Off the beaten path

Just when I finally got running water back, I am heading to the country for a week, where such modern conveniences do not exist.

Life is a little slower out there.

You take long walks,

Walking a country road, Ocotito, Mexicosnooze a little,

Cat on the roof, Ocotito, Mexicosimmer dinner over a wood fire,

Chicken simmering over a wood fire, Ocotito, Mexico and hang out on the porch with friends and family.

Dog in a chair, Ocotito, MexicoI am sure I will be doing lots of reading, writing, and studying Spanish. But, technology has not made it out that far yet, so unless I find an Internet cafe somewhere within walking distance (highly unlikely), I’ll see you here in about a  week.

Then, as Paul Harvey would say, I’ll tell you, “The rest of the story…”

Hasta luego! (See you later)

 

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Launderia

After nearly two months of being very careful about my water usage, washing shirts, skirts, pants, and undies, every day in the bucket of cold water that precedes the hot through the shower pipes, and airing out my sheets in the sunshine and breeze, I decided with more water at my disposal, it was time to do the laundry –  the sheets, comforter, my towel, all those big or heavy things that don’t easily fit into a bucket — although I have managed from time to time.

Laundry on the lineThough there is an automatic washer, it is not like in the States where you put in the dirty clothes, add soap, turn the machine on, and walk away, returning later to clean clothes. No, here you have to watch the machine.

First, you grab a hose and fill the tub of dirty clothes with water from the cistern, then you turn the washer on and let it wash. When you hear it start to spin the clothing, you intercept it before it starts to refill with rinse water and repeat the water from the hose procedure once more. Then you let it go through the rinse and spin cycle, and when it is all done, you hang the clothing on the roof top lines.

Even when I wash my clothes in the bucket, I have it easy, I can use the machine to spin the clothes, so I do not have to wring them by hand. It also happens that my roof top lines are attached to regular t-shaped clothes poles on the room sized balcony outside my room, so I have easy access.

At other houses, they wash and rinse the clothes by hand in a concrete “tub,” wring them out, and carry them to the roof, where they pin or string them from cords tied to the re-bar, sticking up from the floor below, and maybe the TV antenna. And, sometimes they just “hang” the clothes from whatever is handy including a railing, fence post, or even a shrub or tree.

No matter how you hang ’em, there is not much that smells sweeter than laundry dried in the sun and breeze.

Doing laundry in MexicoDo you hang your clothing outside and breathe deeply the scent of sunshine and fresh air when you bring them in?

 

 

 

Securidad

If you have been watching the news, you know that Guerrero state has been in a state of chaos recently. Some students, protesting the inequalities of the government’s placement of teachers (urban students favored over rural) were rounded up by police and disappeared. It is assumed that the then mayor of Iguala and his wife, who has connections to a drug cartel, ordered the police to transfer the students to the cartel inferring that some of the students had rival gang connections.

Well you can just imagine what happened.

The students are missing and presumed dead.

All over Mexico, and the world, people have protested these barbaric actions. Unrest is high and tempers are short.

Protesters, tent city, Chilpancingo, MexicoProtesters have built a tent city, on the zocolo, in the middle of the market in Chilpancingo, the state capital. The government is on full military alert, which means there is a heavy Federal Police presence in Chilpancingo, Iguala, and other cities with universities (including Taxco), especially so during holiday periods when the students do not have classes.

Tent City, Chilpancingo, MexicoAlthough all is quiet here, the heavy military presence feels a little like Madison during the height of the Vietnam War protests.

With this unrest comes insecurity and people are more aware than usual of their vulnerabilities. It is not uncommon for people known to be successful or have wealth to build a “fortress” of protection around themselves. Now even the average Juan is doing the same.

Wall with broken glass on top, Taxco, Mexico

Houses already secured by solid metal doors, walled courtyards, and decorative ironwork over windows, are raising walls higher to make access to their homes impossible.

 

 

Wall with broken glass on top, Taxco, Mexico

 

Broken bottles are set into the cement on top not so much to deter birds landing and dropping gifts into the patio below as to keep possible intruders out.

(This used to be one of my favorite houses too. A lovely courtyard behind a one story wall, provided privacy yet was bright and airy. Now with its three story wall, it is more like a dungeon.)

Houses, Taxco, MexicoEven the little guy, between these two much larger, taller buildings has added onto his house, though his found materials construction and corrugated metal roof pale in comparison.

Yet, if anyone were to consider his humble abode worthy of breaking into, the resident turkey would give a gobble.

Mexican Traditions — Las Posadas

With a few days rest after the 12 day observance of the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe, culminating December 12th, December 16th marks the beginning of Las Posadas. For 9 nights, the barrios (neighborhoods) and callejons (small streets) around my house are filled with children singing and shouting, pinatas breaking, and of course, fireworks.

With roots in Catholicism, possibly started by Spanish friars who combined the December Aztec celebration of the birth of Huitzilopochtli (seen as the sun) into the celebration of Christmas, December 16, marks the start of 9 days (possibly representing the 9 months of the virgin Mary’s pregnancy) of nightly visits to the homes of friends and neighbors.

Las Posadas procession, Taxco, MexicoA little like carolers going from house to house in the US, Las Posadas include a procession with participants representing Mary and Joseph and other characters from the nativity scene, visiting the house of a neighbor. They sing a song asking for entry into the “inn”. The resident sings a song acknowledging the travelers and eventually invites the party, into the “inn” where everyone gathers around the nativity scene, prays, and feasts. Individuals may actually act out the parts — Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds — with the person playing Mary actually riding a donkey (or burro).

Breaking the pinata, Las Posadas, Taxco, MexicoChildren may carry poinsettas. Usually a star shaped pinata ,with candy and fruit hidden inside, is broken as a symbol of faith overcoming the seven deadly sins as represented by the points on the star.

Pinatas, Taxco, Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

In my observance, though I am sure there are many who are devout in their observance, it appears, as in many cultures and many observances, that Las Posadas, for most, is just another reason to for a fiesta.

pinatas for sale, Taxco, Mexico

 

Any excuse for a parade

Taxco, like Madison, is considered by outsiders to be a party town. Perhaps that has something to do with the frequent celebrations often including marching bands, parades, and fireworks.

At least once a week, if not more often, a parade goes by my house, filling the main street in town with children, balloons, queens, kings, costumed characters, and of course, marching bands, bringing traffic to a screeching halt and pedestrians, trying to get to their destination, weaving in and out of marchers, dancers, and balloon waving participants.

Today is December 11th, the night before the Festival of Guadalupe (the Mexican Virgin) and official kick-off of the holiday season in Mexico. So far, at least 4 drum and bugle corps have marched by. The streets are filled with processions carrying icons of the virgin followed by the reverent often carrying candles and smaller icons of their own (click here for pictures). The drums echo through the streets and off the mountains. Every so often, “air works” (fireworks without the fire, only the boom) add to the cacophony.

1211141956c-qprI think this is one of those nights when “there is no rest for the wicked.”

Charleston Chew

I am not a big city bear. I enjoy a day trip to the city, walking amidst the tall buildings, window shopping, people watching, visiting museums and grand big city parks — even riding the subway can be fun. But I hate the chaos of traffic and trying to find a parking spot, especially in a big city that I am unfamiliar with, and even more so when I am the driver, navigator, and sole crash avoider.

Charleston, South Carolina signBeing on the Atlantic coast and reluctant to leave the water behind, I thought I’d take a chance on the city life and make like a Southern belle for a few hours in Charleston, South Carolina. After all, Charleston represents the founding of our nation, Southern charm, and more history than you can imagine.

The plan was to head downtown, take in some history, photograph antebellum homes for the folks back home, have a little dinner in a quaint local establishment in a 200+ year old neighborhood and then head to Asheville and the mountains.

Having avoided Savannah and taken a more direct secondary highway into the state, I missed the official welcome center so I had no state map. Just outside the city I came upon a tourist information center so I stopped to get a map. Being a private tourism office, they make their money from referrals to hotels and restaurants in Charleston; the agent had no state maps and she was not too pleased with my plan to just visit the city for a few hours and hit the road again. (Let’s just say she did not offer a stellar example of Southern hospitality.)

Olde Market, Charleston, South CarolinaThough I asked for directions to the historic area where I could see the antebellum homes and such, she directed me to the Olde Market area — “200 years old and lots of arts and crafts.” OK I am up for that.

Basket vendor, Olde Market, Charleston, South Carolina Niche hotel and horse drawn carriage, Charleston, South CarolinaAfter navigating into the heart of the old city port area, where streets are twisted and narrow, one way and dead ended, driving around for 1/2 hour, dodging people, cars, and horse drawn carriages to find a parking spot, I found the olde market — a succession of 8 – 10 or more brick buildings with open ends and half walls filled with vendors. They have indeed stood here as a place to vend goods (originally from the ships in port and the plantations outside town) for 200 years.

The area was originally a warehouse district, though now the warehouses sport major chain and niche hotels, pubs, and restaurants for the tourists.

Baskets, Charleston, South CarolinaSince I was expecting “arts and crafts,” I was not prepared for the flea market atmosphere — a few handmade basket vendors (a Charleston specialty) and hand sewn bonnets, aprons, and household items, but stalls were mostly filled with 21st century junk “as seen on TV” or you’d find at K-mart. After walking through 3 buildings and literally finding nothing worth even pausing to look at (except the baskets – tourist priced), I bought a handmade lemonade and bolted back to my car. Following my own intuition and with the help of the lemonade vendor, I managed to make my way to White Point Gardens at the water’s edge.

This delightful couple blocks of green space, though under reconstruction in spots, offered a respite from the traffic and chaos. Walking around the area, I discovered the kind of historical homes, large and small, that I was looking for, towering live oaks dripping in Spanish moss, old brick and cobblestone streets, sections of the old city wall, gates offering glimpses of 200 year old courtyards and formal gardens, pavilions, statues, and more historical markers than you could count. Horse drawn carriages were everywhere, telling of the history of certain houses and residents (I guess taking the tour was the “seeing the antebellum houses” the tourism maven had in mind.)

Enjoy this photo tour of the area south of Broad.

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Fort Sumter, Charleston, South CarolinaBeing a coastal city, a seawall and promenade, 6-feet high and wide enough for 4 people to walk abreast protects the homes from the sea (and served dual duty as a battery in times past (the canons now sit in the park.) From the top, you get a view of Fort Sumter where the Star Spangled Banner was penned. (Never realized this historic fort was so small.)

For some reason, my foot hurt, making it really painful to walk (I learned later I had cracked a metatarsal bone; don’t ask me how) so I departed without finding a local historic establishment for dinner and set my sites on the drive home — via Asheville, North Carolina, and through the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains.

I have decided that a solo meander is not conducive to big city exploration. Charleston is a charming Southern city, worthy of a couple days or a long weekend of exploration where one can ferret out the historical gems and quaint restaurants. Visit with a friend, spend the money and stay in the heart of the city, and act like a tourist — take the horse drawn tours, visit the market, go to the fort, walk the old streets and live the history of America.

Pretty as a Peacock

I went out with some friends one day not long ago and was told we were going to the “peacock neighborhood.” Neighborhoods in Florida, as in most places these days, seem to all have themes — palms, seashells, etc.

So I was totally unprepared for this —

Apparently, this neighborhood in Cape Canaveral used to be the home of a wildlife sanctuary. When the sanctuary closed some of the peafowl refused to leave. Love them or hate them (because of their raucous cry and other birdbrain habits) — you have to admit they sure are pretty.