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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.

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.

ATOTONILCO EL ALTO

We went on a pleasant drive to Atotonilco, a very old Mexican town we have visited before. It’s a drive of about an hour an a half, across the treacherous strip of road where we got our flat tire a couple of weeks ago.
Nearby Jalpa’s patronal fiesta was held over the last weekend. Before we left, we drove to there to buy some bread from one of the vendors before they pulled up stakes and left for another fiesta. There were lots of candy vendors, with marzipan and a variety of candies made from squashes and yams. There were several vendors of kitchen items, and plastic buckets and pans of all sizes.The children’s games were still there, too. The bread vendors carry their ovens around with them, and one had large beautiful bread coming right out of the oven. Chon bought one to take with us to Juana, his sister.
Atotonilco is a commercial center located in the “heights” of Jalisco, and was built in a bowl: to enter the town the drive circles down from the flatter lands of agave and orchards. Its known history began in 1528 (yes, 1528), and the conquistadors arrived in 1530. Known for oranges and lemons, it is also a center for tequila distilleries. AND, there are hot springs there!
The drive to Atotonilco was uneventful, and we saw some workers filling the enormous potholes that had tormented us on an earlier drive, and we arrived after noon. We parked a couple of blocks from the very large templo, and walked to the town square.
The  temple of San Miguel Arcangel was built in the mid-1700’s, and appears to occupy most of a city block. The style is very similar to  the famous temple in our neighboring town Jalpa De Canovas, described as renaissance and  plateresco (florid), with a bell-shaped top. It towers above the city, and is easily seen from the mountains above. It is built of quarried stone. Corinthian columns inside draw the eye up to the light-filled dome. When we entered, a woman was mopping the large area surrounding the altar, and singing. The sound of her voice hung in the air, with a long decay time.
We walked around, found ourselves by the old mercado, and remembered the hotel across the street. We went in and the woman at the front desk answered many questions about the area. Rooms are 300 pesos per night. That’s less than $30. Right outside the hotel was a place advertising lunch of chilaquiles and beans for 13 pesos. We bit. It was very good, and we felt fortified for more walking. 
In the mercado Chon made a deal for a pair of huaraches for 90 pesos, and we stopped in at a couple of “cibers” to try to purchase a USB extension cord. It began to rain, harder and harder. We wanted to get to Juana’s house before it got late, so we headed back to the car, and back towards Arandas, the famous tequila town. We stopped at our favorite “private label” merchant (in this case, private label means no label at all), and bought a garrafon to take home. We headed past the very old church with its very old, very heavy bell still hanging in its temporary spot, and drove toward Juana’s house. 
Out in the open spaces, dotted with agave fields and cattle pasture, we headed down a hill only to see a line of many stopped cars, and a barricade made of a truck that had slipped off the road, and was completely blocking passage. We waited with the other travelers until two large tow trucks manages to pull the truck backwards and onto the roadway again. When we passed the truck, we saw the shaken driver, several transit police cars, and the two tow trucks.

Traveling on, we arrived at Juana’s house in cold Josefino. She efficiently prepared us tacos of tasty chicken breasts, with beans and some spaghetti with a terrific cream sauce with rajas. We contributed our beautiful fiesta bread, and left after a short visit. 

We wound down the mountain road, passed through Doblado, and arrived home after 8 p.m.