Friday, March 26, 2010

from Mexico

Pedregoza de la Cruz, Sinaloa
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.

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