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:
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.
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.
I believe this photo shows a modification of a delivery truck using colors and logo of the Mexican postal service. Found on Google Images. Great colors, aren’t they?
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.
image from ebay.com
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 longtime 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 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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
Samuel the agent texts: “deme chansa” (give me a chance; or, better, give me time). What a laugh.
Alfonso our friend the customs agent came to the restaurant, and says he can do it for us if we get the pink slip and money back from Samuel. We can drive to Alfonso’s house in Santa Ana and leave the truck, moeny, and papers there. We would then take the bus to Guanajuato, our destination, then travel back to Los Mochis in a couple of weeks, after Alfonso completes the paper-work, and drive the truck home from there. Does this weaken our resolve? NO!
I realize that many folks would just stop right there and say Ya! Basta! Enough! No more throwing good money after bad, etc. But not us. We are made of different stuff.
We have already gone through so much with this old truck. It was very hard to get it smogged last fall, and that was an epic story in itself that I won’t inflict on you, but it involved getting in touch with junk yards all over the US, and spending several days waiting at a smog repair place, as Foxy was minus an air filter cannister and lid. We’ve decided that no matter how much people laugh at us, we’re going to get it to our house in Mexico no matter what!
I had chilaquiles again tonight, after eating three pancakes. I made and ate so many pancakes when I lived in the midwest that I am not a fan, but they tasted mighty good today. Chon and I think we’ve each lost a couple of pounds on our special one-meal-per-day-since-we-are-running-out-of-money diet. Chon actually ordered the pancakes, but I confess I was dreaming of carbs myself – I was craving Frosted Flakes! Straight out of the box. This evening was the first time we indulged in lots of carbs during our stay here. (Of course, chilaquiles, made from crispy fried tortillas with salsa, are reasonably high on the carb charts, but they are usually nicely balanced with chicken or eggs – I had mine with machaca, which has sent me on an obsessive online hunt for recipes).
Sorry – bad lighting. The white stuff is nice crumbly cheese and lettuce. Underneath are the chilaquiles, with machaca on top of them.
We save the left-overs for later. We keep telling each other we’ll eat these left-overs On The Road. Tomorrow, because it’s already nearly eight p.m. But we’re still waiting for Samuel. To call. Or come with the papers. Any minute, now.
Our agent Samuel came to see us last night. He tells us that he is just waiting – the permissions arrive from Mexico City. He can get our money back, and we could try with a different agency, but what if the permissions are arriving as we take our next breath?
We have also checked other options. If I had my FM3, my longterm visa, I could take a car into Mexico with California plates, and keep it there. There’s a consulate right here in Nogales, but it appears that it takes at least a couple of weeks to get the visa.
We also called in bigger guns. Alfonso, the customs agent we used for our move, also works with vehicles – who knew? He was going to stop by last night to give us advice, but he just – didn’t. We called him this morning but he was in a meeting. But he might be able to do this for us – he’s had years of experience.
We give up. We are staring another weekend in the face, drinking thermos coffee the cook gives secretly gives us. There’s nothing to be done. But wait. Limbo.