Jacarandas

Someday, somehow, I’m going to figure out how to have the photos line up in the published form the way they appear in the draft. In the meantime…all scrambled up again!

When the jacarandas bloom, I know it’s almost time to leave, and indeed we’ll be heading north in three days. IMG_2810The jacarandas are my favourite of all the colourful blossoms and foliage here–a blue like the blue of chicory, which is my favourite roadside bloom at home

 

 

Last week, we drove to Queretero to spend the day with Cristina, Marco, and Marifer.

IMG_3183It’s not a particularly interesting drive—surprisingly flat given the generally mountainous terrain. This is the bajio, or high plain–as high in altitude as Guanajuato, but without the drama.

IMG_3205Marifer is a delightful little girl–almost 2–sweet-tempered, full of energy, and cute enough to be one of our own grandchildren! In fact, Cristina assures us she is our Mexican granddaughter. Fine with us! She was amazingly tolerant as we all crawled in and out of the car en route to parks and historical sites.

Me, with my Mexican granddaughter.

Me, with my Mexican granddaughter

Queretero is known for the aqueducts that run through the city, built by the Spaniards to deliver water from the hills to this colonial IMG_3214centre. It’s considerably bigger than Guanajuato, and has a big-city feel with lots of traffic. But it’s quite a beautiful city, as well, with sprawling parks and well-preserved colonial architecture.

 

 

The sun was too bright to capture it...but jacarandas were blooming in many of the archways.

The sun was too bright to capture it…but jacarandas were blooming in many of the archways.

And everywhere, jacarandas. As Marco quipped, the city is “muy jacarandoso”. I decided I should have one…they can grow in a really big pot. But the blue blossoms in April are the first signs of life in all the time we’re here, so it’s probably not worth having bare branches in a pot for a 2-week burst of colour at the end. As the blossoms drop, they form a blue carpet underfoot.IMG_3217

 

 

 

 

 

111-1126_CRW

We’ll be pulling out of here very early Thursday morning, hoping to make it to cross the border into Laredo, TX before dark. It’ll be a long day, but we’ve done it before. Then, on Friday, we’re going a short distance to Corpus Cristi where the plan is to spend a couple of days exploring Padre Island before making serious tracks north.

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Jacarandas

Someday, somehow, I’m going to figure out how to have the photos line up in the published form the way they appear in the draft. In the meantime…all scrambled up again!

When the jacarandas bloom, I know it’s almost time to leave, and indeed we’ll be heading north in three days. IMG_2810The jacarandas are my favourite of all the colourful blossoms and foliage here–a blue like the blue of chicory, which is my favourite roadside bloom at home

 

 

Last week, we drove to Queretero to spend the day with Cristina, Marco, and Marifer.

IMG_3183It’s not a particularly interesting drive—surprisingly flat given the generally mountainous terrain. This is the bajio, or high plain–as high in altitude as Guanajuato, but without the drama.

IMG_3205Marifer is a delightful little girl–almost 2–sweet-tempered, full of energy, and cute enough to be one of our own grandchildren! In fact, Cristina assures us she is our Mexican granddaughter. Fine with us! She was amazingly tolerant as we all crawled in and out of the car en route to parks and historical sites.

Me, with my Mexican granddaughter.

Me, with my Mexican granddaughter

Queretero is known for the aqueducts that run through the city, built by the Spaniards to deliver water from the hills to this colonial IMG_3214centre. It’s considerably bigger than Guanajuato, and has a big-city feel with lots of traffic. But it’s quite a beautiful city, as well, with sprawling parks and well-preserved colonial architecture.

 

 

The sun was too bright to capture it...but jacarandas were blooming in many of the archways.

The sun was too bright to capture it…but jacarandas were blooming in many of the archways.

And everywhere, jacarandas. As Marco quipped, the city is “muy jacarandoso”. I decided I should have one…they can grow in a really big pot. But the blue blossoms in April are the first signs of life in all the time we’re here, so it’s probably not worth having bare branches in a pot for a 2-week burst of colour at the end. As the blossoms drop, they form a blue carpet underfoot.IMG_3217

 

 

 

 

 

111-1126_CRW

We’ll be pulling out of here very early Thursday morning, hoping to make it to cross the border into Laredo, TX before dark. It’ll be a long day, but we’ve done it before. Then, on Friday, we’re going a short distance to Corpus Cristi where the plan is to spend a couple of days exploring Padre Island before making serious tracks north.

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Dentist and Decorating

We’re into our final couple of weeks here, which means–because who would do it sooner than absolutely necessary?–our annual dental bonanza.

Our dental clinic, perched on the edge of the hill.

Our dental clinic, perched on the edge of the hill.

In the last few years, since we decided not to purchase dental insurance at home, we’ve begun having dental work done here. Root canal: $300.  Crown: $350. And this is at what may be the most expensive dental practice in the city. Jack came close to having and extraction and an implant, which would have cost quite a lot more, but still much less than at home. In the end, he decided on a wait-and-see strategy. You do have to be careful not to be encouraged to do more work than is necessary.

Jack in the dentist's chair.

Jack in the dentist’s chair.

We’re very fond of our dentist here, Dr. Daniel, a very young (ahem, or so it seems to us), very gentle man who always greets me with a hug and a kiss (very Mexican) and goes out of his way to make sure I understand everything he’s doing. Still, we always put this off until the last minute, so we’re fitting a bunch of dental appointments into our currently not-so-busy lives.

After a month or more of settling into our new digs, we’ve had a brief stint of decorating–hanging pictures, acquiring a bit more art and furniture. If you scroll all the way back to December, you’ll see a from the home where we had Christmas dinner featuring a marvellous painting of three mariachis–the work of Eliza, our hostess that day. But you don’t have to scroll back, because we’ve never forgotten that painting, and it’s now ours. Meet Gordo, Guapo, y Guero. (Fatso, Handsome, and Blondie).

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Last week, on a final push to finish up what we started, we drove to Dolores Hidalgo to check out a furniture place we’d heard about, then drove the road between Dolores and San Miguel d’Allende checking out a string of antique/junk shops along the way. We bought a rocking chair that will need some work and, in San Miguel, a couple of Oaxaca rugs. One is hanging on the wall, the other is the finishing touch for my little office-corner. Enough of consumer reports.

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Several of the major streets and sidewalks in the city are under construction, have been all winter, and people are becoming very annoyed at how slowly the work is progressing. Except for a few pieces of heavy equipment brought in at critical points in the process, the work is done by hand. Pick and shovel, rakes, wheelbarrows, and of course stones and mortar. This stretch–I’d guess half a kilometer–is almost done and scheduled to open April 9.

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The days continue to be beautiful, though you can feel the heat creeping in and we’re now loathe to climb the hill midday. (Only mad dogs and Englishmen…Kipling?) We’re told May is the hottest month, before the rains begin. We’ll be gone by then. Our plan was to leave on April 13 and arrive in Kitchener a week or so later. We’re now thinking of pushing that back by a few days and spending some time along the gulf coast of Texas, since we’re pretty sure this will be our last year to drive. (Either way, we’ll be back in Canada by the 21st and back at home by the 25th. Where there may still be snow…)

 

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Photos, bubbles, chilies…

Settling into our final month here and acutely aware that I am both reluctant and eager to go home. That’s usual for me. I do love it here, but we’ve been gone for four months now, and it will be another six weeks til we’re back in Echo Bay. In time for daffodils and the greening of the hill. Too late for crocuses, probably. Just in time for my April book club meeting. And I’m so looking forward to replacing emails and occasional skype calls with real personal interactions! For the past four years, we’ve been glad to drive down and wishing we could fly home. It will be the same this year, and I think there’s a good chance this will be the last year for the road trip.

On Sunday, after the weekly concert (this week a flute, a viola, a cello, and a harpsichord playing Telemann), we drove to Antonio and Eloisa’s house. From there, with them and their daughter Monica, to the IMG_3121Bicentennial Centre between Guanajuato and Leon to see a National Geographic exhibit of Fifty Photographs that Changed the World. The title might have been a bit of hyperbole, but the photos were astounding. This astoundingly long url should take you to a glimpse. I did notice, while searching for the link, that google identifies a long list of collections of photos that have changed the world. Presumably for the better, though that’s not clear.

https://www.google.com.mx/search?q=National+Geographic+50+photos&client=firefox-a&hs=BLz&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=sb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=9H8oU7T2EOPM2AXs44H4DA&ved=0CCMQsAQ&biw=1161&bih=642

It was our first time to the Bicentennial Centre, built in 2010 to celebrate Mexico’s 200 years of independence. I thought it was a big building. Actually, it’s a huge complex with various exhibits and venues. From there, we drove to Leon where Antonio and Eloisa had some shopping to do, and then to supper. Six days a week, they open the taco stand at 8:30 pm and fall into bed around 3:00 am. This was Sunday, but still…why not check out one more store at 10:00? We’re nodding off while they’re still rarin’ to go!

IMG_3123Next day, we went to their place for lunch and—for me—a long, hot soak. Bathtubs are a rarity here, and sometimes I just long to lean back in hot water. A few years ago, they built a little guest house and included a big bathroom with a jacuzzi tub. Aaah. The bubbles were a bonus.

Then we hung around for awhile to help prepare for their evening’s work, and I returned home smelling more like chilies than bath salts!

(I am at my wit’s end trying to align these photos. They show up the way I want them in draft format, and the minute I press “publish” they all scramble to the left-hand margin. GRRR)

Dried chilies by the kilo in the corner of the kitchen

Dried chilies by the kilo in the corner of the kitchen

Jack, snapping the stem ends off the chilies to get them ready for today's batch of salsa.

Eloisa, sorting beans

Eloisa, sorting beans

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A triennial reunion

Carolyn Miller, Marilyn Cooper and I (Paula Smith) were best friends in high school. Three young women from humble stock, if our last names are any indication.

Carolyn, Marilyn, Paula, 1988

Carolyn, Marilyn, Paula, Echo Bay 1988

Twenty-six years ago, Carolyn was a visiting professor at Michigan Tech in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at Michigan Tech, where Marilyn was on the English faculty until she retired last year. Just day’s drive from Echo Bay, and I hadn’t seen either of them for years. They made the trip to visit me. It was the beginning of the e-mail age, and we stayed more or less in touch—the two of them more than me, since their careers brought them together on a regular basis.

Carolyn, Paula, Marilyn, 2008

Carolyn, Paula, Marilyn, Houghton 2008

Then, in 2008, Marilyn hosted a get-together at her camp on Little Traverse Bay, near Houghton, Michigan. Three years later, we met again, this time in Guanajuato, and this time including Carolyn’s husband, Carl.

Paula, Marilyn, Carolyn 2011. Not sure why Carolyn has a clothespin on her shirt...

Paula, Marilyn, Carolyn, Guanajuato 2011. Not sure why Carolyn has a clothespin on her shirt…

And now, three years after that, Jack and I are just home from a four-day visit to Carolyn and Carl’s home in Raleigh, NC (where Carolyn is still on the faculty of NCSU). We seem to have established a rhythm here, though perhaps we won’t wait so long next time. In a year, both Carolyn and Carl will be retired, too, and we’ll all be freer to plan get-togethers, perhaps in exotic locations!

 

Here we are again, just a few days ago. IMG_1333

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Birds, birds. Marilyn is an avid birder, Carolyn and Carl perhaps a bit less so, but far more than either Jack or me. We spent a lot of time gazing at the colourful collection of cardinals, bluebirds, nuthatches, woodpeckers, finches gathering on the elaborate bird feeding device hanging just off Carolyn and Carl’s deck. If you look closely, I think you’ll see a woodpecker on the suet. Their house is in the middle of Raleigh, but overlooks an expanse of woods. I remember Carolyn commenting that my home reminded her of the home I grew up in; hers did the same for me.

A day trip to pottery country, centered around Seagrove, NC. Along any nearby road, you could stop at ten pottery studios in a mile. We went to the information centre/museum in Seagrove, and then visited half a dozen potters, some obviously old and established families of potters, others relatively new in the area and—and perhaps to the craft. IMG_3077Most interesting was one with an elaborate, four-chamber, wood-fired kiln outside. I wasn’t so crazy about the pottery, though it was clearly well-crafted. Bright, glassy, solid colours mostly. But the potter was at work and eager to chat, telling us about the history of pottery in the area and of his own family, which has been making and selling pottery for four (or was it five?) generations.

North Carolina is rushing into spring. Daffodils everywhere (except in Carolyn’s yard, to her disgust), trees about to burst into blossom or leaf, clear blue skies with temperatures in the mid 20s (70s) after the first afternoon of cold rain. Interesting that, after leaving Guanajuato where it’s warm and sunny every day, spring still felt like—well—spring. I was marveling at the freshness of the air, the smell and the feel of what would be late April at home, and responding to the warm temperatures as though I’d just emerged from winter.

IMG_3088A walk along a wonderful walking/biking path from Carolyn and Carl’s house to the Art Museum where we saw a number of interesting outdoor exhibits, including this cloud chamber–which is essentially a walk-in pinhole camera. Close the door, and it’s totally dark except for the images of trees and clouds that are reflected on the walls and floor through a small hole in the top.

And this: “chairs in trees”. IMG_3092The light wasn’t great, so you have to look carefully for some of them.

Lots of good food. Barbequed pork sandwiches, a local specialty. Fried green tomato BLTs. Fine French food and—on our final night—a tapa restaurant where the Spanish owner/cook/server provided both fine photoMCfood and superb entertainment. Dessert consisted of four flavours of ices, including passion fruit. His spiel informed us that passion fruit grows only in tropical environments, and Carolyn dared to challenge him, saying she’d seen it growing on beaches in North Carolina. A battle of google sites ensued between the two of them, while Jack and Carl recorded the show. photoMC2Somehow, the conversation—if you can call it that—morphed into a passionate defense of the USA as the world’s best hope and, by implication, the best place to live. We put up a feeble defense of Canada, and he acknowledged that Canada was okay—but really, where would it be without the US? It really was time to leave!

So now we’re back in Guanajuato for one more month. It should be a quiet month, and we both have some hope that we’ll begin to accomplish all the things we’d planned to be working on all winter. Jack has some photo and other art projects in mind; I have a number of writing projects to work on. It will be the middle of April before we know it, and we’ll be beginning to migrate back north.

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Addendum

A couple more pictures just in from Isaac. That’s him on the right.

How many young men does it take to crack a coconut?

How many young men does it take to crack a coconut?

On the callejoneada. Gavin and Erica with special drinking gourds in hand, Aidan shooting pics in the background

On the callejoneada. Gavin and Erica with special drinking gourds in hand, Aidan shooting pics in the background

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Hasta Luego, Tessiers!

Erica’s family left yesterday morning. It was a great week–fun to see them discover Guanajuato, fall in love with it, and enjoy some sunshine while the weather back home continued to break records for cold. Also fun to spend some concentrated time with the “boys” and get to know them better as young adults. Terrific young adults.

IMG_3053Antonio and Eloisa, along with their daughter, Monica, came for lunch on Wednesday. Like all of us, they were amazed at Aidan’s grasp of Spanish and invited him home with them to practice speaking and to help prepare for the taco stand that night. A great opportunity for him!

A couple of days later, we descended on their house for a meal. Much laughter, few photos. But here’s one of Darren—who managed to avoid the camera most of the week—and Antonio. “Three Amigos” they said: Antonio, Darren, and Don Julio (in the bottle).IMG_3050 Darren has become quite a connoisseur of tequila and tried to sample as many varieties as possible—always, of course, in moderation! I think Don Julio still ranks number one.

I don’t have as many photos of this visit as I’d like since, I confess, I opted out of a number of the tourist excursions that I’ve already seen a million times. On the last day, we all met in one of our favourite plazas for a mid-day meal. We ordered agua fruta—a wonderfully refreshing Mexican drink made from a variety of fruits— took some photos, and waited. IMG_3058And waited. (Shades of windows.) The drinks finally came, but no one ever took our orders. At last, we paid (reluctantly) for the agua fruta and moved on to another restaurant.

That evening, Isaac—Antonio and Eloisa’s 22-year-old son—stopped by to spend some time with Gavin and Aidan. After an awkward start, the three found their stride, switching languages as necessary. Issac speaks better English than we thought, and Aidan did a lot of translating. Plans are now afoot for a visit to Canada. Alas, no photos of that evening. And none of Isaac. (Gavin? Aidan? If you have some, send them to me.)

Then, to end the day—and the trip—on a high note, the three guys, along with Jack and Erica, walked to the centre to join in a Guanajuato tradition: the Callejoneadas, groups of wandering minstrels (estudiantinos) who lead tourists through the back streets, singing and joking (and drinking) as they go. I wasn’t there, so am depending on Aidan’s photos. But it’s pretty clear a good time was had by all!

Now, a few days of relaxation (and dentist appointments!) around here, then off to North Carolina for a reunion with two high school friends, Marilyn and Carolyn (and Carolyn’s husband, Carl.) Then, back here for another month before heading north.

The groups begin with a performance at the church in the main plaza.

The groups begin with a performance at the church in the main plaza.

Then head off through the narrow streets, singing as they walk and stopping at various spots to perform and milk the crowd.

Then head off through the narrow streets, singing as they walk and stopping at various spots to perform and milk the crowd.

Jack and Erica--into the swing of it.

Jack and Erica–into the swing of it.

Erica with tirara and rose, a gift from Isaac.

Erica with tiara and rose, a gift from Isaac.

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