YANQUI PLUMBING

IMG_0443Last night I was attaching a fixture in the bathroom when I nicked a waterline buried in the wall with my drill. So I hollered for Mary to plug the leak with her thumb while I put the ladder up for climbing to the roof to turn off the tinaco (roof tank) which feeds our gravity system. Then I called our plumber. That was 9:30 pm. He said he would be here at 9am. He arrived promptly, and opened the wall with his electric jackhammer to reveal where I had grazed the copper hotwater line. We drained the line and he soldered over the nick. Total elapsed time: 40 minutes. Cost $150mx (about $12us). I call him Rolando, El Mago (Rolando, the Magician.) I will patch the hole in the wall, or merely cover it.

Up north we hide our plumbing in the walls,¬†behind plasterboard. It’s easy to locate such waterlines: simply drill a small, shallow hole, and poke a bent coat hanger in to probe for the line in the hollow space behind the plasterboard. But when gringos come here and remodel an old home, we hide pipes and wires inside concrete walls, contrary to “best local practices.” This makes for difficult repairs. (Plasterboard is used in new builds, in the modern neighborhoods; but not generally in Centro Merida.)

Before retiring, I was half owner of a large commercial¬†photo lab which I had plumbed, mostly myself. We left many of the lines on the exterior walls, first polishing the copper with a green¬†scrubby¬† and then spraying it with clear lacquer for a decorative look ‚Äď and for easy maintenance and modification. Such practices have become fashionable in the lofts and bistros of New York City. But much of the expat community here hasn’t adopted that look yet. The locals here have an easier time with maintenance in their older homes. We haven’t learned that lesson quite yet, often concealing pipes, wires and ducts inside stone walls when we renovate those homes.¬†

I had hoped that my mistake might afford opportunity to remedy a blunder made by a former owner, as long as we had the wall open. Last spring, when shutting down the house, I discovered that the toilet tank is plumbed to the¬†hotwater line. (The tank doesn’t noticeably fill with hot water, as the line is too long, but it does waste propane to recover from flushing.) Rolando explained that it was impossible to know how much hammering it might take to correct that faulty connection, as such lines are often underneath ceramic floor tile, buried in concrete. I guess we will not bust up the new flooring we put down six months ago simply to make that repair. Ah, if only they had run the lines attached to the outside of the walls, it would be easy.¬†

 

BLAME THE FOOD POLICE

IMG_0395We brake for road food! Above is a pic of Mary’s order of young goat with rice, found along the way, a bit north of Matehuala, prior to stopping at Las Palmas Midway Inn. Beyond road food, we especially enjoy the Slow Food Market in Merida, where home cooking comes to market. But you won’t find this fare up north anymore. It’s very sad. The food police have outlawed such cooking across the USA. Why? “Food poisoning.” ¬†(Why, really: protection of the restaurant trade, in my view.)

When I was a youngster, one of my favorite visits was to the Columbia Market store. It specialized in genuine Italian foods: cheeses, sausages, rare goods never seen in supermarkets. And the store smelled exotic. After a stint in the Navy, college, and a business adventure in Cambridge MA, I paid a visit to that store in 1982, which had relocated. The goods looked familiar, but the aroma was gone. All I could smell was chlorine. I asked why. The wait staff assured me that health inspectors insisted that smells were illegal! And it has only gotten worse in the intervening years.

Apple cider must now be pasteurized, making it into mere apple juice. Even church suppers have mostly been shut down unless the food is prepared on premises, in an inspected church kitchen, by permit. Next they will be insisting that we boil our salad before we eat it. All to protect us, of course. (Worried about dysentery? Avoid antibiotics, which kill indiscriminately;  and try a good probiotic having 12 different strains of gut bugs.)

Fortunately we can still buy real food here in Yucatan, made in the homes of real cooks. Tonight we enjoyed a pasta dish filled with spinach and sauce, made by an Italian housewife named Claudia, who is a regular at Slow Food. Her homemade pasta is sublime. Yes, there can be peril in such outings, but then, there can be peril in eating federally inspected food up north, too. But too much fear of the dark only serves to diminish our immune defenses. 

IMG_0396 The Goatherd Inn

MAYAN THANKSGIVING

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Our housekeeper very graciously invited us to come to her home for a special meal. It seems, to this outsider, that Day of the Dead is an elastic holiday without a definite date, perhaps lasting a week or two. I prefer to think of it as Ancestor Remembrance Day, which sounds much less ghoulish. While many gringos equate it with our Hallowe’en (“Hallowed Evening” ), down here it has not historically been about spooky stuff, despite what the title might conjure.

Mundy gave us directions to her place, where she lives with her husband, and where they raised a son and a daughter whom we met. She mentioned that she had also invited someone we knew from our rental last year ‚Äď our good friend Patricia. Pat says she has no sense of direction, so we offered to drive. Mary navigated, and I actually followed her commands. We got there precisely on-time, without getting lost, at the appointed hour of one o-clock. Here’s what we found ‚Äď Mundy bathing her dog from a bucket on the sidewalk in front of their house. (Never invite gringos to your house expecting them to arrive on Mexican time. They will be “early.”)

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The main course was something called pib, depicted first above. It is a “pie” baked in a rectangular pan, of corn (maize), black beans (frijoles), lard (manteca), spices, epizote (an herb), achiote (an orange coloring), chicken broth (caldo), onions, tomatoes, shredded chicken, and cheese, wrapped in banana leaf. Traditionally this is cooked by burial in a charcoal pit. As they live on the outskirts of the city, she cooks it in her oven. Mundy showed us a bag of soaked corn from her refrigerator which her father had grown in his milpa (large garden, far afield from the homestead, burned and rotated annually in the ejido land, which is community property). He also grows beans and squash (calabaza).

¶ Being a milpero is a declining art, as so many men gravitate to the cities to seek employment. And woman are traditionally not allowed to participate. This skill is virtually a divine commission intended to sustain community. We felt very honored to partake of this meal. Last year we arrived in late October in time to observe the public ceremonies surrounding the official holiday. This year it was very special to see the homey aspect of gratitude for abundance, with modesty and moderation. Thank you, Mundy, and Wilbert. (The leftovers were delicious, too!)

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BIKINI BEACH IT AIN’T!

IMG_2399Make no mistake. That weird,¬†voluptuous road sign is is not announcing an alluring stop along the way. It is warning you of a¬†speed bump ahead. And you should be grateful, as they aren’t all marked. You can see the consequences of an unannounced encounter, below. We hit one of these topes¬†or¬†vibradores¬†shortly after arriving in Chiapas state, enroute from Puebla. The highway was marked 110km/hr. (We were doing about 65mph.) But we didn’t realize that the impact had bent the alloy rim until we were delayed briefly at a police checkpoint in Campeche state, several hours later. The tire is still inflated, and serving well; but next week I will have the full-sized spare mounted in its place. (The liquid on the tire is from a police dog who duly discharged his assignment.)

IMG_0430 We were passed by a BMW suv, flying low,  who thought he was on the German autobahn. And hour later we saw him pulled over. His wife was waving her jacket to warn passing drivers, while hubby was mounting his donut spare in the place of a shredded tire that had gone thru a pothole. Mexican roads are not to be dismissed as perfect.

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 Also of possible interest is the butterfly collection we managed to assemble along the way. I have to wonder if any of these might have feasted on the milkweed pods which sprout each year on our farm, before migrating south for the winter, like we do, but without the speed bump hazard.