Juan and the Pit Bull
Last July we happily hired Ligia (lee-he-ah) Sanchez Canizales as our weekly housekeeper. I knew she was feisty when I first met her, I knew she’d be reliable and I knew she would work faster than a whirling dervish. I was just unprepared for the pit bull in her — the good kind of pit bull. During the long, hot, humid summer we’d speak Spanish every Wednesday (with the help of Google translator) and we learned her grandmother was the first female lifeguard on our local beach area, Olas Altas, and her father ran a very popular but unprofitable bar. There are a few Mexican code phrases in that sentence like “popular” and “unprofitable,” but I decided not to pursue them.
The first time Ligia arrived to work in our apartment she was wearing a cocktail dress and stilettos. She requested some pesos to buy her specific line of products and new cloths so she could colour code them according to use. Then she asked the $64,000 question; did I have an old toothbrush to clean around the bathroom faucets? I knew right then she was the gal for me. As we side -stepped our way out of her swinging broom to have breakfast on the Pacific, I was relieved to see she had shed her stilettos for flip flops. Soren cheerfully said to me as we sauntered down Pedregoso, “I’ve always wanted a cleaning lady who would show up wearing a cocktail dress.” Our experience with lazy maids slopping filthy water around in old plastic buckets, was wiped clean with Ligia. A new day had begun.
Every Wednesday Ligia arrived exactly at 8 a.m. She’s only ten houses away from us, but it is important for her to deliver on the services she’s promised. This is an ongoing theme with her. Her family has lived on Pedregoso for over 90 years and she knows who’s lazy, who’s honest and who isn’t. I know she doesn’t think much of our landlord, Pepe, but respected his father. I know she thinks Gilberto Machado Lopez, our laundry guy, is incredibly honest. She went to school with their brothers, their sisters or their cousins. I always defer to her unsolicited opinions of people. One Wednesday morning, no Ligia. I knew she must be sick, her father must be sick or one of her two children must be sick. She is a single mum supporting this family, so there’s no way she’d ever miss work, ever. At noon she arrives breathless on our doorstep. Well, there are over 40 steps. She’d set out at 8 a.m. as usual, but a teenage boy changed her destination. He ripped her purse off her shoulder and was running madly down Pedregoso. Ligia channeled her inner pit bull. She happened to have her cell phone in her hand, not in her purse, and is calling the police as she is simultaneously throwing stones at this kid to slow him down. I do believe this is a day Ligia is wearing her flip flops. The cop in record time zooms up our street on his motorcycle and grabs the thief. The events unfold in rapid Spanish, accompanied with wild arm movements and a few tears. She had to go the local police station, where they had impounded the kid and her purse. The cleaning lady identified her purse and all contents were retrieved intact. Ligia’s biggest concern was that all her clients’ keys were on one main key ring; if that had been stolen, well, there were more tears and more hand wringing. For Christmas, along with a peso bonus, we bought Ligia ten different key rings; one for each client. She chose a green dolphin for us. Dolphins mean luck, and green represents money, according to our pit bull.
We continue to have much luck however, Ligia not so much. She is accident prone and I attribute that to multitasking, stress and the worry of supporting four people. She fell on our interior stairs and cracked two ribs. But that did not stop her from working. In her own house she decided to knock a wall down and in the process she ripped the nail off her big toe. The nail is lipstick red. I know this because she whipped it out of her pocket as evidence. The missing toe nail accident did not stop her from working either. I sent mama pit bull with her daughter, Ligia, to scrub Rosemary’s three-bedroom house. It took them over two days, but Rosemary is greeted on February 19 with a spotless, gleaming house. Alfredo and his son, Alfredo, pull up in a van outside Rosemary’s house and proceed to unload her duffle bags and suitcases. This scene looks very familiar to me. I just didn’t bring the two Tibetan terriers in a massive crate. Rosemary and her dogs had a good flight on WestJet, but I am certain all three are shell shocked and can’t believe they are actually in Mazatlan. Rosemary has had to process a lot in the last eight months. Retirement. Knee operation. Major, scary staph infection that took six months to conquer. Selling her Toronto condo. Packing. Storage.Moving countries. I have a pretty good idea of the types of emotions that are flowing through her system right now as she stares at her house she can barely remember — it was over seven months ago on a hot July day. Right. Wine for the humans, water for the dogs. The Alfredos join us in a “salud” and depart for their family evening meal. I have provided Rosemary with her first night needs and I know she wants to sit and absorb her arrival — to Mazatlan, to Mexico. She is aware Warren comes on Monday and we agree she will explore her neighbourhood, settle in and we’ll connect later in the week. She’s fluent in Spanish and she’s a fiercely independent woman, so I leave her and her dogs to explore their new surroundings.
Ligia has been busy with her colour- coded cloths in Warren’s room too. I’ve removed my five yoga mats, our tennis racquets and other junk we toss in the spare room. I keep reminding Soren we will not have an overflow room in our condo. He responds with, “Where will you put your 27 pairs of shoes then?” Why can’t a man be more like woman? How is it that Soren only has three pairs of shoes? Flip flops for the apartment, sneakers for walking and tennis, and one black pair for “evening” wear. He’s worn his tennis shoes out; his big toe is popping through, and the treads are as smooth as a terra cotta tile. I foresee a major injury on the hard courts but Soren is refusing to buy walking shoes or new tennis shoes. I have too many shoes, he has too few. We’ve had worse disagreements so I let that go and give Warren a big hug as he climbs his way up our 40 steps. Juan always travels on points and often gets upgraded to business class. He is smiling, relaxed and ready for my world famous margarita. As he unpacks in his shoe- free room, I mix the correct proportions for a margarita. It’s one- third fresh lime juice, one third tequila, and one third Controy. No Fresca, no Sprite. With a ton of ice cubes. I don’t bother to salt the glass rim at home, but do demand that in a restaurant. Every time I make a margarita, I am always reminded of my massive mistake last year when we were at Villa Serena.
I didn’t have much Spanish then, and I didn’t know much about margaritas — except that I have a sour palate and am attracted to limes and all things citrus. I bought my first bottle of Controy (it’s the Mexican version of an orange liqueur) and I understood the woman who sold it to me was saying that’s all I needed; it was the entire mix, just add ice. For several days I’d pour in lots of Controy only. It didn’t taste like a restaurant margarita but I ignored that. Eventually, I felt the lining of my stomach peeling off. Eventually, I saw Dr. Levid for acid reflux pills. Eventually, I took the time to read the label in Spanish on the back of the bottle, in plain sight, I was to add fresh limes, and tequila. Warren has no idea how lucky he was to have escaped my Controy-only margarita version last February. I have traded the bathtub glasses for proper classic glasses — the way a margarita should be served. The restaurants have those huge glasses to cut the tequila with Sprite or some other sickeningly sweet soft drink; I always know when the bartender has cheated and I send it back. Juan is sipping my professionally mixed margarita and he gives us our “please bring from Canada” items: Backwoods cigars, gluten- free pancake mix, (yes, I am Celiac, or gluten intolerant) my very own copy of Vicente Fox’s book The Revolution of Hope (I think Soren would enjoy it, and I want President Fox to autograph it for me. I have to meet this man) and a bottle of maple syrup. How Canadian eh?
Within three hours the three of us fall into our Mazatlan routine. There are three laptops on the go. Our apartment looks like a computer school but I don’t care. I’m at my dirty gym in the mornings, while Soren and Juan climb the hills and shop in the market. I usually prepare lunch and Chef Madsen does his magic for dinner. We discuss everything under the sun during our magnificent sunsets. The red hot romance of last year has taken a bit of a turn. The relationship is simply referred to as “it’s complicated.” Every morning Juan jumps on his laptop and Googles information we had chatted about the night before. He then proceeds to correct us — or answers our unanswered questions. It’s usually a dead or alive dispute, or the population of a country, or the name of movie none of us can remember. “Google is your friend,” Warren keeps repeating. It’s true it’s incredibly useful for settling “misrememberences,” as I call them.
While Soren and I play tennis, Warren actually gets to sleep in. Tito picks him up in his pulmonia and we meet for breakfast at the Balboa Beach Club. Juan is on the fast track at the University of Toronto for retirement; this July he’ll be working three days a week. I tease him, “What’s the difference between now and July?” This is an ongoing poke about life in the academic world. We killed ourselves in advertising, working 12- hour days, and Warren, who’s been at the University for 32 years, sails through his job with apparently very little stress. Soren and I eye roll each other; we couldn’t imagine being in the same job for 32 years. There’s also a small part of us that is jealous. There is something to be said for the academic world and sticking it out for the pension and holidays. And Warren is truly engaged in his work.
Juan admits he is thinking ahead. He’ll now have more holidays than ever before. He can mix and match his three days any which way. As the surf rolls in, and every day brings 26°C and blue skies, he’s pondering spending more time in Mazatlan. In fact he’s already talking about returning in November. I think, oh God, I wonder if our condo will be finished; not that he can stay in our perch, but I wonder if we will even have a home. The current plan is to depart Pepe’s Pedregoso Palace the end of July. August and September will be spent in San Miguel, and October is our move date. Notice the original July date has been pushed back four months. For months Alfredo said July was simply not possible. The professor was right. Our Canadian developer is pushing his Mexican crew, but four months got lost drilling into the granite and marble cliff. Those months are now dust in the wind, never to be recaptured.
The developer is coming over for dinner tonight. I’ve cajoled Chef Madsen into preparing his shrimp risotto. Warren backs me up on this menu suggestion. Soren, being Danish, really prefers potatoes to any other food group, but sees the value in variety. It can’t all be herring, parsley and potatoes. Never mind; you can’t buy herring in Mazatlan. Juan has met G1 before, so I anticipate this will be a fun evening. The developer has a stepson, Gerald, who is the project manager on our Vue Centro Historico condo. It doesn’t even take a glass of wine for me to confuse Gerard and Gerald names, so I’ve taken to calling them G1, dad, and G2, stepson. Their sales guy is Gary, but I don’t follow the numerical trail with him. He gets to keep his name. The risotto is indeed awesome. The chef manages to park his ambivalence about cooking with rice and creates a creamy, creamy dish with huge tender shrimp. G1 declares it’s the best risotto he’s ever had, “restaurant quality.” I have the ultimate pleasure of listening to three wonderful, intelligent men discuss varying subjects. Oh, I do participate of course, but I time out at around 10:30 p.m. I can hear more Sambuca being poured, cigars being lit, new topics being launched and I drift off in the back bunker smiling.
Soren and Juan are not as chipper as I am the next morning. No hills are being climbed, no trips to the market are happening. I return from the filthy gym and they are both hunched over their laptops drinking coffee. “What time did G1 leave I ask?”
Juan replies, “Oh, he wasn’t ready to leave; we had to kick him out at 1:30.”
I press on, “Did you ask him when we could move into the condo?”
“Nope it never came up.”
You just can’t trust men ferret out important information. Clearly no one was bored. Warren is certainly not bored. He’s had a pedicure, a marvelous massage, he does yoga with us, he’s met Rosemary and we’ve all had dinner in the square, he’s met our friends Rick and Joan for coffee at the Looney Bean, he’s been to a cocktail party hosted by Rita and Allen, and now he’s about to meet “the Toronto girls,” Gina and Patricia.
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