1,000 Bricks a Day
Gina arrives first. She’s had a long day, as she chose to burn her air miles through a complicated route via Mexico City, with a nine-hour layover. Gina travels like I used to; hand luggage only, very sensible and a breeze to carry up our 25 steps — she’s on the main floor, not the usual 40 steps. Born in the UK, but raised in Brazil, Gina speaks four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. She and Alfredo, the teacher, chatted from the airport in Spanish. Her husband, David, is a cardiologist at St. Mike’s hospital in Toronto and is invited to speak all over the world. Hence, her efficient packing; she gets lots of practice and has mastered her mix and match wardrobe, including a tennis racquet. St. Mike’s is the hospital where Rosemary contracted her staph infection so I will keep that information to myself during Gina’s visit. With maps and her Spanish, I barely see her for two days. She’s walking everywhere and loving Mazatlan. Gina also wants to introduce Patricia to Mazatlan. Be a bit of a tour guide. Chef Madsen does entice her from the downstairs apartment with a fresh shrimp dinner. Soren has refused to make risotto again, but he’s cooked a beautiful creation with a mango sauce. Gina keeps raving about Mazatlan, the ocean and her freedom. I sense a theme here. She uses one of our three laptops to e mail her husband, but has no desire for a Skype conversation. Juan, Soren and I continue with our routines; Gina seems delighted to be alone.
Patricia arrives two days later on WestJet. The teacher, not the son, drives her to Pedregoso while they happily speak English. She has a little more luggage than Gina, as her next stop is a skiing trip with her family in Vancouver. Planning for hot and cold climates is not an easy packing task but I’m impressed with how little luggage she has. I’m confident Patricia will enjoy Mazatlan. Even though she’s just come from two weeks in Perth, Australia, followed by a biking trip in Vietnam, pausing to refresh and repack in Toronto, Patricia is an absolutely “go with the flow” type. Years ago she and a girlfriend traveled the back roads of Mexico in a VW bug, so Mazatlan should slide down well, like an icy cold Pacifico beer.
And that’s her drink of choice after a long flight. She’s met Juan before in Toronto and we are all enjoying catching up over beer, and wine. Gina and Patricia have been incredibly generous in their “please bring from Canada” gifts; tea lights, curry powder, dried basil, cheddar cheese and rice crackers. Given the size of their luggage I am very appreciative they made space for my requests. Now there are five of us using the computers; our apartment really is beginning to resemble a cyber café.
Gina practically kidnaps Patricia for two days; my presence doesn’t seem to be required. I am thrilled they feel they can go where they want, when they want. Day three we shop and lunch together. The freedom theme comes up again. I realize both Gina and Patricia have been married for over 40 years (not to each other, of course), each has three children with various grandchildren, and each has an aging parent. I’m guessing this is the first time they have been alone, without family for a very, very long time. Juan, Soren and I are now calling the downstairs apartment “The Shirley Valentine Flat.”
During our lunch in the square Alfredo calls. He has previously asked Warren, Soren and I for dinner on Saturday night. “Would you like to include Gina and Patricia too?” I’m thinking five of us for dinner, poor Miriam. However, he insists it’s no problema and I graciously accept. I organize transportation with Jesus; he did sell his taxi permit and now has a brand new Toyota van. The girls buy wine for us to drink, Warren is buying the best tequila and I am strolling through the flower market to buy calla lilies for Miriam. March is calla lily season and I’ve become addicted to them. It’s like buying a mini sculpture each time. No wonder Georgia O’Keefe and Diego Rivera painted them. No wonder they are incorporated into Mexican ceramics so much. I can stare at the milky white flowers for hours. The Spanish name for calla lily is alcatraces (pronounced Alcatraz) so that’s easy to remember.
Weeks ago Alfredo asked us if we’d prefer ribs, chicken, or beef and we said ribs, please. He claimed he was very good at making the BBQ sauce for the ribs; it simmers for hours. Soren and I knew the professor was joking and that Miriam does it all. We arrive at 6:30 and the evening is a terrific success. The teacher, and Miriam are wonderful hosts and the ribs are delicious. Alfredo’s (the son) girlfriend, Ninel, speaks excellent English so conversation rolls along in Spanish and in English. The son and the Ninel do all the serving and the dishes. Miriam does not approve of her husband smoking. He did quit on New Year’s Eve but that lasted oh, one day. Juan and Soren have brought cigars for Alfredo and they retire to the patio to smoke. The women chat up a storm, and our Spanglish is not slowing down our conversations. Jesus’s van returns at 10:30 p.m. and I can hear how appreciative Juan, Gina and Patricia are to have been introduced into a Mexican family; especially one as warm and kind as the Herreras.
Warren is returning to Toronto on Wednesday. Gina is flying back on Thursday for her 40th wedding anniversary party, followed by her “honeymoon” in the Middle East. I knew this ages ago, and through e mails I learn everyone wants to do a day trip with Jesus. There’s not much to see outside of Mazatlan. Tourist brochures rave about quaint towns with old churches and squares, but they amount to nothing but dusty small villages. I prepare everyone for this, reminding them this is not like touring in the South for France. The just don’t believe me, so eight of us pile into Jesus’s gleaming, rust-free van; he’s beaming. This is a dream come true. This is all he’s ever wanted. The credentials to become a tour guide are rigorous. The course is over 300 hours, and not only do you have to know the history and the amusing anecdotes, but your English has to be at a certain level. And so does your weight. Jesus moans “every three years they review your skills, and weight; they do not allow you to be fat.” Jesus does need to drop a few pounds but his English and tour guiding skills are superb. Soren and I knew from spending “cool time” with Jesus last summer that something had to sell in order for Jesus to be able to send his son to a private naval academy. It was the taxi permit that sold first, not his condo. The school costs $5,000 (US) a semester. The academy does not own a ship, so one wonders how a budding captain practices. Another Mexican Moment. Jesus will do whatever it takes to support his son’s goal. Mama is even selling pizzas from the family home to add pesos toward the tuition.
Our first stop is a brick factory. I’m sure this is something Jesus is proud to show off but I am convinced it will be a giant yawn. But it isn’t at all. Men toil under the blistering hot sun up to their knees and elbows in mud. Each man has to pour the adobe clay mix into 1,000 wooden moulds per day in order to earn $20(US). This takes between five to eight hours. The adobe recipe is hand mixed in a large wheel barrel. It contains clay, grain shafts, wood particles and water. It must set overnight to gel properly. Then the workers take the settled mix and scoop them into the square moulds. The workers are so fast; they have to be to meet their quota. The moulds air dry in the sun and are flipped over the second day. The next step is to knock out the dried clay and stack them into large square casitas which have slots to insert giant sticks of hard wood. They light the wood, and it burns for 36 hours. Kind of like a pizza oven. Kind of like a kiln. It’s at this point the adobe grey turns to a brick rust colour. As we leave the factory seeing men smothered in mud, working their arms and butts off for maybe $20 (US); yet smiling, singing and talking, I’m reminded of how ignorant people can be when they refer to “those lazy Mexicans swilling beer and tequila all day.”
Jesus then steers us to Malpica, Concordia and Copala. In Malpica we stop and watch tiles being made. The foreman then allows Patricia to design her own tile. It’s fairly interesting but there’s a major flaw: the tile you design takes 24 hours to dry so you can’t take it with you. Oh, you can buy someone else’s design, but that’s not the point, is it? Malpica is a tiny town with a tiny library. Warren, being a librarian, wants to check it out. I notice it has a sign saying “please keep silent” yet music is blasting through a boom box. There are three computers and ten chairs. Kids throughout Mexico find their way to the internet, no matter how remote. Patricia is debating over some interesting leather masks in Copala but eventually decides not to buy. We have lunch at Daniel’s restaurant “famous” for its banana cream pie. Everyone says it’s not that good. As a group we have fun, Jesus is a tremendously patient tour conductor but it’s all exactly as I predicted; nothing but quaint squares and crumbling churches.
On Warren’s last evening we have all have a sunset drink with Patricia and Gina, and then the three of us have a quiet shrimp dinner. Not risotto,as Chef Madsen is still on a risotto strike. We say goodbye to Warren and cheer each other up by arranging a Skype date for the following week. The next night we bid adios to Gina as she departs at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. Alfredo, the teacher, will drive her to the airport. Alfredo, the son, has no intention of getting up for a 5 a.m. taxi trip.
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