Wednesday, March 31, 2010
March 30, 2010 evening
Today has been interesting. I woke up early to climb the mountain but there was a miscommunication and no one came to take me. I finally walked over to my uncle’s house where he was reading a newspaper in hammock. I asked him when we were leaving and he said he thought I had asked to climb Thursday. No matter. We’ve made a plan to climb on Thursday and today had enough adventure without mountains and ticks.
Instead of taking me to the mountain my two uncles took me and a few others to their mango fields. Pretty stunning. I heard a story I hadn’t heard before. My biological (dead) grandfather started a war forty years ago to fight for the land my uncles and other locals now own. At the turn of the last century a German man arrived and put up fences and claimed all the lands around here as his. He wouldn’t let anyone farm the land unless they paid him rent. Oh colonialism. My grandfather headed the effort to get the land back for the people and it was finally resolved in 2006, five years after his death. Now my relatives and other people who have lived here for hundreds of years have their land back. My uncles have beautiful mango groves, I would love to see them in early summer when the fruit is ripe.
From the mango orchards we drove down a dirt rode to the river, past fields of chile and the plant they makes brooms from. We stopped to pick some chiles and talk to a few people who turned out to be more relatives. My family has certainly been fruitful. At the river bank we got out of the truck and went to the water, it was cool and running low. We had to walk about 100 yards until we got to the water from where we parked. Ducks few overhead and in the water little fish swam in the current.
When we walked back to the truck my great-uncle Ramón, my dead grandfather’s brother, pointed out a few stones and a concrete well. “This is where your father was born” he told me and it really hit me. I looked around, nothing for miles but fields of chiles and river. There is a family legend about the spirit of the river trying to steal my father when he was an infant. I found out my great-great paternal grandmother was full indian who didn’t speak a word of English. Not so far back. I imagined my father as a baby at that spot and I was hit by far he has come. I had an emotional moment. I’m happy that I can see where he was born and how little things have changed here, how different his life would have been had he stayed. He would probably grow mangos too, and I wouldn’t be here.
We went to another field and one of my uncles had me follow him up a small hill to show me a boulder. The boulder had three large holes bored into it. The boulder was where indians had ground corn for thousands of years. Wow, in the middle of nowhere. Near the boulder was a perfectly flat stone worn smooth as marble, he told that is where they ground nuts and made flour.
After going to the mango fields we went to town briefly and ate, a small meal to hold us over for lunch, which turned into the adventure of the trip so far. We came back to the village and packed my grandparents, my grandfather’s wheelchair, my great-aunt into my Uncle Omar’s Range Rover.
A word about Uncle Omar who is married to my Aunt Silvia, he is a great guy and loves his cars. BMW’s, Jaguars, and now the Range Rover for their trips to Mexico. The RR has four wheel drive, super ballsy bumpers (grills?) and those safari lights, a heavy duty machine for hunting the big five. (Omar spent a couple of hours cleaning it yesterday, polishing it and cleaning every piece of sand out of the carpets.) The rest us got into my Uncle Payín’s 1986 Nissan truck. The town we were going to have lunch in, Chametla, is about 20 minutes away but you have to drive through the river. We took a rope with us in case the little truck got stuck, we figured the Range Rover would pull it out.
We went on the dirt road towards Chametla. I was a little cranky, allergies were bothering me and I haven’t had a really good night’s sleep since I arrived. I was, of course, in the back of the truck with a few others. Our truck entered the river and crossed it, the Range Rover followed. We crested a hill and a large, long muddy puddle was in front of us. No problem, we made it. I was filming and when I turned my camera back I saw the Range Rover stuck. Full stuck. With my grandparents and great-aunt inside. We reversed back and the uncle Omar climbed out his window to the hood. He tossed him a rope and he attached it to his manly bumper. He started moving and the manly bumper fell off. I got it all on video. He retied the rope and we tugged and tugged and finally pulled him out of the mud My grandmother opened her door and muddy water poured out, the car had flooded. We had a good laugh but then the Range Rover wouldn’t start. We had to tow it into Chametla, a little blue nissan hauling a big white Range Rover with a cow rope. I lost my cranky and with all of my laughing my allergies disappeared.
We left the Range Rover to dry out and ate at a place on top of the hill with a strange nautical theme. The restaurant, called Raices, or Roots is an outdoor place, palm thatched roofs ith fishing nets hanging everywhere. From the fishing nets hand the skeletons of all kinds of sea creatures, from dolphins to sea horses. Lite jars also hang from the nets with deformed fish in them. There are two separate two-headed baby sharks, multi-limbed octopi, squid that look like they have human faces. Weirdly beautiful and creepy too. They had delicious seafood. Huge hand-made tortillas that wanted to wrap my body in. We ate shrimp ceviche, raw shrimp with chiles, boiled shrimp and a huge fish, tortillas, rice and beans, beer and the whole things came to $40. Ten people fed for $4 each.
We went to check on the Range Rover and it still wouldn’t start. All 10 us had to pile into the little Nissan. My grandfather was the only one who could fit into the cabin so the rest of us had to squeeze into the back of the truck with my grandfather’s wheelchair. To say it was an adventure would be very nice of me. It would have been an adventure if my poor grandmother and her sister weren’t riding with us. The sun was setting and the air was cool, especially driving fast. To avoid the possibility of getting stuck in the river, we took the long way home, it took us over an hour. I tried to hug my grandmother the entire time but I know she was cold and being brave. Her sister wasn’t brave and complained the entire time. People riding in the back of a truck here isn’t an uncommon sire but we were so packed in that every person we passed gaped at us which cracked me up. We crossed a line of absurdity even by typical Mexican clown car standards. One of my uncles jumped out of the truck just as we rolled into the village so no one would see him. We got home about an hour ago, every one of us drained. I’m sure this is a family story that will be told for a long time. I called my dad and he laughed his ass off.
I would love to go to bed but my bed is the sofa and my aunt and uncle are watching Fox news and there is no way I can be in the same room as that shit. I tried to sit outside but the mosquitos are in a frenzy tonight. I feel like I’ve been here a month. I am ready to go home. I want to take a bath. I want my bed, I want to be able to roll over when I sleep. I want coffee that isn’t powdered. I don’t want to smell like mosquito repellent anymore. A day and half left. I can handle that. I can’t wait to see how my plants have grown. I can’t wait to sink into my memory foam mattress. I can’t wait to hug my parents, gossip with my sisters and joke around with B and Cecil, (if Cecil is even home from Asia yet.) Home will be great.
March 31, 2010
I slept really well most of last night until 5am when some crazy ass neighbor started blaring the Mexican “Happy Birthday” at full blast. It was so loud I felt the bass line vibrating in my chest. I’ve heard about this guy, everyone has been saying that this last week he has been behaving, that usually be blasts music every morning at 5am and wakes up those not already awake. I was livid. I went out to the street and screamed “Asshole! Shut the f up!!!” but I doubt he heard me. I was very sleepy so I put in earplugs and put a pillow over my head but I still heard the music. I finally drifted off to sleep but had violent dreams about attacking the man who ruined my slumber. This is a small village, I wonder how he is permitted to continue with such rude behavior or if no one thinks of confronting him. Confronting people isn’t big here. There are things I just wouldn’t get used to.
No plans today. I’d like to maybe go to the where the river empties into the sea, I’ve heard it is a good place to find pre-Colombian beads. I haven’t put on my bathing suit since I arrived and I doubt I will. I should do a little shopping for things I want to bring home, some oilcloth.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
“Eat a little more, have another beer, then more food. . .”
I’m so full of food I don’t even know how I’m functioning. I can’t stop eating, you wouldn’t either if you were here. (As I wrote that I was blissful. Everyone was taking a nap or otherwise occupied. I was sitting on the front patio with my laptop, listening to a little Elliott and writing. As soon as I finished that second sentence a car drove up, honked and a half dozen relatives showed up and piled out of the car. *sigh ... two hours later. . .) I was full.
This morning we were in Mazatlan. One of my dad’s half-brothers called the hotel and took us all out for breakfast. We ate at a little outdoor place in the center of town, we ate bowls of borrego, big-horned sheep. After the soup they served sizzling piles of sheep meat with fresh tortillas and salsa. Pretty effen delicious; I completely ignored the doctor’s orders to eat fruit. I can eat fruit every day. I’m sure my stomach doesn’t like my choices but it will get over it. Maybe. As we ate all this traditional handmade food the owner of the restaurant put on a Miley Cyrus CD. I shit you not. Old world on a crash course with the new and awful.
After breakfast we drove around Mazatlan. I was annoyed because my half-uncle insisted taking us to a beach he said we would love. He took us to a resort. Wow. A resort. A tiled pool, a sterilized version of Mexico with bottled mineral water everywhere and employees in matching uniforms. I had a flashback of my hell weekend at Sandal’s in Jamaica. I do not like resorts. I do not like cruise ships. I don’t like my experiences pre-packaged for easy digestion, there is no real living in that. We were almost sucked into a time-share presentation. My cranky came out. I wanted to get back to the ranch since we had plans to eat lunch with my grandparents.
We finally got back to the ranch and after much wasted time (so American of me to keep thinking of that; time isn’t wasted here; it is passed, rolled around, digested. . ) We went to the beach about 20 miles away. I got to ride in the back of the pick-up, thrilled. I love driving through rural Mexico, passing fields and orchards. Huerta means orchard. I am Miss Orchard. Minus the fertility and fruit flies. We passed through a couple of small villages on our way to the beach, everyone waved when we rolled past. How freaking cool.
At the beach we (all 12 of us) sat at long tables under a palm-thatched roof and ate. And ate. And ate. We started with shredded crab served with tostadas. I had to convince myself not to eat too many. Then platters of boiled shrimp we peeled and ate with lime and chile. The the fish arrived. Whole fish cut in half, covered in salt and garlic then cooked over at open flame. I overate but didn’t care and kept eating. I had to get up and go for a couple of walks to try to relax my stomach. Then I are some more. Finally I was so full I started aching.
The beach we ate at is my idea of an ideal beach. No buildings, only little thatched-roof huts selling food. The beach is very locals only, people swim in shorts and t-shirts. Most people bring their own food and make a day of it, sitting under thatched huts that would never pass building inspection at home, four poles and a few palm fronds for shade. This is the Mexico I love. Not that touristy hell, no souvenir shops, no one trying to sell me time-shares or any of that commercial crap. The sand isn’t raked, iguanas sun themselves, the smell of wood-smoke. Musicians wander from group to group playing requested love and drinking songs; two guitars, an accordion and slightly off-key harmonizing.
On our way back home I rode with my uncle Piyín, I met him the day I arrived and he is the one giving me the most shit for not being married. I saw a for sale sign on a lot of land by the mountain we’re climbing later in the week. He said the lot is about $7000 but the land was bad for farming. I told him I don’t want to be a farmer but it would be nice to have a few acres somewhere. I pointed out another mountain with a sheer rock face and asked him if anyone around rock-climbed. He said no and asked me I did, I told him I’ve tried it. A man on a beautiful horse rode by and I mentioned I love horseback riding. Piyín asked me how I had time to know how to do so many things, and work, and travel. I told him I have all the time in the world because I’m not married. Score!! Points!!! He finally shut up about it! At least for today,
Going to sit outside with my glass of wine and look at the moon There are stars out. Holy week has started and all the kids are home from school, the streets are filled with children running back and forth playing soccer and other games. Pretty damn beautiful.
March 29 2010
Morning, with mosquitos and fog.
I woke up early this morning and went for a walk with my aunt. The morning was still a little chilly, we walked about a mile and a half south down the road to a bridge. Empty trucks passed us, later this afternoon they’ll return full to overflowing with chiles and jicama. The sun rose and the dew began to turn into the steam. The mango groves near the side around the world took on a ghost-like quality; clouds of mosquitos rose out of the standing water at the side of the road. (Many of their brethren made a feast of my body last night, going to get another B vitamin injection today, they don’t like the smell of vitamins.) The mountain I’ll climb Wednesday had a crown of fog around the top. I saw a few dead frogs on the side of the road. Every few minutes cars would pass, the drivers always honked and passengers waved.
Last night I was somehow hungry again and my grandmother and I walked down the street to a little roadside stand. I met even more relatives, cousins from my grandmother’s grandmother and their offspring. A man had a steel drum grill and was cooking. I ordered more food than I needed, 3 quesadillas and 3 choreados, thick corn tortillas with melted cheese, meat and vegetables. They also gave me a plate pull of cucumbers, salsa and guacamole, the whole thing cost less than $4. I met a distant cousin who lives in Tijuana. I brought the food back and ate only a little, I’ll share the leftovers for breakfast when my grandmother wakes up.
I love the serenity of the mornings here, once the uncles have gone to the milking and the trucks have all passed. Birds call back and forth to each other, church bells ring. Little lizards that live on the ceiling make sharp clicking noises. There is a man who lives across the street who has unfortunate habit of playing his jukebox (no shit) at full volume when he wakes up, thankfully he isn’t awake yet and I only have to listen to birds and bells instead of Los Bukis.
A calf was born yesterday. I’ll go visit this afternoon. In a couple of hours my uncle Piyín is taking me to town to see the Museum. For less than 80 cents I can look at archeological artifacts, dresses from a famous dead singer and ancient mining equipment. I’m going to buy some oilcloth to take home. There is a man in town who sells fresh oysters and I’ve been dying to have some. I’ve only seen men eating at his stand and wonder if there is another cultural things I don’t know about. I remember once talking to a Mexican uncle and mentioning I love oysters and he said “I can’t believe your father lets his daughter eat oysters.” Hm.
Monday March 29, 2010 afternoon
“Where have you saved your shining paper?”
I am so tired. So, so tired. It has been a great day so far. This morning we went into town and hung out at the town museum for a little while. Rosario was a mining town in the 1600’s and the museum showcases the town’s history, from the indians, to the colonialists to the revolution to now. They had a display of pre-Columbian artifacts. (I may know someone who may have a better collection and that person may feel guilty knowing she has a better collection than the museum sitting on her dresser at home . .) I sat in the hacienda style courtyard and chatted with a historian. He told me no one is town really cares about the preservation of history and many very old houses are knocked down to build more modern houses. Bummer.
We went to the ruins of one church where bees have built hives in the bell towers. The stones were removed from the old church to build the new church. There are poems waiting for me in all these experiences. We went to where the old mines were; when the mines were abandoned they flooded with later and now a large lagoon is in the middle of town, surrounded by trees. Turtles and fish swim in the lagoons and a rope bridge is suspended between the town and a little island that remains in the center of the lagoon. There are tables and chairs and a little plaza on one side of the lagoon. I could see myself hanging out there with a book and basket of food.
We went to the market where my uncles made fun of me for buying a large hemp bag. The bags are used for packing corn and chiles but I thought the bag would make a nice wall-hanging. I also bought a couple of hemp slings. Tomorrow we’re going to the river and uncle is going to show me how to sling stones. I may take an eye out. On Wednesday when we climb the mountain we’re taking a rifle and my uncle is going to teach me to shoot.
We stopped at a little roadside stand to eat campechanas, seafood cocktails. Holy Triton goodness. The cocktails come in tall glasses; hot broth with cucumbers, cooked shrimp, octopus, oysters and raw scallops (I love raw scallops, they make me want to do naked backflips into the sea, singing.) I added chile and lime and devoured mine. It tastes like emotional home. I remember coming to Mexico as a child and my father convincing me to eat seafood when I was skeptical. He told me I could taste the ocean in the seafood. I can and I still do.
I rode around in the back of the truck again and am many shades darker. I may have to limit my truck riding to the early or late hours.
When we got back to the ranch I made cheese. Yeah, I made cheese! Pretty easy except for ingredients, I don’t have fresh, raw milk around and I definitely don’t have any salted cow udders to help the milk coagulate. My aunt Conchi told me that I have cheese making hands, that some people’s hands are too hot and they cook the cheese. Yay for poor circulation! After making cheese I made dulce de leche, a milk custard. I’m becoming domesticated.
My aunt Lily is going home in a few. I’ve enjoyed having her with me. Her Spanish isn’t as good as mine, which is weird, since it was her first language. But as one of my uncles says “Everyone knows Lily isn’t white except Lily.” Her mistakes in Spanish are cracking me up. Her most common mistake is the word “Dad.” Accents are very important in Spanish. “Dad” is PaPAH. Papá. She keeps saying PAHpa. Potato. “My potato was very good to me. I love my potato. Oh my poor potato may have gout, I have to take my potato to the clinic. My potato lost a finger in world war two.” People are polite but I laugh at her. She also doesn’t remember anyone’s name so she calls everyone primo, cousin. My uncle turned to me and said “Doesn’t she know I’m her brother?” My favorite mistake she made today at the market. She was looking for aluminum foil. She asked “Where do you save your shining paper?” The clerk looked at her like she was crazy and my other aunt and I cracked up. Good times.
March 29, 2010
“You’re body is reacting to the moon, just like the mosquitos.”
Oh life in a small village. I don’t know if I could get used to it. Too small really. It seems the entire village knows I had stomach problems since everyone keeps asking me how my stomach is doing. Fine, I keep telling them. They keep asking. I can’t get used to the constant social interaction, people come over constantly. I tried to do some reading this evening and every time I went in to another room, someone followed me. I sat outside in the dark and people saw my silhouette and came to talk to me. I walked down the street to look at the full moon in peace and cousins came out of their houses to join me.
Not having any solitude is my idea of hell. But, there is a beauty in it. Someone is always looking out, watching, making sure everyone is accounted for. No one here is isolated. I have a great-uncle with dementia and he wanders from house to house, everyone feeds him and takes care of him. There is a distant cousin they call Pulgas or “Fleas” (I don’t ask why) who is mentally challenged. He doesn’t know his age or his real name and he is as simple as they come but he is included in everything. I enjoy his company, maybe because he doesn’t talk, he just grins.
We’re going to climb the mountain tomorrow instead of Wednesday. My grandmother isn’t happy about it. She thinks I’m going to fall off the mountain. I’m worried most about ticks. We’re leaving right after the cows are milked. I’m going with 3 uncles. From what I hear the mountain isn’t that hard to climb, the whole town climbs it every May 4th. I asked my uncles if we could climb the mountain on Thursday, since my plane doesn’t leave until evening but they said no one can do anything on Holy Thursday. Except talk, of course, and drink. It makes the Jesus happy.
I’m a little lonely. As much as I like my solitude I miss being around people who know me as I am. I’m with family here, they’ve known me my entire life and who I was growing up. . .but who I am now, not so much. I miss my parents, sisters and B, especially B and our rituals and companionship. There are only so many conversations I can have here that pique my interest wholly. I love hearing family legends and such but there is a lot of meaningless gossip. I don’t care that grandma’s sister is yelling at that little boy not because he is misbehaved but because his grandfather broke her heart more than fifty years ago. I care a little because that kind of dynamic is interesting but the going on and on about it. Yeesh.
I do enjoy the folklore and reasons behind things. Tonight the moon is full, my Uncle Jaime, (who I am endlessly fascinated by, I wish I could draw so I could draw his face, he has more character than almost anyone I’ve ever met) told me the mosquitos will be crazy and I will be a little crazy. And not to go walking alone. As if that were even possible, a solitary walk.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Friday March 26 2010
“I Will Pray You Find Someone to Love You.”
Ten at night here at the ranch. Outside a mariachi band is playing, a couple dozen relatives are still here, drinking two buck chuck and beer. My grandfather spruced up and has been enjoying glass after glass of wine, often with beer chasers. The food was delicious tonight; we had shrimp tamales, a shrimp salad, refried beans with fresh hunks of homemade cheese melting in them, they were so decadent I wanted to drown myself in them and I definitely overate. I ate shrimp for lunch as well. My cholesterol is freaking out I’m sure.
Relatives abound. My biological grandfather, Lencho, (not the one whose birthday we’re celebrating), had dozens of children with half a dozen women. Tonight I met seven half-aunts and uncles and cousins I’ve never met before, from three different mothers. I look like them, which is weird since I don’t look at all like the family I know. One uncle told me I’m pure Huerta, which according to some people in my family, I shouldn’t take as a compliment since my grandfather was a bigamist and had moments of being somewhat cruel. Another aunt told me there are at least four more Elizabeth Huertas besides me. I have a cousin I’m meeting later in the week who is supposed to look like my twin.
When I was growing up I was twig-thin. I was always being force fed. Now that I’m in my thirties there is nothing wrong with my appetite and I have filled out. Now, of course, everyone is warning me against getting fat. I try not to roll my eyes at them. That is everyone’s second favorite topic
with me. The other is the obvious problem of my refusal to breed. One cousin of my fathers, a man I don’t particularly care for, held my hand and told me very seriously he would pray for someone to love me. I really wanted to tell what he would do with his prayers but when I’m here, the good girl in me attempts to come out.
At the party tonight I was torn. There are women’s tables and men’s tables. I sat with the women who gossiped and clucked away about things I don’t care about. That is, when we weren’t refilling drinks and serving and clearing. The men’s table included an uncle who is writing a book on the family and I really wanted to talk to him but it would have been inappropriate to sit with the men and deny them their manhood, if that makes any sense. The lines here are clearly defined. It isn’t something I care for but I try my best not to fuck up cultural norms any more than I already do.
I’ve been here a little more than 24 hours and I’m already at my saturation point of human contact. I spend a lot of time alone at home and I miss my psychic space. Today we went to town, came back to the ranch then went to town again. I got my hair cut and shopped with my grandmother and aunts for the party tonight. When we got back I snuck away to take a power nap since I was up at 5 to milk the cows and make tortillas (I don’t think I’ll tire of saying that, I feel so authentic). The other women prepared for the party. Kind of showed my bad daughter face but I needed to recharge. I’m exhausted and having digestive problems that are adding to my fatigue.
We’re heading to Mazatlan tomorrow for one night, to eat seafood and hang out in the old part of the city. I have more cousins to meet. I may spring for my own hotel room just so I can be alone. And wash my hair since here the shower dribble barely enough water to lather up my body, let alone my mane.
Time moves slowly here. I remember when I lived in Mexico before I loved how time dawdled along. But I was living in a dynamic town. There were things to do, I could go for walks, explore, sit in hot springs. I had people to talk with, friends with common interest. Here I’m somewhat limited. There really isn’t anything to do. Going into town is kind of an ordeal and I psnt half an hour at the internet cafe just posting a blog entry I had already written. An uncle (or cousin?) is bringing by a book of poetry tomorrow by a local author. Maybe I’ll spend some time translating.
I have my headphones on. Listening to Jeff Buckley. I’ll day dream the night away I hope, until the mariachi pack up and leave and the roosters begin their nocturnal calling. I’ll steal these few moments of solitude while the family imbibes and sings along.
Saturday March 27, 2010
“Oh, you’re sitting alone with a book? You must want me to talk to you. . .”
Ten in the morning here at the ranch and music is blasting. We just ate a huge breakfast of chilaquiles, leftover beans, fresh cheese and eggs. Last night I holed myself away until the crowd left around 1am. I woke up early this morning, before anyone else and took my coffee and journal out to the front patio to have a little solitude and writing time. Wrong move. As soon as I went outside, our next-door neighbors, a cousin and his friend, saw me and decided to pay a social visit. They sat int the rocking chairs and started blah-blah-ing about this and that while I feigned interest. Soon another uncle passed and joined us. The cooler was still full of beer from last night and they all opened beers. More relatives arrived. I don’t even remember what they were talking about I was so frustrated. I really have to get it into my head that no one here likes to be alone, therefore when someone is sitting alone, it is an open invitation for company. The rest of the house woke up and joined and part two of the party last night is well underway.
I escaped and have been sitting the corner with my laptop and headphones on. I tried to read but then they put the boom box on. I put on my headphones and told everyone I had work to do. I started a couple of poems and like what I have so far. I would love to sit outside in a rocking chair but I just don’t feel like talking to anyone. My grandmother and aunts have started making fun of me, since I keep going from room to room in search of solitude. Here at the ranch social interaction is everything. In the “olden days” familial ties were key to survival and the tradition remained. A cousin I haven’t seen in ten years came over last night and she insisted in holding my hand. We knew each other as kids but family is family. She, like everyone else, wanted to have the same tired conversation about my wholly incomprehensible life choices.
I guess its kind of funny. Even now, I’m in the corner with my back to the room with my headphones on, writing, with a big book open next to me. Cousins show up and come sit on the floor to ask what I’m doing. I will bite the bullet. I will interact. Bah!!!
Saturday March 27, 2010 Afternoon
“Graveyards and cows, with a side of beer” or “You should have been born a man”
(As I write this I’m munching on a bowl of dried shrimp with chile and lime. Washed down with yet another beer)
Four in the afternoon and I’ve had maybe a dozen beers since 11. Things run on a different time line here, and a different level of sobriety are acceptable. Around 11 this morning I wanted to run down the street to my Aunt Conchi’s store to buy some some cigarettes to see if nicotine would end my intestinal blockade. My aunts Lily and Silvia came with me. Conchi is married to my half-uncle Piyín. At the store my Great-Uncle Ramón was chilling in a hammock. We started talking about my dead grandfather and suddenly everyone wanted to go to the graveyard to see him. Graveyards are big here. I thought we would swing by, stand around, pay our respects and jet. I was wrong.
Before we even left for the graveyard I knew things were going to be interesting. I went sent back to grandmother’s house to get a cooler full of beer. We climbed into the back of my Uncle Piyín’s truck and picked up my Uncle Jaime who was buying food. We rode to the graveyard. A note: I LOVE riding in the backs of trucks. There is nothing like it in the world. The graveyard is about five minutes from the village and I enjoy every second with the wind in my hair. I downed two beers before we even got the graveyard and my uncle Jaime told me I am pure Huerta, more on that later. At the graveyard we took our cooler full of beer, plates and cups and went to to sit in front my my dead grandfather;s tomb. The uncle have built a little straw hut in front of it so they can come and drink with my grandfather. What a freaking great tradition. It was hot and we drank beer after beer and ate tostadas with fresh raw scallops, shrimp and octopus. I pulled out my tape recorder and recored a great conversation about family history and all the wives my grandfather had (HACK!! HACK!! I just accidentally ate a spiky shrimp head. Ouch!) I found out my great-grandfather wasn’t from this area originally, he arrived during the revolutionary war around 1913 and fell in love with a local and stayed. We cleaned my grandfather’s grave and visited one of his wife’s tombs.
After the graveyard my uncles had to go to the cows. I had a good buzz on by this time and went happily with them. When we arrived at the pasture I leapt out of the back of the truck, found the baby cow I had to feed and bottle fed him like an expert. (His mom head butted my hand and gashed open my finger with her horn, but I still have too much alcohol in my veins to feel it but it has bled a lot). After I fed the calf, my uncle Jaime gave me a syringe and I freaking helped inject a cow’s teats. I have a way with animals. One of my uncles patted me on the back and told me it was a pity I wasn’t born a man since I am so good with livestock and more Huerta than Huerta. They say I should marry a farmer. Another uncle told me I should just move to the ranch and help them since their children all move away. Happy and full of booze I shrugged. As long as I’m active and not stuck at the house, I’m happy.
I’m back at my grandmother’s house. Everyone is eating tamales. My grandmother scolded me because I “let myself get so dark, like an indian.” I’m wearing SPF 80. Not much I can do about my genes, grandma, I tan easily. We’re leaving for Mazatlan in a few to go to a party. Tomorrow we’re going to a town called Chametla to eat seafood and hang out. I’m still awed at how long the days last here. If I were at home a week would have passed since I woke up. There are no clocks hrer, I only know what time it is when I open my laptop. I called B this morning to say hello and my dad has called several times but other than that I have no contact with the outside world. I’m content. Not overly happy and I’m sure I’ll get cranky again before my time here is done but for now I’m relaxed.
Friday, March 26, 2010
March 25, 2010
My first night at the ranch, as my family calls it, El Rancho. My aunt Lily and I flew out of Tijuana this afternoon and had a really good time drinking at the Tijuana airport bar before our flight and we slept most of the way to Mazatlan. My dad’s cousin Carlos picked us up a the airport and since it was nearing sunset, we hauled ass to the ranch. At night the roads are dangerous, there have been many kidnappings and shootings. On our way to the ranch, an hour from Mazatlan, Carlos told us his take on the violence and the history of violence as he understood it. Not something I feel particularly safe writing about.
We arrived at my grandmother’s house. The land has been in the family for generations but my grandmother had this new house built last year. Tonight was the first night I saw the house and it is pretty nice. In front is a large covered patio with rocking chairs and tables, I can see myself spending a lot of time out there. There is a large front room with a couple of sofas, the kitchen is on one side. There are two bedrooms, one for my grandparents and another for guests. Another aunt and uncle arrived here today so my aunt Lily and I have to sleep on the sofas.
When we arrived several relatives were already here and more arrived. This house is kind of an open house for the village. People were in and out all night, my dad’s cousin Carmen cooked for everyone. Shrimp tacos, one of my favorite foods ever. Things are done differently here. After saying hello to everyone and meeting some relatives whose names I’ve already forgotten, I served myself a plate of shrimp tacos. I went to pour the caldo over them and Carmen hissed at me. Sssssst! I’ve been eating shrimp tacos my entire life but tonight I learned that you put the cabbage on the taco before pouring any sauce on them. Fuck that up and you get hissed at.
My grandfather looks really bad. I’ve never seen him like this. He’ll be 85 tomorrow. He survived WWII and is missing a finger from it. He is old and tired. He didn’t even react when I walked in the door. I sat with him and talked to him a lot but he was tired and didn’t want to talk. I think he may be ready, but he has looked ready before and spruced up. My grandmother is happy here but worried about him, understandably. This is the town she is from. Her brothers and sisters live nearby and every day they come by to gossip and be fed.
I met a couple of my father’s half brothers who are old-school. Within a few moments of meeting them they were asking me if I had a husband and when I was planning on filling the house with kids. I blah blah’d my way out of it. But after they got over my old-maided-ness they promised me great adventures. In the morning we’re milking cows. One of these nights we’re going to look for armadillos at night, my headlamp was a cause for great excitement. This weekend we’re going to climb the local mountain. There are ruins up there, are carvings,. My half-uncles say they need to erect a cross because in a few weeks the entire village will make a pilgrimage to the mountain top and the cross must be raised. They are also taking me to meet another half-uncle who has excavated
many pre-Colombian figurines and beads.
My favorite part of the evening was when I told the half-uncles that Mars was highly visible. We stood outside and they pointed out constellations. They pointed out Orion and described the constellation instead as an old indian man casting a net over fish. I described Orion as I always knew him and they said they liked the idea of the archer better, it was easier to see. They pointed out the eyes of a saint and a few other things I’ve already forgotten. One told a funny story about how he was hunting for armadillos and a wild boar in heat ran past him with half a dozen males grunting. It was funny in the telling because he made very authentic sound effects.
There is cable tv here which is annoying since my aunt and uncle who are visiting from the states enjoy having it on. I dislike loud television ad I dislike Fox news, which they like. I may have to spend a lot of time on the front patio. My grandmother says not to turn the television past channel 500 since they do ugly things on those channels. I wonder if I should remind her she has a large family because she was once fond of doing ugly things.
One of my great uncles wasn’t around tonight since he planted corn and has to sleep in the field to set off firecrackers to keep the crows away. He’s 74 years old.
It’s not even 10 at night and everyone is going to bed. The town is on the main road and trucks are passing. I’m glad I brought earplugs. I hope to collect a lot of stories.
March 26, 2010
Don’t Let the Cow Slap Your Face with Her Shit-Crusted Tail While You Milk Her
This morning I woke up at 5am to milk cows. My dad’s half-brothers have several cows right outside of town and they took me, and my aunt and uncle with them. It was super early, the sun hadn’t even come up and it was chilly. Gorgeous. We rode in the back of a pick-up truck to the field where the cows graze; my uncles shouted Whoa! Whoahhh! and the cows came running. Pretty rad. The baby cows were penned up and their mamas bellowed around, their udders swollen. We released the baby cows one by one, let them suckle for a minute then my uncles would push the calves away and milk their moms, their udders soft with baby cow saliva. I milked one cow and was thrilled with the experience. I don’t really like milk but wanted to feel what it was like to squeeze the udder. I, of course, squirted milk all over myself by accident and they teased me mercilessly. I hand-fed one of the calfs, Benito Juarez, he was named after the first indigenous president of Mexico since the beast was born on his birthday last week. The calf’s mama won’t release any milk. I fed him two bottles full while his mom stood by and bellowed. I asked my uncles what will happen if she doesn’t produce any milk and they say they will send her to slaughter since she is worthless for breeding. Crazy, but real. Once his bottles were finished, my uncles had to tend to some other work in the field and I stood with Benito and let him suckle my fingers. When we left Benito tried to suckle his mom but no milk came.
After the cows were tended (I phrase I never thought would come out of me. . .) we went to my Uncle Piyin’s house for breakfast. We’re in Lent so we can’t eat any meat, since it would be like eating Christ. Ahem. My Aunt Conchi gave me a bucket of nixtamal to grind for tortillas. I felt super-hip. People in Brooklyn would love this shit. Grinding corn is not easy but I did it. Then we mixed maseca into the masa and made tortillas. She fried fish for breakfast, my uncle caught them yesterday. I don’t know if it was because I had already been awake for 4 hours and was super-hungry, or if because everything was so fresh, but breakfast was delicious. In a couple of hours I’m back over to their house to make cheese. They took two cow udders yesterday and filled them with salt and hung them to dry. Today we’ll cut up the cow udders and add them to the boiling milk to make cheese. Should be an interesting day.
This is what my life would be like if my family had never left. I would milk cows. I would have babies. I would grind corn and make tortillas. I would slaughter my own animals and wear sensible shoes. I would drink powdered coffee.
The house is being set-up for my grandfather’s birthday party tonight. He’s 85 today. We’re having shrimp tamales. No meat, no eating Christ until after Easter. There is a tent set-up in the yard. Cases of beer are being delivered and gallons of tequila. I guess the Jesus bunny doesn’t care if you get shit-faced during lent, as long as you don’t eat his flesh. There are a few young cousins around, excited to hang out. We’re going into town in a while, I’m going see if I can pot this. And I’m getting a vitamin B shot at the pharmacy, for energy and since I know a lot of alcohol will be consumed tonight. I have a mosquito bite, so far, just one.