Category Archives: retirement in Mexico

BANKING

I won‘t say “only in Mexico”, but see what you think about this story.

Chon’s family has had a long-running problem with officials in regard to the spelling of their last name. On Chon’s father’s birth certificate Vasquez is spelled like that: Vasquez.

Chon’s sister Elena, who has historically spelled her last name Basquez, (yes, birth certificate and all) recently had problems with her medical insurance because someone misspelled her name when filling out an annual form; Elena didn’t notice, and her brand, spanking-new identification read Bosques. She couldn’t receive services for several months, and had to show her birth certificate and other identifications to get a new card. This took several trips to different offices.

Chon is enrolled in a government program for financial assistance for small farmers. It provides help for buying seed, etc. Last year at the end of May the people at the Procampo told him that they had opened a bank account for him, and he should go to the bank to confirm the account. He decided he wasn’t interested in the account. But this year they told him that they had deposited his check in the account. So we went to finalize the account so he could with draw the money when we need it for farming expenses.

At the Accounts  desk the woman reviewed his documents and said. “Procampo has misspelled your name”. (As Vazquez.) She couldn’t officially open the account. She suggested that we get a letter from Procampo stating that no matter how his name was spelled, he was really him. We went right back there and got a very official-looking letter with a seal and an enormous, artful signature and gave it to the bank official. She said that she would send it to the main bank with copies of his identifying documents, and that we could return in three days. But not really three days, because of May 1st, Labor Day. We waited a couple of extra days, because – well, just because. When we returned yesterday the same woman was not there, so Chon re-told the story  to another person. She said that headquarters had not made the spelling change.

She suggested that we go to the branch where the account was located, and see if they could help. (Why didn’t they just tell us where the account was located in the first place, I wondered.)

We went there and the accounts woman looked at the documents and said,”You just need a replacement card for the one we gave you originally.” (They hadn’t. Or Procampo hadn’t, or – whatever.) She said, “Your name is correct, so I’ll make you a new card.” We glanced at each other. Correct?

We wisely kept our mouths shut, and in a minute or two she handed Chon his new card and a PIN (here it’s a NIP). And that was that. As he signed for the new card he cautiously asked how he should sign it. The woman casually told him that it didn’t matter. He should sign it the way he usually signs it. Vazquez.

I LIKE NOPALES

I like nopales. OK, they’re not for everyone, (their texture is a bit like okra) but I really, really like them.

Our next-door neighbor Doña Elena has practically no income, but she enjoys bringing us little gifts, usually food. Last week she brought two glasses filled with red gelatin, and some nopales she had harvested and prepared herself. Yesterday when we were sweeping the street in the early morning she asked me how we liked the nopales. We had forgotten about them, I’m afraid, but I told her they were wonderful – very tender. Right after that I got them from the refrigerator and prepared them so I wouldn’t have to feel so guilty.

Nopales are the pads of the prickly pear cactus, and they are low in calories and contain modest amounts of vitamins and minerals.

I cut them into strips and boiled them. As they are boiling, nopales make lots and lots of bubbles, and you have to tend them so they don’t boil over. When they are cooked you drain them and cool them quickly, and throw away all the now-slimy, bubbly water.

After they are rinsed they are not (so) slimy, and you can prepare a salad with them (with chopped onions, tomatoes and cilantro), or use them like a vegetable in main dish recipes. I asked Elena if she wanted to use them and she said yes.

Today she cooked some very pretty flor de mayo beans – they are a pinkish pale yellow, and cook fairly quickly, and then she added the prepared nopales.

I could scarcely believe it last week when a truck came through town with large red tomatoes for sale for 4 pesos per kilo. We bought 2 kilos, and have been enjoying sliced tomatoes often. (Four pesos is less than forty cents, and a kilo is well over two pounds  – figure it out!)

And today i sliced the last two and served them with the beans and nopales, and toast. it was a wonderful meal!

The Friend Connection – San Miguel de Allende

Michael, My Friend, I’m so glad I got a hold of you three days ago! I called Richard but he hadn’t set up his voice mail. THEN I called Beth as you suggested and there was no answer, but I thought maybe she couldn’t get her phone in time. I thought what a bummer it would be to just tell you lamely “Well,we just couldn’t get in touch.” and I called her back, and she picked up!
Richard suggested we meet them in front of the “Parroquia” there in San Miguel, because they would be there in three minutes or so…We had to drive down from an overlook where we were, looking down on the city. We parked where we thought we were within walking distance, and asked directions from two women, obviously from the States. One told us we had about a fifteen-minute walk, but, well, you know us – we were there in about 5 minutes, I think.

Every town and city here has a “parroquia” or two and you must ask the name. But in San Miguel there is only one Parroquia. It is not a modest building. It is directly across from the Jardin, and things were a-hopping when we arrived. There were many, many tourists, and small Indian women selling colorful toys and bracelets and other things from trays they carried.

And we found Richard right away. When we had passed a park earlier on our hike from where we had parked, we saw a tall man with a T-shirt and shorts, and Chon asked “Could that be Richard?”  No, that was not Richard. THIS is Richard! T-shirt and shorts, indeed!

 


And David and Beth were there, too, very friendly and companionable right away. I felt comfortable after feeling just a little anxious about finding them.

Richard had Plans. He suggested an exploring sort of walk around a few blocks, and it was quite enjoyable, including an art gallery with a friendly artist – “No photos, please! I’ll have to charge you $500!” Richard obediently deleted the pictures from his camera. Chon was looking for information about legal matters, and went into an office and Richard accomodatingly said not to worry, that they would wait in a local restaurant/bar. We took only a couple of minutes, though – most things were closed because of Holy Week – ane we met up with them right away, and had a margarita (two for the price of one – 80 pesos, less than 7 dollars!) And they were delicious, and seemed pretty strong on empty stomachs, so we had some laughs and got to know each other a little bit. I was comfortable with Beth right away – a different kind of artist, a classical ballerina, and teacher.

Soon we pushed on, and visited the local library, well-supported, Richard informed us, by the local gringo population. It was quite attractive, and busy for its small size. There were English lessons happening, and lots of posters announcing upcoming events of music, reading, and book sales.

The streets were old, of stone, and it seemed like everywhere you looked there were beautiful colors and images. Old doors, colorful houses and shops, stones, brick, and lots and lots of people in vacation mode for Holy Week.


Richard knew “a nice spot right around the corner” and we went to order the house specialty, chiles rellenos nogados. They were stuffed chiles with a lovely sauce of walnut cream. They were wonderful – sweetish, stuffed with spiced, ground meat with a few raisins. Chon and Richard ordered the “hotter” version, which reportedly was not hot. The sauce topping the chile was almond and cream. Goodness! A lovely meal, with crunchy French rolls and butter, and a bottle each of the house red and white. The conversation was wonderful, which I enjoyed nearly as much as the wonderful meal, having spoken English almost exclusively with Chon for more than a year or so…

We needed to head home by that time, a pleasant two-hour drive, having said we would return the next day. The business we needed to see to was not completed, the American consulate having closed only a few minutes before we arrived.

The next day we left a little earlier, and arrived at the consulate around 10:30 in the morning. The consul assistant spoke with us only very briefly, saying “No, you do not need ANYTHING from the consul. Stop by the ministerio publico who will give you a list, and then go to the Officina de Migracion, which will give you a different list of requirements. Since it was Holy Week, the ministerio publico was closed. The immigration office was open, but the line was too long for me to wait for the list after I took a number and analyzed the number of people before me, each with a thick sheaf of papers.

We went instead to meet Richard, Beth and David at La Terraza, right next to La Parroquia. They had margaritas in front of them, and Chon ordered a coffee, heavily spiked with rum, with a name, nearly forgotten, “Tarugillo”, like “For Dummies” in Spanish. We heard about the trio’s morning walking tour, given by a woman who had written a lovely book about San Miguel with wonderful photos.

View of La Parroquia from La Terrazza

And for lunch? Richard knew of a very pleasant restaurant right around the corner, owned by a Frenchman. Everything was beautifully served, and delicious: Milanesa steak, salad, with a beet salad as well, chicken in almond sauce, tacos. The young waitresses were pleasant and attentive. And Richard introduced us (well, me, anyway) to a lovely drink, kir, that I had heard about before, but never had the opportunity to sample.

We continued our visit in the lovely and comfortable jewel of a house where our trio of friends were staying – the home of a designer who rents it by the week to lucky travelers. Each space had natural light from above, from skylights (tragaluzes). The furniture and color and art was very beautiful and comfortable.

We needed to leave at 3, but we stayed until nearly 5:30, relaxed and happy from the wine and conversation.

About San Miguel de Allende: it is every bit as lovely as I had heard – flowers, stone streets and sidewalks, gorgeous colors and friendly faces. Everywhere you look there are beautiful vistas. Because of the large gringo population there are shops with different types of clothing and fabrics than can normally be found in Mexico, wonderful food, and thanks to Richard and our new friends David and Beth, comfort and relaxed enjoyment. When we travel to places it is nearly always because of some kind of business, and we don’t take the time to explore. Our two afternoons were like a vacation for us. Thank you, Friend Connection!!

BIG TOWN, SMALL WORLD

Close to the post office in San Pancho

I am waiting to receive a document I need in Mexico. The fee for UPS delivery was $101!! Instead, it was sent US Postal Service ($45!). The address I had given was our street address for UPS use instead of a post office box number. Not much mail at all comes to our little town, and we decided to ask at the post office about twenty miles away if the document might pass through there, and if so, might they stop it there and put it in our mailbox. Yes, they said, and yes.


The Jardin in San Pancho during Christmas. There are city offices to the right.

The population of the town our post office is in is over 113,000. I am the only person with my last name that they know of. The eleventh most common surname in the US.

ANNUAL CHECKUP

I love the pointillistic effect of a Blackberry in poor light!

We have been here in Mexico off and on for over a year, and I thought a general examination might be in order.
PERSONAL
I am happy here. There is really nothing I miss about California life., with the exception of a few wonderful people, and hot water. The bathing water that the family here calls “calientita” is really not even warmer than my skin.
My job as a high school choral teacher was stressful. Each year when I began the year I wished I was not aware of how much hard work was ahead of me. My work here is enjoyable. I like caring for our house. I never considered myself a good housekeeper, but the daily sweeping and mopping of floors is not unpleasant. The frequency means that there really isn’t a lot of dirt. It’s quick and everything smells good afterwards. I’m trying to enjoy dusting as well.
I still don’t cook here – Chon’s sister does that. Since I like to cook, that has been a minus, but still, there is a definite ease of life when you only have to heat up food when it’s dinner time. After we return from Los Angeles we are going to refresh the kitchen with new tile floors and paint, and we intend to do our own cooking when that is finished; we are sending the small stove (with NO oven) to Chon’s sister’s house, and starting with our own electric oven that has been languishing in the patio (it’s 220 v, and, well, nobody has 220 here) or a new gas stove /oven. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. In a check-up do you get to include future plans?
I don’t have many friends, but I think that might change when I am more fluent in Spanish. And about that – it is slowly becoming more easy to have conversations, although I have occasional brain farts when I can’t remember very common words. Maybe that will never change – happens in English, too!
FINANCES/PRICES
Since inquiring minds want to know, food and household items are LOTS lower in price than in the US. Medicines are rather expensive, but the doctor care I have experienced is efficient,excdellent, and inexpensive. For most people here, it seems expensive, but compared to the California health care I am familiar with, it’s very low-cost. A doctor’s visit is less than $40. A brief, efficient, and very state-of-the-art hospital visit for Chon’s sister to remove gall-stones was completed in about three hours, and cost about $1,500. Really.
Food/groceries are good, and inexpensive.
Mattresses cost about a third of what they cost in the US.
FARMING AND GARDENING

We harvested our fields last month, and made about a 50% return on our investment in seed, tractor work, and labor, and we are opening a savings account to keep the money we made for next year’s farming expenses (it costs a lot to plant and fertilize).
Our garden was a success, but will be much better next year. We were casual in our seeding, and the result was overcrowding. We got a great harvest of zucchini (and lots and lots memorable meals with zucchini flowers). The poblano chile plants, now freed from the shade of the sprawling tomato plants, have now set on tiny chiles. if we don’t get a killing frost, who knows! Chiles in January?
WEATHER
Here in central Mexico the weather is temperate. That doesn’t mean that it is warm all the time. Lately it has been quite chilly, with temperatures dipping well into the 30’s some nights. When we brought clothing here, I was told to bring sweaters. Now in December, I’m glad that I did.
HOME IMPROVEMENTS
We created some space – a new bedroom and bathroom for Chon’s mother (the old bath is outdoors and down a step, making it difficult for her to navigate). 
We have a new studio for practice and recording. And a stage on top of our garage, for performances. (Years ago we began a tradition of performing for the town. Come see us on New Year’s Eve!)

Does he look like a guitar god?

 AUTOMOBILES/REGISTRATION

We finally got the registration papers for our large truck. We use it mostly for band equipment. It took months to get this task done.  There are a bewildering number of laws and rules about importing  cars to Mexico. The truck qualified, but it evidently had some customization that was difficult to explain, or get cleared, or – something. Now, though, it is legal, and has Mexican license plates. 
TRAVEL AND DRIVING
We have driven many, many miles without trouble. When you cross state lines, however, you may well be stopped by federales, local police, or soldiers. We had an unpleasant experience in Nayarit when federales inspected our PT Cruiser and announced that they had found a marijuana seed in the back. They were insulting and a little scary while they kept us there for about half an hour. They pretended to be insulted when Chon offered to pay them for their trouble, but one of them took some large bills from the travel money we had with us.
Another time when we were stopped by some troops the young soldiers were very happy to accept a mordida although they took it hurriedly so that their superior officer did not see them; probably they didn’t want to share!
Driving here is – different. In general, the rules and laws are the same as the ones we all know and love. But the signs are different, and I don’t mean because they are in Spanish. They are placed differently; not regularized in placement, or color, or lettering. Sometimes you must make a turn before a sign, and sometimes quite a way after the sign. It can be a challenge to find signs for street names. Glorietas (or round-abouts) are a little scary at first, but then they begin to make sense. Just keep to the center of the circle if you are going all the way around, and to the outside lane if you are going to turn right. Many large cities have removed glorietas and replaced them with signal lights.
 UNWRITTEN RULES AND ETIQUETTE
I can’t give myself a high mark in this, but it is improving. Here’s an example: if I were at my home in California and a visitor was seated on my couch, I would go sit next to them to show I was happy they were there, and that I wanted to visit and be sociable. Here, in Mexico though, if someone is visiting and I go to sit with them, in a few minutes they get up and go. A territorial thing? (Sometimes useful!)
I think this was quite random, but that’s what I can think of right now for my checkup, and I’m just going to quit.

NOVEMBER NINTH, 2011



Around midnight last night I could hear Chon moving around the room. He said he heard the church bell ringing “doubles”. That is an announcement of death. He went out to the street but saw no one. Later on, very early in the morning, we woke again, hearing bells.

Tio Kiko was waiting at the door at sweeping time. He went in, as he always does in the morning, asking about Socorro (still asleep) and Chon (still asleep). He has to check anyway, and is not satisfied until he finds their doors closed. Then he told me that his compadre Enrique died in the night, and his body was there at the house. This was not really a surprise, as they took him yesterday to the hospital for the umpteenth time. He lacked three weeks of reaching his ninetieth birthday, and his many serious health challenges had kept him bedridden for years.

A few minutes later, the news came that Don Geronimo also died last night. The bells we heard early in the morning were from the next rancho to the east, ringing his death.

The families in these small towns are very closely related. Don Enrique’s granddaughter who has cared for him for the last few years is also the granddaughter of Don Geronimo. Last night both  of her grandfathers died, and people are whispering about that. Nobody cane recall that ever happening before.

The first day of November brought sudden cold weather, freezing the crops, and people say that the cold weather brings “bad things”. The town is full of people suffering from colds and coughs. When we visited the fields in the morning we could see ice crystals sparkling in the sun. Chon’s sister Maria and his mother both have persistent coughs, and we have been sharing home remedies with them.

In the mornings Socorro says her morning prayers, interrupted by frequent coughs. She prays on doggedly in a strong voice. Coming to the end of some prayers, she continues on and on with more. She mentions death several times a day. She will be 90 in December, and suffers from a painful old knee injury, and right now from a constant cough.

Surely every adult in this little town will have many thoughts of death today and during the nine days of novenarios for the two old men who died the same night.

DEATH OF A LOCAL CHARACTER

Nena was born into a family of over twenty siblings. When Chon’s mother describes  Doña Mathilde’s and Don Luz’ multitudinous family she always says that Mathilde had 23 children; “tres vezes cuates”; three times twins.

Nena’s name is Maria Elena, but was never called that. She was always called Nena, a common nickname for Elena. Nena is also a word for “baby girl”. Nena was a twin, born second. She was always trailing behind – in everything.  She was not very healthy, and many things just sort of passed her by. As she grew to adulthood she became known in this little town as a viguera; a person with “bad” language. She liked to sit in front of her family’s little store, right across the street from us, and watch the world go by, trumpeting  insulting remarks about nearly everyone.

We met about 26 years ago, and I tended to avoid her; not because of her language so much, but because I was learning to speak Spanish, and Nena was harder than the usual to understand.  As I came to know her better, we would have conversations. I can’t remember her ever saying anything really rude to me, but whatever Nena said to anyone was heard by everyone within a couple of hundred feet because of her extremely loud and focused voice. She was absolutely incorrigible; loud, rude and crude.

Her health, never good, began to deteriorate to a serious level a few years ago. A small-boned person, quite short of stature, she began to carry more and more weight on her frame. She looked a great deal like a ball and she had to lean back to walk on her tiny feet. People said that she carried a lot of water weight, and evidently that was true. They said that from time to time the doctors would remove several liters of water from her stomach. That was not true, except for the amount.

Several times I heard family say that they just didn’t know what was wrong with Nena; the doctors had told her, but they just couldn’t remember what it was that they had said. She died of renal failure.

The last few months of her life she developed a continuous cough, deep, rasping, and painful-sounding. Here at our house we heard it a lot, because she would visit nearly every day. She especially liked to visit on Tuesdays when Chavela would come, because she often brought or prepared here delicious meals. Nena was the first one to the table, not only at our house.  She made herself welcome in many, many neighboring homes.

She and Chon would sometimes exchange mild insults. Other people would avoid her, or just chuckle and shake their heads, saying “Oh, Nena,”. In spite of her insulting and low speech, was quite religious, and attended mass when she could.

There was much conjecture about her coffin – how would they fit the enormous amount of flesh into it? As it turned out, the coffin was a normal one, with a glass window on top.

The funeral mass was very well-attended, and included many family members who had not visited for years. Many of the attendees had never been friends of Nena’s, but attended out of respect for the family, or bald curiosity.

There were fireworks Saturday night, when Nena’s body arrived from the hospital/morgue, and there were more fireworks early the next morning. These are typically rocket-type things that are shot into the air, and explode high above. You can hear the swish of the rocket as it flies.  There was also a mariachi group, only occasionally hired in our little town (mariachis are costly). Nena had a couple of favorite songs, and they were sung, along with popular rancheras, at the velorio.

As far as I know, although Nena told stories about bus drivers and musicians that she had her eye on, she never had a boyfriend. I doubt that she ever had a close friend. She never attended school. She lived much of her life in pain. She was truly one-of-a-kind, and I already miss her.

Recipe For A Construction Acavamiento

A high-up colado being mixed on the street, and carried up to the fourth floor.

For our last big colado we planned a sort of manly party. We wanted it to be festive, as it was the last big construction task here at our house, and the colado was an historic one, on top of a fourth-floor room. 
The colado was to have started at 5:30 a.m., but not even the maestros were here then. However we were on the move before 4:30 in the morning.. We had full barrels of water where they were not needed, and zero barrels where they were  needed. 
We dumped buckets of water into barrels on the ground, from under the tejavan on the second floor. It felt rather festive, and personally, I felt slightly hysterical and silly.
About 6:45 a.m. I could hear the first sounds of shoveling in the still-dark street. The  workers seemed to have an air of excited energy, because they all knew there was to be “breakfast” served after the work. Our nephew Luis, a practiced butcher and large-scale cook had offered to make a Caldo De Carpa. This soup has well-known restorative properties, and is often served for la cruda, or hangover.
Luis, the cook
Sara, who didn’t really look quite this “together” on this day, as she had locked herself out of her house, and arrived here by bus the night before, without her overnight things, because – well, I have her spare key.
While Chon stayed to manage the work crew (and play DJ for them) Luis and I went to a nearby town with Sara, our wonderful niece. Luis had set up a fogon, a little rigged up brick fireplace.
CALDO DE CARPA (Carp Soup)
for twenty-some hungry people:
In a 50-liter pot with boiling water, put
2 kilos of tomatoes, halved
1 kilo white onions, halved
2 kilos potatoes, in large chunks
a generous handful of chiles de arbol
2 kilos (a very large head) of cabbage, chopped in big chunks
1 kilo chayote, quartered
1 kilo joconoistle, peeled
1 fist-sized can of chipotle chiles
1 liter of tomato paste
a handful of salt
8 kilos (that’s a lot) of carp, in fourths
when the fish is almost done, throw in two or three handfuls of cilantro
We served 60 large rolls that all disappeared. We had purchased 2 kilos of tortillas that were pretty much ignored. There were also 24 large family-sized beers, and 4 liters of tequila.
I had noticed that Luis was pretty quiet while we were shopping  for provisions; he later confessed that he had never actually made the caldo before. He and Sara and I were stepping pretty lively for a while, chopping vegetables,  because the colado was finished about an hour earlier than we had thought. But the workers seemed satisfied to sit around in circles and I didn’t hear many complaints about the wait.
There were many rough handshakes and heartfelt thank-yous when the workers left around two p.m.

PAJAREROS

Young, developing milo (sorghum) seed head.
Birds are a major cause of crop yield loss. Enormous flocks of blackbirds pass through central Mexico on their way north this time of year, leaving destruction behind. 
Many farmers who plant milo use plants that yield “bitter” seeds that the birds don’t like. 
But some don’t use this kind of seed, and all the fields are subject to bird damage. Here farmers hire pajareros to protect their fields. The tools of the human scare crows are shotguns with special loads, long whips, and voices. They shout “Aijo, yaijo.” crack their whips while striding around the field, and if they have them, shooting  their shotguns. The sounds start about daylight, and go on all day. This is the time of year for the pajareros to work. They earn good wages, and their voices and sounds of their tools color each  day.