Flight of the black moth

La pollila negra flits into the terraza and vanishes into the roof tiles. The hour is late and dark.

The ignorant eye first thinks: small bat. The hour is right but the flitting is wrong, far too gentle and lovely.

It’s a black moth.

We have a relative on the Plaza Grande, a woman fearful and sad, though potentially attractive. She fears many things, and is the only person we’ve known who’s afraid of butterflies and moths. Is there a name for this? May we paste a psychiatric label on her?

It´s the dust of their wings that gives her the willies. Isn’t that captured pollen, or are butterflies naturally dusty? Like some snazzy tropical women.

Nonetheless, seeing a big, black moth briefly in the darkness as sinister clouds approach does stir a certain unease.


Wind of the night train

Almost a full moon, so we set out afoot down the dark street, about 9 p.m.

Hand in hand, we turn left at the first corner.

Passing the Abarrotes Gonzales, we come to the track just as the train arrives.

Walking near, we feel its warm wind. It is dark, and we see the last car swaying uncertainly in the dim distance as it manages a corner, barely.

There is no flashing light nor descending barricade. Only us two.

After the train thrills subside, we cross the tracks. The street is dark and quiet. The roof dogs are dozing. It is Monday night, the quietest of the week in our rinky-dink town.

On the left, abutting the rail line, is a house under construction, quite elegant for our barrio. It is dark, so we sneak in for a tour. I tote a tiny flashlight, always.

Surprisingly, we find a big living room with vaulted ceilings and a rock fireplace that rivals our own at the Ranchito.

Heading back toward Vieja Street, we hang a left. The street lights are new but dim.

Another block brings us to the Plaza. We circle the new clay-tile sidewalk. It is big, beautiful, silent and still this evening. Nobody but us. There are autumn leaves.

On the southeast corner of the Portales is an ancient room where we hear the music of perpetual practice. It´s a band of trumpets and drums. Probably a tuba, too.

The recently renovated, wrought-iron bandstand is lit and lovely. We stop at the ancient church and peer up at the bell tower.

No bats, but the moon to the left paints a postcard scene.

As we pass the Plaza´s corner, retracing our steps, a couple of women suddenly move into the street and curse loudly at one another.

One calls the other a pinche cara de culo! Oh, my.

No matter. We continue homeward, my lovely wife pausing momentarily to pinch a little vine that is falling over an old rock wall toward the street.

Ladrona de plantas. A plant thief in the shadows.

Running with Speed Loco

Let´s take a run downtown, shall we? Just four pesos.

Public transportation passes the Ranchito frequently. It comes in the form of vans, Toyota, VW or Nissan.

Mexican drivers name these vehicles.

Marijuana Smoker, Insane Driver, Speed Kills. And one of our favorites: Speed Loco.

All of these names, boldly emblazoned on the windshield, inspire confidence in the passengers. You bet.

Speed Loco makes it to the Plaza Grande in Pátzcuaro in about 60 seconds. It´s three miles from here.

We blast away from the corner, outside the little abarrotes store, with our facial skin pressed back against the bone. We appear to be snarling. Werewolves in transit.

Grab something as we hit the highway from Vieja Street. We angle in precariously at the foot of a hill on a blind corner.

Everybody goes full tilt.

Look, there! A glimpse of green as the Pemex station flashes by. The driver has the radio blasting Ranchero. One of Pátzcuaro´s favorite restaurants is there at the station. Gas station grub.

Quick, there on your left is the new residence that´s been under construction about a year, lots of rock, palm trees, quite impressive really. The owner´s fighting dogs and cocks are all caged around the house, which isn´t quite completed.

No matter. He´s moved in, and his beasts are ready to brawl.

Get your wagers ready.

The driver´s slammed into third now, and Lago de Pátzcuaro passes in the distance — a liquid blur. If we were moving slower, we´d notice the smell of pollution, maybe some dead fish. Better from afar — and at this velocity.

Round the traffic circle, just missing some slow-witted schoolchildren and a few cars. Our driver looks beatific.

Up Avenida las Americas now, a simple two-lane drag in spite of the elegant misnomer. We´re passing, there on your right, where yours truly lived for over two years, renting.

We pass the Ramírez funeral home. Caskets on display, but nobody dead today.

Then Mr. Gray´s Chopper Bar. Nobody dead there either.

After a hard right and a curb bounce at Siete Esquinas, the “seven corner” intersection that only has five corners, we arrive at the Plaza Chica, a block from our destination, the Plaza Grande.

Decelerating from Mach Something, our faces resume their normal skin tones. Our teeth and gums disappear. We exhale.

Let´s stumble off here, and walk the final block, providing time to recover from the ride. The trembling will vanish in moments.

Moments for Mahiya

One awakens at 5:33 and notices something magical.

Silence. Strange in Mexico.

Lie here some moments and revel in it. Like an ashram in Mumbai.  No trains, no dogs, no chickens, no burros, no Catholic church bells from down on the Plaza, nada.

It is a little early for roosters, but trucks are persistent. The highway from Pátzcuaro to Morelia skirts our barrio, curving up and around a hill not far behind the Ranchito.

The truck brakes often make a scandal in the night as they maneuver the bend. Luckily, the road is far enough back not to present a real problem. But you can hear it. But not right now.  And there is the occasional romantic rumble of the night train.

rich aural environment. Usually.

But now, a odd calm covers our land, and most are asleep, missing it.

A few are in nightmares. If someone nudges them, they will awaken into this silent dream of ours. And their hearts will settle.

And in an instant, it rains, a muted downpour. No thunder, no lightning, just a susurrant waterfall, bringing sleep again.

Flying dreams

Enjoying a cool, August morning on the terraza under gray clouds and occasional sunshine, just enough to backlight what we see — floating just over there.

A flying dream.

We see them now and then, mornings, afternoons, early evenings. We don´t know what they are. But they are alive, usually. Sometimes it’s just fluff floating on the breeze.

Other times, they are alive but with tiny bodies so flimsy, so nearly nonexistent, they look like flying dreams.

They wing slowly by, and we wonder about their lives. Do they have homes, lovers or children? Perhaps they are inhabitants of some parallel plane that, for reasons unknown to us, quickly pass over to this side for a peek, a fly-by.

Then they head back, vanishing, curiosity satisfied.

Or perhaps the first guess is right. They’re flying dreams.

Toro! Toro! Toro!

The Old Man awoke beside the Beautiful Woman as a blood-red sun rose over the Cerro de Chiquihuite.  It was bullfight day.

They breakfasted on bread from Bisquets Obregón. There was raw honey and black cafecitos, just like back at the Ranchito.

A few hours later, the Silver Meriva barreled south down Insurgentes, past the naked protesters who never give up, past the Paseo de la Reforma where jet planes crash.

Past the World Trade Center, and right on the Eje 5 Sur.

There it loomed: Plaza Mexico, the biggest bullring in the world.

It’s a massive hole, not obvious from inside or out, where it still towers into the sky. Most seats are below street level.

The Plaza holds 48,000 bullfighting fans and passing dilettantes, but it’s rarely more than 25 percent full these days. Interest in bullfights is waning.

Hemingway´s days are gone.

Sundays from November through March at precisely 4 p.m. a bull comes charging through the gate. And he’s really pissed off.

Fighting bulls are not simply big and angry bulls. They are a breed apart. Their wives, the cows, look like dykes and have tiny udders.

This may add to the moodiness of their menfolk.

The Old Man and the Beautiful Woman sat on cement seats pretty close to the ring, but not too close. They purchased cushions from a street vendor, ten pesos a pop.

Vendors strolled about offering hot dogs and hot cappuccinos. Cappuccinos?! And beer, of course.

A bullfight consists of three matadors fighting six bulls, two to a man. The matadors on that day were:

1. Uriel “El Zapata” Moreno.
2. Leopoldo Casasola.
3. Guillermo Martinez.

The Old Man and the Beautiful Woman had been standing in the scattered crowd outside the ring when Casasola arrived in the passenger seat of a new, cream-colored Lincoln Navigator.  The matador game pays good.

He was young and handsome in his Suit of Lights, flashing a killer smile, so handsome the Beautiful Woman seemed to consider a swan dive through the Lincoln´s window into his lap.

But she did not, perhaps because Casasola is young enough to be her son. Perhaps because her Old Man isn’t chopped liver but Southern paté, tasty on cornbread.

She stayed true.

As expected, the first bull thundered through the gate at 4 p.m., right on time like a Fascist train.  The goal is to tire the bull, break his spirit and kill him.

First, one or more picadores decked out like Sancho Panza on heavily padded and blindfolded horses taunt the bull till he charges. It doesn’t take much. He´s on edge.

The picador stabs the bull in his hump with a short-pointed lance. Sometimes the bull knocks the horse off his feet. Score one for the bull, but his victories come hard.

Next, the bull gets stuck with pairs of banderillas, which are delivered by the matador or one of his helpers.

These are pointed sticks that are far shorter than the picador’s lance, and they are delivered as the matador or assistant and the bull run directly at each other.

By this time, the bull has run around the ring a lot. He is overweight. He has been stabbed in the back by the picador. He has banderillas hanging from his hump.

He is bloodied, tired, and nothing is going right for him. He is having serious doubts about himself. His ego is deflated. It´s a bad day.

He needs a therapist. But not even Dr. Phil can save him.

Instead, the heavily panting bull faces a man decked out like a Christmas tree in a leather bar, holding a big red cape and sword.  It’s killing time.

Ideally, one quick sword thrust over the bull’s lowered head brings him down rapidly. That only happened with one of the six bulls that day. The others went down slowly and messily.  And that’s the norm.

Casasola was the best of the three matadors and the only one tossed by a bull. Twice! Luckily, he dodged the horns both times, only injuring his dignity.

The dead bulls are dragged out by a horse team and sold to a butcher. Waste not. Bloody sand is swept up.

The Old Man and the Beautiful Woman rode the Silver Meriva to Titanic Hamburgers on the dark, night median of Margarita Masa de Júarez. Perhaps they ate one of last week’s bulls.  With lettuce, onion, tomato and mustard.

And a side of fries with blood-red ketchup.

The Rachmaninoff cowboy

We lost a good guy this week. Al Kinnison died here in Pátzcuaro in his rambling Colonial mansion on Calle Navarrete. He was 79.

Al was a crusty fellow, a Libertarian, a keen intellect and, most of all, an Arizona cowboy.

He believed in guns, self-reliance and freedom.

He and his second wife, Jean, moved to Pátzcuaro about seven years ago. Jean died last year of a heart attack. Al had cancer.

A former mining engineer and naval officer who spoke English, Spanish and a little Japanese, Al did not care for government, which was one reason he moved to Mexico.

He was against the Iraq war, but before you label him a liberal, know that he was also against government doing much of anything. Al just did not want to be messed with.

Ultra-polite, Al always stood for a lady. He did it even if you were not a lady. Opened their doors. He accepted no crude talk around them either. No, sir.

He often spoke of his desire to move to Guatemala. Government interference is increasing in Mexico, and it would be less in Guatemala, he believed.

Guatemala was his final dream.

His preferred mode of moving to Guatemala would have been on horseback.

A Winchester would have been bouncing off the horse’s haunches. A Colt .45 would have been bouncing on his own hip.

Al was like that. Don’t be fooled by that prissy French beret in the photo. Al almost always sported a cowboy hat.

But that was just one side. Al was a Rachmaninoff man . . . and romantic, though he would not have admitted it readily.

He and Jean were often seen walking hand-in-hand through the plaza. So Al was a fighter and a lover. He enjoyed listening to Rachmaninoff quietly in his final weeks.

Al Kinnison was a classic example of the Gringo oddballs one sometimes finds in Mexico. Al was a great oddball, a rare one, a wonderful guy, and will be sorely missed.

(Al died in December of 2005, five years after I met him.)

Pass the tortillas

became a Mexican citizen today.

I feel more macho. I plan to grow the moustache longer, either upward with two cocky swirls, or downward and bushy.

Though married, your new hombre is planning on lassoing a girlfriend or two or three. It’s the Mexican way. Well, maybe not. I’m not all that frisky.

I’ll buy a guitar and croon in the plaza with my pals.

I’ll purchase a big truck, drive fast, always in a rush. I’ll change lanes with a carefree abandon, eyes closed. The stereo will be full blast.

I’ll sip mezcal, chewing the bottle worms.

Cutting back on chicken and veggies, I’ll chew more cheese, bifstek and chiles, perhaps gaining a paunch and a cocky walk.

I’ll need cowboy boots, a huge sombrero and charro pants, jingling spurs, a pack of cheroots in the slit of my vaquero pocket.

There will be Brylcreem in my hair, the slick, sexy look.

Change is good, and I’m swaggering into the future.

This feels really fine, mis amigos, so watch out!

* * * *

(Note: I became a Mexican in 2005. This does not replace U.S. citizenship, of course. Many folks have dual citizenship.)

La tristeza del otoño

The leaves are falling on the Plaza Grande in Pátzcuaro, so autumn has arrived again.

Sitting alone on a bench, I watch a raggedy man sweeping the plaza with a massive palm frond.  Passing on the sidewalk is a 15-foot-high clown, a fellow on stilts with a sad face — his own — juggling for pesos.

There are lots of tourists today, families, children, and most appear happy. How not?

However, autumn to many is a mood piece, and the mood is not a chipper one. Sadness instead. The carefree days of summer are over. The chill of winter looms. Autumn, being the bridge, oppresses the heart for many.

Sadness is no stranger to Mexico.

Much of what passes as local color, jugglers and fire-eaters at intersections, clowns, folks dancing in Indian attire, old ladies sitting on the sidewalk selling, actually are needy people doing what they can to put tortillas on the table.

Tourists come and go, loving the local color, rarely seeing the sadness . . .

. . . la tristeza del otoño.

The falling leaves drift by the window,
The autumn leaves of red and gold.
I see your lips, the summer kisses,
The sun-burned hands I used to hold.
— Johnny Mercer.

Just lovin’ it!

Flocks of Gringos are moving to Mexico, and many want to share the joy of their great new life with folks back home. They write blogs! Here is a typical example.

First, background: John and Jane sold their BMW dealership in California and moved to San Miguel de Allende in 2007. Fifi came too. They drove down in the M6 convertible.

They bought a small home near the Jardín for only $3.5 million (dollars, not pesos). Since they sold their Marin County home for $10 million, they were astounded by cheap Mexican prices. A maid was swiftly found, and her name is Juanita. She’s 15.

Here is a photo of Juanita.

Jane writes the blog.

John prays to God his crackpot mother-in-law won´t visit. Her name is Mabel, and she hails from Paris, Texas.

She´s quite fond of sour mash and snuff.

The blog is named Living in Mexico and Loving It to Death, which is a very typical name for Mexico blogs written by Gringos.

Okay, let´s go directly to Jane’s latest blog entry.

* * * *

John and I are so happy that mother arrived last night!! She will be here for a month!! She has never been to San Miguel, but we know she will love it as much as we do!!

The people are so friendly!! We love the culture!!

The first thing we did was go out for tacos last night!! John and I eat lots of tacos!! And we love them!! All Mexican food is soooo fresh and healthy!! And the people are so friendly!!

Our three plates of tacos only cost $45 (dollars, not pesos)!! José and María who own the taco stand are always smiling at us!! They love to see us coming!!

They are super friendly!!

Then, after our supper of tacos, mom and I sat in the Jardín for a while. Mom was thrilled at the Havana cigar she bought!!

John and I love watching the Mexican families walking in the Jardín, hand in hand with their six children, always smiling because their lives are so authentic and real.

But John had to hurry back to the house to give Juanita instructions on polishing the silver we bought last year during our visit to Taxco!!

John has taken a real fatherly shine to Juanita and tries to help her at every opportunity!! Juanita is very friendly!!

Here is a photo of mama. Since dad went over that Malibu cliff in ’98, mama has really come into her own!!

She’s a firecracker!!

She loves the San Miguel clothes I bought for her!! She looks so auténtico!! Yes, I have been studying Spanish!!

We will drive to Querétaro tomorrow to show mom that beautiful nearby city full of friendly Mexicans. And we’ll eat pollo con mole!!

John says he will stay home because Juanita says she needs help changing the sheets.

Everytime we go to Querétaro, somebody crashes into us!! It’s a good thing we traded in the convertible for the Hummer because whoever hits us gets the stick’s short end!!

People drive crazy in Mexico. We know it’s a cultural thing, so we can’t say anything bad about it. It´s not better or worse. It’s just different!!

And, of course, everybody drives crazy in the United States. Whenever we see something crazy in Mexico, it makes us feel better to say it’s just as crazy in the United States too!!

In September our daughter Tiffany and son-in-law Brad will visit again!! They will bring our grandbaby Angel with them!!

She is a real angel, just the most precious little hunk of hugs and love you have ever laid your eyes on.

Here’s a photo of Angel!!

She´s recovered from the last visit.

You’ll remember that Juanita gave her a spin in the Maytag while we weren’t looking, trying to get the freckles off.

Angel’s bruises weren’t too bad, and we did not blame Juanita. Oh, no!! It was just a cultural difference, and you can’t blame her for that.

It’s not worse or better. It’s just different!!

And the same thing goes on in the United States!!

Tiffany says the three of them will stay just two nights next time. Whenever we tried to enjoy the Jardín in the evening with them during the last visit, Brad would vanish!!

Juanita told us the following week that Brad was very helpful hanging the wash on the line during those very evenings.

The bat and the cat

My wife’s at the gym, leaving me sitting on the terraza, watching the fading light of 8:30 p.m. The grass is damp from rain. Roof dogs bark in the distance, as usual. The chickens are quiet for now.

Green tea in hand, I’m in the wicker rocker, just looking.

Zoom! A little bat zips from right to left inside the tile-roofed terraza, then outside, increasing suspicions that he may live down on the end in the tile somewhere.

It could happen. In older, less-loved, residences, rats live in the roof tile. There is space.

Occasionally, I have found what appeared to be mouse droppings there in the very corner. What’s a bat but a little winged mousie?

He seemed to appear just now from that corner, but he could have angled in from outside, jamming a hard-right rudder. A fighter pilot in pursuit of mosquito.

Aha! Here comes the kitty from next door. She’s half grown and, even though we are surrounded by a high brick wall, she gets in.

La gatita is a mixed blessing. She harasses our birds and lizards. That’s bad. But she discourages rats. That’s good.

We haven’t seen a rat here since the Ranchito was completed. But before, we saw plenty in the then-vacant lot. And, even now, in the far corner of the property, there are suspicious holes.

We sit quiet and still. La gatita is sashaying up the Romance Sidewalk in this direction. She thinks she is alone. She is carefree, unaware. Characteristics of youth.

She knows, however, that she is unwelcome here. Birds and lizards win out over rats.

She jumps up on the rock ledge of the terraza, very near, still clueless to her company, lurking in the shadows, yours truly.

We hiss a mean-spirited maldicion! In Spanish, so she knows the seriousness of her situation. She turns tail, literally, and runs to the far end of the yard, skulking behind a leftover wood beam, lying on the ground. No more trouble from her end.

Whoa! In comes the bat again, from the same side he had exited. Instead of heading to his suspected home, he does indeed bank sharply 90 degrees and goes out the other side of the terraza. A deft, marvelous maneuver.

It’s just a tour of duty, not a homecoming.