Sunday, August 6, 2017

CIII. Subiendo Chupinaya

Going Up Chupinaya

From our rooftop Chupinaya is the peak top center.
We live near the center of Mexico in the village of Ajijic which stretches for several kilometers along the northwest shore of the country's largest lake—Lago de Chapala. In ten minutes you can stroll from Ajijic’s waterfront, or malecón, up any of a dozen streets to road’s end at the foothills of the Sierra de San Juan Cosalá, a short and narrow range whose highest peaks are scattered along an undulating ridge, parallel to and rising from the lake, and looking down on our village and several others strung out along its shore.

The rumpled topography of the range, now brilliant green in the rainy season, invites longing looks that ultimately seek out the highest spot—Chupinaya—which is about two miles from our house as the turkey vulture flies. At just under 8000 feet, it rises almost exactly 3000 feet from the elevation of our rooftop. Those mornings up there when I can get it together to do my “daily” exercises, it is a solid, familiar presence behind the nearer cerros that are partitioned by arroyos which at this time of year bring lots of water down to the lake.

Our first stop was at "The Saddle" where we were joined by a
half dozen vacas, or cows.
I hiked up to Chupinaya for the very first time last Friday, one of a party of eight. Except for the altitude gain it’s not at all a difficult trek. I think I was the oldest in our group although there were a guy and two gals just a year or two younger than me. Two Canadians, a German, Italian, and the rest were Americans from the west half of the country. Three women, five men.

Almost exactly a year ago I had ventured a climb to Chupinaya but had to give it up about two-thirds of the way to the top; my legs felt okay but my wind was shot. The pace was too quick for me. I encouraged Jim B, the incredible mensch who organizes these adventures, to schedule a hike to the summit at a more relaxed pace. He obliged—twice—but each time I had previously made other plans I didn’t want to change. Last week was my chance.

We've reached the ridge and are relaxing at "Three Crosses".
Jim, our leader, is at left.
It took us four and a half hours to reach the summit, two to return to our base at the coffee shop called “Donas Donuts” (the first word of which until recently I thought was the possessive of a woman’s name—‘Donna’s’—but instead simply means ‘donuts’ in Spanish, so “Donuts Donuts”), where the hiking group gathers every Tuesday and Friday morning to split roughly into thirds based on difficulty of the planned outing, and leave for las montañas. This informal group is composed almost exclusively of ex-pats, their visitors, and others putting their toe in to see what life here has to offer. Among us all, there’s a definite cachet to climbing the highest point on the ridge.
The picnic spot at the shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe has
been a gathering spot for ages. A trail leads down the back
side of the ridge to another village, Las Trojes.

For people who like to walk and climb through more or less unsullied nature, this is a great place to live. You walk for a few minutes from the lakefront up to the end of one of the score of cobblestone streets that cross the highway at a perpendicular angle from the lake to the mountains and you’re there. You enter the outback by following a trail crisscrossing some arroyo, hike up to where it switchbacks to a ridge that winds its way to the crest. Jim B has this idea of a two-day jaunt following the skyline from San Antonio Tlayacapan to Jocotopec, about fifteen kilometers; we would camp overnight at the shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, pictured left and below, located in an oak-shaded saddle before the final ascent. 

Pivoting from the previous shot, I took this
picture of the shrine itself.
The word Chupinaya can be translated as “stone to be worked”, perhaps referring to the shale near the peak which has incidentally been used to make a barbecue at the shrine. Mi amigo Dionicio is one of the leaders of the local indigenous community; he, Jim B and I have been talking about locating and annotating the traditional locales in these parts. I was visiting Dionicio a few days ago and he told me that a particular high point on the crest trail is known to the native people around here as “mesa del ocote", for the name of a tree popular for kindling that used to grow on that small, high plateau. In pre-hispanic times it had a different-meaning Nahuatl name that I wrote down but can’t remember right now. 

To those revisionists in the hiking group, however, that point is named in honor of a Canadian retiree who—not too long ago—was the first gringo to popularize hiking in these mountains. 

The view from the top was socked in when we arrived, but on the way down the clouds lifted enough to allow this shot about 500 feet below the peak. Our village center is located along the shoreline, at the left.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

CII. El Techo de Vidrio

The Glass Roof

That's Franciso, all 6'3" and 210 lbs of him, laying the first pieces of vitral--
stained glass. He did an outstanding job from cutting precisely to finishing
completely and carefully.
June 28. Rainy all day here in Ajijic. Got back home from Guadalajara just after noon. Tons of traffic on the city streets, the industrial zone, bumps, holes in the asphalt, trucks stuck in traffic. Chose the stained glass—vitral—out of a limited selection, but good colors. Just outside the city, I check our load. "El vitral es un poco roto—broken.” We pull over to the side of the pereferico just before the airport. Now twice as many pieces of glass as before. F offers to make good on the loss, but I figure out a new design where he won't need to go back to the big city, one that also takes into account both the fragility of the vitral and the sizes of the remaining pieces by using it mostly to fill smaller rectangles of the framework.

The plans I drew up from which work followed.
Areas that are not colored were filled with a
lightly tinted glass.
Early July. For the past week I've been waking up every couple of nights at 3 AM imagining scapel-sharp shards of glass falling to embed in the unsuspecting skulls of household guests--I guess members of the immediate family are exempt in my bloody fantasies. No matter what the odds are against it happening at any particular moment, sometime in the next quarter century or so it’s bound to occur, no? After much tossing, turning, and getting up to roam the darkened premises, I’m finally able to picture a solution: two layers of thicker glass sandwiching the fragile vitral. Sharing this idea with Juan, I am relieved that he seems to agree.

Julio 12. Two weeks to the day after the Saga of the Broken Glass, I've received assurances anew about both the security of the redesign and that the work may actually have an end date soon. This morning Francisco called to say he was ready to come over with his crew. I'll be out of the house then, I told him, but back by mid-afternoon. We settled on a las tres--three o'clock. We'll see how that goes. Over the past two weeks I've been told two or three different times that someone will come by our casa to work right nowahorito. The visits seldom came to pass at the appointed hora or even día

July 13. Whoa! All of a sudden, in a matter of hours, the work is complete. Juan, Francisco and a helper have carefully laid a protective overlay of three 80-pound pieces of 6mm clear glass on a layer of the 2mm stained, or lightly tinted, glass all sealed and cushioned by silicone. They did a fine job. And the bonus is that they're also neighbors; I'll see them several times a week, at least, probably for the rest of my life, sharing the memory of this creation into which we all put our best effort.

Looking through the completed techo de vidrio. The protective overlay layer  is over twice as thick as the colored layer, and very heavy--more than 200 lbs. Fortunately it's in three pieces, but even so, watching the trio of workers lay it was a little nerve-wracking.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

CI. La Empieza de la Temporada de Lluvia y de Mi Taller

The Beginning of the Rainy Season and of My Workshop

Our short, but long-anticipated trip to visit daughters and friends in Seattle, shop and wander among old haunts, ended two days ago. Yesterday, on my first outing back home here in a week, I saw that the vegetation has finally begun to green on the cerros and the montañas that rise behind our lakeside village in central México. 

Alebrijes are a popular Mexican folk art form. They are brightly painted
fantastical creatures. This is a clay model for a much larger version that
will be my first project in the new workshop, or taller.
I hope and believe that the rainy season, after a fitful start, has finally begun. The past two months since Pascua—Easter—have been hot and dry, and I haven’t felt a bit like writing. Frankly, neither have I much wanted to be around people, although I usually managed to keep to my volunteer schedule at the garden and food bank. But during that time I only went hiking once with my group—usually a touchstone.

Waking up late in the still cool morning, I'd waste hours following the obsessively provocative soap opera revolving around that chump Comrade Cheeto's latest outrage. It seemed like it was not until the sweltering mid-afternoons that I would make the daily round of shops, switching sides of the cobblestone streets to stay in the usually scant shade of casas and tiendas  crowding the narrow sidewalks. My strongest memories of this period, though, involve lying on a couch under the dome in our sala, reading through the complete works of David Rosenfelt and Ann Cleves, about 20 lightweight mysteries, probably more. That activity would inevitably segue into a beer slumber until time to mix margaritas. In the few hours before and after, on a good day I’d be drawn back to comedians poking fun (Meyers, Colbert, Bee) at that loco, muy mal hombre referenced earlier. And in the middle of the night I’d plan and worry over Javier’s seemingly interminable renovations to turn our cochera—garage—into mi taller—workshop. 

Javier put the frames from two double beds one on top of the
other, with space for tools and supplies in between. This table
has lockable wheels and can be taken apart for bench seating.
He also made a framework for four adjustable lights on the
ceiling. Saul and JJ painted the walls to maximize brightness. 
Now, stage one of the workshop is complete. My first project there will be to fabricate Al the Alebrije. He is a large and friendly looking monstruo, inspired by smaller versions we saw recently in Mexico City's folk art museum. Al will loom three to four feet over our flat roof's cornice and wave at passersby on the street below. The current plan is to make him of styrofoam with wood and wire supports, cover with plaster cloth or celluclay, and paint him T-Bird turquoise with big black, red and yellow dots. I’ll weather-proof him as much as possible; I read that rooftop sculptures recently displayed at MoMA are finished with automotive paints, so may try that. I’ve already made a clay model of Al, so just need to proportionally increase his size about 10-12 times. The big challenge will be gathering materials. It looks like trips to Guadalajara will be necessary. I hope I can work something out with an amiable acquaintance who drives there nearly weekly to visit flea markets, looking to add to his art collection of hidden masterpieces. 

The proscenium frame hangs on a lightweight wall that shields
the laundry area. Its curtain opens to a small stage or scrim.
The screened wall to the right would let in rain during heavy
storms; rather than glass it in, Tony built an iron framework
over the breezeway that will be covered with glass panels.
There are still a couple of shelves to be painted and hung for the tallerhousekeeping goods to be bought: more tubs to hold supplies under the big table, broom and dustpan, a whiteboard for the wall. I’d like to have a wheel-able caddy to hold the tools I’m using as I work on Al. And soon I’ll need a small desk. 

Four of those heavy rocks I’d intended to carve (when that was to be my métier) are now balanced one on top of the other in a corner of the taller; handling rocks is grounding when I'm at loose ends. The proscenium frame originally from the traveling theater I had years ago is now hung on a wall as a reminder and a prompt; it's still useable—I can open the curtains onto a small stage or scrim. The works that are inspiring me right now are old black and white comedies from the golden age of Mexican Cinema, and William Kentridge’s fantastic “Shadow Procession”. That—whatever it becomes—is for the future though; I'm working on Al first…and then maybe his sister. That's an occupation I can see continuing for a long time. 

Here's Tony putting the final touches on installation of what
will be the framework for a glass roof. Panels of colored glass
will be interspersed in the rectangles among smoked glass to
temper the bright sun.  
Finally, there’s the glass roof, or techo de vidrio, to shield the open screened wall of the taller from heavy blowing rain. That still needs to be finished. Tony did a great job of putting together the iron framework from my design and installing it over our breezeway. Juan has agreed to work with me on choosing and buying the colored glass for the different-sized rectangular panels—another trip to the big city. If we can do that next week it should take Juan and Francisco only a day our two for the installation. Things are moving along. I'm getting off the dime.

Update: Next day, yesterday. I just stopped by Juan and Francisco's vidrieria, which is what we call a glass workshop here in Mexico. I made sure we were talking about one of them driving since I don't have a car. We arranged with Francisco to take me to Guadalajara tomorrow a las ocho.  I'll pay for gas, lo que es más igual. Back home I figure I'll need seven 2'X4' pieces of stained glasstonalidades de azul y verde, del mar—and six pieces of what I've always called "smoked" glass. There'll be cuts left over of course. Today I affirmed with F that he can haul back 13 pieces. Unbroken. It should be an adventure.

C. Ola de Calor

Heat Wave

Originally written over a month ago, and things have only just begun to improve:

It's been five weeks since Pascua, or Easter, and we've entered mayo--the hottest month of the year. In this heat I've been la sloth--every afternoon finds me lying on the couch in our sala, falling asleep before a fan, after a beer.  I seldom leave the casa in the stifling afternoons. No gumption, no energy--it's weighing on me. On mi esposa también y todo el gente del pueblo.

My mind can best be compared to a melting slice of cheddar cheese--once sharp, now sour and warm.

Monday, April 10, 2017

XCIX. Domingo de Ramos

Palm Sunday

This foot-high remembrance was sold to us by
a young girl, perhaps 7 years old. Later in the
evening the price was lowered from 20 pesos
to five.
There’s a full moon rising over the Mexican village where we live. Darkness has fallen on a warm Palm Sunday. We’ve just returned from several hours on the plaza where we were surrounded by an amiable, all-ages mix of town folk visiting, eating and drinking among friends and family. A dozen small children were flitting there around cafe tables, wrought-iron benches and more established vendors, selling images of Christ on a cross made of palm, straw and multi-colored metallic sprinkles. Twenty pesos. Earlier, a procession of faithful parishioners had passed at sundown on the verbena-strewn street just behind us at the end of their journey to the church. And not long before that a coffin, accompanied by a mariachi band, was carried from that same parroquia on it way to the panteón for burial. Semana Santa has begun…Ahhh, México.

Monday, April 3, 2017

XCVIII. Un Aguacero y un Estrépito

A Downpour and a Crash

Sala with tragaluz above. You can't see the tiles
because of the overexposure, but they fell just a
few feet away from the red pillow where I was
It was hot the previous Sunday morning, surprisingly so for early in the day. And then it grew humid and clouds gathered. Mid-afternoon thunder began rumbling and not long after that a spatter of rain. Later—surprisingly—was a short deluge, with plinkets of hail thrown in for effect. But the already sun-heated flagstones soon caused most of the patio's puddles to evaporate. In the evening it became cooler, and stars began coming out all over the darkening sky.

Just over a week has passed now and that was our last rainfall. Not long after we awake the past four or five days, over coffee, we look at the already hot sun and say in unison, "Looks like it's gonna be another scorch-uh". I've moved many of the potted plants to more shady places; their leaves were being seared by el sol

It must be fifteen feet from the floor in our cupola-ceilinged sala to the top of the skylight (or tragaluz; literally, "bring light"). Late afternoon a couple of days ago when the sun's heat was at its daily peak and falling ferociously onto the tiles surrounding the skylight's hexagonal opening, I was lying in beer-induced muzziness on our couch, giving my ailing back a break. 

tremendous crash and clatter only several feet from where I was relaxing quickly brought me from my stupor. I threw my arms up and shouted in surprise. Dust and ceramic shards covered half the spacious terracota floor, even on to the beloved Oaxacan rug. Looking for an explanation I realized that a dozen tiles had sloughed off below the tragaluz. It's a good thing I wasn't directly underneath. The four-inch-square tiles are unexpectedly heavy and have sharp corners; it's not hard to imagine the blood and brain damage that might be caused by one of them falling nearly ten feet to land a pointed edge on your cabeza.

Our theory about the plunging azulejos is that water might have seeped in under them during the previous week's deluge, and when they expanded in the sun's afternoon heat they were loosened from their adhesive and fell. Or something like that. We're currently having work done in the cochera—garage—to make it useable as a workshop. I better ask Javier to also take a look at the remaining tiles under each of our three tragaluces, especially the one over the chandelier above our dining table—now there's a disaster waiting to happen

Until then our sala is a hard hat zone.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

XCVII. ¡Carnaval!


Here in Ajijic, Carnaval seems mostly about the Sayacas. At least they, together with their consort Sayacos, are the engine that drove last week’s parade down at the end of the block, along Constitución, on its way to Seis Esquinas neighborhood. Sayacas are reputed to be inspired by, and descended from, in one way or another, a pre-Hispanic village matriarch. Nowadays they are represented by outlandish actors in garish masks and wigs, balloon bosoms and skirts, who—along with their ancient and bewhiskered partners—throw flour and confetti at anyone who catches their attention among the numerous crowd along the desfile route. They were interspersed among a sometimes motley group of floats, marching brass and drum bands, and finally the horseback riding charros. Lent is supposed to be a period of self-denial, charitable works, and pious reflection, but if past five days have been any guide, it’s also a time for cohetes—fireworks—and neighborhood fiestas.

These masked sayucas (females) and sayucos (males) are a popular feature at Carnaval time. They might grab you for a dance, or--more likely--throw confetti or flour all over you. The fellow on the left looks to have a traditional horse hair bead flowing from his mask. From what I've read, people playing these clownish parts enjoy the freedom of having virtually no one know who they really are.
These happy people are throwing flower at us spectators, and it looks like there's been some blowback, too...Uh-oh. The barded fellow, center picture, is looking right at me. I bet he's reaching in his bag for more flour to toss in my direction!
Always lots of brass in these street bands. The designated water carrier is taking a break.
La Reina--the Queen--of Ajijic's Carnaval.
You can always tell where groups of Sayucos are gathered by the clouds of harina, or flour, in the air.
Salsa dancers from a local studio provide a respite from getting clobbered with harina.
You ride the "bull" and get doused with flour. The fellow, center right, with the broad brimmed sombrero and white t-shirt wheels and bucks the contraption. The sayuco, left, with his right hand in the harina pouch might be aiming to throw some at the girl taking his picture. 
Lots of beautiful young girls--always a hit!
This is horse country! No parade is complete without the charros, who blessedly ride their steeds at the end of the desfile.
Another happy, warm and sunny day here in the heart of Mexico...but here comes 40 days of Lent, full of self-denial.