Starting Over

I’m trying to get back on track with my blog. It was fun, and it helped me to remember what was happening in our life here in Mexico. A chronicle, a reminder of our learning process here, in music, performance, in farming, and all the little things that make up a life. I stopped blogging mainly because of my sorry, horrible connection on line. I don’t want to include the boring details, but believe me, it was SO frustrating! Now I have a less wonky connection, and I hope to start up again.

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Last Year’s Harvest

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After my brave-but-puny re-start, here is something brief.
 
I made plenty of notes and photos about our Siembra 2013.
 
We planted our fields May 28 and June 6, having purchased fertilizer granules to go with the seed.
Many fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides come to Mexico from the US, and receive a lot of suspicious attention from the farmers that purchase them, including fears that Monsanto and other companies might be selling “plaga” of all sorts, infecting their seeds with pests to get the farmers to buy something, from the company, of course, to control them with. I have long believed that Mexicans in general have a right to be suspicious about many things – look at Mexico’s history!, but this one seems a little far-fetched
We received irrigation water right away, so everything got off to a good start. I’m not sure whether it was conscious or not, but this planting season was one of little machinery use, and lots of hands-on work. We almost can say we had a peon de planta,   a full-time summer worker, because Mechin started working for us with the irrigation, and worked through fall.
He brought other workers when there was too much fertilizing/weed spraying for one person, and that worked very well. He and another long-time worker each decided that they would not “drink” until the local fiesta, (a rather serious decision) and as far as we could tell, they stuck to their decision, thus saving themselves a lot of money and the foolishness that often accompanies drunkenness. (Sorry – it sounds like I’m on a soapbox here, but I’m just stating the observable facts.) Their choice meant they would work all week, including Mondays(!)
The seeds sprouted and the plants appeared.
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They grew.
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So did the insect predators. See the holes near the roots of these young sorghum plants in the photo below?? Those are deadly attacks from, quite likely, I think, gallina ciega (“blind chicken” – eeuuww), the hideous underground herbivorous predator.
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We worried, as dry-land farmers do, about rain. But looking back in memory and through my notes, the worry wasn’t necessary in 2013 (OK, perhaps it’s debatable whether worry is necessary or not). At any rate, we got   gentle rain often, with few really heavy storms. But there was plenty of thunder and lightning, usually in the evening and night, and rains all the way to harvest time. It was difficult for some local farmers to get into the fields, and it took quite a while for the maize and corn to dry sufficiently for harvesting.  One unpleasant event of the summer was that Doña Socorro got a severe skin infection on her leg. We think it was from scratching a mosquito bite. You may thank me later for not including a photo of the infection, with discolored, dripping leg.  At this clinic, the doctor treats some patients right inside the front door!
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Our garden was happy with the wet summer, and produced many, many large squashes, and lots of zucchini plants with their edible flowers and beautiful squash.
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We also were able to get a new stage built, shown here in progress. 

IT’S A VERY SMALL TOWN

The night before last, at the end of a long afternoon, just before twilight, there was An Incident in our town.
Our little rancho, El Pedernal, has two streets lined with houses. We live on the main street. A couple of decades ago the streets were paved, so we no longer have a rocky street, but we do have two topes. These are humps the cross the road to slow down traffic.
In the evenings people tend to come out into the street to visit, and on the weekends maybe to buy a taco, tamal, or a snack.
I had gone out to the street just to gaze about, and I noticed right away that Something Was Happening; there were many people who had come quietly out to the street from their houses, and they were all looking up toward the carretera, the main road. I could see a pickup’s rear lights. Neighbors were murmuring “He backed up all the way down here, very fast, right across the topes! And then he went back up there, very, very fast!” I recognized the black pickup as belonging to a man who lives apart from his family, in the little community on the other side of the carretera. I asked “Is he mad?” The answer came, “He’s loco!!”
Someone had gone for his wife, and she and a grown son walked up to where the truck was parked. It was a rather busy time for local traffic, it seems, and every time a car or delivery truck would try to get around the black pickup, the driver would move it so that no one could pass.
The streets were lined with more people, as if for a parade., but I noticed that nobody wanted to approach the truck.
Soon his wife reached the truck, and she stood there for a long time. The word filtered back to me “He’s asleep in the truck, with his arms on the steering wheel”. And “Even his strong son can’t get him out.” There were quiet discussions about what should be done – call the police? tell the local delegado?
In the end, not surprisingly,  nothing was done. I never heard the outcome.

Starting Over (well, sort of)

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I recently (yesterday!) regained access to this blog. Thank you, Google forum!  That’s a pretty good excuse not to have written anything for a long time, I’d say.

The first thing I did was to moderate some comments (I got some comments!) and to peruse some of the old entries. I had thought after not seeing it for a while that I just might not like it. But I do. I still do.
So I have some catching up to do, and this is a start.
Reasons I didn’t blog:
1. I really did not notice that I didn’t have access to the blog. Because????
2. There was really nothing going on for a while;  no practicing/performing. No farming. Lots of reading (I guess I could blog about reading, but – nah.)
3. We got really busy with farming, and I was waaay too busy to write about it. Really. Busy every single day.
4. We got busy with music, with hours and days of practicing.
5. We were taking care of la señora, who got a horrible infection.
And that’s the year, condensed.

So, my dear readers, guess what I’ll be writing about very soon!!
La Siembra, practicing, performing, caring for an old, old lady, losing and re-evaluating having a blog.

Can you see where this is going? I hope it won’t be boring.

Navidad – Going To Mexico


Our recent annual Posadas Parties gig in downtown Los Angeles ended quietly on December 24th.  As we were setting up several employees asked if the evening would end earlier than the other nights, and Yes, we said. We used less equipment and smaller speakers, and shortened the times between events, so that we ended about 9:15 instead of at 10 p.m.

Some of our equipment, waiting to be stored – up two flights of stairs – the life of a musician!
We trudged up and down stairs and put away our equipment in the storage room. We said our goodbyes to the dancers, the puppeteer and the employees, and drove to our motel for our last night.
In the morning we packed up our equipment and clothing, and went to a local pawn shop to purchase a drum machine we had spotted similar to the one we like to use for recording. We then drove to a cousin’s house near Covina where we enjoyed a wonderful meal with ham as a main dish (thank you, Sylvia!. In spite of all the excellent meats available in Mexico, ham and turkey are two things that just are not of the same quality. I am not embarrassed to say that I had several many servings of ham. I had an extremely enjoyable conversation with Sylvia and her lovely daughter while the daughter made guacamole as Christmas gifts for her friends. They were so attentive I probably talked way too much. I do miss having women friends to talk to, and I probably totally dominated the table talk.
As the afternoon wore on I began to cast glances at the clock and fret a little about leaving on time. Our car was due back at the rental agency in San Diego at 9 p.m., and I hazarded a guess that it would be perhaps a three-hour drive. We left about 6:45 after our goodbyes. While I kept driving at a steady pace for about three hours, Chon napped off and on.
We were on an unfamiliar freeway, and it just didn’t feel like exactly the right direction. When I began seeing signs for San Diego, but not for the airport, I called my sister, who was on the receiving end of a snow-and-ice storm in Arkansas. She speedily looked for directions to the airport (she is really, really good at using the computer), and told me if I saw highway 163 I should take it. As her words came through the phone we were just arriving at the off-ramp, and we zoomed onto it. Her directions were perfect and in a short time we were near the airport; we gassed up the car, checked it in and re-packed our things.
I may not have mentioned that one part of our luggage was a large box (The Box) with digital recording equipment we had purchased in Los Angeles. Chon packed it with clothing for additional protection. It had carrying handles, but it was quite heavy and rather awkward. In addition I was carrying a bag we bought at a thrift shop because it had wheels for ease of movement.
Although we had taken the Volaris shuttle from the Tijuana airport to the San Diego airport, we weren’t exactly sure how to catch it back to the Tijuana airport. Although I was fairly sure of the location, I hadn’t really thought about the lateness of our return, and wondered if it would come. An extremely rude taxi driver tried to convince us that my directions were wrong. We showed up, though, at the Amtrak station, and I got directions for the shuttle stop right outside the door. It would arrive, the attendant told us, at 11 p.m. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:10 a.m., and we were beginning to feel pinched for time. That is to say, this is when both of us were feeling that pinch; I had felt concerned since, say, about 5 p.m. There was one other person besides us at the shuttle stop, a young man who told us HIS flight was leaving at 11:45.
Our luggage under street lights, outside the Metro Station in San Diego, CA. See The Box?
We looked at each other wordlessly. IF the shuttle arrived at the scheduled time, and IF it took zero minutes to officially cross the border, it still would just not be possible for him to make his flight because of the 20-or-so-minute drive to the border. He suspected it, and we knew it. He asked if we would like to share a taxi. There was one parked a half-block away, and before Chon went to ask if it was available, I asked him to make sure the driver wasn’t a complete A. He wasn’t, and it was available. He wanted $50 to drive us to the border, and the other passenger offered to pay half.  That made OUR taxi ride cheaper than taking the shuttle! We got a strong young guy to help carry The Box, and HE got at least a chance to make his flight.
We raced to the border, the cab driver probably in a hurry to harvest more work on this busy Christmas night. The cabbie had lied, however, when he told us that it wasn’t far for us to walk to cross the border; “less than a block”, he said. We tumbled out of the cab and unloaded our gear and began to walk on the new pedestrian path across the border. My bag, the one with wheels, would begin to rock wildly if I walked speedily or held the handle too high, so I brought up the rear.
We sweated our way along the well-lit, smooth sidewalk that led to a small brilliantly lit room where a sleepy-eyed female border agent asked us where we were coming from, and going to. Chon told her that the three of us were a band, and we were making a regular border crossing to play at a party. She waved us past her with a bored smile.
And then we walked, and walked. And walked some more. The sidewalk became a bridge. With many switchbacks. Chon and the young guy made several changes of sides of The Box because their hands hurt. Several times we passed a middle-aged gringo (and he passed us), and one of those times he asked us, panting, if we wanted to share a taxi. Yes, we did. As we finally arrived, panting, at the taxi parking area, we beckoned to him to hurry so he could ride with us. The taxi driver quoted a $20 price (yes, $5 apiece) and amazingly, loaded The Box and some other luggage into the truck and tied the trunk lid down. The four of us piled in, and passed around our smaller bags so that we could fit.
We started off for the airport, and every time we drove across a pot-hole the trunk lid would bang and the gringo with us would mutter “bad shocks”. We made it to the airport in record time, and the young guy and Chon picked up The Box again and carried it to the luggage scanner. We made it through that first hurdle and I had my visa checked. The young guy began to slink away, and Chon called him back to haul The Box to our check-in line, where he promptly and efficiently disappeared. Who could blame him? He DID make his flight, though.
And WE pushed The Box through the lines to the check-in, where we paid for the extra weight. Then we headed with our backpacks to the security check, where we were told that we could not carry our (brand-new, extra-heavy-duty, expensive) instrument cords in our carry-on luggage. (What???? No electrical cables in carry-on? That is not something I have seen listed as being prohibited by the airlines.) I waited while Chon ran back to the check-in counter where the airline workers told him to leave his backpack with them.  As this was simply not an option (great NEW backpack designed for computer, with a fine drum machine inside), he talked them into leaving only the cables with them, and returned cum backpack to the security check-in, and then, finally, we were through, and the rest was easy.
The Volaris flight took off and arrived on time (congratulations, Volaris!), and when we arrived I had my first opportunity (??) to help carry The Box. After only a few seconds I was so relieved that I hadn’t been the one drafted to lug it all the way across the immigration trails!
A friend picked us up at the airport, and as we headed for the highway to take us home, there were hundreds and hundreds of urracas, boat-tailed grackles, in enormous parvadas , flocks, flying overhead.
We got home about 40 minutes later, unloaded our things and went to sleep for four hours.

  

YES, WE ARE WORKING MUSICIANS

The other day we were in a large music store that sells instruments and music equipment, and the clerk politely listened to Chon describing how we had just arrived from Mexico, and then listened more while he described what we would be doing a few hours later, until the clerk’s eyes suddenly lit up in comprehension, and he exclaimed in astonishment, “Oh – then you are actually Working Musicians!”
Yes, we are. And last night, the third night of a ten-night gig,  was one of those nights when things went right for us against the odds, with some magical moments from  the other elements of the show, and some surprisingly  cursed performances from others.
“We are Galileo, and we will be your musical hosts for the evening.”
Audience participation can be stunning!
This gig is a dinner show, and sometimes the results depend on the audience. Well, OK, the audience ALWAYS plays a big part. Aloof teenagers, timorous children, angry adults with obvious issues – that’s just a fragment of the population, and the holiday season seems to aggravate the best and the worst in each person. Last night the audience numbered eighteen, instead of an average of three hundred. So we made adjustments to our schedule and started late on purpose, since we didn’t have many people to handle. We  played dance numbers, and sung seasonal songs for about a half hour, all the while noticing that not a single member of the dance troupe, normally numbering ten or twelve, had stopped by to wave hello. However, as our last “cue” song was happening, I could see the great feathered  headdresses of the dancers approaching. 
We are the MC’s for the show, and I introduced the dancers with a great deal of energy, and they headed to the stage, which in this case is the dance floor, at a slightly lower level than the stage where we are situated. Chon busied himself with the audio equipment,  enigineering changes to the sound as I watched three dancers prepare to dance. Normally there are six to eight dancers. 
The first set of dances is “Aztec Ceremonial Dances”, and of the FOUR dancers present, one played (blew) the conch shell. He was not in costume, and remained out of sight. One dancer, arguably the best, had been elected to play a very large (bigger and taller than a child) drum. The two other dancers were the couple who is the moving force of the dance troupe, an experienced middle-aged couple. Are you counting? Two dancers instead of six or eight. The woman is charming and talented. Her husband is rather tongue-tied and shy, and, well, just not a “born”  dancer. That is to say, he dances. In a professional dance troupe. With a lesser sense of rhythm,  the movements and steps of the Mexican dances are extremely challenging and intricate. But our dancer bravely rose to the challenge
I was watching, amused, to see what would come of this extremely diminished dance group, when Chon glanced up from what he was doing, and with a dreadful scowl, his eyebrows shot up in shock as he saw the dancers. The woman encouraged her partner through the steps of the various dances, until the final presentation, the Fire Dance, when a single dancer (and not usually THIS man!) dances around a burning flame in a stone mortar, at times bringing his feet and legs extremely close to the flame, and for the finale, holding the burning flames high above his head, moving them from hand to hand, then returning the flames to the mortar, and eventually extinguishing them with a bare foot. This he did, valiantly struggling along, until he dropped the flame on the floor, quickly recovered it and returned it to the mortar, and then it just, sort of, went out. And that was the finale of the dance. The beautiful, lithe, slender dancer who was beating the rhythm on the drum, also just – stopped. What else?
We quickly began to applaud, and the audience joined us entusiastically. Yay!
Later in the show, the dance group, scheduled to present a group of regional dances from Mexico, returned, this time with the conch player (to us, the New Guy). So there were the four of them on the dance floor. For some technical reason they chose to use a slower, training recording of one of the extremely fast whirling polkas from northern Mexico, and the “new guy” to us, the one who had blown the conch shell, just danced the polka at the speed he was accustomed to – that is, at a much faster speed.  His partner did not – she valiantly attempted to dance to the tempo of the recording, and to assist her partner to hold back, as well. The steps were right. They just couldn’t really dance it together
And as for US, well, one of our speakers was blown, and we could not replace it. So Chon used a monitor (a speaker that performers use to hear themselves in the all the amplified sound swirling about),in place of the broken speaker, which made the bass sound normal. I play a bass part for all the songs we perform, with my left hand, on a keyboard. The sound is a “real” bass sound, that I normally like. The night before, it came out of the speaker as a cross between an extremely loud belch and a rattle. At first, hesitant to produce such a sound, I played rather gingerly, but as the night wore on, I became more accustomed to it, and realizing that the audience probably really wasn’t noticing, gave it more energy and volume. Using the monitor was a relief because the sound was good – normal, but accompanied by the worry of the possibility of blowing another speaker.
The world-famous Bob Baker Marionettes are part of the show, as well, and do a twenty-minute set. They are charming, OLD puppets, with fading feathers, maribou, felt hats, and chiffon, and the puppet-master is young and very, very good. He can make a marionette look like it’s tap-dancing. Or doing a provocative (not TOO provocative – it’s a family show!) Santa Baby routine. Or juggle. Or fly. 
Normally, there are twenty or thirty children sitting on the dance floor to see the puppets. Last night? There was one. He was about eight years old. His little sister, maybe five years old, was terrified, and spent most of the presentation tearfully huddled in her father’s arms at a nearby table. Soooo, I went to sit with the boy to get a great view of the routine. Then several other adults decided to join us, too, so there were six of us. Having been charmed by Bob Baker’s marionettes as a spell-bound child seeing Hansel and Gretel, I am a serious FAN of the marionette show, and the set was wonderful. All of us were laughing and nudging each other at clever details. I hadn’t known that the big pink cat does funny things with her handkerchief! My face was aching from smiling so much. The lone boy was a perfect audience member as well, and was charmed and thrilled by the up-close-and-personal marionettes. 
And later on, when we had a traditional-styled posadas procession around the area, the adults took part, as well, in the part of the show usually done by youngsters. And the piñata, you ask? Waiters and waitresses joined in, as well as the paying audience. 
I had a wonderful time. And as I chatted with the audience after the show, I could tell they did, too.