Soon this flea filled rolling aluminum box we call home will be on the way north. I can’t say I’m ready to leave but I am looking forward to ease of communications with family and friends and a few follow up trips to the cardiologist. The last week has been eventful medically. My heart palpitations are on the rise in number and intensity after a nice month of smooth pulses. I’ve been dizzy and tired. Most likely I was just pushing too hard since I was feeling so good. We’ll find out soon. But because I’m kind of puny there isn’t much to report. Time to eat spaghetti.
Look to the left of the man standing in this photo. There’s Burt sitting in on the intercambio Spanish/English mixer at the Palapa Society of Todos Santos. My Spanish teacher invited me to come to the Intercambio and chat/platicar with people learning English. I was anxious but agreed. Chatting in English is hard enough. How would I ever chat with a stranger in Spanish and English? I bribed Burt with an offer of a dinner out if he would come with me. Burt can talk to anyone and he can talk a lot. Maybe I could hide behind him.
As usual, all fears were unfounded. We sat in a circle and each chair was alternately occupied by native Spanish and English speakers. Nobody sat with people they already knew. We were given 15 minutes to talk in Spanish and then 15 minutes to talk in English. My partner, Rocío, was a 24 year old woman born in Guanaguato on the mainland of Mexico. I was lucky to have a mainlander as my partner. Mainlanders, generally, speak more clearly than Bajeños. Rocío was even shyer than me so I took the lead and interrogated her on all the usual personal questions. How old are you? How many siblings in your family? Where were you born? Where do you work? What do you do? Then she grilled me. I received similar questions but she didn’t ask my age. I guess I looked too old to answer. It was nearly impossible for her to believe I was childless by choice. That’s a radical idea in Mexico.
When we switched to English it was obvious my partner was terrified and new to the language. To ease her suffering I told her I’d ask her the same questions in English as I just had in Spanish. Rocío did very well and revealed to me immediately the difficulties of learning English from Spanish. It is painfully obvious to me what my difficulties are in learning Spanish but now I can see the other side and it can help me speak Spanish, too. Shortly afterwards I worked with a friend and he made the exact same mistakes. Here they are:
How old are you? I have 24 years.
Where do your parents live? My fathers live in Guanaguato.
How many children are in your family? I have seven brothers. This answer was astonishing until further questioning revealed that 4 of the brothers were girls and 3 were boys.
And the terrible THE. Th-uh is very difficult for some to pronounce. There is no Uh sound in Spanish. It’s like me trying to roll my Rs. I need some Viagra for my tongue to get a rolled R.
So in Spanish when asked your age you tell them how many years you have not how old you are. When asked about brothers and sisters, everyone is included under hermanos. Male gender always wins in a group of mixed gender. And, parents as a two some are not mom and dad but fathers. Same reason as the brothers. We worked some on the THE but I had no good advice.
After the chatting we sang a song in English and a song in Spanish. We are not ready for our choral debut. There was a lack of enthusiasm and ability all around. We could blame the faulty lyric sheets but I think we were just tired.
Time flew and it was really fun being helped and helping somebody new. It was also fun planting the subversive idea that not every woman has to have a baby.
Our neighbor, Patricia Larsen, has a house famous in art and decor circles. It’s been featured in Architectural digest and other arty publications. Patrica is a well known painter and interior designer. Yesterday her place and our road were overrun with an army of fashionistas doing a photo shoot for Anthropologie clothing. Check out the company HERE. I love Anthropologie’s clothes but I can only afford it on clearance and when dad gives me access to his credit card to buy myself a birthday present. Now I know why the clothes are so expensive. This event looked like a small but very nice wedding.
My friend Rima catered the food. To mollify us for all the traffic and blocking the road we were offered leftover lunch. I skipped it even though I love Rima’s food. I should have asked for a handbag. The size 0 dresses wouldn’t fit.
Hurricane Odile took one of our two fig trees this year. It was dead when we arrive and the other was just fine. There wasn’t a mark on it. The skeleton of dried sticks remained standing as if it would burst out in leaf with some water. It didn’t. Perhaps it died of other causes but Odile gets the blame for just about everything so we’re going to give her the fig, too. The surviving fig tree put out two figs this year. The other tree produced over 90 figs last year. Maybe it wore itself out? This survivor managed three or four last year. I ate the first ripe one yesterday. I’m glad I don’t have to try and live off our garden. We don’t shower enough to provide much water.
Speaking of trying to make a living, farm workers in northern Baja have justifiably started disrupting the flow of produce north to fight for better labor conditions. These workers are living in squalor and exploited by large corporations making immense profits off their labors. There are reports of withheld wages and 12 hour days for $7 with no food or access to clean water. I happen to know one of the major growers here. Believe me he’s doing very well and not suffering over any worker labor concerns. You can read more HERE. Some food is rotting in the fields and processing plants while the workers take their fight to the public. Organic strawberries, tomatoes and cucumbers are not making it to the US. The transpennisular highway has had traffic disrupted by rallying workers. Friends on their way home via car reported they were delayed for a day. They also expressed their support for the workers. They thought it was a small price to pay. I hope you’ll all continue to think about where your food is grown and the people that bring it to you. We live side by side with them here and I hope they succeed in their fight for fair wages and better living conditions.
Some gigs are logistical nightmares. Sometimes there are personality problems. Sometimes you can’t figure out what went wrong and other times you don’t know why it went right. Last night was a logistical nightmare that went south and then back north and nobody turned into a dick. Maybe that’s why it worked out great in the end. Okay, maybe I was a bit dickish in the middle but I recovered.
About 6 weeks ago we were asked to play backup for a singer at an event associated with the Todos Santos Film Festival. The invitee promised money and at my insistence a professional sound system with a sound technician. We agreed to meet the singer Gloria and see if we could find some common ground. I’ll cut out the details on boring successful side of the equation. Gloria and her side man, Dave, were fun and had interesting material and we decided to play with them. Meanwhile our local liaison to the film festival quit. This person was competent and reliable and would have followed through on the promises made. I gave up trying to get paid immediately but continued to press for a pro to help on sound. The venue was a large open space. Amplification would require skill and a decent system.
As the date drew near we received vague assurances from the festival staff that all was under control. A visit to the venue last week by us and the other band members heightened my concerns that the place was too big and too dark. We needed sound and lights. I am not blind and cannot play without visual clues. I must see my fretboard and my partner’s hands. More emails were exchanged. Gloria was very specific regarding our needs and did a great job following up with the venue and the event organizers.
Last night at 8:15 (Our show was scheduled to start at 8:30) we had no lights, no monitor and no sound check. A monitor is the speaker the band hears. In big rooms you can’t hear yourself without a monitor. How did I wind up here? Up until this moment I stayed quiet and waited at a removed locale. At 8:16 I yelled quit working on the monitor we need to start playing. We did our first 3 songs au natural. Then we got the call to come plug on and play with sound. Just like that we started playing. No sound check for balance out front. It was dark. I fouled out right away with some blue notes. Lights showed in a strange back light sort of contraption while we were playing our first song. Sound adjustments to teh balance were made on the fly by me. It sounded like crap from our side and and none of us playing instruments could hear what we were playing. I was miserable. About halfway through I hung up my mandolin and went out front. The singer was on a tune I did not know. I bitched. I carped. I had a little tantrum with kind friends. These kind friends said, “Hey, It sounds great.” Isabel reminded me improv is a good skill to work on. She meant the improv of dealing on the fly with the bad situation. I listened. It did sound great out front. I went back on stage and regrouped. I continued to try and play by memory and not by listening. I sang a couple of tunes. I bucked up. Time passed. Something happened around 10:00. The crowd (20 people) was up and engaged and our main singer ran out of material. The crowd wanted more. Burt stepped in to a leading role and we hit the ground running with our material under our control. He was great. The crowd was with us. By the end of the night the listeners were dancing and singing with us. It was a magical moment. From crap came gold. Like Isabel said, “Welcome to improvisation.”
Then it all went to crap again. As we approached the bar for our post gig night cap the bar shut us down. They said the film festival was out of credit on the bar tab and we couldn’t have a drink. Burt, the early bird, got two drinks in the first 4 hours but the other three of us in the band had NOTHING. We were waiting for our post show toasts and came up empty handed. We also learned that the kitchen was shut down and there was no food for Dave and Gloria. Burt and I ate early at Burt’s insistence so we got our meals but come on. That’s tacky stuff not making sure the unpaid band is properly wined and dined. Lastly, Burt and I were not personally thanked Sylvia Perel, director of the film festival. Eye contact was made and she failed to approach and offer her appreciation. Maybe she thought we sucked. What do I know? But in the face of all the maltreatment I can officially proclaim I won’t work for her again sans upfront remuneration.
Last year my friends Jaimie and Ricardo gave us a bag of sunflower seeds to eat. They had grown the flowers and cooked the seeds themselves. Burt and I ate those seeds the entire way up the peninsula. Since the seeds were still hulled it was a way to distract ourselves from the drive with a hard to manage snack. When we crossed the border and got to the US the almost but not quite empty bag was lost in the detritus of the road trip. Months later I found the bag while driving cross-country to South Carolina. We finished them then. I was never a fan of the hulled sunflower seed before but now I am starting to see the attraction. I still can’t pop a seed in my mouth and crack it open and spit out the hull. I have a lot more studying to do.
This year I might be able to practice eating hulled seeds with my own homegrown sunflowers. Jaimie gave me a packet of seeds last year. These luminous beauties have grown in the spot where our shower water drains. I am not sure they will be ready for harvest in 3 weeks. They just opened. Time will tell. Meanwhile I can enjoy waking up to Burt’s happy proclamations about how much he loves the flowers. His appreciation makes my enjoyment sweeter.
The Spanish word for sunflower is girasol. It means revolve with the sun. Speaking of Spanish, I taught yoga in Spanish today. Weird. Matching prepositions to the body parts was the hardest part. All Spanish nouns have an assigned gender (They are more rigid that Facebook). Male or female. The chair is feminine. The floor is masculine….El brazo derecho. La pierna izquierda. La frente al piso. Las manos hacia atras. Telling left from right in English is trouble. Add to the general directional confusion gender and new words and somebody might get hurt. I stumbled a bit over the word derecha without a body part. DerechO means straight ahead. DerechA means to the right. But a right arm is brazo derecho. And a right leg is pierna derecha. I think. Someone tell me if I’m mistaken. I guess I did a good job because the students teased me that I was a very bad teacher for making them work too hard and nobody made a malformed pretzel of themselves. On the walk home I spotted two iguanas.
Our aloe are attracting more birds everyday. Yesterday the gilded flickers stopped by for a sample. I found the flickers entertaining because they use the fence to walk from plant to plant rather than fly. I saw my first flicker in Montana. It happened to be injured and stuck on the ground. We carried it off to the bird therapist and never heard from it again. Some birds are like that. That was not a gilded flicker but a northern flicker. They differ in the under wing color and habitat.
Here in Baja these birds carve nest cavities in the ginormous cardon cactus. The cactus could seep out water and meet its demise from these holes but instead they secret sap and the sap hardens and makes a little room for the birds. How sweet is that? Maybe our possibly preening bird below is cleaning wet sap off its feathers?
Here we have what Mark Twain called “the most delicious fruit known to men.” I’d never even heard of the chirimoya until two days ago and now it is blooming into a minor obsession. Priscila gave us one Thursday. When she handed me the heavy and hard thing she said wait a day or two before you eat it. It did not resemble food. I forgot the name immediately and wondered if we would like it. I worried we wouldn’t enjoy eating the chirmoya because we are not fans of many fruits and we both really hate unripe or over ripe fruit. Here was a perfect storm of mysterious fruit and social pressure to enjoy. Two days passed and I thought we better eat the fruit. How to address the thing? I would have googled but I forgot the name. Its outer packaging is tough and nubby. It looks like a giant raspberry. I was intimidated. What if it wasn’t ripe? What if I ruined it? I picked a bit at the outer lobes but they did not give way so I decided to slice it open. My knife slid through with no resistance. The insides were a revelation. I found a creamy white flesh dotted with giant glossy black seeds. I ate it like a watermelon and spit out the seeds. Good thing, too. I found out later the seeds are poisonous. It was so tasty I found myself conflicted about saving some for Burt. I’d be hard pressed to name a fruit I prefer. It was sweet and mellow and creamy. Two forks up for the chirimoya.
Today Priscila (she was a teacher) texted me to remind me to eat the chirimoya before it went soft. Hah! I’d already eaten it and I now had the name spelled out and my research could begin. This fruit is very old and has a long legacy amongst the native people of South and Central America. The chirimoya is depicted in pottery and art from thousands of years ago. The fruit is borne by a shrubby tree or tree-y shrub that is a deciduous semi-evergreen. It likes elevation and cool weather but not frost. The indigenous people say the tree likes to see snow but not touch it. Sounds like me. Because of the smooth flesh the chirimoya is also called the custard apple. Some people east it chilled with a spoon and call it the ice cream fruit. And I can’t disagree with Mark Twain except to say women like it, too.
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.