Drugs, Doctors and Hot Potatoes
December has zoomed by faster than a speeding bullet, which is an apt analogy for Mexico, since the top two fears raised by my Canadian friends are the ongoing drug wars and health care. Of course, there are serious drug wars in Mazatlan’s state of Sinaloa, but they are not visible to us. Apart from the policemen’s AK47s, we never see gangs, guns, knives or any devious drug deals. I’m sure, high in the hills of Mazatlan, some drug lord is laughing hysterically at my observations, as he pats his pit bull and sips on his single malt; but I don’t sense, or perceive any danger ever. I feel safer on the streets of Mazatlan than I do in Toronto. As long as I look down.
What happens when you get sick? Well, I can tell you. In December we made an appointment to meet our new doctor, Dr. Levid Torres Guzman, known to everyone as Dr. Levid Torres. Dr. Levid has a morning and an evening clinic in Centro, and on Saturday mornings. It appears he takes Sundays off. The receptionist, Rosie, is efficient and duly records our appointment time. It means absolutely nothing. The clinic operates on a first come, first serve basis. Dr. Levid is a warm, wise man with Native American and Jewish blood, born in Mazatlan and trained in California. We both like him immediately. A consultation is $25 and the poorer Mexicans pay him in peanuts… literally, I saw a basket of peanuts being ushered into his office. I become very sick; the kind of bedridden sick where I can’t leave my buckets. Soren speed walks to the clinic and when Dr. Levid’s last patient leaves, he locks his office door and visits me at Villa Serena. I get a shot in the rump, along with a couple of scripts; it’s $25 US too for a house call, including the shot.
Weeks later I have a relapse, but by then, I have gathered additional information. Walk-in laboratories are on every street corner and open at 7 a.m. You don’t need a requisition to get results. Answers to the test are given within two hours. I take “my poop” to the lab, and deliver the lab report to Dr. Levid. Within four hours I have a new script, and am on the road to health. The most expensive lab analysis bill is US$16. The medical system is simply better, more efficient and faster than in Toronto. Access to doctors is much greater, and most of the doctors make house calls. In Mazatlan you can pretty much solve your minor ailments within hours. The medical superiority is totally unexpected and the system here gives the control back to you. I am never kept at arm’s length, like a mushroom in the dark. Information is readily shared with me, the patient. When I see Dr. Levid he never rushes me, and he even takes the time to share his theory as to why so many northerners experience intestinal difficulties in Mexico. To be fair, he did say it is a bit like the sighting of Big Foot. No doctor can ever really be sure, but he suspects the culprit is raw food. Such as salsa sauce or guacamole, which sit around in lazy restaurants and gets recycled over time. And, of course, the Mazatlan specialty, ceviche. Ceviche is a selection of raw fish “cooked” in fresh lime juice. It’s not cooked at all, it’s just marinated. My gut knows that it was a ceviche dish which caused my second intestinal bout. I am enjoying trying all the different foods and I am eating from the local food carts, but I am following Dr. Levid’s advice: no more raw food. Which leads me to our hot potato night.
There is a food stall two blocks from Villa Serena which sells baked potatoes and tortillas. My tumultuous tummy is finally calm, so we head over to Hildago Square to sample the wares. Every night at 7 p.m. Soledad and her family arrive with their cooking supplies and she spends 30 minutes organizing: lighting the grills, arranging her corn flour, avocados, radishes, cucumbers, salsa sauce, and by 7:30 she is ready to serve her customers. Soledad is the mistress of multi-tasking, the queen of short order chefs; she’s poetry in motion. Two food carts are set up: one contains her dough, a wooden tortilla press and a flat gas grill. The other cart houses a charcoal grill, which is piled high with baked potatoes. In front of the grill are a myriad of toppings. Except, they aren’t really toppings as Soledad embeds them, buries the mixtures deep inside the potatoes. She mixes the tortilla dough in a large plastic bucket, plops the lump onto a well- loved wooden press, pulls the lever down, and the large vise flattens and rounds out the dough into a perfect pancake shape. The raw dough is then shifted to the flat grill. She flips the tortillas again and again. Now they are ready for the toppings: cheese, onions, beans, salsa, cream, butter, chicken or shredded beef. Mums, teenagers, surfers and kids pick and choose and Soledad adds the toppings, rolls up the tortilla, and puts the entire yummy package in tin foil for her customers to take home, or to devour at the picnic table beside this happy outdoor kitchen. I want a la papa (potato) and after much deliberation I select cheese, onions and chicken for my toppings. It takes awhile to communicate my wishes with my awful tourist moves, like flapping my wings to say chicken. I do know the Spanish words for all these foods, but my accent is apparently so appalling it’s not ringing any bells with chef Soledad. Granny is proudly sporting an apron which reads, “The Kitchen Bitch,” so some English is clearly understood. Or, perhaps Granny has no idea of the meaning of her apron slogan.
Beef is sizzling on the grill, and then shredded like butter with a large axe Soledad wields with precision. I thought Papa would have that role, but no, that’s women’s work. The entire time she’s flipping tortillas, turning the meat, mashing potatoes, chatting, laughing and shouting “Hola, chicos” to regular customers who pass by her stall. She mushes all the delicious toppings into my potato, pops a tortilla on top, like a tiny hat, to keep it warm. Soledad then re-packs it in tin foil and throws it on the hot grill so all the tastes can meld together. Soren and I return to our rooftop and unwrap the shiny parcels like precious Christmas presents. It’s divine; simply a sea of comfort flavours, all for less than US$3. Just what the doctor ordered.
My Mexican Moments was written between December 2008 and February 2011. The editing process took place in the summer of 2013. A note on style: All Mexican and other states and cities are consistently in English; I have not included the accents. For instance, if I were in Copenhagen, and I launched CopenhagenLife, that’s what it would be called; not KøbenhavnLife. People’s names, streets, buildings and everything else have accents, except for the Malecon. It really should be malecón, and there is not a reason in the world why it takes an upper case m, or why I dropped the accent. It’s a five- year goof and I’ll continue to maintain the error.
Imagine waking up one morning as one of those newly retired people and realizing that you are able to go anywhere you want in the world. Once the Madsens decide the seaside town of Mazatlan is going to be where they want to put down roots, the adventure begins. My Mexican Moments chronicles their moving challenges from Toronto, dealing with having a condo built from scratch (and where to live in the meantime), various travel escapades and so much more. Madsen shares insights into many things, such as the superior health care system, how Mexicans are not all lazy like that horrid stereotype and various celebrations. You will be immersed in Mexican culture and given vivid glimpses into personalities that will make you want to hop a plane and visit immediately. Part memoir, part travel guide, you will laugh, learn and fall in love with the people and the culture.
Dedication: To Soren Martinus Madsen, mi vida. What’s next?
Epilogue, July 2013
Cover art: This is an original painting by a young Mazatleca artist, Rosangela Osuna Meza. She named it “Tan sol oro,” or it’s a very exciting hair day for Marie Antoinette. I saw this painting in a group show in the upstairs gallery of the Angela Peralta Theatre. In a typical Mexican fashion it took 13 e mails to agree upon a price. This delightful painting has been hanging on our wall since February 2013.
Alfredo Herrera Martinez has fully recovered and has never smoked again. His wife, Miriam, was diagnosed with breast cancer but for the last year she’s had a clean medical report. Our fingers are crossed. We’ve been to two weddings, Paloma, and Paula, and attended a third wedding on July 6th of their only son, Alfredo. There’s another big fiesta on September 7; Alfredo’s 70th birthday party. He didn’t want it, but the children did. He still comes to our condo every Monday and Thursday – for coffee, cookies and conversation.
Warren Holder has now retired from University of Toronto. He’s surrounded by friends and women eager to spend time with him. He’s also happy on his own. Juan is thinking about spending more weeks in Mazatlan; I await his decision.
Jesus Lizarraga sold his taxi permit, his van and his son graduated from the Naval Academy this month. He does the occasional private tour, but is now busy making dough in his pizza restaurant, Mi Casita Pizza on Melchor Ocampo, 910 1158. Jesus and his wife, Letty, have given me a real gift – they’ve perfected a gluten- free pizza crust.
Rosemary continues to experience medical problems with her knee and travels between Mazatlan and Toronto. I didn’t know her very well in Toronto and we embraced different routes in Mazatlan. For a small town, we never run into each other.
Gina and Patricia never returned to Mazatlan.
Jackie Peterson, A&E writer for Pacific Pearl was tragically killed in the Tucson, Arizona on March 20, 2012. In September of 2012, MazatlanLife supplied its A&E calendar to Pacific Pearl, free of charge. Pacific Pearl sends their readers (in print and online) to MazatlanLife. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and it exists today.
Rick and Joan are wonderful friends. Joan doesn’t like to e mail, but we do catch up every November when they return to Mazatlan from Austin and New Hampshire.
Kevin and Linda are wonderful friends too. They’ve built an extension on their Stone Island casita. Window companies researched, problem not resolved, glass still not included. We are meeting them for three weeks in August 2013, in Mexico City. Kevin won’t be playing the blues, nor supervising any construction projects; we may actually have more time with them in DF. Kevin has stopped smoking cigars.
Rita Markland and Allen Coombs are excellent neighbours. Rita is a woman of style and many talents. I always look forward to their return from Kingston in October.
G1, the developer, has turned his energy to The Culinary Market. The baker, Héctor Peniche moved his ovens from his restaurant, Molika, to the larger space at The Culinary Market. Krema opened July 4, 2013. More expansion plans are on the drawing board. This will absolutely become a destination.
Our condo, Vue Centro Historico. I have no facts, but the rumour is “there are very few condos left.” The person to ask is Shaun Klynstra, Shaun@solutionsmazatlan.com; he manages all the rentals and sales. There are two developers and they’ve traded properties like a monopoly game. I do not know the arrangements, or who owns what units. Five years ago this was to be a boutique condo. Today it’s full of renters and one of the partners installed a bed and breakfast on the first floor. The summer and fall of 2012 was once again filled with dust and construction noise. Five cans of paint – green, orange, blue, white, and red were opened in November, walls painted but the project has never been completed in the lobby. Or has it? Three “photo art” four- foot paints are stacked against a wall; it appears no one wishes to hang them. A bookcase was made and installed. There’s a large pool table resting in the centre of the common room like a giant whale, 13 chairs, four tables and a large-screen tv that no longer works. One of the partners terminated the cable service. The cleaning staff is diligent and we couldn’t ask for a better admin person, Rodolfo Kelly. Should we have bought in December of 2008? Even with hindsight I can’t answer that question. If another condo pops up in Centro with a fabulous view, we’d take a serious look. Would we get our money back on our one bedroom? Have no idea.
G2, project manager on Vue Centro Historico, has returned to Vancouver and is selling real estate.
Dr. Juan Jamie Diaz Rivas is still our dentist. He moved offices and the deer and the antelope and the guns did not make the move. I never did have a conversation about his “art.”
Pepe’s Pedregoso Palace only grows. He’s converted his sister’s house into rental units. I hear nothing but praise. His fishing business is growing too, so the pesos are flowing and all renters seemed pleased with his response time.
Silvia Vega’s, the seamstress in the peppermint green house, business is booming. She just stopped by the condo and picked up eight pair of pants to be shortened. Silvia likes to get away from Pedregoso and make house calls.
Jaziel from the laundry is at university training to be a helicopter technician. When he can’t pick up our laundry, José does, and when he can’t Alberto does. It’s a cast of thousands but Machado lavanderia y planchaduria never let us down. Here are the variations of my name, literally a laundry list: Cheyla, Sheyla, Cheila, Chyla, Sheula and Cheula. Mexicans like the name Sheila, as it’s easy for them to say and shout; it’s just difficult to spell.
Ligia, our cleaning person for five years, had to go. While honest, she kept taking advantage of us, asking for money, dropping by in tears. There was always a family crisis, a reason she was late, a this or a that. Her stress was stressing me out; I couldn’t fix her life, and we gave her a generous severance. We now have a smiley, quiet woman who I hope will not bring her family problems into our small condo. This is a drama-free zone!
Nan and David Robb: David continues to design logos, two spring to mind: El Recreo and Mercado Orgánico, and he’s probably done more, but I’m just not aware of them. Nan is an equally talented artist and they both show their artwork in their house during ArtWalk or you can find them in Luna Gallery.
Dra. Ma. Adriana Montes Barrera is my doctor. I have tremendous confidence in her. Soren still has Dr. Levid. I still want the hands of a woman.
Hospice Mazatlan: continues to do an amazing job in the most trying circumstances. Just because they didn’t like our advertising approach, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t donate. You can find them at: www.hospicemazatlan.org, or call (in Mazatlan) 182 1486.
The Balboa Beach Club closed. It’s being renovated. We have no idea of who owns it, or what the plans are.
The Belmar Hotel goes through spurts of renovations. Cash flow continues to prevent it from being finished.
First Friday ArtWalk is heading into its eighth year, all under the direction of Glen Rogers. She takes time out from her print making career and her gallery, Luna, to organize this popular event — it goes from November to May.
McDonald’s restaurant closed in Golden Zone. Unheard of! It’s now rented out for private events.
Axtel, the internet and phone provider, turned out to be lousy. We’ve switched to TELMEX.
We never returned to San Miguel de Allende. We are star struck with Mexico City.
Ritchies Auction House is back in business! They send me regular e mails. I called the CEO. No need to tell him the thieving history; he blamed it on previous owners. New owners, clean slate, just many customers who were robbed. You’d think it would be a problem for the brand, but apparently it isn’t.
AMJ Campbell (international movers) is still in business. They did indeed send a refund cheque to Warren for all our breakages. Handled very professionally. I think they could teach Ritchies Auction House a thing or two.
My ceramic wall planters went the way of the teak chairs. The containers were too small – can’t hold enough soil to keep plants alive. The landscaper, Renato, managed to rip me off twice. The plants all died and he replaced them again for a large fee. They died too. Rita, my neighbour in 802, replaced them for a third time. They did last a year and half but with no soil they were gasping away. I hauled the planters to the garage and let the workers have them for their casitas. The annoying part is Soren was right about the teak chairs and the planters.
A word about our Spanish. I’m long on nouns and short on verbs. My report card would be: “Sheila speaks too much English in class. If she studied more, she’d really benefit. Reading comprehension, 55%, verbal skills 20%.” Soren’s report card would score much higher on the verbal skills. I think we’ve accepted that we try hard, we both love the language, but we will never be fluent. Our big test was the summer of 2012 in Mexico City. Not a single person spoke English. We passed the basic travelling test!
MazatlanLife.com: From February 2011 until July 2013 there have been approximately 41 panic attacks and at least 15 shouting matches. Working in the new software isn’t difficult, but it is a learning curve. HTML codes lurk behind and often there is nothing I can do but call TechRescue. Power surges, not pressing “update” cause rapid heart rates. Robots try to hack the site every single day. TechRescue says that’s normal but firewalls have been strengthened. The purchase of a new MacBook Air improved my speed and mood. I hate it when the software company decides to send me an update. I was fine with the old version. Another learning curve. According to our daily Piwik reports our numbers are off the charts. They are beyond our wildest dreams. That’s the real, tangible reward; we can see what you read, what you want, and what you don’t want. And then there are the hundreds of personal e mails —I answer them all, connecting readers to various people who do have the answers. MazatlanLife has given Soren, TechRescue, a reason to buy oodles of toys for his videos. More toys always make for a happier marriage. We’ve met interesting, funny, talented people in the arts, music and the rich cultural world of Mazatlan. Having the site has enriched our life in ways we could not have predicted. We wake up every morning wanting to do a new project, a new series. We are alive with ideas, dreams, and hopes. It’s a fabulous hobby, it’s a wonderful way to retire.
On April 17, 2012, my only sibling, my brother, Brian D’Arcy Proctor died of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Diagnosed at 67, dead at 69. His deterioration and death have taught me to celebrate choice. So far, I have not been dealt that deadly random gene. Every day, to the best of my ability, I will try to do what’s right for me, and in the process I hope show decency and respect for others. It’s no secret I have zero tolerance for chronic complainers; one life, one body, now’s the time for kick-ass choices. Because, there may not be a mañana.
Mazatlan is a culture of last-minute events; very few things are planned ahead. Although we have a new director of Cultura, Raúl Rico González, who understands promotion and lead times, not everything falls under his watch. There are many smaller venues that have spontaneous art shows, musical concerts or flamenco presentations. This world was meant to be captured online. This world was meant to be consolidated in an arts and entertainment calendar. Heck, just tracking musicians and their venues is a full time job. On Janaury 7, 2011, Soren registered our domain name, Mazatlan Life. It’s been a hot topic at the dinner table. I will need all of Soren’s web skills. I am wrestling about being so dependent upon him. He’s promised to find me a simple program to write in. He’s promised to be patient and I’ve promised to listen. We both know my frustration level in learning a new technology will have sparks flying from the 7th floor.
It’s seems hard to believe now, but in 1990 when we were both working at a large ad agency, BBDO, the office had only a couple of Macs that we shared and rolled around. I was a vice-president and one task was to manage the relaunch of Chrysler’s Magic Wagon, a massive direct marketing campaign that required database marketing skills. I didn’t have those skills, but my employers believed I did. I phoned my preferred freelance agency, blurted out the project and skill set required and Soren arrived at my office. Sparks were indeed flying, but of a sexual natural. We managed to keep that under control (sort of, well, we were 44 years old) and Soren would roll in a Mac and slowly show me how to work Word and an Excel spreadsheet. I honestly don’t recall e mail. I can see myself phoning clients and suppliers and talking to my co-workers.
By 1995, the computer landscape had blossomed and every desk had a computer. Just as I’d get familiar with a Mac, I’d freelance for an agency that worked on a PC platform. It was exhausting and I was always calling Soren for help. Every company had an IT department but I was too embarrassed to ask for assistance because I knew so little. My biggest computer challenge came with a two- year gig at TBWA Chiat Day, an American icon with an office in Toronto. Jay Chiat was the CEO, and Lee Clow was creative director. Steve Jobs adored Lee Clow; Clow was part of the Apple team and sat in on weekly brainstorming meetings. Naturally, when the Toronto office opened it was loaded with Macs. Jay Chiat adored the Canadian architect, Frank Geary. Naturally, Chiat hired Geary to design the Toronto offices. When you walked off the elevator you were greeted by a white claw foot bathtub with a sculpture of dolphin peeking out of the water, behind a large sheet of Plexiglas. All the office surfaces were covered in plywood with repeat patterns of fish. All open concept, with “war rooms.” These offices were so much a combo of Frank Geary, Lee Clow and Jay Chiat, creativity was popping out of the plywood.
But back to the computer challenge. Chiat was Apple all the way. Yet, they won the Microsoft account. Our team launched Windows 95 in Canada. The Microsoft crew would meet at Chiat and gaze down wanting to avoid all the happy little Apples dotting our desks. In the end creativity won; Chiat never converted to PCs. The account team danced their way around the lack of PCs and I danced my way around the lingo of various platforms. I’ve improved since 1990, but I seriously know nothing about creating a website. No pay cheques, no performance reviews, I guess it’s time to take a new technology plunge. My desire to be accurate and current, outweighs the learning curve.
I never knew what the owner of M! magazine was thinking or feeling. Some days she’d speak to me, other days she would ignore me. This much I do know: my profiles and my A&E sound bites never rocked her world. Fair enough, my writing style was most likely not up to her standards. Indifference is a powerful motivator to make a change. My writing fee, $200 pesos, was always donated to Hospice. However, Hospice did express great appreciation for that gift. I had the right idea months ago, but now was the right time. I know there will be rip roaring fights with the 7th floor IT department. I just have to remember my promise —to be patient. Or was it to listen? Ha!
Talk about a soft launch. MazatlanLife came to life February 9, 2011. It was to be advertising free with clear, current, crisp, accurate information about arts, music and culture. I believe it’s easy to navigate; it has to be, as I am in charge of that! I don’t know how to make it complicated. Soren wanted to shoot videos so he bought the equipment and enrolled in various courses. It’s a creative hobby that combines our skill sets. When you don’t need to answer to advertisers, it’s amazing the amount of freedom you have. Our daily Piwik audit reports, report excellent growth. What’s a good number of page views and hits? It’s a guess on our part, but we feel it’s going in the right direction.
I zip around the world on my iPad every day. The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The New York Times, The Guardian (my go-to newspaper), Newsweek, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and yes, CNN. I binge- watch tv shows on Netflix. I ditched my library card for the digital world. There’s online competition in Mazatlan, no question. As long as our Piwik numbers increase, or stay stable, we’ll be here for you. Unless we get bored.
MazatlanLife is a big Mexican Moment. Never imagined it, never occurred to me, never entered my mind. I feel that our Mexican adventures are just beginning. The more we learn, the less we know. Neither one of us can wait to see what’s around the corner. What will the next Mexican Moment be?
The Two Chairs
Within days, Alfredo has had a complete recovery. He felt “weird” — everyone seems to say that just before a stroke; it appears you just can’t pinpoint that weird feeling — and Miriam got him to the hospital, pronto. The stroke was in the right side of the brain affecting movement in the left leg and arm. The blood thinners, or whatever he was given, worked immediately and two days later he was walking with a cane. Many of our friends say he’s lucky because: the stroke occurred in the day, not during the night where the lag time is crucial, and he got the correct medication fast. The professor can’t drive, but has plenty of volunteers to drive him to our condo, where he can hop on the elevator with minimum effort. Or we still meet up at La Copa. But there is one big difference — no mas fumar, no more smoking. Even Alfredo admits smoking is dangerous and the stroke strengthened his desire to quit. I believe we won’t ever see the teacher smoke again. His mind is sharp, and the cane is for “just in case.”
Soren and I have finally begun Alfredo’s second Spanish book. Most people finish the first book in six months; it took us two years, which gives you an idea of our relationship with this wonderful professor. We work, we play and we exchange cultural oddities. Now that I know Alfredo is well, it’s time to do something I’ve always wanted to do — go whale watching. I’ve never seen a whale. Soren hasn’t either and really doesn’t care if he ever does. Even though Soren grew up by the sea in Copenhagen, he hates small boats, large oceans, but decided to go along. I contacted the owner and got all the answers to my questions. Yes; it is a largish boat, only taking six people, life jackets, toilet aboard, completely and utterly safe. The chef is still not excited. I asked Rosemary to join us as I suspected we may need a little humour.
Whale Quest, Onca (no, that’s not a typo, it’s Onca not Orca, which should have been my first clue) Explorations picks us up at 7 a.m. as promised. Just five of us. We arrive at the marina and see six other people waiting. The boat only holds six, why were we 11 people suddenly? Apparently Oscar, the owner, was seduced by El Debate press team (one of our local Mazatlan newspapers) and they got the “good” boat with Oscar, and we — Rosemary, Soren and I and another couple — got the clunker. It was a small boat in high waves, and we all got wet. Never mind the engine dies seven miles out. We were just bobbing in the Pacific. As Soren was not speaking, Rosemary was a great buffer and we kept pretending we were on an outing in Georgian Bay. Not stranded in the Pacific surrounded by sharks. Eventually our clunker boat Mexican team radios Oscar; we are towed back and of course, never saw a single whale. Not even a dolphin. Not even a seal. It was poorly planned, poorly handled and we were palmed off for El Debate. We asked for our money back. With great anger and reluctance we did receive our pesos. Oscar didn’t want the El Debate press guys broadcasting that. He didn’t understand why we would not want to re-schedule. Hola? On our clunker boat (really, just a row boat with two engines) the entire experience was unsafe and unprofessional. We head back to Centro to the Looney Bean. Ah, coffee. And now it’s time for lunch and a margarita at La Cueva. Alejandro, the owner, after we share our story, then proceeds to tell us how two whales swim by almost daily at 4 p.m. right in front. Eye roll. Then wine is ordered. Followed by a big nap.
Our condo has its first and only annual meeting. Soren attends the entire proceedings. I depart mostly because I’m restless and can’t absorb any more negative comments or feelings. I’m telling everyone that I’m allergic to complaints. The construction team is down to 10%, the noise has abated and even the dust is lower. At long last the part has arrived for the treadmill, the elevator to the garage is working, our stove top hood is fixed, our crying washing machine is repaired and, as far as I’m concerned, the project is still behind, but that’s behind us and we are moving forward. All that’s left is our dishwasher, which takes in hot water, but doesn’t clean the dishes. At. All. We can’t figure it out and that’s a tough one to explain, but Antonio is working on it. Both G1 and G2 are on site taking care of business. Landscaping has begun, the BBQ area is ready to be fired up, and the common areas are being decorated. The weather remains very cool and sitting outside is still not possible, for us. Even though it’s 18°C, when you are not in the sun, it feels too cold.
Soren keeps asking me, “Where is my fishbone sweater?” I know he means herringbone (you’d think a man from Denmark would remember herring?) and I carefully show him our “cold shelf.” When we moved in mid October we were in shorts, flip flops and tank tops — we never imagined unearthing our sweaters and jackets. Or the heater the chef insisted on putting into our storage crate in Toronto. “Why would we need that; it never goes below 20ºC?” screeches me. Except this winter — the coldest in 55 years. The chef is lovin’ strutting around the condo playing Basil Fawlty, leering, “Sybil, enjoying the heater, want me to turn it up?” We just have to accept this is a chilly season; still great for walks, taking the bus, playing tennis and wonderful sunny lunches in the square. Is it possible that two of the whitest people on Earth have become so used to heat and humidity? I would have considered 16/17/18°C in Toronto fairly warm, and now I’m all bundled up, looking a lot like the Mexicans on the Malecon with their fleeces and scarves. What is happening?
What is happening to our two chairs? Sylvia, our seamstress on Pedregoso, still has our unpainted chairs that we bought a year ago. Well, she’s only had them for seven months, so let’s be fair. As much as I like Dr. Levid, I’ve found a female doctor who does all the girlie examinations. Wait, this does tie into Sylvia and our chairs. La Doctora had sent me to a lab in Centro to have a mammogram and bone density. I had just finished a “special”; no appointment required, $18 (US). I step off the lab steps and there is Sylvia with her beaming smile. The chairs are finished! Caramba! Her brother painted one, her daughter the other and a neighbour on Pedregoso is making our cushions. How much? I pull out my trusty notebook and pen and Sylvia begins to add it up. I think she’s secretly an accountant too because: every single colour was itemized, the varnish, the material, the stuffing and even the fact I’d paid her $10 (US) for the material ahead of time was deducted. Grand total, $80 (US) for two handpainted chairs with built- in cushion seats. Worth the wait? Don’t know yet.
Now we just have to arrange for the swap of the chairs, but that could take awhile too. I’m hoping Sylvia misses her chairs and wants them back, pronto. Alfredo is driving again, so perhaps he’ll help us finish up the chair saga. After all, he picked them from the artist who didn’t want the project in September, so I think he should be involved in the final product. I’m sure the teacher is wondering why we just didn’t go to a furniture store, like normal people, and buy two chairs. But by now, he knows the chef and I are a little different. Alfredo did not have the pleasure of retrieving the chairs because Sylvia’s husband, Sergio, drives them into our garage in a white pickup truck. Every Mexican either owns a white pickup, or borrows one. I’m a little stunned; the chairs are actually here, finished, in our condo. Worth the wait? Not really. They are fun, funky, but the painting, finishing and varnishing is a little on the amateurish side. I’m sure the seamstress’s daughter and brother did the best they could. They are comfortable, practical chairs for our workstations. They are half-assed and are likely to be replaced in oh, say, 2014.
Everything is calmer on our Pacific Perch, and now I can return to thinking about having an online affair.
There’s a Crack in Everything, That’s How the Light Gets In
(gracias, Leonard Cohen)
We moved into our condo on October 22. It’s now mid January and the noise and dust has never been worse. Slowly owners arrive but that’s just adding fuel to fire; everyone is angry, stressed and feeling betrayed by the developers. Soren and I are not sure how to combat this level of stress. So we do what most couples do — take it out on each other. Major things, like the freight elevator, is still not operating. So our friend, John, who has a motorized scooter can’t leave the building, his life is curtailed. His promise was broken. We never get an answer as to why the elevator has not been programmed to work. People expected to pull into the garage and load their purchases onto the elevator. That simply is not happening. Other small things like: the pool is not heated, there is no hand rail, the treadmill part has been missing for two months, our washing machine part ditto, and the stove exhaust fan has never been resolved. Hammers are going nonstop. Well, they do cease at 5 p.m. but by that time all my goodwill has melted to frustration. I go to my yoga classes with teeth clenched. There are million little things that are incomplete and we don’t get answers or resolutions. Warren departed in a dense fog (climatically speaking) on December 10 and it continues to roll in daily now, for six weeks. It’s my third winter in Mazatlan but I’ve never experienced such a cool, damp, windy time. It’s even prompted us to buy a duvet. Oh God, I left two duvets back in Toronto, who knew? The fog burns off around 10ish and while it’s perfect for tennis it’s downright depressing not to be able to sit outside as we have in the past. Everything feels as if it’s turned sour and that we’ve made a mistake. Have we?
Hospice Mazatlan, which we contributed all of our advertising and marketing skills to, suddenly after board approval does not like the “heart” look. The US snowbirds have returned to Mazatlan, and unanimously agree, that they do not agree, with the new strategy. All that work, all those printed brochures and the new website that Soren designed are not being appreciated or enjoyed. Not even a “thanks for the Amazon shopping connection.” We thought we had created a strong fundraiser piece; the board does not feel that way. David Croly, an active Hospice member, does not hesitate to share his complaints loudly with us on the Malecon. He’s crystal clear; everyone hates our work, and perhaps us. Brochures were delivered in June, and in January the board just informs us? What a waste of our time and Hospice money. I guess we haven’t given back at all; we just have given the board more problems. The Hospice team could have been more gracious in their explanations, but I guess I’m expecting too much from a volunteer organization. Disappointing, but that compass will point us away from volunteering on any other committees.
Another drama emerges. Ligia’s daughter, Ligia, is pregnant. So the circle of unprotected sex and having a child at 18 continues. Poverty and education are the two largest problems in Mexico. I think. Followed by corruption. Our new state and city government have assumed their appointed roles. Rumour has it the previous government officials took everything but the kitchen sink; literally they stripped the Town Hall of computers, air conditioners and even the tires from the police cars. The good news is that our shipping/storage company in Toronto, AMJ Campbell, after three months, acknowledged our claim, and claim they will put a cheque in the mail. Let’s see if and when that arrives at Warren’s condo.
The fog has lifted and we once again experience the beautiful blue skies of Mazatlan. Yes, it’s certainly a cool winter, about 17°C but that’s acceptable, just a surprise. We continue to meet and enjoy new people. The weeks over Christmas were very happy and relaxed. I just can’t shake a slightly sad feeling. Oh, it’s not for Canada, not for Toronto; perhaps it’s just the pure frustration of living in a construction site with no end in sight. I should be used to the mañana attitude by now; maybe it’s different when you own and don’t rent. Maybe I’m missing the joys of Mexican street life and am regretting being in a condo with a bunch of complaining Canadians and Americans. I ponder my irritation on my yoga mat. The chef and I discuss it over a glass of wine and a cigar. Being Danish, being clear headed, being a man, being a wonderful insightful husband, he agreed with me. Our irritation level is high because of the constant noise; and the noise is random. You can’t plan for it, and you can’t escape it. Just when you think you’ll have a quiet read, or my famous afternoon meditation, the hammering starts. Yesterday the bathroom ceiling began to leak. We located Antonio and, sure enough, the workers in the unit above us have hammered too hard and deep. No, a pipe didn’t burst, they just left a bucket of water to slowly drip down into our bathroom. Really, this is Chinese water torture. At some point the workers will return, patch, sand and leave a mess. Most likely just after Ligia has cleaned.
We leave the noise behind and visit our friends Kevin and Linda on Stone Island. Which isn’t really an island, but a peninsula. We met them two years ago. Actually, we didn’t really meet, we picked each other up. Kevin, a cigar smoker, overhead Soren chatting to a waiter about cigars and wanted to know the answer. We introduced Kevin to Thorny “I’m Horny” (who is now in US recovering from mucho tequila) and the relationship just continued to blossom. Linda and I would e mail each other, as we are all jazz fans and we’d often meet up in Centro. Kevin has a wonderful moral compass but is completely irreverent. Like a mellow Bill Maher; a combination that I revel in. Linda is funny, thoughtful, but outspoken. She’d have to be, to be married to Kevin. They are some of our favourite friends. For two years they’ve been taking the boat from Stone Island, which isn’t an island, to Centro. High time it was our turn to see their turf.
We set out on a cool, sunny January day. Got on the wrong boat, but never mind; Kevin found us anyway. They bought a new piece of property overlooking the marina, which has a wonderful silent boat view with no street noise. It’s almost always tranquil except when a stray donkey crashes through their alley, looking very confused by the water. Kevin and Linda are confused too; there are no donkeys on the island. We never did resolve the donkey mystery. They’ve parked their huge RV (I have no idea of how the hell Kevin drives that thing from Mazatlan to Colorado. I’m thinking you have to be American to do that) in their lot while they build a permanent house. On our arrival their casita is about 50% finished. They too had shooed away their construction workers; we are all sick to death of dust and noise.
I am gazing at their new house. I notice some interesting windows but there is no glass. I ask, “What’s up with that?”
Kevin lights up a cigar and says, “Well, when you order windows in Mazatlan, what makes you think they come with glass? Linda was expecting far too much to have them painted the colour she wanted and to have glass.” All four us howl at that Mexican Moment — who delivers windows with no glass? Lots of Mexicans apparently. So, that’s how the light gets in. I have floor envy too. The latest and greatest style, and it’s my absolute preference, is poured concrete, polished, then stained with the acid of your choice. You can score it too, to make it look like tiles. Kevin’s and Linda’s entire patio is made from concrete and acid stained in yellows, rust and oranges. It changes with the light. It’s so stunning, so sophisticated, so subtle. If we ever bought another condo that’s exactly what we would do. However, the chef and I are never moving again. We pile into their SUV and they give us a tour of the island; we’ve been there before, but this is our first real tour. They treat us to their hidden gem of a restaurant, Pizzas Benjis. Juan and Victoria have owned this beachfront restaurant for 30 years. It has a long private protected beach, which I’d be happy to swim and snorkel in when the weather warms up. You can sit in the shade or the sun. You can even bring your own picnic; they are happy to set up tables and let you enjoy your day. The whole attitude is “no problem, everything is good, whatever you want.”
Kevin’s a member of the exclusive Estrella Del Mar Golf and Beach Resort. The course is pretty and most of the 18 holes hug the Pacific. There’s a fancy hotel with two tennis courts, a full gym, a spa and a clubhouse. Just one tiny problem. You are totally isolated and the clubhouse is too far to walk to from the hotel. I briefly considered this as an escape from Carnaval, but with Soren’s eye movements and body language I knew that was off the list. As we got back into the SUV Soren confirmed it — no way was he going to be stuck there for five days. Even with internet and tennis courts there is no reason to push Estrella del Mar; lots of people in Centro refer to it as “Australia del Mar.” I think we know why. As the sun sets, Kevin and Linda drop us off at the wobbly wooden dock and we watched three cruise ships, from a completely new angle, glide through the narrow outlet. When seeing these monsters depart you really feel like you are only one inch tall. Returning to the condo we remarked on what a great change Stone Island was and we should stop focusing on these construction irritations. I’m feeling more balanced, I feel in control and that I’ve got our condo problems in perspective.
Just as I am mellowing out, we get a phone call that Alfredo has had a stroke. We can’t speak Spanish yet; it’s just not his time. We can’t imagine our life without Alfredo. Yet another nudge to sort through what’s vital and what’s not. We both retire with tears in our eyes.
From Bad to Worse
We are finally settling into our dust bowl, scaffold- ridden perch when jackhammers thunder down on us. Que pasa on the 8th floor? Oh God, it’s our friends Rita and Allen who are ripping up their entire floor in the two bedroom unit right above us. It’s not the condo workers, it’s their own personal construction team. Rita is a woman of style, persistence and great precision. She also has way too much money and at the moment I loathe her. To be fair, the condo did install the wrong floor while she was in Ontario, but now she’s on a tear. When you are tearing up the floor, why not rip out the kitchen and the master bathroom as well? Her attitude is, “It’s our last move, and I’m going to have everything I want.” She’s absolutely right and entitled to do that; I’m just furious it’s hanging over our heads. Rita has us to lunch, she keeps apologizing, she drops off gifts; she knows it’s a living hell. We also both know we will still be friends and I will welcome them with open arms when they move in. I’m counting on Rita to feel guilty for a long time; I think there will be great sunset drinks in the future.
Speaking about feeling guilty, the chef and I have made some mistakes too. The fabulous outdoor table which expands to six is still fabulous. The problem? There is no room on the balcony for six people to sit. We blew that calculation. Our teak chairs, that I just had to buy, are comfortable, but large. The white mesh that I so admired is a major design flaw. It pulls away from the teak and so far glue and a metal clamp are not working. The fold -up table Geoff designed is propped against the bedroom wall. We have no need for it. We are very happy eating on the bar stools drooling over our concrete counter which we love, but that other owners are quickly replacing with granite. The fitted drawers in the bed and our closets are beautifully made. I just forgot about mould and mildew. They should have been vented. I feel Geoff should have recommended that; he’s lived in this humidity for 15 years. It’s a good thing Geoff never resolved or finished the deck chair designs. There is absolutely no room for them.
I re-visited our condo checklist from December 2008. There is no garbage chute, nor should there be. I don’t even want to think about the bacteria and hosing out a chute in this heat. Much better to bag and toss. Hurricane shutters were not included; apparently they were always up to the owners to choose. The chef has researched this. I’ve talked to long-time residents. We are in a holding pattern. Hurricane shutters are ugly, they rattle in the wind and it’s a major drilling job. It should be done before the units are completed. I feel the Gs didn’t communicate this massive disruption clearly; they were too casual about this subject. The installation is a horrendous noise and mess. Our unit is inset and we are protected, more or less, from the “rainy season.” I’m refusing to refer to it as the hurricane season.
I also went on a buying spree with Jesus last summer for these gorgeous ceramic pots. Plants were blooming like crazy on the sunny Pedregoso stoop. But not here. The colourful pots are taking up too much floor space and they have to go. I make a clean sweep and the chef hauls them out to our common sun deck. Which is sunny, but not a deck yet; it’s a construction site with a crane. There, I’ve just begun the Vue’s very own plant library; borrow for two weeks, or six months, and return when you depart. I then hire Renato, the condo landscaper, and we choose hanging pots with shady plants. They have to be low enough for me to water and light enough to bring in during the rainy season. It’s an ideal solution and the balcony already feels more spacious. Despite all these flaws and our own design whoops, we are, more or less, ready for Juan’s late November/December three- week visit.
Alfredo, the teacher, once again picks Juan up at the airport. Through an owner, Warren has rented the twin unit right below us. Juan stocks us up on gluten- free pancake mix, maple syrup, The Globe and Mail, antacid pills, and Soren gets his Backwoods cigars. The antacid pills are for our daily margaritas. Noon is the time when the workers stop for lunch; I make Juan and I a margarita and we sit in peace and quiet until 1:30. Honestly, if I don’t have a margarita I don’t get heartburn. Juan can’t sip a margarita alone; it’s a small price to pay. After lunch Warren lies by the pool catching rays and turning a Mexican brown. I attempt to “meditate” but the noise is too great. It’s even difficult to read. We connect again either for yoga or a cocktail at 6 p.m.. It’s the most convenient situation. Warren has his own space, can do e mails in peace (well, not really peace), rise and sleep on his own clock, yet we share a good chunk of time together. We are so busy, I’ve made him his own calendar. Our first theatre evening was a complete bust. I had bought tickets, not looking carefully at the translation, for a one woman show complaining about her husband, or complaining she wants a husband. Either way, this is not an evening for Juan or the chef. Kind of like a Spanish “Vagina Monologues.” Never mind, they were expensive for our local theatre —about $25(US). We leave for the show and the boys leave me at the box office trying to sell the tickets. Oh no, not for a profit, but for a discount. I’m nervous doing this and I’m especially nervous doing this in Spanish. I’ve never seen an individual in the box office trying to sell tickets. Fortunately the show is very popular with women; dozens of females are lining up to buy last- minute tickets. They were receptive to my excellent seats, at my excellent discount and I sold all three in 15 minutes. It’s Juan third time in Mazatlan and he has yet to darken the doors of our wonderful theatre.
The next night we do indeed enter the theatre and take our seats to hear the Argentine crooner, Alberto Cortez. He claims it’s his farewell tour, but he’s so popular in Latin American I doubt he’ll give up the applause. That is followed by three more concerts, two of them private. Then there is ArtWalk, a gallery opening, jazz in the square, friends for dinner, going to friends’ for dinner, Juan’s massages, hair cut and pedicure and oh my God, he has three pairs of linen shorts custom made by Silvia for $46(US) — not each, but for all three. I can’t forget “Warren’s Buffet.” Right in front of our condo every weekend, food carts line the Malecon. They are family friendly, and they all share the same generator to hang their harsh lights. Music is individual, though; car doors are left open to blast the tunes. The biggest draws are tough corn; either loose in a cup or on the cob grilled over hot coals. Thumbs down to both versions. The winning food is the hotcakes, sizzling fresh on the griddle. The chef and Juan added their toppings of God knows what and that makes for a yummy caloric dessert. Juan and I sampled some type of sausage wrapped in deep- fried corn batter. Disgusting, with no flavour.
Warren then went all out — even Alfredo and Jesus couldn’t believe this — and tried what I call “the silver pouch.” Mexicans split open a Frito Lay potato chip tin foil package and then pile it with pig skin which has been marinated in vinegar and then that gets “the works” — cream, salsa, and again, God knows what. We share Juan’s culinary adventures with Jesus, friend and tour conductor — he’s so impressed that he’s convinced we will love the local scallops and large shrimp sold by the shrimp ladies. Scallops? We’ve been here two years and haven’t seen a single scallop. The chef knows the shrimp ladies’ wares well; he walks by it on the way to our money run at Scotiabank. Each time he claims he prefers Antonio’s shrimp in the market. Jesus promises us huge shrimp which we will take next door to Dunia’s restaurant to have them cooked anyway we wish. This event unfolds exactly as planned; which is always a surprise in Mazatlan. Jesus chats, bargains, smells the crustaceans and selects the largest, freshest shrimp. I thought they were all exported to Japan, but the shrimp ladies get their hands on some of the best and biggest. We buy $60 (US) worth of shrimp and scallops — the most expensive lunch yet. Juan and Jesus decide on a scallop ceviche; the chef and I shake our heads as we will never eat raw again. The grilled scallops are tough with zero flavour. However, the giant shrimp are grilled, butterflied and are superb. I couldn’t eat more than three, but the boys really tucked in. I don’t believe we ate dinner that night. Once again, Warren’s cast iron stomach stood the test of ceviche and the “silver pouch” with no problemas.
The next morning is our usual routine. Alfredo will soon be arriving for our Spanish lesson. Gilberto is a little late; nothing unusual in that. Alfredo ends up sharing the elevator with the clean laundry. I open the door for Alfredo and two teenagers are standing there stunned, offering up our clean folded laundry in its plastic bags. I look and call for Gilberto Machado Lopez — I love saying his name. One of the kids, who speaks a little English, and that’s the reason he’s at our front door, stammers, “Gilberto is dead.” I am in complete shock, as is Warren and Soren. Alfredo takes over and talks to the kids in Spanish. At 6:30 p.m. the previous night, Gilberto was shot dead in front of his laundry, by a motorcyclist. Yet his son and nephew made sure our laundry was done and delivered. Business and life must go on. Alfredo points out the family needed the money — about $13(US). I am so very, very sad. I can’t believe it’s a drug hit. I’d like to think that I knew Gilberto and he wasn’t a narco. The professor, the chef and myself just sit around drinking coffee; no lesson today, the news of his death is deeply disturbing. We had seen Gilberto twice a week for two years, so we had a glimpse of his personality. After Alfredo departed, I phoned Pepe, our former landlord, who knew Gilberto well. They had attended the same high school. Pepe claims it was a crime of passion. A jealous husband had shot Gilberto. Gilberto Machado Lopez had been warned to stay away from this man’s wife. The laundry man was not good at following orders. As Juan said, “Can’t the Mexicans settle these scores with dueling?”
After yoga, we passed by Ligia’s house, who also had gone to school with Gilberto and she was sobbing outside, and smoking. The cleaning lady and the laundry man would chat every Wednesday morning in our apartment/condo about life and common friends. She was in shock and devastated. Ligia later reported that she attended the funeral and the feeling was that it was indeed a crime of passion. The next morning Alfredo returned Warren to the airport in a pea soup fog which summed up how I was feeling. Damp, and filled with clouds; nothing was very clear. It was as if all of Mazatlan was crying for Gilberto. What did become clear is that Gilberto’s son has the family laundry business running like a Swiss watch. Jaziel shows up smiling every Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. and delivers the next day at 9 a.m. When I put our laundry away I see Gilberto Machado Lopez sitting on the Malecon, surrounded by his friends, his cervezas, laughing and soaking up the joy of a Sunday off. We must never forget how poor a country Mexico is. We must never forget that $13(US) can put a lot of food on the family table. We must never forget how hard the Mexicans work for this money and how much they want to please you.
It was a Mexican Moment I don’t want to relive, but a reminder as to how extremely fortunate Soren and I are.
D Day: Did the Water get Connected?
Not wanting to face our thousand cartons, we decide to breakfast with Alfredo and his buddies: Dr. Arturo and his mother Anna, Fernando who owns a cigar shop in the Golden Zone, and Ramon, an engineer. We all comment on the semi-naked beggar woman and how it’s a decent resolution. Dr. Arturo goes on to tell us about another beggar. She complained she was sick, she had heart problems, and needed money to see a doctor. Arturo responds, “I’m a doctor, I’ll take you to my office right now, at no charge, and decide if I can help you.” She spat at him and walked away. Of course, that’s her line; she wasn’t sick at all. Alfredo then shares a story about a woman asking for pesos, but the professor had only one peso, which he gave her. Her response was another spitting and the string of expletives, the equivalent of “to the hell with you, you cheap bastard!” Leaving me with the thought that beggars can be choosers. The Mexicans advice to us expats, which confirms what we learned two years ago, is don’t give anything. The restaurant and store owners know who to look after and who to avoid. Once I was confronted by an out-of-the-box thinking female beggar. I was sitting quietly reading Noroeste (the daily newspaper) in Dr. Levid’s breezeway, waiting for him to arrive. A well-dressed woman sat on the bench beside me and proceeded to explain, all in Spanish, that she had five sick children at home. I was listening intently, as she could have being seeing Dr. Levid, or more likely, the pediatrician opposite Dr. Levid’s office. The peso finally dropped: she was asking for money; just a more creative approach. I had to admire a poor Mexican woman locating a doctor who sees expats and starts her spiel in a medical, homey way. I decided to let Dr. Levid manage this situation; she eventually moved on to greener pastures.
I am now fuelled with coffee and Soren and I are ready to face our condo and begin the unpacking process we packed up in Toronto 15 months ago. I have our inventory list which was required for insurance at the Mexican border, but it’s still a surprise to see all our paintings after so long. We have a few breakages and our high- end Danish stereo, Bang and Olufson, is not working. Soren takes pictures to e mail to our Toronto company, AMJ Campbell. A picture is worth a thousand words and these just scream of sloppy packing. A priceless vase from Copenhagen, circa 1932, is smashed to pieces too. We set aside those items and continue to unfurl pink packing paper and walk back and forth from the spare condo to ours. It takes two complete days. The humidity broke on October 15 so we aren’t as uncomfortable; but there is still no running water or toilet. We take another two days to hang all our paintings. Including family photos, we have a total of 30 hangings. I try not to think about the 30 paintings we left behind. I want it all; I want more walls. But right now, I’d vote for a working toilet.
Between all the construction chaos, Soren actually manages to get the internet up and running. There’s a new company in town, Axtel, and they pay us a visit. We will be wireless and they complete whatever it is they do on our condo roof. G2 is also buying wireless for the condo common areas. Yes, Axtel will take VISA. No fancy machines required. The salesperson quickly takes a pencil rubbing of our embossed numbers — just like a brass rubbing. It’s ingenious in its simplicity. Except after five phone calls between Soren and Axtel we discover that Axtel only accepts Mexican VISA, not international. The chef explains how most of the owners will be Canadian or American and will only have international credit cards. Once again we experience the typical Mexican response; smiles, nodding, shuffling and the only eventual outcome — cash. The head office isn’t going to change a thing. The sales people continue to be helpful, they stop by Pepe’s Palace for the pesos and drop off a land line phone for half the price at our local Big Box store. We have phone and internet for $35 (US)a month. A huge Shaw satellite dish is hoisted on our roof; now we just need to buy a tv and find a Canadian friend with a receiver box. Oh well, we are inching forward.
It’s Friday October 22; therefore, it must be moving day. Gilberto Machado Lopez and his handsome son, Jaziel, (ah-see-el) arrive on Pedregoso and they climb up and down the fisherman’s 40 steps for one hour. Again, I’m astonished at the number of cartons and duffle bags accumulated in 15 months — where did they come from? I sit in the front with Gilberto, in his convertible car/truck (I’m not sure what type of vehicle it is) with my legs dangling through the rust holes, while Jaziel stabilizes the loose cartons in the back. We do a combo of steps and the elevator — with it all going into #704. We are completely moved in; well, all of our stuff is in the condo. Antonio and G2 promise the water and toilet will working by noon. I’m a triple type A; this is so not my style. To move without running water and a toilet, what was I thinking? We spend two hours unpacking, hanging clothes and putting dishes away on dusty shelves. Sure enough, the water begins to flow, and the toilet flushes. Relief. Jumapam has finally hooked the condo up to the sewage system. Just in time toilet. With the toilet working I open up a bottle of white wine and the unpacking continues in a happier atmosphere. The evening rolls around and it’s time for a hot shower. No hot water.
It’s the old Pyrex cup in the microwave and bird bath in the bathroom sink routine. Not what I had in mind. Saturday the electrician and plumber look at our hot water tank and decide to replace it. We need to wait four hours. I’m not sure why, as it should heat up right away — still no hot water. By then it’s Saturday afternoon and all the help has left the building until Monday. G2 offers us a key to another owner-empty condo and we traipse through the construction debris and rinse ourselves off. Is this really happening?
Monday morning dawns and Soren lays down the law. Remove the tank from the unit that is working and put it in ours. Orders are followed and after three days we finally have hot water. G2 reports that the condo took receipt of two defective hot water tanks. What are the odds of that? What are the odds of our unit getting both? Now we are just waiting for our new stackable washer/dry for our “laundry room/pantry/coffee nook/wine cellar.” There was a washer and dryer, and it was installed in a timely manner before the 600- pound polished concrete island landed. There was just one problem. The dryer was powered by gas. There’s no gas in the condo! Adios to that appliance.
We are informed that on November 4th our new washer/dryer will arrive. Excellent. We check it out — all powered by electricity. It’s 3 p.m. and we are due for an art gallery opening at 7. There are nine Mexicans in my kitchen: three doing the work and six standing around trying to solve the problem. The problem? The concrete island is now in the way of an easy installation; no one had taken that into account. I can’t stand this Mexican Moment and hide out in the bedroom receiving hourly blasts from Soren. There’s no way I’m going to make the art opening; there’s no way I’m leaving nine Mexicans to resolve this. Finally the chef takes over. Soren is creative when it comes to spatial solutions. He takes control, I don’t know how, but the machine gets crammed into the space. How will the dryer vent? There is no exit. Once again we see Mexican ingenuity at work. A hammer and chisel will do the trick; the worker bangs a hole through our concrete wall into the hall. Is that a good idea, to vent into a common area? I don’t think so, but that is the only option. But the hall is open to the outdoors. So maybe it’s okay. By now it’s 8 p.m. and I want these guys out of my small space. Finally they sweep our condo, more or less, sweep the hall, more or less, and by 9 p.m. we are eating dinner — more or less. I’m too tired to do laundry and, besides, we are not allowed to turn the washing machine on. It must be inspected by a third party to ensure our warranty. That’s fine; I’m loyal to Gilberto. I’ve trusted him with our 1,200 thread count sheets that we had shipped at great expense from Amazon. Even though we are missing one pillow case. I’m sure another customer has it, or it’s stuck in a washing machine – somehow I just feel it will miraculously appear. We’ve been living in this dusty noisy bowl for over two weeks and it has gone beyond “minor inconveniences.” It is truly a MexiCan Moment — Canadian developers working with a Mexican crew. All of the owners are disappointed that the construction is not further along. I’m not about to move out now, so G2 agrees on extra cleaning staff, the hours of “noisy” work – with 100 workers on the payroll the show must go on. We’ve hired Ligia for a second morning on Saturdays while we play tennis. It’s frustrating, but I’m not stressed. It’s annoying, but I’m not angry. Besides, I see the gym equipment has been delivered. I wonder how long that will take to assemble?
One Wednesday, after we return from coffee at La Copa, I notice Ligia has the missing pillow case. I knew Gilberto would deliver it – just as soon as he found it.
The Sensation of Being Homeless
Last Sunday, our friend Jesus is laughing and laughing about our condo being ready on time. We met up walking on the Malecon and he said we were about to “experience the sensation of being homeless.” Were we? With great excitement on this September afternoon we walk up the seven flights of stairs and our door to #703 is wide open. Why? G2, the project manager, is there. He looks happy with the progress. I am experiencing the sensation of being homeless. It’s a complete mess; there is so much construction dust you can barely breathe. It’s September 28 and we are supposed to move October 1. Although we have a safety net at Pepe’s until October 15, that date does not look very promising. For instance, water and sewage have not been hooked up. Jumapam, the bureaucratic monster that is in charge of this all important task, is overwhelmed with requests, literally. With the lame duck government, middle management has “gone” and the secretaries are running the joint. So we don’t know when the digging can begin, let alone a hook-up date. That’s a huge stumbling block. Never mind G2 paid this organization six months ago. He’s even taken pictures of the office desks overflowing with request forms that gently fall to the floor when their fan oscillates. That’s so reassuring.
Under the condo control we are missing the 600- pound polished concrete island for the kitchen. Ditto for the bathroom and kitchen counters. They are somewhere in Mexico. The glass for our shower stall is also MIA. Our stove, fridge, washer/dryer, microwave are all in the building. Well, that’s terrific; we just don’t have any water. Oh, and there’s no electricity either. Halls are packed with scaffolding, bags of concrete, piles of sand, hammers, chisels, and 140 Mexicans are working their butts off. It’s good to see that the staff kitchen is operating at full speed, so hungry workers don’t wander off. We are moving an entire year too early; that’s what is going through my head. G2 assures us that it comes together very quickly and October 13 “should not be a problem.” I’ve already drunk my one allotted noon-time margarita, so I take three Tylenols.
Geoff was to install the furniture October 1st — joke. I call him on the cell and explain the new date of October 4th. He’s not surprised; he’s been in out of the unit double checking measurements. Our sofa, mattress and storage unit deadline is October 6th. We keep that date. With no ac/no fans, no water, no toilet, no elevator, Geoff and his team, without complaint, install 90% of our furniture. It’s glorious, it’s everything and more that I ever imagined. We are all admiring the colour and the curves –it’s as if Marilyn Monroe had moved in! Our outdoor table which expands to seat six is by far the best design I’ve ever seen. For years I watched my parents pull apart their dining table, fetch leaves from a closet and push it together. With Geoff’s design, you simply lift up slightly and the leaves drop down. The wood has a marine outdoor treatment for rain and salt; no sleet or snow here. The condo is still a complete disaster but seeing the furniture makes me feel a little better. We cover it up with sheets and hope for the best in terms of workers buzzing in and out.
It’s not all gloom and doom. The Gs have surprised the owners with a small air conditioned gym on the main floor beside the swimming pool. This is such a luxury, my anger level is substantially lowered; I’m no longer boiling over, just on simmer. With the jack hammers going and the dust flying we decide to head to La Copa for a water and bathroom break. We learn the poor woman who kept returning semi-nude to the restaurant is cared for, but someone “left a door open” and she escaped. Apparently one of her relatives worked at La Copa for many years and this was a familiar scene to her. Now Luis, the owner, has her family phone number so he can call them instead of the police.
Soren and I ponder the upcoming moving hurdles and change the move date to October 22. It is just killing us we have to pay Pepe rent for another week, but it’s better to swallow our pride for practicality. Meanwhile, I wonder, where on earth are our two art chairs that Elina Chauvet has had since May? Alfredo reports back that she’s started them, but she’s an artist, she doesn’t really paint chairs, she’s had many exhibitions, she’s really a painter, blah, blah, blah. Alfredo and I agree to give her one more week. The teacher pays the artist a visit seven days later. With wringing of hands, Elina admits she does not want this project and Alfredo tosses them in the back of his white pick-up truck. This is so typically Mexican; she may have wanted to paint them, but in fact the artist had no time, she could not say “no.” We did get our deposit back.
We are all sitting around in Pepe’s courtyard staring these anemic chairs. They are kind of whitewashed, and looking very ugly. What to do? We have no chairs for our workstations. Time is passing quickly, and we’ve just wasted five months with Elina. I immediately think of Silvia, my seamstress, in her peppermint green house. Soren and I hoist up the chairs and yell through her gate. Yes, she can make the cushions. Her brother’s an artist (here we go again) and he could perhaps paint them. After a yoga class we appear on her stoop; no, her brother has no time. At least he’s honest, but her daughter can paint them. Oh boy. Silvia sees our impatient Canadian faces and offers the best solution. She will lend us two of her chairs, while her daughter paints ours. The daughter shows us several designs on her laptop and we agree to two. At this point I have no idea of how long they will take, or how much it will cost. Last January two men from the store carried the chairs up Pedregoso to Pepe’s Palace and now seven months later they are still on Pedregoso —unpainted.
The next morning we trot off to the condo, still with no water or toilet on October 6th. We amuse ourselves with guesses — will the mattress, sofa and our infamous storage unit from Mexico City be delivered today? Perhaps one out of three? The sofa is the first to arrive. The size and dove grey colour are perfect. It should be; we only measured it 12 times and matched the fabric to our floor and furniture at least five times. Ligia is here cleaning away the first layer of dust and as we lean over our 7th floor balcony we see a flat bed truck circling the condo with a giant crate. It’s the size of a two car garage. That can’t be ours. G2, Antonio, the supervisor and Soren are on the second floor hoping like hell too that it is not meant for us. The flat bed circles again, and oh God it is pulling into our underground garage. Two men have driven for 16 hours straight from Mexico City to deliver our container. I saw them being packed in Toronto, but I never imagined such a humongous crate. Paint it, put windows in and you could rent it out. Paint it and you could have a storage shed or a garage. That would not be unusual in Mazatlan. Antonio is eyeing it for two reasons; one, he wants the crate, and two, he assessing how many workers he’s going to have to free up to uncrate and carry it all up the seven flights of stairs. This is not part of their job. The workers are so helpful and it takes at least 20 men to schlep everything into the spare unit beside us. That’s a savior. Everything goes into 704 and we slowly unpack and bring it over to 703. Our storage company was supposed to uncrate, unpack and remove debris. These two innocent drivers from Mexico City are unaware of our Toronto contract. They are exhausted and do a dump and run. We’ll take this up later via e mail and Skype.
We are exhausted too, and head back to the Pepe’s for a working toilet and a cold shower.