Friday, May 30, 2008

Flowers, flowers, flowers in chilly, beautiful Upstate New York

We're home!

It's amazing how fast Michael and I can accommodate ourselves to the 'next' place we call home. It's a finely honed skill, apparently one we've been working on for years.

We left Puerto Vallarta late Wednesday afternoon and arrived at our house on the lake with a car full of groceries and supplies by mid-afternoon on Thursday. For a red-eye flight through Phoenix, another layover in Philadelphia (where the massage spa opens at 7 a.m.), we arrived feeling pretty good and put in about a full day's work here before doing a full-on face plant into bed after 10 (with the new electric blanket on High!).

The place looks great! Beyond great! It's green! It's flowering! It's freezing... but that's another story.

My mother, Louise, was a master gardener and took great pleasure in puttering around the half-acre that overlooks Seneca Lake. The comfy cottage is tiny and very old --- more than a hundred years ago it was built as a small fishing/hunting camp. But it's the location and scenery that can still take my breath away.

We haven't been home in late Spring in many, many years. We just missed the pink magnolia trees in bloom (although my brother David sent pictures) but we're here for the rest --- the pink and the white bleeding hearts, the rhododendron, the lilacs. And the yard is sooooooooo green!

And another big change from Mexico --- it was light when I woke up around five thirty this morning. And it didn't get dark until after 9 last night.

The chill is still in the air. Last night built a fire to heat the house rather than turn on the electric baseboard heaters (a fortune in electric bills!). Today we'll begin working our way through a long list of chores and errands ---- beginning with piling up a load of wood from around the property so we can light a fire again tonight.

Then it's off to Horseheads to pick up the new kitchen counter to get installed this weekend by cousin Brett. A quick look a used cars to have something to drive this summer. Maybe buy some warmer clothes to wear from the discount Woolrich store. I suspect my sundresses, shorts and tank tops aren't going to be worn around here for at least another month.

Then we get together to play music tonight with our friends in Watkins Glen!

That's a good start for Day One at home. It's great to be back!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Adios, La Manzanilla and Arroyo Seco

Michael and I are decompressing in Puerto Vallarta at son Dustin and his fiance Camelia's lovely home, on our way back to the United States on Wednesday. Specifically, New York.

I'm rationalizing that the transition from Mexico to the U.S. won't be too traumatic since I'm going from rural living to rural living. We'll see.

But here's a short list of what I like about living in Mexico, and maybe a few things I wish I didn't have to put up with in Mexico, before my brain switches gears and I can't remember the details.

What I Don't Like About Mexico

Scorpions and other biting, stinging, nasty things.

I'm reminded that there's a price to pay for living in the tropics, things that I had glossed over since living on Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida a whole lot of years ago. I forget that there's stinging things in the water, stinging things flying around, stinging things crawling around houses in the night, into your shoes, into the towel you've left laying on the floor. But millions of others have learned how to live with all these icky, stingy things, so perhaps I will figure out how to do it with a little less anxiety too. If not, I'll be the newest resident of a really northern climate, suffering from low temperatures so severe that even the bugs don't like to live there.

Bacteria and other ugly diseases. Some friends who have lived in Mexico for a long time won't eat at the street vendors, not because of the food or the preparation at the open air restaurant is suspect but because the dirt from the street can blow on to the food. And the shop keepers water the dirt on the street with gray water (we hope it's just gray water) and there's nasty bacteria that gets on the food and utensils, which you then ingest.

The good news is that our doctor says he's never had to hospitalize anyone for the types of typhoid and typhus that is down here, but it does require a dose of antibiotic.

Road etiquiette

Left turn signals. It's been very important to our safety and well-being to understand that the left turn signal on a car --- ours or the car in front of us --- doesn't always mean what you think it means.

If we're on the highway and the left turn signal flashes on the car or truck in front of us, it probably means it's safe to pass him. But it could also mean that he's turning left and it's not safe to pass him. Veteran drivers usually stick their left arm out when they really mean they intend to make a left turn. Making an assumption that you understand what the left turn signal indicates could mean the last poor decision you've ever made.

Passing on two lane highways. I was horrified the first time I was driving to the Manzanillo airport on a pretty good highway and vehicles would pass the car in front of them even though they could see --- as could I! -- that there was an oncoming vehicle in the other lane. What I have since discovered is that there is an assumption that the oncoming car will simply shift over to the shoulder to make way for you, and not just crash head on. Hopefully everyone knows that same rule!

Things I Like About Mexico

The weather. Of course. Isn't that why most of us migrate south? I found myself grabbing the covers in the early morning for a little more sleep when the temperature had dipped below 80. If you don't like the heat, don't come to Mexico in May. But any place I can put on a swimsuit first thing in the morning and not need a sweater or cover-up all day is perfect for me.

The culture. I'm just scratching the surface and I'll admit it could be the equivalent of any small town in America, but I love the generosity of the people, even if they've just met you. We've been included in every fiesta or event. Everyone pitches in to help on a project. You're offered a place to sit, something to eat the minute you enter someone's home. And you shake everyone's hand and kiss cheeks when you first arrive and then again when you leave. I love the comfort of the physical contact. Now my own American culture feels too stiff to me.

The Pace. I love that traditional Mexican families all still go home for the big meal at 2 in the afternoon, then families and friends spend leisurely evenings after sunset visiting together in front of their homes with even the youngest children playing in the street --- long past what I used to consider my normal bedtime. Tiendas, the tiny stores in the villages, are open 'til 10 or later. But don't consider trying to find anything open early the next morning.

A cash economy. I love that you just don't use credit cards, rarely use checks. You pay your rent in pesos. You buy land in pesos. You pay your utilities in pesos. No surprises at the end of the month, unless you look in your wallet and it's empty.

Cultural surprises. We'll be sitting at a lovely restaurant and watch someone ride a mule past us -- and the new Hummer parked in front --- dragging many palm fronds for whatever building project he's working on. A young boy will ride his bicycle through town with his horse on a lead --- who knows why? Exercise? Moving? And the rental store in town delivers the washing machine to its customers by quad with a trailer.

All the street dogs and beach dogs have a predictable route throughout the village each day, depending on which butcher/cook/restaurant has a reputation for generosity. We used to see a small, blond beach mutt hit Palapa Joe's on one end of the village, cruise by Chop Chops, finally swinging by Martin's for the really good stuff. It's just another resident of the village looking for a meal, only it's on four legs. Love it.

The ease of construction. It's so amazing that you decide what you want built, you hire someone to build it, and they build it. Go to the store, buy the materials, find the labor, watch the progress. Few permits, fewer taxes. Just point and build. And now we have the huge, delightful palapa for dinners with friends, places to hang double-woven hammocks, maybe an actual bar to belly up to because a liquor and restaurant permit only costs about a hundred fifty a year. What's not to like?

Any excuse for a fiesta. You thank the workers. You have birthday parties. You give going away parties, welcome back parties. And everyone's invited. The food and drink just keeps coming. You start the party late and you stay late. You don't eat and run, like in the states. You linger. You have dinner, then you talk, you dance, you drink. And then you keep talking, dancing, drinking. And eventually, you go home. I've never made it to the hour where people start leaving and I still feel like such a gringo when I wimp out the earliest.

Maybe next year I'll get the hang of it. It's a goal.

The bottom line is that, all in all, I've been really happy here and sad to leave. I'm just getting the hang of things, just beginning to understand the language, even if I can't speak it yet. I've made friends, started creating community that I can't wait to get back to. Having said that, I'm sure I can also be happy at lovely Seneca Lake as we jettison ourselves into a different but equally satisfying life, beginning on Wednesday.

That's the list I'll be making in late August....

Saying goodbye to Devani in La Manzanilla

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A new amiga arrives in La Manzanilla

It's our last week or so in Mexico and we've continued with our normal relentless pace but it's been a ton of fun. Some of the highlights (and there are many) include, starting with the most important:

ONE: The baby finally arrived!

For those of you following Michael's blog, last week our neighbor Mimi (and Mom Irma) sent her grandfather, Xavier, over to roust us about 2 in the morning after a fun Mother's Day fiesta in the jardin.

We spent the night in the Manzanillo hospital with them, walking Mimi around the parking lot in the dark while we tried to kickstart her labor a little more efficiently. When we finally left them mid-morning to return to La Manz, Mimi was being admitted to the hospital.

Then, no word, day after day. Just that they were okay and that baby hadn't been born yet.

Finally, last Wednesday we got word that the baby girl had arrived and was fine, but there had been some problems with Mimi. After a cesarean section, Mimi lost a lot of blood. Had she not been in the hospital, she wouldn't be with us today.

Mother and child are now safely home in La Manzanilla, where we got the full report from the local doctor who was making a house call. Check out Grandma Irma, Mimi, Sylvia and Devani, and the local doctor (with a backpack) in the picture.

A house call? I love this place!

And last week when Michael and I walked 'downtown' for dinner, we spotted a local version of "urgent care" --- a pickup truck parked in front of the local pharmacy/doctor with an IV rigged up over the cab, attached to an elderly gentleman asleep in the front seat.

TWO: We went horseback riding!

Michael bravely agreed to accompany me on horseback for a tour of a friend's ranch near where we're building in Arroyo Seco. We rode through orchards to a nearby freshwater lagoon filled with a ton of birds and wildlife. It was amazing. And it really reminds me a lot of Southwest Florida, especially Sanibel Island.

So now I have this hot idea that we'll buy a horse or two when we return in December. It seems a perfect way to explore the countryside and the beaches around us. Michael is asking a lot of questions from the locals, like exactly how much dinero will it take to keep a horse in Mexico.

I think he's comparing costs of slip fees and yardwork from our former boating life to hay, barns and vet bills. I'll let you know when the verdict comes in.

THREE: Our palapa, ramada and bodega are almost done!

We've been visiting Arroyo Seco almost daily to check the progress on our building projects, see if more decisions need to be made. The workers have been making rapid progress with early mornings and late evenings, all day Saturday. I've been impressed. And it's requiring a lot of coordination to have the concrete go in at the right time for the posts for the palapa and the ramada, etc.

Friday night we'll have the requisite fiesta to thank the workers for all the hard work and the dedication to project. If we were living nearby, we would have been expected to feed the workers either daily or weekly, depending on the size of the project and the proximity to available food.

As I told my neighbor today, I'd know just what to do to throw a fiesta in the states --- what food to serve, what time, what the expectations would be. But here, I'm depending on local friends to help me. I've assured them that if they ever have to throw a fiesta in the U.S., I'm there for them.

We're now on Countdown status as we prepare to close down projects until the end of the year. This last week we're taking a vacation from our frenetic life and heading to the beach to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary and to spend some time with my cousin Lynn and friends.

The next blog post with be from Seneca Lake in New York, where I join up with my music buddies and prepare for a June wedding.