We’re still flying after the great turn out and fabulous fan support of the other night. Here’s a picture of the three of us singing Cielito Lindo, one of Mexico’s most well known songs, captured by our neighbor Janet.
Yesterday we met with Gloria and Dave and ran through our material for the film festival event we are playing next weekend. It was a fun practice and I even managed a passable break in C minor. Afterwards we checked out the venue together. El Mirador is a mighty palapa on a hill over looking the vast Pacific. Acoustics will be a challenge. Climate will be a challenge. Late at night will be a challenge. The rough road in will be a challenge. Challenging. We’ll just have to see what happens.
As soon as our food arrived the first time we ate at Mi Pueblito I knew it was a venue for the Gypsy Carpenters. The facilities are slightly more developed than the plywood shed my brother built in our backyard when we were kids and the bathroom is right there in the dining room (behind a door) but the food and vibe reminded me of the first locally owned restaurant we played in our first season in Baja. Napoli pizza and the Gypsy Carpenters started together and helped each other get established. We parted ways two seasons ago after built up resentments and annoyances of playing a weekly gig grew to be too much. It was the grind of the commitment plus the fact that the owners never seemed interested in accommodating us despite the fact we filled the place week after week. By accommodating I mean leaving us a place to stand and sing. Regular readers might recall the final glorious evening when I was nearly knocked through a window by a staff member with a chair. I think it was unintentional. We had done our bit. The place had grown and was a successful business it was time to find a new venue.
Right away we were asked to play at Suki’s Asian restaurant in Todos Santos. Things went so well there Suki fired us for making her have to work too hard. Really, she laid us off because too many people were coming to eat. Then immigration shut her down and we would up at Wind and C’s at Cerritos Beach. We’d probably still be there eating gourmet and expensive food for free if Wind and C had not decided to stay up north this year. That and Hurrican Odile demolished the restaurant. Now there’s neither chef nor venue. This year we’ve been reluctant to settle down or feel constrained by a weekly commitment. That and I always felt mildly uncomfortable playing in joints that only visitors could afford. I wanted a more affordable place to play.
The first bite of my roasted not fried chile relleno filled with local cheese and topped with a light cream sauce and pomegranate seeds told me all I needed to know about Mi Pueblito. The Gypsy Carpenters were going to help put this spot on the map. I asked the hostess (perfectly delightful and fluent Sharon) if we could play some time. That was a month ago. It took a while to get us all on the same page. Phone messages were lost and email failed to arrive. Finally we all settled on a date. That date was last night. I am so happy we did it. All of our regular fans showed up and to a person none of them had eaten there before. The ambiance of the room was electric. The small space was intimate but not tight. We could hear ourselves and so could the fans. The tips were fantastic and the place was filled from 6:30 to 8:30. But that’s not all. The best part of the evening was our debut of our Spanish language set and the inclusion of our friend and neighbor Priscila as lead singer. She blew the doors off the place in her first public performance in 40 years. What a gift it is to help somebody do something they’ve always wanted to do. There’s going to be more collaboration with Priscila. No doubt about it.
Mi Pueblito asked us on the spot at the end of the show to do a weekly event. Burt said no (and I agree) but told them we’d come back soon. They managed the crowd efficiently and everyone raved about their meals. It will be our pleasure to play there again.
Cardons are the signature wild west cactus of lower Baja. They are very similar to the saguaro cactus of the Sonoran desert of the the southwestern United States. Cardons are bigger and more rugged looking than saguaro but both are long lived and very large with massive arms. Hurricane Odile took down many cardons in our neighborhood. A favorite up on the hill is gone and many in Janet’s yard tipped over. Many desert plants can be tipped right back up but cardons weigh hundreds of pounds. Even without all the spines it would be a risky endeavor. Our own cardon snapped in half just above the ground. There was no saving it. Or so we thought.
As I wander through town and spring is upon us I am discovering many plants that appeared hopelessly maimed are in fact alive. We had a few days of gentle rain this winter and the desert is waking up. One of the terrote trees (elephant tree) in our own yard is making its own miracle recovery. This particular tree did not break in the storm but topped over. Shallow but wide reaching roots are how desert plants find water. Shallow roots allow a plant to fall without breaking. I adored this tree. It has a lovely curve to its trunk and the branches spread in an artistically pleasing way. It’s only about 8′ tall and 6″ around. The tree had been out of the ground for several months when we arrived and we gave it up for dead. We hauled it to a pile of debris across the street. I was so sad. The loss of this tree was harder for me than the loss of our palapa. I stopped thinking about it. I planted some new things but the special tree’s hole remained empty.
The days are longer and the dewy spring has arrived. A few weeks ago Burt gave the tree a second look. Things were waking up all around us so he wondered if the tree was really dead. Burt broke off the tip of a branch and found a bright green and wet inner core. He decided right then to put the tree back in the ground. Today, just 3 weeks later, every branch on that tree has new leaves. Tears filled my eyes this morning when I saw them. It’s our very own Lazarus tree.
I naively assumed the more Spanish I learned the easier it would get to speak. I assumed I would find unmitigated delight in understanding people. After 4 seasons of assiduous study I am well equipped to handle day to day transactions and yet I still feel like I know nothing. I’ve discovered the plateau where Spanish speakers presume I speak Spanish after I have successfully asked for a loaf of bread with correct grammar and pronunciation and they proceed to converse and I haven’t a clue what they say. Spanish is notorious for regional sayings and slang. A person from Mexico City might not be able to make crude jokes in Baja because they would use a different vocabulary. I have a lot more work ahead of me.
The other day we spent an hour in Spanish class going over double entendres. The pile of slang was impenetrable. Here’s a literal translation of one saying: If I fall into a sea of milk, will you pull me out? Prizes to the winner who tells me the answer. Here’s a hint: go deep into the gutter. My Spanish teacher skipped this one and we tried to pin her down. Suddenly beautiful and fluent and fearless Ivonne didn’t know the right English words. She was blushing. Her reaction whet my curiosity so I took it to my bilingual and street smart neighbors. Now that I know the meaning I’m not sure I wanted to know. My neighbors took the opening and proceeded to elaborate on words and sexual suggestions commonly used on the streets around here. I must not be traveling in the right circles. I didn’t know most of the common cuss words. In fact some might say one improvement in my character is that I cannot curse effectively in Spanish. Yet.
So while my Spanish is improving I find myself worn out by speaking it so much. I also find myself acting like a weird version of my self. They say language shapes the culture and I find it shaping me. Since I am unable to fully express myself and am constantly immersed into conversation where I think I know what’s happening but am frequently wrong I am more malleable and timid. Unwilling to take a stand for fear I might have misunderstood I hem and haw and uh huh. I stutter. My Mexican friends marvel at my ability to speak and I marvel at my inability to say what I mean. I think my friends must find me a pleasant girl without strong opinion that doesn’t use bad words. How ironic.
They say you know it’s really sinking in when you dream in your new language. I have had two dreams recently with Spanish words. I can’t recall the details of the second dream but the first one was very vivid. I dreamed about the new gentleman’s club called Marabunta that opened on the highway. (This is true. A new strip club has opened on the highway and it is called Marabunta.) In my dream I kept saying marabunta, marabunta…Meanwhile everyone around me was having an orgy. My helpful neighbor was especially enjoying herself. I was merely observing. Then I woke up. Marabunta. Nobody can tell me what a marabunta is. I am very sad it is the only Spanish word I can recall from my dreams. I would like to relay this dream in good street Spanish to my friends and give them a fuller picture of my personality.
Yesterday I visited the chiropractor. My mid-back was feeling stuck and a yoga wasn’t helping. Too much fiddle, too much yoga, or too much life, I’ll never know which. There are a number of practicing chiropractors in our area and just like in the the U.S. they have a range of styles and sensibilities. Burt finds real relief from getting an adjustment and so he suggested I give it a try. Things were pretty much okay at first. Dr. Back (his name is changed) didn’t make any crazy healing claims and he was clean and tidy. His price was reasonable and his office was nearby. He did the usual shaking and twisting and a lot of crackling came out of my spine and neck. Dr. Back even did a nice release of my diaphragm, which I have to admit was a big relief. I’d been finding it difficult to breathe freely ever since my heart procedure. But while this was going on the Doc made inquiries about my bowels and claimed that I should be pooping 3x a day. Hmmm. Even if that is true it sounds damn inconvenient. I started to wonder what else he would tell me is wrong with me. In stead he handed me a health questionnaire to take home and fill out. He said it would help him access what needed to be done to help me with my passage through menopause and, I presume, get me pooping after every meal.
Now Burt did not get this list of questions and both he and I came to the same conclusion independently. This guy saw me as a mark. Not that he doesn’t believe in what he is doing but ask any 49 year old woman if she feels tired, eats too much and has gained weight and 98% are going to say yes. The questions were of this nature. It was not a family or medical history. The questions were: do you pee too often? Do you pee infrequently? Do you stare? are you hot? There were a lot of questions for which on any given day I could say yes or no. I filled it out for fun to see if I could make my own diagnosis. Then I came to this question: Do you have any masculine tendencies? Pardon the implied cuss word but, WTF does that mean? WTF s a masculine tendency? If this question makes me mad is that a masculine or feminine tendency? I have well beyond average math skills. I can wield a hammer and I can kick someone’s ass. I am big. I also have an ample backside and mammary glands and am lacking a penis. I do not self identify as a man. I am not gay. This despite the fact that a dermatologist once suggested I might as well be gay since I didn’t want children. What the F@#k is a masculine tendency? What is wrong with people? Gender(like sexuality) is a continuum. Many of us are lucky to be clearly one or the other. But I personally know people that are neither. Their DNA confirms this. To attribute any kind of skill or tendency or inclination to one sex or the other is stupid and limits the bounds of what is possible for all of us. Pisses me off.
In celebration of my own personhood here are flower and bug pictures for your enjoyment. This rush milkweed is a gorgeous succulent with a complicated and attractive flower bundle. The flowers are a favorite of the scarier than science fiction Tarantula Hawk. In case you’ve not been keeping up with my blog here’s a refresher. The Tarantula Hawk is a wasp with a potent sting used to paralyze tarantulas. If the wasp manages to sting a tarantula the victim tarantula is paralyzed and becomes a living food source for the wasp’s larvae. The larvae slowly eat the still living tarantula bit by bit saving the vital organs for last. I can’t get the picture of a half eaten but still alive tarantula out of my head. Burt gave me a tarantula hawk for my birthday this past year. Talk about masculine tendencies. Who’s more masculine in that scenario? Burt for the odd gift or me for appreciating the odd, poisonous present?
The aloe is in full bloom all around and the orioles are here having a grand time hooking up and eating to their fill. I have an oriole specific feeder full of sugar water but so far only ants, bees, hummingbirds and butterflies have used it. The orioles prefer their native food source. In this part of Baja both Bullock’s Oriole and the Hooded Oriole can be found. Orioles are part of the blackbird family and like most blackbirds they have a rich song. A friend recently saw a yellow headed blackbird kill another yellow headed blackbird in a mating dispute. We’ve seen some fights around here but nothing close to lethal. Perhaps the yellow heads are the hot heads of the blackbird family.
Just a few streets away is the local market where we buy everyday groceries like mayonnaise, super glue, and toilet paper. We visit several times a week. Across the street was a house hidden behind a chain link fence festooned with palm mats. The look was noticeable but uninviting. I never inquired about what might lay beyond the sidewalk. This Saturday, while out and about I ran into a neighbor and then another neighbor and all they could say was, “You’ve got to see this…” and they said there was a huge sale going on at the house across the street from Mariani’s market. The house behind the mats. One neighbor even informed me that I could find my very own husband there buying things. These people said it was a going out of business and moving away sale. How was it possible they were moving and going out of business all at once when I had never seen any sign of life behind the imposing privacy screen? I had to find out. And since my husband was rumored among the shoppers I popped in to see for myself.
I was not prepared for the answer. They were running an illegal winery. The soon-to-be-removed-back-to-Canada occupants were here all along trying to get licensed to sell homemade wines and wine related products. So they were operating on the QT. It’s hard to make money selling an illegal product when there’s ample legal stuff to buy and the wine was not resoundingly endorsed by those that had sampled it. After two years of trying to get the right permits they threw in the towel and invited the neighborhood in to buy their household goods and their extensive inventory of wine. By the time I found Burt he had scored a Prada wallet, a bottle of sangria, a ukelele, a guitar and a picture frame for $500 pesos ($35). He accidentally made off with a shirt without paying. I found nothing of interest but I was very late to the party.
Yesterday I was invited to another cooking event. This time my yoga teacher and friend offered to show me how she makes vegan sushi. I’m no vegan but I am interested in food and I was curious and I like Mayra so twice in three days I found myself cooking. Let’s just say both Priscila and Mayra noticed my very rusty skills with a knife. Priscila (she was there, too) teased me about my slowness. I responded with, “it’s not a competition and I’m a carpenter.” I should have said “musician” and claimed I was just protecting my fingers. The news is out that my husband does all the cooking and I am a lazy kept woman. I have no defense. The sushi was perfectly yummy and healthy. It’s good to know for the day the fishes are all gone.
My walking yoga friend invited me over to learn to make rajas after a failure of conversational skills gave her the impression I didn’t know how to roast peppers. I was trying to ask how the dish of rajas (roasted peppers in cheese and cream) was made. We got lost in the vocabulary describing the stove top grill. Instead of agonizing how to explain the instructions Priscila said, “Come over and I’ll show you how to make peppers.” I didn’t mind looking ignorant for a chance to learn how to make the actual dish of rajas. Coincidentally this week’s Spanish class covered the salsas of Mexico. Just the day before our cooking and eating event I learned that raja means strip and was not, as I had presumed, the name of a particular dish. You can have rajas of potatoes (French fries) or rajas de canela (strips of cinnamon), etc. We set a date for 2PM Saturday. Cooking first and we’d eat the main meal of the Mexican day afterwards.
Burt and I showed up a little late on Saturday. It was an accident. Do not believe that all things run slow in Mexico. Nobody minds if you are late but we had inadvertently slowed lunch prep down and now the main meal was going to be delayed 20 minutes. Oh well. The mysterious word of or previous discussion turned out to be a stove top grill designed to fit over the gas burner. I already forgot what it’s called. A grill is a parilla if you’re looking for a word of the day, but it was not the name of the device. Priscila explained that the charred chiles would be placed in a plastic bag and the skin would lift off. I had to admit here that I knew how to roast chilies. Chagrined I told her it was the rajas I didn’t know how to make. It turns out it’s very easy to make rajas if you know how to roast chilies. Here’s how:
Rajas ala Priscila:
1. Roast 8 chilies. Remove skin, seeds and stem. Slice into strips.
2. Chop onion and saute ina frying pan in olive oil. Add garlic if you like.
3. Add rajas of chilies.
4. Add a can of corn.
5. Dump in a small carton of Mexican crema. Mexican crema is a mild version of sour cream. You can use sour cream.
6. Add some shredded cheese. Your choice. We had an aged goat cheese made locally.
Eat it in tacos or as a side dish. We had fried sierra (fish) and fresh salsa and corn tortillas. Everybody ate tacos and pushed the stuff around on their plate with corn tortillas. Afterwards we enjoyed pineapple upside down cake (pastel vueltiado de piño).
Priscila’s husband Cornelio came is a few minutes before lunch was ready and made a big show at being annoyed at the non-Spanish speaking guest in his house but it was all a show. He warmed up when Burt admitted he was a burro and was willing to smile and laugh and be Burt. By the end of the meal Cornelio was telling silly jokes and agreed to show us his chicken yard.
Cornelio’s chicken yard has been on my bucket list for 4 years. Just 4 blocks from our house and across the street from Priscila’s house is a block sized compound full of fighting cocks. These chickens have loud and quiet days. From up here above the town the raucous cries sound enchanting. I’m not sure if the noise is well received by closer neighbors. The chicken’s noise varies a great deal and since we started living here I’ve wondered what makes for a chicken day and a not-chicken day. For a long time I couldn’t find the source of the noise and I thought it was chickens all over town giving cooperative clucks and calls. Like the dogs in Lady and the Tramp sending messages across town. “Did you hear? Old red met the ax today.” The mysteries of chicken talk. One day I was walking by when the chickens went nuts and I realized the noise was localized. Behind a tall and impenetrable wall was a whole society of chickens. Thus began my dream of getting in and seeing the chickens. I soon found out the birds were raised for fighting and not for food or eggs. This only fueled my desire more.
Yesterday my dream was realized and I am happy to say no matter what you think of cock fighting these chickens are living the high life as far as chicken farming goes. The place was spotless and spacious. There was not a noticeable odor. Over 100 cocks were in large cages, some with female visitors and some alone. A large flock of females ran loose. The males have to be caged for their own protection. Fighting is only condoned in the arena after all bets are in place. Chicks were under heat lamps in a shelter. Cornelio takes great care of his chickens. I hope next year I can get a couple of layers from him.