Trailer Park Nirvana image created by Stefany Kleeschulte.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spanish Word(s) of the Day: antes y después de

There are some words I have a terrible time with. Like derecho and derecha. Fortunately when I ask someone for directions, they'll point in the direction I'm supposed to go so then I'll know if they're saying go straight (derecho) or turn right (derecha).

That brings me to before and after. Antes and después were elusive until Mexico put up highway signs showing the work on Highway 15. The antes signs show the road narrow and potholed; the después signs depict a nice wide and smooth highway.

When I moved into this space, the porch was painted brown. All the boards and cement blocks were brown. Some friends gave me leftover paint and so I painted the back wall in a kind of pinkish salmon color. It wasn't great but it wasn't brown. Then Manuel splashed streaks of kerosene mixture all over the wall and it was truly ugly. It needed to be repainted. I hired his dad, Chapo, for some wall plastering.


Después de

Thursday, October 27, 2011


When daytime temps are hovering around 90, one has to look for subtle changes to know that fall has arrived in Kino Bay. There are no cottonwoods or maple trees changing colors. There are no big stores with displays of Halloween candy. No early Christmas decorations.

So here are signs of fall in a place where the desert meets the sea.

Hummingbird migration

Shrimp boats

Blooming bougainvillea

And most importantly, Schwepps on the shelves at Super T Del Mar. Yellow. The color of Fall.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mucho Mas Calor

My neighbors from Colorado were hosting a grilled shrimp and flounder gala. They wanted a bonfire so I tracked down Manny to see if he could track down the firepit made from the tub of a washing machine (nothing goes to waste in Mexico). He said gringos are loco. It is hot and they want it more hot. I had to agree - it's still summer here and we do not need more heat. But, hey, you can never have too much ambiance. And after the food, when the neighbor pulls out his banjo or mandolin, we have to sing around something.

The firepit had disappeared and so the neighbor sent Reyes to the dump to see if he could find a huge tire rim or washing machine tub or something.

People were gathering. Shrimp were grilling. Reyes returned. No luck on the dumpster diving expedition. He said gringos are loco. It is hot and they want it more hot.

From Los Straightjackets - Calor.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Border Bars

On our way north to Nogales we saw a place in Santa Ana that looked like a bar. The sign over the door said El Bar Co. We were in a hurry to get to El Regis saloon in Nogales so we kept driving, thinking maybe we'd stop at El Bar Co on the way home.

The only glitch on the ride north was at the military checkpoint where a couple trucks managed to block the automobile/bus/RV lane so we followed the other cars when they drove down the embankment to the dirt road in the median. It was a steep embankment. We were in my cargo van. Demo worried we would tip over. Coming out of the ditch was even scarier but we managed and were soon once again barreling north.

First stop: Ueta duty free shop on the U.S. side of the border - liter of Tangueray $18, same for a liter of Absolut Citron. As we waited for the security guard to escort us into Mexico Demo said, "look at all those gringos" as though we were somehow excluded from that demographic. We carried our booze into Mexico and headed straight for El Regis.

El Regis is my kind of bar - old, dark, lots of wood, stained glass. It's a Mexican bar but gringos go there too. Ramon was working and he was totally smitten with Demo. On the shelf over the cash register was a display of food items - spam, potted meat, vienna sausages, smoked oysters. We opted for the oysters.

Next stops: the bars in Rio Rico - Hilda's and the new bar I don't know the name of. After Hilda's we sat outside at the new bar I don't know the name of and watched the full moon rise over the Santa Rita Mountains. The air was cooling, softening. A typical southern Arizona evening. It's why I fell in love with the place.

A bottle of wine with our pizza dinner at Nonna Vivi's then after-dinner drinks at the bar at Esplendor resort where we met a nice man from France who came up to our room. We chatted for hours.

Needless to say we were quite hungover the next morning. Not pleasant when faced with hours of shopping followed by the 5-hour drive to Kino but we're troopers; as we neared Santa Ana we decided to stop at El Bar Co and check it out.

I pulled up and Demo went in. When she came out she said it was a restaurant only. She said it smelled good and it was cute, decorated like the interior of a boat. We looked at the sign: El Bar Co. Well, shit: El Barco. The Boat. That gap between bar and co is what threw us. We chuckled over our stupidity all the way home.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Word of the Day - carteles de la droga

When he walked into the restaurant I jokingly asked our waiter Daniel if the guy was que la mafia? The man did not look like he was from around here or even Hermosillo for that matter. He had on a brightly-colored shirt and his thick black hair was styled back away from his face. Because he was short, I joked that maybe he was Chapo Guzman, the notorious head of a drug cartel.

A little while later the man did a most unusual thing (for here anyway). Daniel returned to our table and said the gentleman would like to buy us drinks. After a brief debate - we'd already had two drinks, did we want another? - we said okay. When our drinks arrived we raised our glasses to the man in a salud/thank you gesture.

Those drinks were barely finished when another round arrived.

Then the man arrived at our table too.

The man spoke no english but no problema because PJ's spanish is really good and all night she'd done a great job translating and keeping me in the conversational loop. One of the things we learned from the man is that he's a lawyer in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.

Monterrey. The city where the attack on the Casino Royale took place.

Um, I don't mean to be overly suspicious but a lawyer with slick clothes and slick hair? Lawyers in Mexico don't make a lot of money. Then again, it depends on who they work for.

So when he invited us to have lunch with him today I had an easy out - too much work. Not sure what PJ decided. But I tell you what, on Sunday I'd watched two different shows on two different channels about the drug cartels in Mexico, so there's no way I'm going to have lunch with a man who looks like he works for a drug lord. Although I'm sure it'd be really interesting. Maybe I can talk PJ into going.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Word of the Day - de cálculos biliares

My neighbors had just returned from their home town, Nacozari, and so I walked over to their house to see how the wife was doing after her gallbladder surgery. All I wanted to do was ask the husband "como esta tu esposa?" because that's about all the conversational spanish I've mastered. I hoped he would give a one-word answer like bien or buena. But nooooooo. He made me go in the house so his wife could give me a personal update on her surgery.

While the wife showed off her surgical incisions, the husband went into the bedroom and returned with the shrink-wrapped gallstone. Yay! a visual aid. I did a lot of exclaiming over its size: muy grande!

The wife talked to me at the normal Mexican conversational speed which is muy rapido. I leaned forward in my chair, trying to pick out a word here and there. I nodded a lot, sighed when I thought it appropriate and hoped I laughed in the right places, you know, not after she'd said something like "I almost died on the table" and I'd go "hahahaha." I think they told me why they went to the hospital in Nacozari and not CIMA in Hermosillo. I think one of their nieces is a nurse. I think.

Story complete, there were hugs and kisses all around. I think I did a fairly good job of faking my understanding of her story. I certainly didn't have to fake how happy I was to have them back in Kino.

Update: Later I ran into the husband when he stopped to greet friends who'd just returned to Kino. He pulled the shrink-wrapped de calculos biliares from his pocket.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Word of the Day - Pronto

I was watering the bougainvillea when he pulled up, car window down, hand tapping the side of the door in a soft rhythm.

"Mi Amor, when are we going to make love?"

Hm, good question.

Last week I decided to play along with this flirtation. I figured if I acted as though I'd actually do it, he'd run screaming into the desert or jump into the sea. Apparently not. Mexican men are not so easily scared away.

I turned off the water and walked over to the car door. "I still want you to do that mural for me," I said. He showed me the sketch he had lying next to him on the car seat.

"When?" He asked.

"Soon. How do you say 'soon' in Spanish?"

"Pronto," he replied. Then "when are we going to make love?"

"Pronto," I responded.

He left a trail of laughter as he drove away.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Inadvertent ExPat

I have many excuses for not knowing Spanish.

It's difficult (muy dificil) to learn a new language when you're older (yo tengo muchos anos).

Especially when you've never studied (no estudio) a foreign language - not in high school, not in college. Nada.

And when you've lived most of your life in Portland, Oregon, and not around a lot of Spanish-speaking people. Had I lived in Tucson, I'd at least be familiar with words (palabras) for the things (cosas) sold at Target - clothes (ropas), shoes (zapatos), furniture (muebles).

And, lastly, is this: I never thought I'd be living in Mexico.

When I first arrived in Kino it was for two weeks, maybe a month. Since then I'm always leaving. Finally it dawned on me: I live here. I'm an expat.

Only took four years for me to come to that realization.

I shouldn't be so hard on myself about the language thing. I've met people from the United States who've lived here for years - 20 years, 30 years - who can't or won't get beyond buenos dias and gracias with maybe a cerveza thrown in. At least I try. I'm doing better and can pick up quite a lot of what is being said as long as it's said slowly and clearly. My vocabulary is growing. Although, really, my head is like a Pez container: it seems I only have room for so many words. When a new word enters, an old word has to pop out.

The words that do stick are words I need, words I've used. Memorization doesn't seem to work. So a word that's stuck is empaque. When replacing the screen in a window I needed that rubber stuff - spline - that is crammed into the track to keep the screen material tight. Here it's called empaque which means packing; I thought it meant rubber. (Back to the books on that one.)

I'm an expat living in Mexico. And as an expat I will make an effort to learn the language. I will continue with my online Spanish course and conversing with the locals. And when I study with a certain unnamed friend, I will not let our lessons devolve into this: