Ale, the kid’s real English teacher, asked me last week to teach the kids the alphabet song. It might not be obvious that learning how to spell in a foreign language is important but I can tell you from my own personal experience it is critical. A few years ago I tried to tell an guy I was hiring off of Craig’s List how to find our job site. This guy spoke only Spanish. I could speak Spanish to him but getting a street address and a town name across two languages can be hard. I tried to say the name slowly. Then I had the bright idea that I would spell the name. Oh, snap! I couldn’t spell easily. I kept saying e instead of a and i instead of e and after a few laughter filled minutes I realized I couldn’t even figure out how to say k….I texted the guy and he found us just fine.
I have since learned to spell pretty well but I still get hung up on k, g, and x. Most recently I’ve learned to ask the kids how to spell their names since I can’t understand what they try to tell me. They are world champion mumblers and most of the names are quite unusual to my ears. Try: Marely, Mireya, Onahomi, Yeraska, Frixia, Janexi, Zania, Evely…in Spanish. I enter their spelled names into my phone and practice after class. I still confuse the names Marely and Mireya but at least I see them in different places.
So today we sang the ABCs. Remember how it goes? It’s set to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. We did that too. There is a Spanish language version of the same song. The kids’ faces lit up when they realized their ABCs and their Brillante Estrella were the same tune, too. Nobody had pointed it out to them before. Add that to my list of things to learn.
We drove down here with a 5 pound bag of bird food. Burt was feeling tolerant of my whims. Usually he says, “Too much. Buy it there.” I only bought it because I was afraid I would forget to buy some here. As soon as we were situated I put out some seed. It was a cheap bag of food and nobody came. I tried a couple of locations. Nothing. All the other bird features were busy but sugar water only attracts a subset of feeder birds and I wanted to see more varieties. I despaired. Maybe my food was spoiled or just not to their tastes?
Last week our friend Bobbi asked us to come to her place and help her identify her birds. It was on our way to her house that we spotted the pair of cara-caras sitting in the dead palm. As we sat there on her porch and watched a veritable flock of birds dining ten feet away I realized my mistake. It wasn’t the food. It was the location and type of feeder. The bowls were too exposed and the table was too close to our trailer. I made one small change. I placed the food in a piece of driftwood and hung the driftwood on the fence. The feeding station is two feet further away from our trailer and higher off the ground. The next day there was a seed eater on it. A very shy cardinal flitted in and out taking a seed at a time. The day after that four new species of birds were in the yard: Black headed grosbeak, house finch, phainopepla, pyrrhuloxia. Yippee skippy!
Moral of this story, same as all the rest: Don’t give up.
Yesterday our friend and guide Esteban took us up to his sister’s ranch. The rustic farm is about an hour from El Pescadero and located on the edge of an arroyo. This trip materialized the way so many things happen here. Esteban stopped by to say hi. Burt said let’s take a trip to the mountains. We think Esteban said, “Do you want to see my sister’s ranch?” I think we said yes. We are not entirely sure if he asked or if we asked or how we wound up agreeing. Turkeys were mentioned. We made a date for an excursion.
Yesterday we arrived at Esteban’s house a few minutes late. He was surprised. We were very punctual according to him. This was after we called to say we would arrive an hour late and we arrived an hour and ten minutes later than originally agreed. Oops. We try so hard not to be prompt and we always fail. We are continuously arriving before our hosts expect us all over the world. This fashionably late thing is beyond our skill set. We couldn’t even start our show fifteen minutes late as all musicians are expected to do.
The journey to the rancho was full of words for trees and birds we happened to pass. Esteban used to be the forest ranger in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. He knows all the local beings. What we could not understand was where we were going. Eventually we wound up at a very nice, brand new country getaway. There were two workers watering the plants. The yard was nicely landscaped. I pondered how a walk in the woods brought us to some rich person’s cabin in the mountains. I have no idea what transpired but the conclusion was that we were free to visit this spot and camp anytime we liked. I conclude Esteban was introducing us to the locals. I could be wrong. It was a very nice spot. Elvis peed on everything. When I said is Spanish that he had to mark everywhere we go the men all laughed. We piled back into the Exploder and headed back out to the highway. WTF. Are we going home already? Was that our trip? During all our visits Esteban and Burt and I have a three way dialogue that meanders and is very amorphous. I am never certain if we are going or coming, leaving or staying. His manner of guiding is similar. He takes us to a trail and says, “I’ll see you later.” We walk away wondering where we are going. We always get there, turn around and walk back. Esteban is where he left us. Everybody is happy.
At the highway we headed away from town and took another ranch road towards the mountains. At the end of this road we arrived at a ranch filled with animals. Cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys…The local lady of the house was working her butt of making cheese and doing laundry. The men were sitting and talking. I headed to the kitchen and chatted with another visiting female while we watched Lupita do her chores. Burt hung with us. There were wild birds in cages singing in the kitchen. I could hardly stand to look at the starling, grosbeak, sparrow and orioles but they are well loved by this quiet woman with few visitors. The woman was Esteban’s sister. She is also very comfortable in the wilderness and trapped all the birds herself. Now I know the whole family shares our love of birds.
Eventually Esteban takes us to a trail and say, “I’ll see you later. There’s water up there.” Burt and I and the Olvis walked until we found water. It was 4:00 PM. I could have spent the night there on the sandy bank with palm trees swaying and water trickling by. There were heaps of birds but we forgot our binoculars. Both of us. We returned to the ranch. There was Esteban waiting. I asked if we could buy a turkey. How much? $400 pesos. Muy caro, I thought but worth it to reward Lupita for all her hard work, so we agreed. They asked if we want it alive or dead. I envisioned carrying a live turkey back to town with Elvis and Olive and decided dead is best. One of the men caught the turkey while Esteban filled an enormous pot with water to boil. The unlucky dinner is caught, its feet bound, and it is hung upside down. Burt cut its throat. The bird was then plunged into boiling water and plucked and gutted. Both Burt and I have done this many times but it made us nervous doing it with a cross cultural audience but some things are the same no matter what language you use. Lupita gave me some much less expensive eggs. Finally we headed home.
Even though he kept me up half the night snoring last night I still have warm feelings for this guy. He was a rock last night during our first show in 2 months. I was unaccountably unsettled. Where Burt was forceful and had a presence I felt timid and the notes recalcitrant. Our venue was Las Fuentes in Todos Santos, BCS, MX. The owners made a romantic ambiance for Valentine’s Day with flowers, candles, and balloons. They arranged the tables so everyone could see us and they installed a STAGE. All of this extra effort on their part has heretofore been unseen by any venue host in the history of our career. There were dinner specials and a house sangria. Usually we show up to a cafe and we have to move the tables and chairs to make a space to stand. We have to find room for our cases. In our experience nobody thinks ahead. These people asked if they could help us unload our stuff! If they want us I am sure we will be happy to go back.
Great hosts and then a passel of new fans made for a nice night. Previous events in Todos Santos have only yielded a few diehard followers. Sara Gay and her friends. The Elias Calles crowd makes the trek (kudos to them) but they’re not Todo Santeños. And that was about it in our 6 years of trying to get a thing going in TS. A lot of shows would be 6 or 10 people. Bridge is what changed the game. Duplicate Bridge friends came out in force and brought their friends. Add them to Sara Gay and the Elias Calleños peeps and a few random strangers and we nearly filled the large restaurant. And then everyone stayed and listened.
The highlight for me was when we bantered a bit and the venue owner, a local, forcefully yelled out, “Jackson!” Without missing a beat we launched into the Johnny and June standard. He was beaming. I presumed he was a plant because I knew Sara Gay had heard us do it but we found out later he was genuinely asking for a song his mother loved. Johnny and June were timeless and knew now boundaries. They speak across cultures and generations.
Burt’s been studying Spanish with an on-line program called Duolingo. Duolingo keeps track of how many days you log in and practice. If a student makes it to ten days in a row they get extra points added to their score. You can use points to upgrade the all free features. Burt says he’s setting a record of one day streaks. I guess I just hit reset around here, too, and it was simply forgetfulness. I had a window in my very busy day and when that window arrived I did diddly. It didn’t even pass through my mind. What does that tell me? Time for a mini-break.
Yesterday was tennis at 8:30. Sunday morning is a round robin event that gets on our nerves. We rarely partake. Too much yakking not enough playing. We did it any way. Some people like to socialize. I like to do stuff. I was even asked to explain how I can be involved in all the activities we are involved in and my disdain for hanging with people. I was like, “Seriously?” To me this is unexplainable. If a person can’t understand loathing chatting and loving singing a song or chasing a tennis ball or playing cards there’s a wide gulf in socio-perception between us. Doing something with people is fun. Talking about things with more than one other person: agony. Okay, maybe two other people and Burt is okay. Call me an introvert that likes to play and work. No small talk, please.
After tennis, which ended at 11:00, was the break. Of course, we ate lunch. Then we lounged. Brain discarded all thoughts. At 2:00 we played music at a memorial service for a guy we barely knew but was a fixture in my daily life. Brian used to come to our shows when they were at the local pizza joint. He lived in teh RV park where I take yoga. I saw him several times a week. We’d say, hello and exchange pleasantries. Cue social agony. With nothing more to say I’d usually head for home. Brian was very nice and very helpful. His last major ‘help thy neighbor’ feat was helping Rosemary and Ed strap their camper onto their truck. He was dead four days later. He even joked with Rosemary (she and Ed are much better at chatting with people. That’s why they can be campground hosts and we can’t.) that he might not live to next year. He knew (and I did) that he was very ill. Rosemary had not heard the news.
So we played his memorial feast and got a great gift in return. Brian did not like music but he came to hear us because Althea and Paty liked music. Althea was his wife and Paty was their neighbor. He once told Paty, “I don’t like music, but I like the Gypsy Carpenters. They are real. They are working man’s music.” There you have it. A gift of appreciation from the dead. We are working class and proud to have included a former commercial fisherman in our fold of fans. We played his favorite song Sixteen Tons.
Boys prefer red. I guess. I hate to generalize but there they are wearing red. Maybe it’s their parents? This week I gave away note pads as prizes for each kid that sang the Hello song solo. Everyone of them did it and did it well. Wheels on the Bus was revealed as a massive group effort of lipsyncing. All kids got the open and shut and round and round and back and forth but that was it. The connecting phrases evaporated into thin air if I didn’t lead the song. Five Little Monkeys had some gaps at this phrase: One fell off and hit his head. I’ve been demonstrating the hit head so many times I have a stiff neck so I was surprised to hear a lot of mumbling when the group sang it without me. More repetition. Less action on the head.
On the up side these phrases are solid:
1. Hello, how are you?
2. I am fine, thank you.
3. I like…insert a favorite color or food.
4. I am…insert age.
This is because Alejandra is working them hard and we review it in singing class. I can take credit for up, down, in and out, round and round, and do the Hokey Pokey.
Big news here: Mi papá va a visitarnos. My father is going to visit us. Holy cow. Talk about feeding the blog. What a font of material he will be as he gets his first taste of Baja. Burt and I are already considering the list of chores we have ahead of us to make our home presentable. Complete demolition is not possible in the time frame before he gets here. Dad will arrive the last week of March.
Today the Gypsy Carpenters played a private party. It was a great job and we made a few bucks. The party also gave us a low key way to kick off some dust. The whales were dancing just off shore at Elias Calles while the sun went down and the tunes flowed. We ate too much, too. On the way home we did some drive by birding at Rancho Pilar. There was a flock of lesser goldfinches flitting from bush to bush. Jackpot.
I’ve been doing this everyday thing for so long now I just logged in to blog and had no idea why. I have nothing new. Huh.
Yesterday’s post about the swimming hole went a little crazy on Facebook. I should say the photos attracted a lot of attention. There was no information on the whereabouts. Now everyone within ten miles of us wants to know how to find that spot. If they had a map and read this blog they could figure it out for themselves. That’s as far as I’m willing to go. As my buddy Harlow says, they hang people for giving away that kind of information.
Burt pulled out the map and said, “There’s gotta be an easier place to hike in the mountains.” Well we got lost but found what he was looking for anyway. Burt’s original goal was the end of the road about 8 miles south of where we landed but we can’t complain. Rancho Santo Domingo is at the end of a different road and on a trail head into the Sierra de la Laguna. Chito is the current occupant and resident guide. He sent us on our way and we did a short exploratory walk. His dog, I called it bones, followed us. Bones’s love for Olive was unrequited. I guess she prefers men with more meat on their frame. Up the hill from the very old and well shaded ranch house we found a mature orchard with ripe toronjas (grapefruits) and flowering mango trees. The trail followed the arroyo up into the mountains. Birds were sparse because of the heat but this water hole was fantastic.
We turned back early. I am still tired from Sunday’s expedition and we had a music date with Tom. We can visit this place again when we have more time and energy. On our way back down Burt spotted the Cape Robin! I missed it but I can trust Burt knows a robin when he sees one.
The Gypsy Carpenters are dusting off love gone good and love gone bad songs for your listening pleasure. If you happen to be in Baja California Sur you can come on out and hear us play on Valentine’s Day at Las Fuentes, in Todos Santos from 6 to 7:30. That’s next Tuesday.
Today we sat down and worked on our set list and swept away some cobwebs. If you have any requests send them in now. All ideas considered.
Thanks, Harlow Pinson for the great promo shots. Too bad we never look good at the same time.