Saturday, December 25, 2010

Another White Christmas in Mexico

I haven't written a blog since August, since our Tenacatita land was taken by force. Really, I didn't have the heart to write about that --- or anything else. I didn't know what else I had to say. But, finally, here's a quick summary of our year. I'm officially back to the blogosphere.

My brother asked me last night, didn't I miss having a White Christmas, as he's socked inside his house in Ithaca, New York with a 50 percent chance of snow, high of 25 F (-4C), low of 20 F (-7C).

Well, no.

We have a White Christmas every year. White sands on the beaches of Mexico. Works just fine for me, thank you very much.

Last night we were telling Dustin some stories of growing up in upstate New York and how I literally got frostbite most winters, my own version of freezer burn, with blisters across my face after an afternoon of skating on a pond or building a snow fort.

It was a sign, one that I have taken to heart, that a warm climate in the winter is where this body was meant to live.

This Christmas morning we'll meet good cruising friends, Di and Roger Frizzelle of Di's Dream, at the Tulum, our favorite beach brunch place in Nuevo Vallarto (Puerto Vallarta), and belly up to a buffet of tropical fruit (fresh pineapple, papaya, cantalope, watermelon), chiliquiles for Michael and Dustin, followed by a retreat to the beach to boogie board and to digest our food for the afternoon.


Our Canadian friends, Laura Warner (our teacher in Arroyo Seco from last year) and Christina, fly in tonight (with Princessa Mia!) and we'll celebrate Christmas at home in PV with cranberry cocktails, a turkey aracherra on the barbecue and sparklers.

Tomorrow we head out by panga (a stout fiberglass open fishing boat) to a beach restaurant on the southwest side of Banderas Bay, as the Christmas celebrations continue. I hope to head out by a panga taxi across the bay again early this week to visit my cousin Lynn on Yalapa, before we all head south to La Manzanilla and Arroyo Seco.

We'll continue to have a Puerto Vallarta presence this year as we stay with Dustin while he regains his footing from a recent separation from his wife, and we all hope to spend a lot of time with the always delightful Sasha Fox.

While we're here, I hope to finally take those Spanish lessons it's obvious I need if I don't want to bumble through conversations as if I'm a toddler.

New York

Had a fantastic summer there. The weather was the best since I was a child. Sunny. Warm. Followed by Sunny. And Warm. We built a new dock and we spent the summer on it, when we weren't on one of the boats or in the water. I played a lot of fiddle, got introduced to Zumba, cooked a lot of fresh veggies (Corn! Tomatoes!) , spent time with family, made new friends. All in all, a perfect summer.


It was the best semester I've spent in Sacramento, in the 20 years or so we've been living there. We were hosted by our generous friends, Pam and Steve Lovotti, living in their mother-in-law flat above the garage and sharing their kitchen and common areas. We cooked a lot of great food together, had great conversations over dinner at home and at local restaurants they introduced us to around town. They know everyone! We got an ongoing wine tutorial from Steve, who spent 30-some years as a wine buyer in Sacramento for the family business. And we were graciously adopted into their big extended Italian family. Even Dylan came up a few times from Oakland and got enveloped into the fold.

Fall is the time we get to visit with Anne, Sami and Kami, and get caught up on their year. And even Jason showed up, on his way from Detroit to Vail (yes, the geography is a little confusing).

The location was perfect for us --- within walking distance of Trader Joe's, the university, our post office, a direct bus line to the downtown mall where I could get a $18 chair massage to relieve the ongoing muscle spasm in my neck.

I immersed myself in Zumba for the semester, doing a daily circuit of my favorite teachers (and they were great!). In November I got certified to teach Zumba, but so far my preference is to be one of the people dancing in the crowd. We'll see if I get organized and confident enough to do more someday.

But standing up in front of my journalism classes at the university every fall is still comfortable, and always a bit of a surprise after eight months off. The students were enjoyable, we all made the best of it, learned as much as we could in 16 weeks, then called it a success. We have one more fall semester in Sacramento, then we're completely, officially retired from the university.

Watch for notices of the celebration!

Tenacatita and Arroyo Seco

Still a sore spot but here's what I generally know.

Lots of lawsuits. Someone else still has our land (and everyone else's).

The Tenacatita that we knew, the place that was the focal point of our week, an excuse for taking a half-hour quad ride down the beach, eating fresh fish tacos and drinking cold beer, spending the afternoon boogie boarding with our friends, that Tenacatita is still gone.

Almost every day the rumor mill starts and everyone is buzzing that the cyclone fences are down, the armed guards have gone home and we have access to the beach.

All I can figure is someone friends with the Rodenas Corporation, the developer that took over the land, is starting those rumors. Because the fence is still up, access is still denied. If there's a change, we should hear a fiesta roar its way all the way up to the Mexican-American border. But there's nothing new yet. Just a lot of talk and a lot of lawyers charging by the hour. Read the
Tenacatita Bay Bugle or the La Manzanilla Message Board or CyberPueblo (in Spanish) to keep up with Tenacatita news.

Arroyo Seco is mostly unchanged, or if anything, reaping the benefits of the closure of Tenacatita. We have a new gringo family who is expected to start living near us in 'downtown' Arroyo Seco in mid-January. There's a new restaurant on the beach and a local is opening an RV park on the beach. The surf beach, Playa Chica, is still untouched.

We don't have a plan for this season yet, and that's our plan. No plan.

We'll continue to spend time in Arroyo Seco and La Manzanilla, quad where we can, sit on the beach and watch the surfers, visit with our friends up and down the Costalegre.

The goal for me this season is to continue to be grateful for what I have rather than dwell on what I don't have. The meter on my life is running and I don't intend to waste a minute.

To all my friends around the globe; have a great holiday season and know that we'll connect again this year, starting mid-stream in a conversation that continues to flow from year to year. I'm so grateful to have all of you in my life.

Feliz Navidad!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tenacatita beach takeover - a tragedy for Mexico

We made our first land purchase in March 2007, buying an ocean beach lot in Tenacatita through Santana Realty not long after then-President Vicente Fox signed an order allowing the land to be titled. This title process guaranteed federal government protection of the purchase.


Or so we thought.

Tenacatita road is now closed
A serious fence blocking the public road to Tenacatita

If you have been reading the Mexican press, or any of the message boards in Costalegre, you're aware of the outrageous land grab last week by a developer from Guadalajara of all of Tenacatita lands. More than 100 armed state police took people out of their homes and off their land, barring them from even taking their possessions. They did so at gunpoint, for the most part.

The land grab was of 42 Mexican hectares (or about 103 acres) of gorgeous land, some ocean front, some fronting on Tenacatita Bay. The bayfront had seafood restaurants, a beautiful swimming beach along with pretty pristine mangroves and estuaries. It has been a favorite spot for thousands and thousands of Mexicans (and gringos) every year. We first discovered it when cruising Mexico on our sailboat, Sabbatical, in 2001.

The ocean beach was more wild and less placid, but still very beautiful --- and the site of some new homes (owned by Americans, Canadians, Germans and Mexicans). On many of the other lots, homes were in the planning stages with electricity and septic already in place.

We had originally planned on building a beach house there and upgraded the property with utilities before changing our minds and moving north to Arroyo Seco. But our love for Tenacatita continued. We headed down the beach from Arroyo Seco through El Tecuan to Tenacatita by Honda quad for weekly seafood lunches followed by an afternoon of boogie-boarding and snorkling with our Tena friends.

All that changed in a day, when the developer who took over the area by force said he had just won a decades-long court battle for ownership and was exercising his legal rights.

Naturally, we were stunned.

We had been told when we purchased the land that the court case was solely contesting the ownership of the bay concessions, essentially the restaurants on Tenacatita Bay, just around the corner from our lot on the Pacific Ocean. We were told in 2007 (and many times since) that the land we bought was originally Ejido land that had been regularized and sold as titled land.

All our legal experts still agree that what we were told is correct.

Unfortunately, the developer --- and a police force he is mostly likely paying -- now has possession of the land and all of us will have to wind our way through the Mexican judicial system for resolution and/or restitution.

Which we'll do. Count on it.

But how could it be, in 2010, in a country desperately seeking foreign investment, a state judge would allow a developer to send a massive, armed police force into a community one morning and evict the entire community of around 800 people, without notice?

How could a country allow people to be evicted that morning without allowing them to take their possessions?

How could a country possibly --- in 2010 -- allow foreigners to lose --- at gunpoint or otherwise --- federally titled properties? Land and homes in bank trusts? In Mexican corporations?

The map for Tenacatita that shows the numbering for titled properties

All I could think this week is that as stunning a loss as it is for Michael and myself to potentially lose our beach lot, the loss to Mexico is much greater. Our hearts go out to the hundreds of Mexican families who have lost their homes and their livelihood.

Tenacatita Bay beach and restaurants
Paradise lost for everyone

And the potential to the Mexican workers continues: Why would anyone buy property and build on the coast if land can be taken away without compensation?

In a wonderful irony last week, a CNN Money Matters expert announced that now is the time to invest in Mexico.

Right. He must not have meant the coast.

And please, those of you who live on the coast that want to keep saying --- and believing --- that this is just a Tenacatita issue, think again. If someone can take federally titled land, or land legally held in a bank trust or Mexican corporation --- in Tenacatita or anywhere --- everyone's in a heap of trouble.

Me, you and Mexico.

Thank you to so many of our friends who have reached out to us this past week. You've asked if we're done with Mexico.

Nope. No way!

We're still planning to return to Mexico this fall to our home in Arroyo Seco, Costalegre, pick up the pieces and carry on.


Story in the Guadalajara Reporter
Jane's blog in the Guadalajara Reporter
Photos of Tenacatita

Unfortunately, blogspot doesn't appear to have a mechanism for replying. Your email address is hidden. But to answer your questions: Those of us who are working to regain our land have a variety of what is supposed to be protected titles including titles, bank trusts, and Mexican Corporations.

All land was confiscated, regardless of type of ownership. No one was contacted beforehand.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Life in the country

Our good friends, Dan and Lorraine Olsen, just headed home to California after a week with us country folk.

Getting to re-experience this place through their eyes was a reminder of just how close we live to nature, here and in Mexico.

It's definitely the Fitzfox version of summer camp.

Most mornings Arnold the Wonder Dog and I head out for a walk around 'the block' --- a two mile trek down the road that follows the lake, up the stop-your-heart switchbacks, past the old cemetery, over the creek and back down the vineyards to home.

We're usually spotting for whatever wild critters might be out, Arnold to chase them, me to look for deer, a fox, a wild turkey, whatever shows up. We have to be out pretty early to see anything interesting.

Then we head down to the lake for our morning swim/bath, often discovering the remains of whatever our local coyote or other predator has left on our path to the dock --- chicken feathers, the head of a fawn, other unidentifiable feathered or furry critters on last night's dinner menu.

And then there's the unusual occurance: The night before last I was sound asleep by 11, exhausted by too much fun, when some stupid skunk decided to spray right below the window of our upstairs bedroom. Woke me up, cleared us right out of the room, eyes burning. Good thing Arnold was back with Brad for the night. Could have been a much worse story, including a lot of peroxide/baking soda and Dawn detergent baths in the night.

On our way to yoga Tuesday morning, Lorraine and I spotted an injured fox , back legs paralyzed and dragging itself across the road, probably having just been hit by a car. We flagged a neighbor driving down the hill who got out his rifle to put the poor fox out of its misery.

But not before I got Lorraine out of there, explaining that she was a vegetarian from the city and definitely not ready for this particular country experience.

In Sacramento or elsewhere, we'd just call some animal agency to 'deal with it.'

In the country, you deal with it.

That's pretty much true for all home maintenance too. People expect you know how to fix pretty much anything and everything around your own home. If you don't, you call a brother, a cousin, or a friend to help you out. While there is hired help around, it's really for the big jobs --- putting in a new septic system, maybe a remodel.

The rest is on you.

One of the bright spots this summer -- literally -- is an unusual number of bright red cardinals. From the porch we've been watching one female who been spending an inordinate amount of time checking herself out in the passenger-side mirror of our Lexus SUV.

She's not so much interested in using the mirrors of the 1996 Mercury.

I understand. I like the Lexus more too.

Most nights we stay home and cook because it's too dang far to consider driving into town for dinner, plus we have a better view than almost anywhere else we would go.

Despite the inconvenience of cooking at home -- really, it's the clean up that's the problem --- we have access to spectacular fruits and veggies (sweet corn! huge slicer tomatoes! apricots! peaches! squash!) from stands set up in front of the homes of local farmers, some asking us to stick the money into a locked box on the honor system.

Don't see much of the honor system in Sacramento or other cities.
Last fall at a Sacramento farmer's market I saw some guy steal money from a farmer's cash box , leaping over the counter like a gymnast and then racing through city streets like a jack rabbit.


The biggest downside to country living, for me, is getting shackled to my car, as lovely as it is. If you have an actual destination, whether it's a grocery store, doctor's appointment, an evening of music, you have to drive (or go by boat) a pretty long ways.
It's a minimum of 15 miles to the grocery store, usually twice that to any other destination, and a whole lot of time out of my day.

I love the convenience of the city when we can walk, bike, take public transportation.

But what I would give up is the quiet roar of the cicadas at night, the bird choir that greets us about 5 o'clock in the morning, watching a storm roar across the lake while we wait to hear the cracking of large limbs or trees around the house.

And we'd miss the privacy of a couple of acres and a 40-mile lake to buffer us from the rest of civilization.

We're sometimes surprised mornings to hear the crunch of someone's feet on the gravel road in front of our house as they take an early morning loop around the block for exercise. And heaven help someone who drives up to our place and isn't looking for us.

Right now another storm is ready to give us a good wallop of thunder and lightening and hopefully some rain. We're heading outside to make sure everything is sufficiently battened down so we won't find the adirondack chairs flung over the cliff, or the buckets up in the bushes.

Then we'll sit and watch the light show as it comes across the lake, right before it hits us and we have to move inside for the night.

We have less than four weeks before we head back to what many of us consider civilization. I'm going to savor this while I can before I head back to the city and start walking over to Trader Joe's to get our nightly already-prepared dinner.

No clean up required.

See ya'll soon!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Status Report: A month in New York

Here's what's been happening in my New York world:

Bought the car.

In the least typical used car purchase I've ever experienced, we asked Hal Van Skiver, of Van Skiver Motors in Watkins Glen, last August if he would look around and choose a car for us to drive when we returned to NY for the summer. I said I'd even drive a Buick --- we just needed a good running car. He's got a stellar reputation with family members and many friends as being more-than-honest (is that possible?). And he has an interesting business model --- he'll only work on cars he's sold.

We returned this May to find a nice surprise --- like a good Jewish matchmaker, he sized me up and said I was much more the Lexus SUV type. Bingo! Leather (heated!) seats, sun roof, roof racks for all the boats, satellite radio, you name it. And a luxury ride. This one's a keeper. And I'm another devoted fan of Van Skiver Motors. Anybody for a road trip?

Built the dock

Michael and I have been waiting years to afford (or justify the expense) of extending our dock so it would reach deeper waters, have room enough for both of us sit for an afternoon or a sunset, and solid enough that it wouldn't scare our many friends who have refused to tie their boats up at our dock. The original dock was built about 30 years ago, more or less.

Guy Schamel, of the Schamel Brothers, sent his crew down last week to whip this new and improved dock together, about 30 feet longer than our old one and 12 feet wider. If you're looking for me this summer, that's where you'll probably find me.

Fix the neck

I'm now heading into town (Watkins Glen) twice a week to have our amazing physical therapist, Amanda Smith-Socaris, try to fix my chronic headaches and neck pain. It's helping (especially if I'm diligent in my daily exercises). I've been looking for relief and/or answers for a long time and have found amazing people who have helped over the years --- the miracle hands of my massage friends, Karin and Matty. The Russian accupuncturist (and former neurologist) in Ithaca. Antonio, our osteopath in Mexico. I'm interested in a cure, of course, but one is unlikely, considering how chronic the problem has been for so many years. But some relief is appreciated and I'm hopeful, once again.


Michael and I have been reading a book recommended by a friend in Mexico (and New Mexico) who a friend of hers had told her to read, called Younger Next Year. I'm only about halfway through it, but basically, the authors say EXERCISE! Every day. So we have been. Up and down the many hills here, doing a lot of yard work, just keeping it moving. In addition, my friend and soon to be second cousin by marriage, Jesse, introduced me to the dance exercise program of Zumba, held twice a week in the firehouse in Lodi (New York). Love it. Love the location. Love the price. Love the dancing. Unfortunately I got some pretty extreme vertigo this past week and Amanda basically said 'no more jumping'. I must've shaken something loose. So I'm working on the age thing while also fighting the age thing. My motto in class will be 'Old Broads Don't Jump'. But I'm going to keep on dancing. It's a blast!


With the addition of new wheels, a new dock, places to dance and a place to call home, things feel pretty complete in New York. Over the past three or four years we've sorted, discarded, painted, fixed. Michael has done amazing things on the property, including maintaining the 40-year old goat path down the hill to the new dock. Now we're hoping work a little less around the property and play more on the dock and the lake, so stop on by the new dock if you're out on the lake. Otherwise, hasta luego! We hope to catch up with many of you in California this fall or in Mexico this winter.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lunch at the beach at Luis'

We finished up a morning of chores and decided to head out of the Rancho and down to the beach for the afternoon for some fresh fish for lunch.

A neighbor, Luis, opens a restaurant for a week or two each year as all the vacationers descend on the Arroyo Seco beaches for Semana Santa or Easter week.

The original plan was to head all the way to Tenacatita on the Honda quad, a beautiful half-hour's ride down the beach. But 10 minutes down the beach sounded even better.

And the food was better too.
The kids were there eating fresh ceviche. Pretty tasty lunch for kids!

Laura had the shrimp diablo (usually a pretty spicy red sauce), and Michael had the breaded shrimp, freshly pounded, breaded and cooked on the spot.

They safely hydrated with cervezas.

After lunch we headed south for another five minutes to our favorite Pacific Ocean 'swimming hole', a small area surrounded by rocks on three sides for a quick swim and a longer siesta.

The trip worked its usual magic. The sun set while the full moon came up. We spotted whales from the restaurant. The air is gently cool but not cold.

It's always good to get down to the beach and remember the best part about living here.

Here's a video of Luis preparing and cooking the fish over a hot wood fire.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A bit of Sasha for the relatives around the world

I had a wonderful visit with Camelia and Sasha while Dustin was working out of town. Here's a short video of Sasha feeding Maxie her breakfast, and a few photos of her last visit to Arroyo Seco.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Helping is not for the weak of heart

Yesterday was D Day --- the day to deal with Distemper in the village.

The Ground Zero dog --- a young male, maybe two years old? -- was put to sleep first. Then someone else in the village brought this cute little two or three month old white puppy to us to look at. Soft, like cocker spaniel fur. A family favorite. But he couldn't sit up, couldn't walk, couldn't hold his head up, couldn't eat. Just flop, like a rag doll.

The family said he had a cold a few weeks ago --- which, of course, we now know is the first sign of distemper. Oscar the veterinarian says the problem is that most families will assume it's a cold from cambio de clime, a change in climate. It's been quite cold at night.

And then it's too late.

Next we went to persuade the owner of the first dog that her other dog needs to be immunized. She had initially refused but yesterday luck was with us. Her husband wasn't home (she was home alone with her five children, 12 years old and younger) and we were able to convince her it wouldn't hurt the dog, she wouldn't have to pay for it, and it might save her dog's life. She reluctantly agreed when we showed up with the veterinarian and a loaded hypodermic.

The veterinarian put one more village dog down that had a snake bite on its neck, which he had initially survived. But then the wound got infected and it was too late to save him.

The final count:
• Seven initial distemper vaccinations for dogs that were in direct contact with Dog #1.
• Three dogs put down and buried on the beach.

It's heartbreaking work, and incredibly frustrating to try to help in a country where everyone is speaking rapidly -- and all at the same time -- in a language I'm just past 'how are you?'. But despite the obstacles it feels like we have some momentum in getting help earlier, doing some prevention. And then, on to massive spaying and neutering.

For those of you who wonder why the heck we're doing this, why we're so immersed in helping animals --- really, it's because it is the greatest need.

We're offer English classes to the children in the village. We're offer music lessons on piano and guitar and the occasional music evening. But these are all bonuses for the village. If we left tomorrow, the town could take what English and music they've learned and choose to continue on. Or not.

But dogs in the town are suffering, not intentionally, and that is something that we may be able to change. And eventually, if we leave, the culture around how to take care of the dogs may have changed too.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Distemper hits Arroyo Seco

Tomorrow afternoon we 'get' to put a dog down.

Heartbreak City, for sure.

Here's the story: A few days ago a neighbor asked if we could help with her neighbor's dog, one that she had been feeding. He was emaciated, mucous dripping from his nose, had a noticeable lack of coordination. Like a drunk.

Last week we had already been busy helping animals around the village. We rescued a pitiful dachsund mutt who in one week has evolved into the lovely Princessa Mia and has stolen our hearts. And then there's the cocker spaniel that showed up at our palapa one morning, stinking and ailing with a fever. After a quick haircut and three days of antibiotic infections, she's bouncing around the town again, unfortunately noticeably pregnant. This will be her third litter in less than two years.

So the neighbors know we will help.

Last night a veterinarian made a house call to our remote little rancho of Arroyo Seco, at our request, to see if the current dog in crisis could be helped. He was still wobbling around in front of our place that morning, but when the vet showed up around 5, the dog was gone --- taken off to a remote pasture by someone in the village, whether to die or to get the dog isolated, I wasn't sure.

Our neighbor's husband hopped on his bicycle to bring the dog back so the vet could check him out --- something I definitely didn't understand because it didn't seem like the dog could walk that far. But there's a lot I don't understand here, especially when everyone's speaking in Spanish so fast that I'm catching about every 10 words --- if I'm lucky. And then there is also the cultural differences in how we care for our pets.

Eventually we ended up with the Oscar the vet (in the red shirt) and the dog -- and a committee of about 10 --- in the same place and the immediate verdict was ––– distemper.


Good grief. Don't they vaccinate against that here?

Apparently not often.

So tomorrow we'll put the poor pooch to sleep, vaccinate his siblings and the same owner's mama dog who has four-week old puppies, plus a different neighbor's dogs who have been sharing food and water.

Later, we'll do some research, make a plan, figure out the best way to help that might really make a difference --- prevention.

When you get past the tears from watching this poor dog suffer, the anger follows. How the heck can this happen so easily in 2010? Are these people heartless? Ignorant?

I think the truest answer might be two-fold: there's no veterinarian in the village and there's no money to pay for vaccinations. It costs between $10 to $15 per shot. Might not seem a lot to someone living (and working) in the States or Canada, but it could be close to a day's wages here. It might mean the difference between food on the table, clothes for their children, gas in the car.

So we have a two-fold response to the distemper crisis: bring in the vet, provide the money for vaccinations.

Another neighbor asked me today if the vet could look at her daughter's dog whose hind legs don't seem to be working. And then there's the other dog that apparently got bitten in the neck by a snake and the neck might now be gangrene.

I know we can't rescue every dog. But there's a lot we can do. We can continue to get every pooch snipped and clipped so every dog is a wanted dog. We'll work on getting them all vaccinated. We encourage -- and maybe find a way to fund the use of a monthly tick treatment so dogs won't get Ehrlichia.

We're a small village. Sometimes it feels insurmountable. I know it's impossible to save them all. But what is possible is to help by educating, preventing, and sometimes funding.

And eventually, hopefully, it will feel less like Heartbreak City.

The lovely Princessa Mia on the first day at home in the Palapa Pink Flamingo, Arroyo Seco. She's definitely decided to stay.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

It's been one of my favorite jokes for years.

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
What do you call someone who speaks one language?


The past two days have been filled with envy --- a rare emotion for me --- for friends who started studying multiple languages early and kept it up for life.

We spent Saturday afternoon at a beach barbecue with our surfer friend from France, Julien, and his family. His parents speak French, not much Spanish, less English. Laura comfortably slipped into the afternoon conversing in French, Spanish and translating into English when I needed it, as did another friend, Ana. Languages flowed like a river, starting in one language, moving into a second, explaining in a third.

I want that.

It's always been my belief, wish, hope to speak a second language. I want fewer obstacles in connecting with the person sitting next to me, regardless of language. I desperately wanted it for my sons, Dustin and Dylan, but it was rarely offered in the schools and I just didn't pull it off.

Sorry, kids.

Luckily Granddaughter Sasha, who lives in Puerto Vallarta, will be trilingual. At 18 months she understands Romanian, Spanish and English. Her first word was Spanish (mas!) but she's already beginning to babble in English. I'm grateful her parents, Dustin and Camelia, are committed to teaching her multiple languages from birth, which is so much easier than trying to learn it at my age.

Tonight headed for dinner at AsiaAzul, an Asian restaurant in nearby Emiliano Zepata. The restaurant was closed so we headed up to the owner's house to ask when he'd be open again.
Within minutes of conversation, Laura figured out that not only does he also speak English, Spanish (of course), probably Vietnamese, but that he's more comfortable speaking French. And off they went again, speaking in a language I couldn't understand.

Despite my envy --- or perhaps because of it -- the past few days have made me even more committed to becoming fluent in a second language.

As of today, two months into our second season at Arroyo Seco, I can pretty much understand what people are saying. And sometimes they can understand me. I'm rarely speaking in complete sentences yet, and I'm mostly speaking in the present tense.

But, dang it, I'm speaking. I'm listening. I'm learning.

Today at lunch we toasted to my first solo conversation with Tia Melly, one of the elders in town who I've been dying to joke with since I first met her two years ago.

So, Tengo esperanza. I have hope.

I have hope that I won't be 80 before I call myself fluent in a second language. Maybe then I'll consider going for a third.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Construction, speaking Spanish, Dengue and Dogs

I have a minute to update the blog because I'm unexpectedly Home Alone for the second time since we've been in Mexico this season (if you don't count the four workers building our patio and painting the walls).

It's been the normal whirlwind time in Mexico with many friends and family visiting while they escape the terrible winter in the U.S. and Canada. We've started our language school for the children of the village to study English. And we still manage to get to the beach, to Tenacatita, to La Manzanilla to meet friends for dinner or a sunset.

Here's a glimpse of the idle musings bouncing around my head for the past few days:


I now dream in Spanish but only the words (las palabras?), not the meaning. Very confusing. This morning I woke up trying to create the correct sentence to tell the teenage painters to make sure I have electricity to power the internet for a conference call from 9 to 10.

My sentence structure was undoubtly incorrect but at least this season I'm getting past the toddler stage of throwing out verbs or commands --- and they actually sometimes seem to understand me. And they didn't unplug my DSL box while they painted around the outlet.


The 24/7 immersion of living in the village is helping, as is our teacher, roommate and friend, Maestra Laura, who encourages me one word at a time.


It's official. We hate it.

We're not doing much this year, scaled way back from the original plan of building the guest casitas. (Sorry, everybody. Maybe next year). This year we finished the stucco on the remaining two walls of the compound, which required us to redo the electric (of course!). We also had to redo some plumbing (of course!). The walls are now sealed and halfway painted, with about another day of labor before completion.

In the meantime, we launched what we thought was a small project --- and, really, it is --- by putting a cobblestone step at the bottom of the first step of the palapa to keep dirt off the lovely tile floor. The maestro loads his truck up with the small round rocks from the riverbed next to the town and sets it artistically in the concrete.

We liked it so much --- and it went down so quickly --- that we decided to build the patio in front of our place with cobblestones out of the river, rather than the planned brick. And while he's at it, why not cobblestone the landing the length of the bathrooms so we carry less dust up onto the beautiful white tiles?

You get the drift. It's endless, small project after small project.

Our challenge is remaining close enough to home to be able to answer questions, provide supplies, make sure it looks like what we think it's supposed to look like without getting tied to being at home.

We're losing that challenge but we're determined that this will be the last project of the season. Right after we have someone build the bamboo privacy screen to shield the bathroom sink from the rest of the property....


We've never had to worry about dengue here on the Jalisco coast before. It's always been here and I've heard of occasional cases over the years, but it just wasn't an issue. You didn't live in fear of getting a bite by a daytime mosquito.

Today I saw the statistics of dengue for the state of Jalisco for the first time.

In 2007, 953 confirmed cases.
In 2009, 4,835 confirmed cases.

I knew it was bad because so many of our friends have come down with it. And dengue's tough. No vaccination, no cure. Just treat the symptoms of a soaring fever, bone crushing aches and pains, no energy. And it lasts, often for two weeks, then several more weeks of getting your energy back.

I don't want it. We live coated with insect repellent, hoping for the best.

So far as I've heard, no one knows why it's soaring. Perhaps climate change?


Our surfer friend, Julien, who also lives in Arroyo Seco, has been a longtime friend of Samba, a village dog. I normally would say he's adopted Samba, but that's not the relationship. They're friends --- equals --- who choose to spend time together.

I can understand the relationship more after reading the wonderful book, Merle's Door, about an 'rescued' dog who lives with Ted Kerasote, who comes to the realization that a doggy door is the only thing that Merle needs for his autonomy and independence.

That's Samba. She adores Julien and the feeling is mutual.
But Julien has been terribly sick with dengue and our best-in-the-world neighbors, Chena and Chon, put him to bed in their house and ministered to him around the clock with poultices and Tempra and everything they knew to do.

Samba couldn't stay with him because they have a load of Chihuahuas that are incompatible with this great big Alpha village dog. After about three days of separation, Julien ended up in our trailer for the night. And by 11 p.m., Samba showed up at our place, burrowing her way under the gate, putting her front paws up so her claws clicked on the metal step of the trailer. Her version of knock, knock. She knew she had found her amigo Julien.

The reunion would bring tears even to a cynic's eyes.

I hate dengue, but I sure love knowing that this dog --- and so many animals --- are aware of so much more than we are aware, relying on so many senses rather than being able to simply ask someone, Yo! Where's Julien?

This morning Samba showed up at around 5 a.m. from a long trek from the beach house where Julien is now staying. Once again we heard her claws hit the metal of the first step of the trailer, her announcement that's she's come back to town.

Why? Who knows. She thought she'd visit? Because Julien is boring because he's sick, but she no longer is worried about him because he's getting better? Because she's hungry? I have no idea. But I know Samba does. I guess that's the point. And lucky Samba lives in a safe enough community that she can follow her nose, follow her instincts.

So, today, in my world that feels a little more complicated and a little more unsafe than normal, that's my bright spot. She spent the morning laying on a carpet next to me out in the breezy palapa after chowing down some chicken scraps from the homemade soup I made for Julien.

Then she heard his voice out in the street in front, and zoom! She's gone. Back to spending the rest of the day with her friend Julien. As it should be.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Mexican amigo finally goes home --- to the U.S.

Tonight we're celebrating a friend's return to his home in the United States.

Some of you who have visited us in Arroyo Seco, Mexico have met our friend, Francisco, and his sister, Veronica.

We were introduced when we first moved here because they were the only other English-speakers in the village. Francisco is a gifted translator and he's been on call as we struggled to converse in Spanish. He'd race down from his home at his grandmother's house and take as much time as needed, usually refusing any compensation, despite the lack of work in the village.

He's also the guy we'd call to take Dylan fishing, or to help us cook when we were having a load of guests in for dinner.

But Francisco's is an interesting story -- especially for those of us who only hear about U.S. immigration from U.S. media reports. And until I met Francisco and his sister Veronica, that was the only side of the story I knew.

During the George W. Bush administration, government officials started doing immigration sweeps (perhaps meeting quotas?), quickly deporting what we would consider the 'low hanging fruit' --- the easy pickings, but not necessarily the people we would hope to have deported from our country: criminals, drug dealers, violent offenders. Instead, they were deporting the citizens who had glitches in their paperwork. The easy ones to track. And the ones who were not hiding... They were working, paying taxes, etc...

This is his story as I understand it: Francisco was brought into the country without documentation when he was a child. Eventually he was able to get a driver's license, work papers and paid social security. He married a U.S. citizen, a bank administrator in Napa. He had a decent job in a restaurant. His two sons were born there. The U.S. was the only home he really knew or remembered.

But one day the new equivalent of INS showed up and gave him a choice. Go immediately to jail, --- or --- you can have one hour to pack your bags and get on an airplane to Mexico. They escorted him to the airport where he returned to his extended family in Arroyo Seco, to a family and a culture he barely knew.

Apparently his lawyer, who had been paid to continue to filing the paperwork to apply for citizenship, took the money but didn't file the paperwork.

His 25-year-old sister, Veronica, was deported in exactly the same manner. One day she day she was living in the U.S., working at a Napa restaurant, going to dances at night. The next day she's sleeping on a bed on the front porch of a grandmother's house in a remote Mexican village of 300 people.

Veronica said she cried for the first three months. Then she started to look around, started getting to know people, found new ways to entertain herself without going to a mall or going to a dance. Two years later she married a handsome, sweet man from the village in a storybook wedding. They are expecting their first child in May.

But Francisco stayed on the paper trail, working to get home to Napa and his family. This past Wednesday, nearly three years later, Francisco crossed the border one more time --- this time with documentation --- to return home to his wife and his two sons.

Francisco and Veronica are not the only cases we've learned about since we moved here. A neighbor has a contractor who says he was deported from Southern California in exactly the same manner and same circumstances. One days he's living with his wife and four children (all U.S. citizens). He goes to work at the two restaurants he opened. He owns a five bedroom home. Then one day he's deported. The options: A plane ride or jail.

We've heard of others.

Francisco's been through a lot over the past few years. And he's learned a lot. The celebration Michael and I will have tonight in our palapa in Arroyo Seco is knowing that he's reunited with his family, but that he can come back here any time he wants.

It's about time.