Even though I've made a fair number of back of the book indexes, sometimes doing them still makes me feel like I'm writing term papers -- nerves and all, and this big rush one is doing it more than most. BUT I still managed to sneak off yesterday (and feel guilty about it) to go to la fiesta patronal de Stas Marta y Maria. Well, sort of the fiesta patronal.
Susan is a retired Episcopal priest living in Coátepec where she gathers a small congregation Sundays in her house. As a somewhat lapsed Episcopalian, I am drawn to the services, though not very often at this point. But I did go yesterday which was la fiesta patronal for St. Martha and St. Mary which is the name of her little congregation. I brought a new friend along because after the service, we were going to have our own privatea concert of violin and piano pieces. Susan is an excellent pianist, and the husband of one of her parishioners is a violinist in the Orquesta de Xalapa (the best in Mexico, if I don’t say so myself). The two of them had rehearsed a sampling of old favorites, so we sat in Susan’s living room and were filled with music. The bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Southeastern Mexico brought his family. At one point there appeared to be a shortage of chairs and people were shuffling around, each offering another their chair. When we finally had it all figured out and had settled down, the Bishop told us that in parts of very rural Mexico, the men NEVER offer seats to women, that in fact women have to sit on la tierra and that men aren’t supposed to and that rather than being insulting, this is a custom connecting women to the fertility of the earth.
Afterwards I took Judy, the new person in town, over to see La Ceiba Gráfica. Judy is an artist and is very interested in their lithography instruction. Being Sunday, it appeared deserted, but a back door stood open and we snuck in. It sure felt like we were sneaking! The main floor gallery appeared locked, but we noticed the key was still in the lock. Like two sneaky girls, we turned it and pushed. The door didn't budge. Did we stop? No, we tried again. And again. And finally we figured it out and pushed the door open. It squeaked! But nobody seemed to be around, so we slipped in. And of course someone was in the building after all. We turned around to see Hector, an artist who does linoleum prints, standing there. I apologized, but he said, “Esta es tu casa” and gave Judy a guided tour including to his own workshop where he unrolled work he has done on some kind of fabric-paper mix. He does murals made up of smaller pieces, vivid, strong, full of life. He’s now experimenting with color and texture. Recently, fourteen local kids of various ages contributed to the making of a giant mural which I think I already wrote about. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that chickens and roosters make their home in the scruffy, somewhat overgrown courtyard of La Ceiba and out front, too, so the roosters’ cries punctuated Hector’s explanations and sometimes stood in his doorway trying to figure out what on earth we were doing when we could have been outside pecking in the dirt or trailing around after each other.
When our friends Aina and Michael were preparing to return to San Francisco from Xalapa, they called some of us to come and raid their book collection which they could not take with them. Ah, what a guilty pleasure! A mystery addict, I could see my resolve to read novels only in Spanish dissolve with no opposition from me into nothing before my eyes.
I love it when I find writers I hadn’t known about or read much from before, and Aina had a bunch including Robert Crais, Peter Abrahams, Ian Rankin and Denise Mina. I also snagged a couple of old favorites, Jeffrey Deaver whose books are wildly uneven: some terrific, some total trash, Michael Connolly, John Sanford and S. J. Rozan. Two really good mysteries I snagged were “An Agent in Place” by Robert Littell whom I’d not heard of and a terrific book called either “A Small Death in Portugal” or “A Small Death in Lisbon” also by someone I hadn’t heard of (and whose name I can’t remember). I cannot find this latter book at the moment, unfortunately, but it’s definitely worth rummaging for.
Most of these books are now stacked by our front door waiting to go to someone in Xico.
I have already failed in my challenge to write everyday. I have two indexing jobs, one huge and last minute. Yikes! But I like this scheduled morning ritual. Just like I like getting my Word a Day. But it will be tidbits for a couple of weeks.
Al Gore is charging the Mexican government 175,000 dollars to speak for a speaking engagement in Mexico City. This has raised hackles as it should. The pro-bring-Al-Gore people say it’s worth it because he will raise awareness here. His movie played in Mexico, including here in our area where we saw it at a benefit for Pronatura. Anti-Gore people say that so much money could go a lot further in the effort to raise awareness. I would hazard a guess that the government is paying it to attract some of the very wealthy in Mexico who may like to live their lives oblivious to environmental problems. Wealth here, even more than in the U.S., is the great insulator.
By the way, people here are often aware of climate and environmental problems. That would be more than a tidbit to discuss, though.
I just would like to know why Al Gore thinks he should be charging those big bucks. Maybe to pay off his carbon emissions exchange credits, whatever they are called.
I have not only been going to La Ceiba Gráfica for Tai Chi, but to learn a bit about making lithographs. It is very interesting and very frustrating. Up until maybe the late 1940s or early 1950s lithography was a very common printing process for making all kinds of illustrated material. It was the process used for cigar box illustrations, those gaudy pictures touched with gold. My grandfather, an immigrant from a city in Poland, was a printer. I wonder if he was a lithographer. Per at La Ceiba Gráfica told us lithography dominated commercial Polish printing and that quite a number of Polish printers brought their craft to the U.S. and continued practicing it. When I was a child, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ apartment in the Bronx. In one hallway, there was a wide set of shelves that had been turned into a kind of formal table by the addition of a well-made piece of upholstery that hid its original function. On the shelves were stacks and stacks of paper, rejects from the printing shop where my grandfather worked. Many of them had little color samples in a corner at the bottom. I used this paper for endlessly drawing, using a fat fountain pen or one of a myriad of different kinds of pencils that he filled his desk drawer with.
Blanca, our neighbor across the street, comes with me to learn lithography. She is fifteen and in love with horses, especially of the mythical sort. She has a lot easier time drawing her horses than I do trying to draw plants and such. Drawing on the stone is easy and not easy. Dragging a pen with a nib across the smooth surface, I leave crooked lines and bits of ink spray. La Ceiba has been filled this summer with people coming for a week at a time to learn the process: visiting teachers on summer vacation, rich retired men and their entire family, young workers on holiday. A couple of accomplished artists. An older woman who came by herself who also joined us for Tai Chi.
Here is a picture of Gacho, Blanca’s three-legged dog.
Gacho had four legs until last summer when he was hit by a car. I think I wrote already that I found Blanca covering Gacho with a silk cloth outside in the sun one day. The leg had gotten terribly infected and it was clear that he was going to die if something wasn’t done. We took him to our wonderful vet, Marco Antonio Córtez Pérez who said the leg would have to come off, but not until the infection was treated. For weeks, we brought Gacho in to have his wound washed and to get more antibiotics. The operation was successful, and now Gacho is the king of our end of the street, tiny and feisty, growling at interlopers five times his size.
This is a picture of the houses across the street from our house. Blanca lives in the blue one in the middle. Her family has a dirt floor and water that comes from a hose into an outdoor sink and shower area. But while I am sure that Doña and Blanca and Rosi would find life easier with indoor plumbing, their lives are not grim, all things considered.
And here is a picture of Doña Victoria, Blanca and Rosi.
You can click on the pictures to make them bigger.
If you look at the aerial views of our part of Veracruz on Google Earth you will see that much of it is deep barrancas and narrow twisting ridges. On Google Earth, it looks scary and stark, but it isn’t. It is soft and inviting, draped and blanketed with deep-green forests and farms broken here and there by beautiful cliffs and winding roads and small towns.
Last week Jim and I went on a walk not far from where we live. To get there, we drove on a narrow rock road just past a little town called Ticuahutipan, across the valley from Xico Viejo. Not surprisingly, we came upon a rather deep hole in the road where the rains had washed things out. It was in the process of being repaired, but it wasn’t clear that we could cross it. Up ahead, four men stopped to watch us examining th esituation and then came and helped. They were pretty sloshed but pretty friendly and gave us very animated guidance. They wanted us to pay a cooperativo – a local inhabitant’s share of the repair costs – but we said we had to pay cooperativos in our own colonia. They laughed and one said how about enough for a beer and we laughed and they laughed again and we went on.
The road ends at an open area for turning around. It must be the end of bus routes because people were sitting and waitng.
This is a picture of the crosses at the turn around area (you can click on the pictures to make them bigger::
The stone path that takes off from here goes down one side of the barranca, crosses a small river and then goes up the other side to a town past Xico Viejo. It is much further by car than by foot.
This is a picture right near the top of the path:
Jim on the path.
The bridge crossing the little river. Our dog, Cosi, is in the lower right corner.
Woman coming down the path
And then going up the other side.
Cosi and Rita
Two of the men we’d met at the broken place in the road came down the path on their way home. We greeted each other warmly, and we talked for awhile. Here is a close-up of one of them.
They wanted us to take their picture by the crosses in a shallow cave so we did. Hence the colors of this picture. We have promised them copies of the photos. We will probably drive to their town, but who knows, maybe we'll walk!
Back on the road looking back towards Ticuahutipan. You can see Acamalín. Our house is to the left of Acamalín.
And finally, an interesting fence. The section to the right of the tree was made of mattress springs.
Yesterday we were lazy In the afternoon, we watched the clouds roll in – the wind can rattle the leaves, but the clouds slide silently and smoothly, breaking apart, bumping into each other, piling higher and higher until they cover the sky.
In the evening, we succumbed to TV. We’d been without it for I think two months. Till Saturday. We had managed to postpone calling SKY to come and check it out for an unbelievably long time, proud that we were not TV addicts as we procrastinated dealing with the repair service. Which you can get in English. Hah.
We got lost in Clear and Present Danger with Harrison Ford and were pretty well glued to the when the doorbell rang. Let’s leave it, we said to each other. But it rang again, longer. And then again. The doorbell sounds like a chain saw. Must be the kids looking for their ball, we decided. We return it to them only once a night, and this was going to be it. I opened the gate, ball in hand. There were the kids. But also a neighbor was pressing in with her sister who was visiting from DF.
“I have to ask you a favor,” my neighbor said. “My sister would like to see your garden and the view.” Our neighbor is a small, intelligent woman with two boys and her elderly mother whom she supports pretty much on her own. Her sister, plump and maybe in her sixties, had seemed pushy the only time I’d met her, but I really didn’t have any reason to pass judgment. She did seemed better off – she and the young man who’d brought her after all had a car that worked.
“Sure,” I said to our neighbor. “But we’re right in the middle of a really tense movie. Why don’t you just walk around by yourselves?” I gave them a pair of scissors and a couple of small plastic bags for cuttings and told them just to leave the scissors on the hood of the car, apologized for being so abrupt and told her I’d see her during the week.
So Jim and I got back into the movie. Maybe ten minutes later, we were amazed to see our door handle turn and the neighbor’s sister push her way in, our neighbor and her son in tow. The sister had filled her arms not just with cuttings but with plants pulled up by their roots She filled the living room, talking non-stop as she looked in doors and out over the balcony. It became clear she wanted us to invite her to watch the movie with us. I explained that Jim wasn’t really feeling well. He started to say he felt fine now. I could have put tape over his mouth! Our neighbor mostly stood by quietly. I’ve never had this experience before. I managed to be polite as I eased them out, thinking of office rules: smile but don’t sit if you don’t want someone to stay, etc. but I really wanted to say something like what the hell do you think you’re doing, barging in like that? Normally we have the opposite situation: people hold back until we make it very clear that they are welcome. Was the sister behaving oddly? Was I?
I have this sensation of often having to negotiate borders with people, that we are testing each other’s limits, that our cultures do read some behaviors quite differently. I will have to talk to my friend Mári up the street about this.
I did not mention in talking about the San Antonio de Padua exhibit that another friend came, and she had indeed hoped San Antonio, if he existed at all (she being somewhat skeptical) might help her find true love. And she brought to the event her answered prayer and so put up with a lot of delighted ribbing. Her prometido is a charming man, an American who shares many of her interests. They will live in the Napa Valley where he works. He is very lucky. Our friend Norma is one of the most sparkly, charming, joyful people I have ever met. Being around her makes me happy.
Yesterday, Norma and Evan had a party so Norma could welcome and introduce her prometido to friends. On the front lawn of her little house, amidst towering trees and lush flowering plants (including extranjero peppers which Jim grows and which there we learned have another name) we sat at three long tables. In this area, I think people sit at big tables more than they stand around at parties. It is a nice way to have parties: like sitting around kitchen tables in the old days.. Norma and Evan’s party reminded me of feasts in movies: Fanny and Alexander, for instance, or maybe a touch of Babette’s Feast, where just for that little span of time, everyone feels filled with mellow happiness. This was a fiesta de traja, a potluck. People brought fried chiles relleños, macaroni salads (even here, and not brought by Americans), spaghetti, green salad, lovely soft, buttery avocadoes for slicing on everything, corn, a gelatina with gelatina calla lilies embedded in it, four huge cakes, sausages and frankfurters, salsas, and of course tortillas. Evan played the seemingly traditional American role of chef de barbecue grill, but there were no hamburgers. Instead, he flipped rabbit meat and goat meat and roasted a second variety of chiles rellenos, and chicken and corn and potatoes. We drank Mexican wine and Chilean wine and cerveza and tequila and mango juice.
Evan seems as happy to be a little corny as Norma does, so they taught us the chorus, in English and Spanish, of a simple little song, it must be a child’s song, about being together. Like being around the fire at camp, with Evan in his shorts and sandals and one foot on a a chair balancing his guitar and Norma conducting. And everybody singing.
We sat and smiled and talked and ate and drank until the rains came, and even after. Finally it seemed a good idea to bring stuff inside, and slowly, slowly the party ended.
Having already spent too much time this morning reading the NYTimes online – not that much time, actually, but not a lot is needed to get into a news-funk – I will tear myself away from The Issues of the Day to my self-assigned exercise in self-discipline.
Here where we live, St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of single women (and the occasional man) who pray to him for a spouse. Perhaps in a late celebration of his Feast Day (June 13) or maybe just because it was when the time was available at the gallery, last night a group of several women and one man opened their gently satirical show at Caftan Rojo in Coátepec. Caftan Rojo is a modest building, not old, built around a courtyard with a fountain in the center. It may even have been built for its current use as an art and education center, a term which sounds pompous, though the place isn’t.
We arrived a bit after seven and met up with our friend who was exhibiting two pieces. She sat at a low round table surrounded by some of her family and a couple of other friends. It looked like each artist was at such a table with friends and family. Here families not only often eat dinner together, they go to art openings and to Costco together. In fact, one of her friends, a Frenchwoman married to a Mexican said that she looks forward to when her family goes away so much together are they – and, she said, the French are much more enjoyers of solitude than are Mexicans.
And solititude of a sort is what perhaps ironically I suppose, the artists celebrated. If I can translate at all accurately, the double themes of the show were first, that singleness women shouldn’t have to give up their freedom in order to get married – and attendant themes about marriage – and that when we are all free from bonds we allow to be created, when we have time to explore inside our own heads, we can find our own miracles, we don’t have to pray to saints for them.
But there was nothing in-your-face militant about the show, rather gently symbolic pieces of various sorts, including one our friend painted on a box in which she alone (or rather everywoman) was surrounded by objects of nature that she loved: birds and bugs and stars and plants and where you could see huge, ugly modern buildings tumbling. This friend is no amateur nature lover, but an expert birder who tromps through the bosques and selvas and cafetelas with her telescope over her shoulder. She is a beautiful woman, in her late forties I would say, slender and elegant and well-off and married. She also is involved in activities on behalf of battered women and broken families.
She also did a terrific retablo but I am almost out of my self-imposed page limit and want to mention that we were also treated to a performance by an excellent actor as a rather ineffective Saint but very articulate (as the original one was) San Antonio – my Spanish was not good enough to catch all that he said by any means, but I did catch some sarcastic commentary about pederasty among priests: St. Anthony after all was, as he said, single and often seen carrying a child, (the baby Jesus!). It was also clear that this San Antonio had a grumpy relationship with God who seemed not to hear his complaints. Thus, San Antonio had at his command a couple of Zen tools for calming himself.
Yesterday when I drove up the hill towards La Ceiba Gráfica in La Orduña for my Tai Chi class, I was surprised to see the road lined with cars. It turned out a film crew had arrived to use the hacienda for a setting. Martín, my Tai Chi teacher and one of the two heads of La Orduña, had no idea what they were filming for; renting opportunities to use the hacienda as a setting is just another way of making money.
Martín and I (I am still the only student – what a shame! Martín is an excellent, very patient teacher) have class on the long side of the second story veranda with views through giant old trees of the jumble of small, sometimes crumbling industrial buildings, the old church, and piles of brightly painted houses. And above them, the glorious mountains and the clouds puffing and tumbling slowly around them.
The lesson was not its normal calm and quiet self. Cameramen and technicians and boss-types were everywhere, shouting and climbing as they ran cables and lugged cameras and sound equipment and who knows what else, here and there and here again. At one point Per, the other boss of La Orduña, poked his head out one of the French doors onto the balcony where we were pretending people weren't running up and down alongside us as we practiced our slow, precise moves, and, in what seemed near panic, waved Martín over and rolling his eyes and with all the muscles of his face in a dance of despair said the film crew was going to blow all the electricity! They needed to find another source outside! Martín told me to keep doing what I was doing (I certainly needed the practice) and left with Per, putting a comforting arm around Per's shoulder.
Per is, in addition to being one of the jefes of La Ceiba Gráfica, a scholar of lithography and a master lithographer. A stocky Scandinavian who appears much shorter than Martín though he is not, he is probably in his sixties, with a blocky, shaved head and a warm and nervous smile. I think his current art must reflect his anxieties. He is into skulls. This seems really to be an effort to deal with his own mortality: one bigger piece is a long piece of pleated paper. As you walk towards it from one direction, you see Per. As you walk awayin the other direction, you see his skull.
The electricity did not go off. Martín, the opposite of Per returned, calm and smiling, and resumed the lesson.
There is an updated web page for La Ceiba Gráfica. Check it out here.