narrow street that looked like it ended right away, but it didn’t – there was just a sharp curve that we couldn’t see around. So we made it almost to the house-that-is-a-church, and parked. In front of our truck was a castillo; a fireworks tower, so we couldn’t go any further forward. A butcher in his apron came over to us and said he would get people to help us carry the equipment right to the door, and he did. Shortly we had everything set up, and then we waited for the priest to arrive. There are few priests and many churches and people, and they are pressed for time. One priest may serve up to eight churches in one day. We were hoping it wouldn’t be the bland-faced cura who often stops us mid-song, and it wasn’t – it was the new priest, who is easy to read, and (so far!) easy-going, too.

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The house-that-is-a-church.

Right as we began the first song/canto, a large bus pulled right up behind our truck, and many men in uniforms got out. No, they weren’t soldiers or drug dealers. They were a band; a banda, with uniforms, instruments and sound equipment, and they traipsed right in front of us in a row in the street, to take their instruments to the other side of the entrance to the house/church.

We continued the mass with no incidents. I wasn’t surprised, since I had read the wikipedia article about San Judas De Tadeo, when the priest admonished us all, after the mass had finished, that the children should not dress as witches, or La Santa Muerte, or devils, or zombies, but instead costumes should be of saints, or religious personages, etc.

We were wondering how we would get out of the area. But the answer to that question was obvious – we couldn’t leave at all until the bus moved. And so it was that we stayed to hear a banda performance. (talk about a captive audience!) It may have been the worst live banda I’ve heard in Mexico so far. Take a listen. (I hope you can hear this. It’s my very first time converting this kind of audio file to an MP3). At least in this example, the tuba was playing generally in the same key as the rest of the band.

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The band played on, and I do mean on. We needed to move our truck because of the impending tower of fireworks, and so did the band. The fireworks guys who built the tower and strapped on all the fireworks (spinning wheels, sparkling flowers, shooting rockets, etc) stood there, at times shooting anxious looks up at the tower, the two big vehicles close to the tower, and other vehicles that were blocking us from behind.

The band moved into a set of banda with vocals, even worse than the first songs. There were two men’s voices, each one thin. The lead voice sang close-to-in-tune (and those of You Who Know, know that sometimes is even worse than badly-out-of-tune singing), and the voice singing harmony, sang really, truly, badly out of tune, which sometimes created augmented chords instead of major and minor chords.

We bought some some excellent enchiladas from one of the women in front of the church/house. Well, we were hungry, and trapped in El Tecolote! How to make enchiladas for a crowd? They’re prepared on a very large disc with a bowl-like center that holds hot oil. One woman dips a tortilla in the sauce she has prepared, then dips the tortilla in the hot oil, and lays it on the outer edge of the enchilada maker. Another woman fills the red, soft tortilla with the filling of – mashed potatoes (!), and rolls it up into its familiar enchilada-ish shape. When there are several, they are transferred to a plate, and the toppings are added. Thin slices of tomato and onion are layered on top with sliced lettuce. Then, on top of that, thin cream is drizzled over the whole thing, and then some green salsa. They’re very satisfying and delicious.

By this time it was getting cold. I’m not exaggerating. I had already put on a light-weight blouse over my linen dress, and I wound my way through the crowd to get a long sleeved shirt from the truck. It wasn’t enough, but I felt a little more comfortable.

We waited and waited until the painful banda was finished with their contract. They moved over to the previously-mentioned butcher’s shop for their (free!) tacos. Hey! Why not for us? Then the large butcher and several of his equally large brothers began the process of moving the vehicles so that the bus and we, too, could get out of the narrow street. After some pickups that were stopping up the whole movement moved out of the way, the bus backed up and parked on the side of the narrow street, and the family of large brothers began to convince me, the driver, that I could back up our big truck into a side yard to turn around (thank you, gods of driving!). That’s when I remembered that the brakes weren’t exactly in working order. In spite of this, I backed the long truck into the yard. One man was telling me to Go, go, go! When I asked who was watching the other side he said There’s no problem! There’s lots of space! It was all rather jolly, and we made our way back out the narrow street, stopping only when the lovely woman who had earlier given us the (correct!) directions said to me “Don’t forget the way! You’ll be coming here every year for the fiesta for San Juditas, godwilling!”

Heading back up the street we had come down several hours earlier, we crossed each traffic-slowing tope, and made it up to the small highway, with (almost) no brakes. Slowly, we traversed the highway back to our home in our rancho. It was after midnight, and after we made our way with extreme caution past the neighbors’ house with its overhanging walkway that could be destroyed by my carelessness in driving our tall truck, we were greeted (surprise!) by our-dog-that-is-not-our-dog, Manos. He was thrilled to see us driving something (even though it was not his thrilling super favorite moving thing), home. He leapt on us and pawed us happily, making puppy sounds. We hadn’t seen him for weeks. We surmised that his other humans had gone to the big fiesta in nearby Jalpa, and he had somehow escaped his rope or chain. It was an unusual if not unique happening…

It was the date of “falling back” from daylight savings time here in Mexico. We fell into bed late but uniquely satisfied.

 

Yesterday

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We practiced! Yes, we did! For the first time in – no, I can’t say it. Just know that there were many, many reasons that other activities took precedence. It took several hours to locate all the equipment we needed, and to set up. We’re trying out a new spot in the portál. In this photo you can see our Audubon bird clock (very popular with the denizons of the rancho), some framed needlepoint work, our ancient electrical switch box and the place we hook up our musical electrical equipment, and a very old cement tile floor that I have grown to like.

In the afternoon when we took a break, we went to survey the lot behind the house.

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On the other side of the stone fence is our neighbors’ corn field. For the first time in 6 years, the two middle-aged sisters have a respectable crop. Since the parcel slants down, and is dry land, the season was perfect – some rain every night.img_4558They also have some squash plants, tomatillos, and beans. I cooked a big handful of beans with lentils, and I must say that they were excellent. I had small hopes for them because the bean pods were beginning to dry. I shelled the driest ones to find tender, pale beans inside, and as for the greener ones, they soften right up, and the combination of legumes was delicious, cooked with onion, garlic and tomatoes. We had an excellent supper, served with bolillos.

Our friends Michael and Richard headed home to the Los Angeles area today without us being able to spend time with them. Their Mexico vacation didn’t turn out quite as planned.

In the afternoon I found some time to try to make up for lost time knitting. It’s beginning to look like a sweater! That’s the back of a short top-down cardigan knitted with recycled cotton yarn.

img_4543And in the evening, more practicing!

Caldo De Res In The Afternoon

Afternoon clouds behind the house. See that dark spot above the left high window? That's a panál, a bee hive that's getting larger every day.

Afternoon clouds behind the house. See that dark spot above the left high window? That’s a panál, a bee hive that’s getting larger every day.

We both had been thinking about beef soup, Mexican style. It’s something that is cherished and admired by Chon. The corn is ripe, and it’s an important element in caldo de res. I had heard many times about the wonderful soups The Sisters made (and make), and I was a little intimidated and at the same time I was thinking “How hard could it really be?” I mean, really! Water, beef, carrots, celery, potatoes and any vegetable that appeals. So I decided to give it a try.

In our rancho, beef is sold on Sunday mornings. I asked Elena if I could go with her when she bought her meat for the week, and she told me we’d go at 8 a.m. on Sunday. We walked to the corner where the vendors set up, and immediately I could see why the time was important. There were three people waiting in front of us, and the line grew and grew behind us. Elena said to buy about 3/4 of a kilo of ribs, costillas, and (I believe) cross cut hind shank or en español, chamorro. The meat was all beautiful, very clean, and being sold by two young women I had met by purest coincidence only two days before in nearby Jalpa.

I had 20 pesos left from the 100 peso bill I had taken, and I bought 3 tamales from Lola on the way home, leaving me with 5 pesos left over. One hundred pesos these days is about $5.40 USD, in case anyone is wondering. The meat was the only thing I was wondering about. The beef here is not aged, and is therefore tougher. I bravely forged ahead, simply boiling the meat as instructed for over an hour with salt before adding the vegetables. I had some slightly sad carrots, nice celery, and some pre-cooked potatoes, and they all went into the pot. The meat was still tough. I worried a bit. After another hour the meat was less tough, and the flavor was excellent. i stopped worrying, kept the heat low, and kept it cooking.

It was very good! I served it with some lovely slices of avocado, and a toasted roll, bolillo. Chon was happy – caldo de res was probably made on few occasions while he was growing up. He asked for a second serving.

And today we had leftovers for a pleasant afternoon meal. Here you go. As you can see, I’m not in the running for best food photos, but I think the soup tasted even better today, sitting at a table in our patio.img_4456The view from our table:

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Our untidy fall garden that still threatens to overtake the patio.

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Just Another Irrigation Day

Chris suggested I translate some words, so I did. Good suggestion.

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It was one of those awful, good days – a little bit of everything! It was cloudy and warmish when I got up before 6. We got an early start and got to El Joconoistle at 7 a.m.( All the fields around us have old, official names you can read on the deeds, and there are maps of them. I’d love to put a copy of the old, fragile map right here – one day I will.) We own a field in El Joconoistle, named for some cacti that used to grow there. Another field in El Joconoistle is rented from a friend. In La Tabla Grande, the big board, we own two fields that lie next to each other, purchased from two of Chon’s uncles.  El Melonár, named for the melons grown there many years ago and La Tierra Blanca, or white dirt, named for its light-colored earth, are also rented, from Chon’s godfather.

Chon is irrigating a section of a parcela we farm so as not to pay a peón to work. (Parcela is the word used here for a parcel of land.) Irrigating is the most highly paid job here, because the irrigator is supposed to be there 24 hours for each turn. The section we were watering had flooded a little bit in the night, and we went there (in the night) forgetting to take a shovel, but Chon had closed the boquilla with his hands and mud, and it was OK in the morning. (A boquilla is a sort of notch in the side of a ditch where the water is managed. To open it and let the water into the field, you shovel away the wet dirt. To stop the water, you just build it back up again. Or use a costál, a large , woven plastic bag that can hold about 100 pounds of fertilizer, or sand, or dirt.)

Boquilla - little mouth. And a costál.

Boquilla – little mouth. And a costál.

Then we went to La Tierra Blanca to make sure that one of our father/son teams were taking care of the water there. The night before we listened to extremely upsetting stories of how the water was taken from us by a well-known peón of the most well-known farmeraround, who removed the boards we had put in the compuerta to divert the water to our ditch. We heard more details of that story.

This is a compuerta with a valve wheel in the main ditch. No boquillas here!

This is a compuerta with a valve wheel in the main ditch. No boquillas here!

The sky got darker and darker, and then it began to sprinkle, and by 8 a.m. to was raining. The sound of rain on tall corn plants is something to remember. And this time it was particularly wonderful, as the plants really really needed water. By 8:30 it was still raining. The ground there gets gummy right away, and I managed to get the pickup stuck. Both front tires were over the edge of the ditch.

One of our workers drove his decrepit red pickup over and after jockeying it around, and nearly getting it stuck, all the peónes together, and the red pickup pulled us backwards out of danger. By this time Chon was chilled to the bone, and his shirt was dripping water from the hem. I gave him my merely-damp flannel shirt to wear, and a bandana, because I nearly always wear a t-shirt underneath flannel in the mornings, and I wasn’t cold. And by that time the sun was out!

This is a small compuerta with a valve, where we divert water into one of our fields.

This is a small compuerta with a valve, where we divert water into La Tabla Grande

We went then to open the water in La Tabla Grande, and were there an hour or so, and then traveled back to El Joco. While we were there, a bump in the road that had been becoming more and more of a driving problem had turned out to be (I knew it! I knew it!) a broken pipe that crosses under the road, and Porfirio and his son started digging, and they uncovered most of the smashed part, and the water began to flow out of it, and then it inexplicably got stopped up, and Chon pulled one, two, three costales out of it. They had been used on the other side of the road at the compuerta to divert the water from the canal into our irrigation ditch. In the US they most likely would have been filled with sand, but these had been filled with mud, maybe a year or two ago. The mud had partly oozed out through the mesh fabric, and the no-longer-full costales had made their way into the 10-inch pipe. Chon also pulled a dinky little mud turtle out of the pipe, and we all laughed at that, and I took it back to the canal.

The pipe just kept getting plugged up over and over, and we finally drove to the house to get a very, very long piece of rebar (12 meters long!) which eventually was used to clean out the long piece of pipe after Chon had a brilliant idea to open one of the boquillas into the field to get the water moving better.

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We didn’t get back from the fields until after four p.m., and it was nearly all work and/or frustration!

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