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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.They 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.
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.The view from our table:
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Chris suggested I translate some words, so I did. Good suggestion.
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.)
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.
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!
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.
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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We drove El Esqueleto to the reservoir at the end of summer. I had thought it would be a miserable drive, but it wasn’t. Anyone who has walked up that road knows about the uneven, rocky road. It’s built of rocks, and there are speed bumps (speed bumps on a rock road, you say? Indeed.) But it was fun!
The reservoir is about 120 years old, and the old presa is much older. Chon’s ancestors moved to this area to get work building it. It’s important now because it’s owned by the water industry, and all of us farmers use it for irrigation. When the water level gets up to about 26 meters, they sometimes can begin to release it to use to water crops.
So we got there, and walked out on the dam. There are millions of water lilies there, choking it up. There must be a way to harvest them.
Here are some photos of the area. It was a gorgeous day.
We had company this weekend. They are the very first and most likely the only people brave enough to come visit us and to stay overnight.
Victor Vazquez is a first cousin and friend of ours, and he brought his two kids, Alex, eight years old, and Aria, thirteen. Victor became a single dad a little over three years ago, and moved with the kids to his family home in Mexico City where he grew up. The house ownership is in dispute among 13 siblings. They live there, though, pretty much avoiding the others who also live there. The kids have grown since we’ve seen them. Alex spent quite a bit of time using our big watering can that leaks (fun!), and Aria was a bit shy at first but became more confident as the hours went by.
When we heard that they were coming down from San Diego and San Julian we requested that they bring us birria, a favorite dish we haven’t had for quite some time. They not only brought birria, they brought other delectables the area is famous for. There was tequila almendrado, dark, sweet, and flavored with almond, and cajeta!
From Wikipedia: Cajeta is a Mexican confection of thickened syrup usually made of sweetened caramelised goat’s milk. it arrived in medium-sized plastic buckets with lids, and it was absolutely delicious! I didn’t read the label, but I’m almost certain that this cajeta is made of cow’s milk. I was a dairy goat farmer for years, and can tell the difference easily. This morning we spooned some on yesterday’s bollios, the rolls we ate with the birria.
They arrived yesterday before noon, and we ate the birria right away, then settled down to visit, which is always interesting. Victor is widely read, and has a lot of knowledge about many subjects, and of course there was the ever-fascinating family gossip.
As they came in from the street Victor commented on the many large flowers our squash plants had, and said “We should make ratitas (that’s little rats, an unlovely name for a delectable dish). And in the afternoon when we got hungry again, we did. Chon had cut the flowers before they closed for the day, leaving 5- 6″ stems, the “tails” of the ratitas. At about 5 p.m. it was a team effort in the kitchen. Please excuse me if I write the recipe here, as choreographed by Victor. I want to remember, and perhaps entertain any cooks out there. Preparing stuffed flowers is very much like preparing chiles rellenos. A team effort makes it so much easier! When I make chiles rellenos I make a big, big mess in the kitchen.
Flores De Calabazas Rellenas A La Victor Vazquez
25 large flowers
5 medium eggs (we had enough left over to make a small omelette)
small package of bread crumbs
one-half pound of cheese, cut into slices, then strips (We looked for panela in the small store, and settled for asadero. Recipes I looked at on line suggested Mozzarella, goat cheese, ricotta, Parmesan, and others, and included herbs like basil and parsley.
Boil the clean, drained calabazas for a few, minutes, about 3-5, drain and place on paper towels
- Beat 5 whites until they form peaks
- Fold in 5 yolks
- Sprinkle in a “handful” of salt. (granted, it was a child’s hand, but it was more salt than I expected, and it maybe should even have been a little more).
- Gently open a flower (it’s quite a bit like separating two pieces of wet tissues, but they’re stronger than they look) and push a piece of the cheese inside as far as you can, folding the petals back over the cheese as well as you can
- Roll the flower in the bread crumbs to cover
- Dip the flower into the egg to cover
- Place the flower into a frying pan with hot oil, turning it as it browns and cook carefully until evenly browned
- Remove from pan and place on paper towel
Serve with flour or corn tortillas and salsa.
When you bite into one of these ratitas it’s like having a cloud in your mouth. They’re just wonderful! Tender, with a delicate flavor. I’ve never read it, or heard anyone else say it, but the flowers have a very light flavor of anise.
As the afternoon and evening wore on, it was entertaining to hear the talk flowing, and the kids were funny as they served up many riddles and jokes They know lots of them, all rapid-fire. Alex gets so amused that he laughs and laughs as he asks the riddles, which is infectious. They decided not to head to nearby San Francisco to stay with Victor’s brother there, and we prepared a bed for the kids and a couch for Victor.
This morning I prepared an adequate breakfast of black beans, rice, salsa, zucchinis from the garden, and carnitas prepared right across the street, a Sunday treat. Along with bolillos, it was quite satisfying.
Both of us enjoyed ourselves and I hope they did too.
We’ve used private mail box services in California to get our mail held or forwarded to us in Mexico. The services were efficient, but to us seemed expensive in the long run. The charges can add up quickly.
We needed to maintain an address in the US, and in December, 2014, we decided to switch to the United States Postal Service. Yes, the good ole’ USPS, in California, close to where we stay for our two-week-plus Christmas holiday gig.
Our annual PO box rental fee was due in January of this year. We figured it would be simple to make the payment online. But it wasn’t. It may be my fault, but I can’t find out. We received an email message that the rent was due. Included was the amount due, and an address for mailing. We made the payment in a timely manner. But then we received a second email, couched in sterner terms, that our payment had not been received, and if we didn’t make the payment within ten days, the box would be closed, and any mail in it would be returned to senders. We couldn’t make the payment online through the handy USPS service, because we repeatedly got the message that the name on the account had to match exactly the name of the person who had signed the contract. Hmmm. Now, where could that pesky contract be? And how many ways are there to spell the name Anderson?
What to do? We called the post office on many different days, at different hours. No answer. Finally we called a relative, who went to the post office. Yes, he discovered, he could make the payment for us, but they could not give him the contract information. Now, I’m a mature person, and I do understand about rules and regulations, but it was quite frustrating. At last we got the mailbox rent paid for another year by sending money to our long-suffering and long-standing-in-line relative. Whew! Covered for another year.
Now when I relate the next part of the story you’ll think, if you’re not already thinking it, that we’re thoughtless and irresponsible people. We’re not, but we do occasionally forget things, and we do get busy. This year, when we returned to Mexico after the longish stay in California, we jumped right into wheat farming. It took the best part of nearly every day, and well, we just didn’t drive the 15 or so miles to visit our post office in San Francisco del Rincon. We didn’t expect any mail, anyway, although we knew our rent had been due in January. Truly, we just didn’t think about it much. A few times we even drove past the post office, but we didn’t feel like we had time to stop. We had to go to the bank to get the money for the farming investment, or there was some other obligation. But it did begin to weigh on us a bit. We hadn’t paid our box rent.
Then, a birthday present was on the way. We seriously discussed the problem. Nearly six months had passed. What would the Mexican postal service do? We already knew what the US postal service would have done.
Maybe you thought I was going to say something accusatory about the Mexican postal service?
Finally, with a bit of dread, we went to the post office. As we entered, a woman we didn’t remember greeted us warmly, saying that we hadn’t received anything. It had been a long time since she’d seen us! How were we? Where had we been?
When we told her we wanted to pay for our post office box she said – get this! “It’s already been six months. Why not wait until next January to pay for your box? We’ll hold anything that comes for you, and you can pick it up here at the desk”.
We glanced at each other and grinned.
Only in Mexico.
We were invited to a family party in El Toro. Our friend Ana, the person who schedules and manages things at the small church is a friend of ours, and asked us to come and celebrate her mother-in-law’s seventy-first birthday.
Here’s Doña Julia in front of her house. I’ve described the construction of the vast majority of homes in Mexico, and hers is the same – brick and mortar. Hers has a useful design, with several bedrooms and two bathrooms, side by side. Gotta love that!
We were honored to be invited, as every other person there was part of her family. I’m not sure how many sons and daughters she has, but there were at least four sons and four daughters at the party, with their husbands, wives and children, including Ana’s daughters. Here are two of them, both beauties.
We had a guitar with us, and we sang las mañanitas, and a few other songs, including Eres Tu, originally performed by Mocedades from Spain, and Solamente Una Vez, by the great Mexican songwriter Agustin Lara.
The food was wonderful – Toñio, Ana’s husband and Doña Julia’s son, prepared tacos. There was a variety of meats including carne asada and chorizo, served up with grilled onions and smallish yellow chiles stuffed with cheese (excellent, and a new dish for me).
Naturally there was a cake, accompanied by a gorgeous gelatina with fresh fruit, which is every bit as important as a birthday cake in our part of Mexico.
This guy had his very own table!
Rain was threatening when we left for home, but Ana’s teenaged daughters were wangling a ride to nearby Tecuan for a “big, big dance” complete with two popular bandas. And Doña Julia sent me home with a snippet of a climbing version of corona de Cristo, a spiny plant with red flowers. I hope it wants to live at our house.