My Mexican Moments: Chapter 27

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.

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