Friday, March 31, 2006

Culture and a Quick Trip to Yucatan

This past week has been pretty heavily cultural. We had the Querétaro National/International Guitar Festival at the Museo del Arte nearly every night and a string quartet at the Museo de la Zacatecana, the Leyendas de Querétaro tourism acting group. Not to mention playing dominoes with Bob and Maria, and chess with Maestro Javier. And of course, C’s culture classes three days a week.

The Leyendas de Querétaro leads a tour of the historic district with actors playing the roles of people who live in the houses being visited. This was a free show to get the word out to the public.
The guitar festival is organized by Abel Garcia, a guitar maker from Paracho (the guitar and stringed instrument center near Lake Patzcuaro started by Bishop Quiroga in the early 1500s). Garcia is trying to improve the quality of Mexican guitars and as part of that he has organized the festival for the past several years and has experimented with various woods and combinations of woods for guitars to study their sound qualities. They go for $7,000-$10,000 US in the United States. Part of this year’s festival was a display and concert with 12 guitars he made for his experiments. They are beautiful and sound great to our untrained ears.

Some Paracho guitars. I missed getting a photo of the 12 Garcia guitars.

Las Guitarres de las Americas. The only concert in the courtyard.

Since we had met one of the performers at Shelley’s pre-St. Patrick’s day party, we made sure to go to his concert which was held in a barrel-vaulted room of the museum with some nifty nineteenth-century art and great acoustics. His was the first concert, and we ended up going to nearly all the others. Of course, those were the free concerts. The for-pay concerts were at the Teatro de la Republica, and we missed those; and apparently they were poorly attended. This is a shame, since what Garcia is doing is really rather extraordinary.

If you are into guitars, you may someday hear of Fabián Sanchez. He has only studied guitar for 18 months, and he made some of the professionals sound poor by comparison. Garcia admits that Sanchez is better than he is, and he has been playing for 20-30 years. It must be disheartening for the other students at the university who have spent the past 4-6 years studying just to become merely good.

Fabian Sanchez in concert.

Every town should have a local Russian string quartet like the one that played at the Museo de la Zacatecana. It was billed as a baroque and jazz combination, but the jazz was more along the lines of Armstrong and Gershwin. The venue was the museum courtyard, and it was very intimate; and the quartet was superb. The players live in Querétaro, and their Spanish had a definite Russian accent, but it was slow and clear and I could understand it which is what matters. Later, we went for a drink with Carl and Francis. All in all, a very pleasant evening.

BTW, the Museo de la Zacatecana has a history, like most things in Querétaro. In the early nineteenth century, la Zacatecana (the lady from Zacatecas) killed her husband, buried him in the courtyard with the help of her lover, and then killed her lover and buried him alongside the husband. No one found out about it until after her death when the skeletons were found during some renovation. There had been rumors after her husband disappeared, but nothing definite. Anyway, Carl and Francis had seats on the glass floor over the burials with a prefect view of them during the concert.

Last weekend we also went to Celaya, an hour or so west of town, to look for paper maché which Celaya is supposed to be known for. I was hoping to find a chess set like they used to sell in Mexico City with little Sancho Panzas for pawns, etc. We brought along Carl and Francis to give them a break from Querétaro since they don’t have a car. After missing the road signs on the highway for the Celaya exit we nearly went to Salamanca before we found a way to turn around without paying a toll again. Turns out they are working on the highway and have removed all of the exit signs for Celaya.

It took an hour or two to finally find any paper maché at all, and that was at a little artesanía shop, perhaps the only one in Celaya. Celaya is definitely not a tourist town and relies on manufacturing. All the paper maché they make is sold in places like Querétaro. But at least we now know that it’s not a place to send people for paper maché. I ended up buying a carved wood chess set at a little shop in Querétaro.

Tomorrow, March 30, we are leaving for Yucatan and Quintana Roo. We expect to spend tomorrow evening in Cholula, Puebla, to visit Lupe and Ricardo (he is the nephew of the Capitan), and to visit the old alma mater. Then on to the coast of Veracruz, over to Chetumal, and up to Puerto Morelos where Lilia and her partner Israel have their cultural resource management business, Empresa del Manejo Cultural, S.A., or EMCSA. They are, as far as anyone knows, the only private CRM firm in Mexico, and they have just finished a major project ( With luck we will be able to stay at Lilia’s house in Mérida before heading back to Querétaro. Lilia and Israel were at the conference in Morelia last September, and Lilia gave a talk at the ACRA conference I organized in DC last November. They are young and bright, and willing to listen to an old fogey like me (just shows how smart they are!).

Caroline is expected to visit us between April 12-18, and then we will make a brief visit to the DF to visit some folks at INAH and the University before heading back to Altanta for a month. Since we have had nothing but trouble from the Ga. Dept of Motor Vehicles and from our doctors for our medical records, etc., we will also need to get a lot of paper work straightened out, including our visas, and a new car that can survive the speed bumps (topes) down here. A Camry just does not cut it on some of the topes, and I really do not want to take it on dirt roads, which are sometimes unavoidable if you want to do something interesting.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Streets of Querétaro

Some folks have wondered if I will be riding my bikes down here. It sounds like the perfect solution to getting around a historic district that is relatively compact with little parking. That is, until you look at the streets. The other day, I took pictures of the route we take to C's "culture classes" three days a week. I will let her tell you about the classes, which are for women only!

The entire walk is about 15 minutes from our house, and mostly along our street, 16 de Septiembre. Here are some representative shots of what the traffic situation is like on the side streets. The main streets are worse.

Down the block from our house. The building on the right is the philosophy and social science faculty of the Universidad Autonoma de Querétaro (I think). The red SUV is trying to park head first!

Further down the street. The people on the left are waiting in line for free bread from the nuns who live there. This is the only time I have seen alms being given out. There are a surprising number of help-wanted signs in stores and restaurants, but they usually require attractive women between 18 and 23! That kind of restricts the number of people who would qualify, and would, of course, be illegal in the US.

At the point where 16 de Septiebre becomes a pedestrian street or andador (straight ahead on the right.)

The andador section with cabling being done. There are little ramps for bikes and wheelchairs in the occasional steps in the andador, but until the cabling is done it is pretty hazardous.

Intersection of 16 de Septiembre with La Corregidora (main north south street in town) and the Zenea garden. Pretty light traffic this morning.

Past the Zenea garden. No traffic for the moment because the stores don't open until later.

Where 16 de Septiembre ends at Calle Allende and C heads off to her class.

Note the loan bicyclist (no helmet!). Taxi is trying to sneak onto Allende. C headed off in this direction in above photo.

The other direction on Allende with Plaza Guerrero on the left and my street (to go to chess practice where Maestro Javier babysits me while C is in class) between the pink and whites houses on the right.

And you can't even think about riding on the sidewalks which are much too narrow and have telephone polls, guy wires and other obstacles. I want to bring the bikes back in June, but it will be a challenge finding someplace to ride them.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


After playing some chess with the Queretaro Sunday Morning Chess Club (sounds like the name of a mystery series, but it isn't) while C was at mass, we had some lunch and decided to try for Coroneo again. This time we were successful. After leaving the city, the countryside becomes rolling hills, with a good road and little traffic. It took about an hour to get there, and as we got over the last little range of hills and started into the Coroneo valley we noticed that the fields were all marked off with stone fences about 3-5 feet high. It really started to look like Europe, and not like the Mexico I was familiar with. We stopped by on our way back.

Tomás, front right just after he beat me. Maestro Javier and Vidal had left before I remembered to take a picture.

Coroneo is smaller than San Jose Iturbide, but more animated. The market closed off a number of streets, but unfortunately, we were either too late (after 2PM) or they just don’t sell much of their local basketry on the local market. We found a few pieces, and then walked around as the market started closing up. There were some ceramics from Michoacan and the state of Mexico which were interesting because of where they were made and where they are being marketed, but they are not particularly attractive. There was also a herbal remedy stand with a lot more stuff than I remember at markets in the DF and Puebla. Herbals are making a comeback. Must be the New Agers. It did not look like they had la Señora’s stomach-ache remedy though.

Colorful chiles at Coroneo

Herbal pharmacy

The church was dedicated to Santiago, the patron saint against the Moors during the reconquest, and the patron saint of the conquistadors in Mexico. Interesting, considering that the Spanish may be conducting the best diplomacy with the Muslim world, certainly better than the US.

Santiago and a Moor

The day was better than yesterday, but still not terribly exciting. Then we pulled off to visit a couple of little villages outside Coroneo on our way back. At the second, Cerro Colorado (red hill), where we had seen the stone fences, we stopped at the center of the village and visited the church. The village definitely had an air of relative prosperity. It reminded me of little villages in Portugal or Spain. The houses around the small plaza were new and well-built. The villagers have a view of their well-tended and laid out farms in the valley. What would be dirt roads in most villages were cobbled. It is really quit nice. As we were getting back in our car to leave, a woman, Maria, came down the road and started talking to us and invited us into her house across the road.

Spinning a little yarn

What's a shuttle?

A poncho for Christiane

Leftover from last season. The rebozo Maria is holding is very fine and my favorite.

It turns out she and her 97 year old mother weave and knit woolen (lana) articles from washing the wool in a nearby lake to making the yarn, to setting up the looms and weaving rebozos, ponchos, sweaters, etc. etc. There are only four natural colors, white, grey, black and coyote (brown). And she was eager to show us how it was all done. Nothing like a guided tour of a weaver’s workshop by the weaver herself. Of course, we bought C a poncho; but the quality of what she made was such that we will buy more things next fall when the season really begins. This is where I will get my poncho for next winter. Right now Maria only has left-overs from the season just ended.

She told us how everyone in the village is in the wool business, that Coroneo had a really big fiesta in October with lots of wool stuff and baskets, and that we should come back when they are making things and see how it is done, from the washing of the lanolin filled wool (C may be allergic) to the cleaning of the final product for market. This reminded me so much of the time in Puebla when I watched and recorded a potter for a week, from preparing the clay to firing the final product. It was a fantastic learning experience, and I am looking forward to doing it again in Cerro Colorado.

Maybe we will meet some of her seven kids who all live in the Dallas area now, and don’t get down too often to help out. Her pictures of her granddaughter’s 15th birthday showed an attractive family, but only one of them is interested in lana and weaving.

So it took us two days to get it right, but we finally had an adventure, and we look forward to the woolen market in June and the Coroneo fiesta (for Santiago, of course) in October.


Our little trip to Coroneo turned out to be to San Luis de la Paz. I had seen signs to Coroneo in our recent travels but got confused and thought it was on the road to Bernal and the airport. We headed east and then northeast out of town. No one seemed to know where it was. Finally, as we entered the quota (toll road), I asked the toll guy, and he said he thought it was south of town. We eventually found it on the map, and it was indeed in the opposite direction and on the opposite side of town. We decided to keep going to the next big town north, San Luis de la Paz for lunch. We had never heard of it, but you never know.

On the way we stopped at San Jose Iturbide, a little town north of Querétaro that is starting to attract some foreign industry. It was market day, but not much was going on. There was not even much traffic.

We found out why we had never heard of San Luis de la Paz. Not much going on their either, and there are few restaurants for tourists, and the few that are there were closed. We ended up having a torta in a little place, and spent $38 MX for both of us. It would have cost double that in Querétaro, and double again in Atlanta. C asked the girl who served us what the town did (what kind of artesanias, industry, etc.). Apparently, they don’t have a specialty. After a brief look at the church (proudly built in 1908) we headed back to Querétaro. Maybe we will get to Coroneo today.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Great City Part 2

The Irish Pub was noisy, cigarette smoke poured out onto the sidewalk and the place was jammed with twenty-somethings. C and I hobbled off down the street into the obscurity of the night.

We ended up finding Bob and Maria having dinner with a Mexican friend from the DF, Lula. Lula is a potter and knows some of the archaeologists I know, including Angel Garcia Cook, who was a young fellow back in the 70s and sometimes came around to the German Foundation where I was working for Peter Schmidt. Ah, the good old days.

Lula filled us in on the national political scene (presidential elections will be held on July 2), including Sub-commandante Marcos whom Bob, Maria and I saw at the Plaza de Armas a couple of weeks ago. When a guy wears a mask, it is a little hard to be sure it is really him, but on the other hand he can be in more than one place at a time, a definite advantage. I really don't think he is trying to be Zorro, but you never know.

Assuming it really was Marcos, Lula asked what he said specifically, and we had to admit it was pretty vague and about what he calls the “other campaign” presumably in support of indigenous groups but with no real platform (besides the standard left wing anti establishment stuff) or candidate. The object seems to be to raise questions, not to answer them. Lula is convinced that Marcos is secretly part of the PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democratico) whose presidential candidate is referred to as AMLO (his initials) who is mayor of Mexico City, and who is currently the front runner. Stranger things have happened.

The old line PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) was in power for 70 years until Vicente Fox (PAN) beat them six years ago. Now Fox is accused of not getting anything done, the PRI is considered old fashioned and corrupt, and it looks like it is the PRD’s turn.

Considering that ineffective and seemingly powerless parties in the past have been removed by revolutions, I asked Lula if she thought that might happen again or whether has Mexico progressed to the point where things can be settled politically instead of militarily. She is convinced, and so am I really, that Mexico has matured and the public is much better educated and prepared to participate in a political process than it was back in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Even Marcos has been accepted by the public and the other parties as just another voice and point of view on the direction Mexico should take, despite the romance and rebelliousness of his ski mask. But it is going to be a little confusing around here for a while.

I think the major stumbling block on the road to democracy post PRI will be the narcotraficantes and all the money they have to throw around. This week a bill was introduced to stop such money from being laundered through the political parties, and it was supported by all the parties. I don’t think anyone (except the narcotraficantes) wants Mexico to become another Colombia.

This morning (March 18), we had thought of visiting El Pueblito and/or El Cerrito, two archaeological sites in the region; but the newspapers say that there will be a year’s worth of tourists at these sites this weekend because of the Spring equinox. Since we were here, the New Agers have taken over Teotihuacan and other sites. We will wait for a week or two.

So, we have decided to go to Coroneo, not far from Querétaro, where they make things out of miembre (straw and other plant material). We need some place mats to protect the glass on our dining table, and a wall hanging to deaden the echo and provide some color. I will photograph anything we come up with for your viewing pleasure.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Is This a Great City or What?

One of the reasons I have not been showing many photos of Querétaro is that since we live here now, I am not looking at it from a tourist’s standpoint. I usually carry my camera, but don’t often take touristy type pictures. Now when I look at the church towers and facades all lit up at night, I just thank my lucky stars that we live in such a cool place, and since we do, we have no need to take photos to remind us of where we are. I will try to take more for the blog. It is really an extraordinary town, with views and interesting things to see around every corner. Once I really begin to relax, I am seriously considering taking some watercolor classes to see if I can still do it, and there are plenty of street scenes to paint.

Last night we went to Shelley’s pre-St. Patrick’s Day party for her ESL (English as a Second Language) students and a few English speakers like us to keep the conversation going in English. Carl, Francis and their Toronto friend, Jan, were there two. We left early to stop by Maria and Bob’s for dessert (and a little tequila), and met Barry (from NY) and his friend Anne (from Toronto). It is beginning to look like there are two kinds of English speakers here, Americans, and folks from Toronto. Anne and Jan work for the Toronto school system, as did Carl, so maybe there are Americans and teachers from Toronto.

Yesterday, we walked until I thought my legs were going to drop off. C and I walked to her culture class on the other side of the historic district. Then I left her and walked to our landlord’s office on the south side of the district past Alameda Park. On the way I bought some niveladoras (levelers for the furniture legs). I came back through the park and on to where I am having business cards made. Then, since I had a few minutes I walked beyond C’s class to Maestro Javier’s to see who was playing chess. No one was, and I asked if anyone (Tomás and Javier were there) knew where to find tuercas (nuts) for the niveladoras, which are not that easy to find, BTW. I was directed to a hardware store a couple of blocks further on (there must only be 4 or 5 blocks a mile in Querétaro). After buying the tuercas and some washers (they cost $4 MX and the smallest bill I had was $200 MX), I went to wait for C’s class to finish. When she came out we walked to the Arte Expresse café, had a cup of coffee, then to the art museum which is in an old convent and which had a great sculpture exhibit and book store. We walked back past the business card store, and then back across town to our house. Between 9 AM when we left and 2 PM when we got back home, I sat down a total of 45 minutes, whew! Must have done 3-4 miles. No wonder I’m losing weight.

Art Museum in what they call Baroque, but I feel is late 19th century Art Nouveau. The figures are very Art Nouveau, and if you look closely you will see that the upper ones have their hands over their heads and the hands are in a series of signals. These must be the first set of gang hand signs. See the closeup.

This is the upper balcony.

Today, we went to the Regional Museum which has an excellent exhibit on the prehistory and indigenous history of Querétaro. I will have to go back a few times to absorb it all. It is in the old San Francisco monastery, which was so large and well located that it served as the bishop of Michoacan’s (next state over) headquarters at one time a few centuries ago. The history of the movement of the Otomi from further south into the region after the conquest was interesting and something that you would not have seen in such a museum 30 years ago.

Looking at the convent patio from below.

The previous picture was taken from the between the trees in the corner.

On our way back home, we stopped at Quinta Real, a shop specializing in high class Mexican crafts. Anne had told us the night before that the owners were Chris and Renata, and that Chris was looking for someone to play chess with. She was correct, and in addition, Chris had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay. I now have someone nearby to practice with to get me up to speed to take on the Maestro again, and hopefully win this time.

Well, tonight we celebrate Nat’s birthday at the only Irish Pub in town, just around the corner from us. Are we centrally located or what?

In order to maintain its World Heritage Site status, Querétaro has to bury all of its cables within the next 10 years. It is actually going pretty quickly. This guy is trimming the sidewalk stones (cantera) to cover over the ditch where the cables have been installed.

Typical cable work. Why can't Atlanta do this?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Clowns and Chess

After shopping in Dolores Hidalgo it was siesta time before we met Bob and Maria for drinks downtown that evening. We finished dinner at home and decided to go early and wander around before they arrived at the restaurant. We went to Plaza Guerrero, and nothing much was going on. Nothing was going on in the Plaza de Armas or the Zenea garden either, but some noise was coming from the Jardin de la Corregidora (the woman who smuggled out the message to Father Hidalgo in Dolores that resulted in the grito. Everything is connected, see?)

There were some clowns entertaining the crowd, mostly be insulting hapless victims. One was a mime, too; and noboby likes a mime. We watched as girls got called up, were made fun of, were made to tickle him with a feather duster, etc. And then the guy picked Christiane to dance the waltz! I did not have my camera or there would be pictures all over the blog. He took her glasses and an advertisement she had been carrying, and gave them to someone in the audience. The ad caused titillation among the younger female set, don’t know why. Then they danced, kissed cheeks and she finally made it back to the crowd. It could have been worse.

A few minutes later, the clown came into the crowd and put his hat on guys who had to come up and do whatever. Then he came for me; and I was up there to the end of the show. I just mimicked everything he did in spades, which drove him nuts at first. Then he figured he would put me in my place and gave me a big wet kiss on the cheek, so I gave him one on his other cheek and a big hug. The crowd seemed to like it. He had another guy catch him when he jumped into his arms, but took one look at me and decided not to chance it with me, although he did have the girl fall backwards so I had to catch her. Anyway, we had a pretty good time.

Then we met Bob and Maria, who are really big on a conversation teacher they have. I told them that I had found a language teacher too. When C went to her culture class last week, I met a guy at a little tienda (store) who gives chess lessons for free and has had a chess club there since 1965. Maestro Villanueva has a philosophy much like my old mentor El Capitan in Cholula, and he is older than me so it felt like talking to the Capitan again. The Capitan passed away 15 years ago or so. His students include the governor of the state and the mayor of Querétaro, plus a young lady who beat everyone in her level in Merida at the Mexican championships years ago, and then came in 5th in Argentina and won something in the Chzech Republic. He has a space reserved by the city to teach chess at Alameda Park on Sundays, so today I went and immediately got hooked into a game with Noe, a young guy who is fortunately a beginner. We played two games and look forward to meeting again next Sunday. Next week I will also drop by the tienda and play a few games with the Maestro when C does her culture thing. Who says you can’t go home again.

Dolores Hidalgo, 16 de Septiembre, and George Bush

The Church in Dolores Hidalgo where the Grito was made.

(Christiane finally got over her cold, mostly, this weekend, after almost 3 weeks, and she promptly gave it to me. It will be nice to have us both in good shape again at the same time.)

On Saturday (March 11) we headed to Dolores Hildago with Sylvia Perez and her daughter to buy some dishes. Not exactly with, but together. Sylvia wanted to drive her new pick-up in case she bought something big, and there was not room for 4 in the cab, so we drove our car too. We started a little before 10 AM, and waited for Sylvia to fill up at a Pemex (only game in town after the Mexican government expropriated the oil business back from Standard Oil and others in the 1920s.) As she pulled out of the gas station, we immediately were separated in traffic. Panic.

We finally made it out of town on the road to San Miguel de Allende and were stopped by a crew cleaning up from interstate repairs. Got past that, and turned onto the two-lane headed for San Miguel and Dolores Hidalgo, and got behind a truck carrying rebar that was eventually passed by a bicyclist. Got around that halfway to San Miguel, and then had to get around San Miguel by the bypass. We got to Dolores Hidalgo around 11:30 after going through a well-irrigated valley full of rich people’s ranches. It was supposed to take about an hour and a half (70km), and it did, despite the delays (which are taken into the calculations around here).

As we drove into town both sides of the highway became filled with stores showing their ceramic wares. I wanted to buy everything. The colors are incredible (over-used word, but they were). You can get those bath wash-basins you see in Mexican restaurants, water coolers, pots for plants, everything for the bathroom and kitchen, and much besides. Sylvia took us to the cheaper part of town to a factory that made just about everything and had a wide, wide selection of table settings at very reasonable prices. The normal 6 place setting with about 60 pieces (don’t ask) cost around $2600 MX ($260 US) in either talavera (what some US archaeologists call faience or majolica, but which in Mexico has always been called talavera from the town in Spain where it traditionally came to Puebla, Mexico, where most of the Mexican variety is made) or in more modern ware.

I had no idea that someplace other than Puebla made so much of this stuff. The whole town seems to make it and/or also make barro (red clay glazed ware) that is also brightly decorated but with more modern motifs. Years ago a plate cost $25 or more US, and now they are well over that from Puebla. Finally, we could afford talavera on our own table, maybe not from Puebla, but pretty cool, nonetheless. A whole table for $260 US was unbelievable.

Sylvia then took us to an “art” ceramics place with all modern designs and motifs. A 6 place setting here was $4,500MX. We then went to their store down another street past a zillion other stores and factories. This place was loaded with carved furniture that made our rustico stuff look like so much lumber. A hand-carved and painted dining table went for $15,000-$17,000 MX, and chairs for $1,500 MX plus. You would not be embarrassed with this stuff in your penthouse apartment in San Miguel when you invite the rich Mexican neighbors over.

Ultimately, we went back to the first place and bought a partial set of talavera while Sylvia and her daughter went shopping. They were looking for macetas (big clay pots) for plants, as Sylvia and her husband have a landscape supply company and their daughter is does some landscape planning. The landscaping is totally on the side as Sylvia and her husband are full time engineers, and their daughter is an architect for the city.

We could not take any pictures of the pots and furniture since most factory-related places don’t allow it, fearing that someone will steal their ideas. BTW, the first place had about 35 employees with 8 of them painting everything by hand. The “art” place had two painters and less than 10 total employees. Yet the production was prodigious from both.

We then took Sylvia to lunch for tortas (really great little sandwiches on French petits pains) on the main square of town. After lunch, and as we were getting ready to head back, I asked if the church on the plaza was the one where Hidalgo made his “grito” (call) for independence in 1810. It was indeed; and as Sylvia headed back to Querétaro, we did a little sightseeing, a very little bit of sight seeing, as there is really nothing else in town for tourists.

Commemoration Plaque on the Church where the Father of the Country, Father Hidalgo, gave his famous call for Independence

So Dolores Hidalgo, which got the last part of its name in commemoration of the grito by Father Hidalgo, is known for two things, pottery and the grito, which is replicated every year by the President of Mexico on 16 de Septiembre (our street name, BTW, see how everything is connected?). The grito is a combination of the Declaration of Independence and Lexington and Concord for Mexicans, and started a bloody war of independence that lasted over 10 years and in which virtually all of the people who started it like Hidalgo, Morelos, Guerrero, Madero, etc. were caught and executed by the Spanish.

Americans know about the Cinco de Mayo which was a victory over Maximillian later in the century, but except in Puebla where the battle was held, Cinco de Mayo really is not that big a holiday. Oh, and BTW, the town eventually gave part of its name to that famous treaty, Guadalupe Hidalgo, since that is where the treaty was actually signed by those guys from Querétaro, after the Marines reached the “halls of Moctezuma” in Mexico City.

And just when I had thought we were mending our ways on the international scene after WWII, with the institution of foreign aid, the World Bank, the UN, etc. etc., we end up with a president who wants to take us back to the good old days of imperialism. I wonder what imperial George would say if the Mexicans assumed his point of view and claimed their territory back by force of arms, rather than do what they are doing, trying to negotiate a way around the Fence and trying to improve their economy to the point where folks won’t need to go to the US? He certainly couldn’t argue with them that it is their “right” to do so. I bet he would live in San Miguel if he moved down here!

An original water fountain from the Querétaro aquaduct circa 1780s, on 16 de Septiembre, about a half block from our house. Only a few of these are left.

Getting Hooked Up (to the Internet)

We now have water, most of the furniture we need (see pictures below), except some odds and ends like a computer table to free up the dining table and to keep from having wires all over the place, and a local cell phone for delivery people and to call our few acquaintances. We will probably not get a local phone line since we got cable for the internet and TV. With the internet we will eventually get some kind of Voice Over Protocol for long distance. For now are using audio chat to keep in touch, plus the local internet cafe that uses Voice Over Protocol and charges $2 MX a minute.

If you have an AIM name (AOL Instant Messenger), iChat calls are free, but you need a microphone and speaker with your computer, which we have. The Voice Over Protocol cost is around $20 US for unlimited long distance anywhere in the world. That is about a 1/3 to a ¼ of our long distance bill in Atlanta. We pay for local calls on the cell phone by buying a certain number of minutes every few weeks. All of this, will cost us about the same or somewhat less than cable, phone, DSL and cell phone in Atlanta.

On TV we get a number of English channels for movies, CNN in English and Spanish, BBC from Hong Kong, and even a channel mostly in French for movies. This is not Canal 5, a consortium of 5 French speaking countries (France, Canada, Belgium, etc.), but it is better than what we had in Atlanta; and we can always change to another carrier later to get Canal 5. We got the second fastest Internet speed, 630k. The fastest is 1.5gb, but costs a whole lot more. The speed is about the same or slightly faster than Atlanta.

It took about a week to get the cable installed, but seeing as how no one had cable or even telephones 30 years ago, this is incredibly fast. Two days after the cable was installed the internet connection went down, maybe because I kicked the modem on the floor near the dining table. After much swearing, resetting, rebooting, I gave up and called the cable company in trepidation of having to deal in Spanish with one of those snotty geeks you get in the states. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The guy was pleasant, wanted to help, spoke slowly, apologized for putting me on hold once, fiddled with the modem settings from his office, and we were back on the air in five or ten minutes. Wow! It’s all still so new down here that everyone is trying to help everyone else find out about how things work and to make them work.

I wish I could say things will continue to improve in the future, as I suspect the guys will become as snotty and rude as the ones north of the border in a few years. But maybe I am wrong. The folks in the street are still invariably polite and pleasant when you say the right words, like “con permiso”, “disculpe”, “perdon”, “buenos tardes”, “mucho gusto conocerle”, etc. etc. And to think we took half their territory back in 1848, astounding. ;-)

Living Room (rug from Bernal, rustico from Apaseo, cushions from Querétaro)

Dining Room (table and chairs from Apaseo)
Bedroom (bedstead and bedside tables from Apaseo, mattress from Viana, a store in Querétaro, lamps from Home Depot!)

Water, Water

(Sorry about the server being down so much, but there is nothing I can do about it. Often, I cannot even open the blog editor to upload text, much less photos. Maybe if folks complained to Google and Blogger, they would finally take this seriously. If anyone knows of another blog site I could use, please drop me a line. Blogger s**ks.)

For the first five days or so in our apartment we had very low water pressure until it finally ran out, and we went for two days with no water at all. We only had drinking water from the garrafon (large water plastic water jug), and water for the toilets by dipping a bucket in the cistern. Let me explain.

Every house in Mexico has a water tank on the roof. Newer ones have PVC tanks, older ones have ceramic or brick tanks. Most newer houses and a lot of older houses also have a cistern at ground level that acts as a back up if the public water system does not fill the tanks on the roofs. This is also filled from the public water system, but once filled, it just sits there for an emergency. If the roof tanks run out, you turn on the cistern pump to refill the roof tank until the public systems gets back on line. The public system only fills the roof tanks at night (at least in our neighborhood), and you can hear the gentle gurgling at 3 AM. Kind of like rain on the roof even though it has not rained from months.

When we moved in two things were against us. They were working on the water system in the neighborhood (to get it up to World Heritage standards?) and thus, there was no public water for a week or more. The other problem was that the pump on the cistern did not work because another one of the tenants had turned it on, had forgot to turn it off, and the motor had burned out. Yes, they should get an automatic shut off valve when it gets close to empty, but since that only happens once a year or so, the cistern never really gets close to empty so why spend the pesos for a special valve. There is, however, a valve to stop filling up the cistern when it is being filled from the street. Anyway, we did not have water in our roof tank and could not replenish it from the cistern which was full. Since our tank was low before the water was cut off, we had been doing laundries (we bought a washing machine right off), and because the other tenants had been filling up their tanks in the previous weeks, they still had at least a trickle, but we had nothing.

After several days of calling the owner and leaving messages, and then two days with “nada, ni una gota de agua” (not a drop of water), the owner finally sent an electrician who arrived around 7 PM, and then came back around 10:30 PM to make sure everything was working properly. We were already in bed when he knocked on the metal door (reverberates like a bell), but it’s nice to know someone cares. We also need some wall hangings to help deaden the echo.

But still the water in the kitchen and one bathroom was only a trickle. Carl suggested that maybe the little strainers on the spigots were blocked, and low and behold they were filled up with mineralized crud. Once that was removed, everything has worked just fine.

The public system is for washing clothes, the dishes, the floors (tile, remember?), the patio and flushing the toilets. Drinking water is bottled, and delivered to your kitchen by guys wearing neckties. Yep, neckties. We had two young, intelligent-looking guys (just like in the ads) deliver our water and put the garrafon in the garrafon holder. Except for the ties, it reminded me of living in southern California as a kid where all of our drinking water was also bottled and delivered to the house.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Today is Friday so This Must Be Querétaro

On Friday, March 3, we were finally able to take the trolley bus tour. When we first arrived, we tried to take the tour to help us get oriented, but they had trouble finding two other couples to make it worth their while. Today, all the buses were full. Don’t know why.

We took two tours. The first on the east side of town included a trip to the end of the aqueduct, which we had not seen (the other end, not the aqueduct), and to the view from the convent of La Cruz, which we had. The other members of our group were from Mexico and Japan. The guide, like the one in Cuernavaca, asked everyone where they were from, and we thus became the token norteamericanos again. The guide made no bones about the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago where Mexico was forced to turn over half its territory to the US. (I keep repeating it because they keep repeating it and posting it on signs.) I felt like saying, “hey, it wasn’t my fault. I was just a kid.” The house of the signers (traitors?) were pointed out, etc. Lucky for the Japanese couple that Japan never invaded Mexico. In fact, I kind of felt like a Japanese tourist visiting Pearl Harbor.

The second tour was of the west side of the city with the same guide. The other riders were from Los Angeles (as in California) and Chicago, although nearly all were latinos and spoke Spanish. We were again the token norteamericanos. Since this was the part of town where Emperor Maximillian was executed, I made it real clear to the guide that I was not to blame for Maximillian, and that the lady sitting next to me was French. It was the first time I ever heard C say she was not French (technically she is an American citizen now)! We still heard about Guadalupe Hidalgo though. But the guide also expressed interest in my knowledge of Mesoamerican archaeology, which partly made up for it all. There were even some jokes about Carlotta (Max’s wife) being the only woman to stay at the Vatican when she toured Europe to raise money for the cause.

If you ever come down to visit, I think I can do a convincing job as tour guide. Not so much from the bus tours as from the walking we have been doing for the past few weeks. The buses can only go on a fraction of the city’s streets, and you really have to walk the rest of it to understand Querétaro.

San Miguel de Allende and a Footnote on Danzas Aztecas

Today, March 2, we went to San Miguel de Allende to locate the consulate and find out about getting a more permanent type visa, an FM-3. It is a small town compared to Querétaro, but because it is so cute (precious even) norteamericanos have flocked there over the last few decades to the point where they make up at least 10% of the population (some say 30%) and have a much larger economic and social impact than their numbers would suggest.

As we got closer to the main plaza downtown, the sidewalks started filling up with gringos, old gringos, old gringos who look like my parent’s generation, but who are my age. There appear to be two types, those who live there and those who are just visiting. The ones who live there don’t carry cameras, are perfectly coiffed and groomed, and have spent hours getting ready to go out and be seen. The tourists wear shorts showing off their pale, overweight legs; carry cameras; and talk loudly. Either way, we were not anxious to meet them, and as we got closer to the plaza, the more we wanted to turn around and head back to some place real, like Querétaro. To disassociate myself from them, I considered shaving my beard, dying my hair dark, not wearing a baseball cap, in order not to be like these guys. But C pointed out that this was my generation, and I was stuck with it. Maybe I’ll start wearing dark glasses to hide my identity like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt did last week in Mexico City in the picture on the front page of the local paper.

At the plaza they were having a series of Danzas Aztecas, much like that at La Cruz church the other day. However, there were some major differences. Unlike at La Cruz, the audience was almost exclusively norteamericano, and every one of them had a camera and was taking pictures. There were almost as many norteamericano photographers/observers as there were dancers. Except for dancers waiting to take their place in the square, there were virtually no indigenas. The whole thing seemed canned, artificial, and did not have the soul of the one at La Cruz.

As soon as we got some information on visas from the consulate and set up an appointment for two weeks from now, we made a quick visit of the church, checked our car out of the parking garage, and headed out of town. We knew San Miguel was not for us from our experiences 30 years ago, but it has now become an American pleasure palace with a colonial Mexican flavor that seems alien to the real world of Mexico.

It is understandable that retired folks who never learned Spanish, but who like the Mexican colonial atmosphere, would want to congregate where they don’t need to learn English or a new culture, but that is really not for us. The norteamericanos who live in San Miguel have done some good--raising money for the poor, setting up feed the hungry programs, showing the American penchant for volunteering to “improve” their communities-- but in the process they are making unintentional changes to the local culture and killing off what attracted them in the first place. I guess that is also typically American.

No pictures, as we could not wait to get out of there. But it is a pretty little town.

Of Interest to CRMers

This morning (Mar 1) I decided it was time to meet the folks at the Peace Corps office. It seemed like a good day because Christiane’s cough was driving me crazy and I needed to get out. She doesn’t have a fever, just a really nasty cough.

I walked down to the Cruz market and then another block beyond to the Peace Corps office. Are we centrally located or what?

Byron, the in-country director to whom we had been introduced by Maria, was out visiting volunteers so I talked to his secretary, Regina. A five minute talk turned into a forty-five minute talk. I wanted to find out what the Peace Corps was doing in Mexico (the program is brand new in Mexico), and to see if we could work out a Peace Corps appearance for the Moroccan Peace Corps reunion I am helping to prepare in a year or two. However, we immediately got side-tracked to other things.

It turns out that Regina, has a mother who is an archaeologist, probably the first female Mexican archaeologist. She is in her 80s and worked at two of the most important archaeological sites in Mexico, Tzintzuntzan on Lake Patzcuaro, one of the few Purepecha (not Aztec) contact sites ever worked on, and Chupicuaro, the type site for the Preclassic in that part of Mexico, known for its figurines that have become Preclassic time markers. She was the only Mexican woman archaeologist back in the 1940s. Later she worked at the Templo Major in Mexico City with Eduardo Matos, the grand old man of Mexican Archaeology. I was, needless to say, very, very impressed.

Our conversation got around to what I would be doing in Mexico. Regina suggested I join the Peace Corps again, and while I did not flat out refuse, I was more interested in volunteer opportunities in Querétaro. She loaded me up with all sorts of suggestions from working with Consejos de Ciudadanos (citizens councils for local people to help the city and state solve some of its problems) to maybe working with Peace Corps volunteers in some capacity. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned ICOMOS (UNESCO’s International Council on Monuments and Sites), of which I have been a member for several years, and on which I serve as a member of the Archaeological Heritage Management Committee, both in the US and internationally. Turns out she knows someone on the Querétaro committee of ICOMOS, and gave him a call. She then passed me the phone. A little flustered, I set up a meeting at 7 in the evening to meet Victor, an architect, and his wife at Las Torrihas, a restaurant on Plaza de Armas (see above/below), and the only place I could think of on the spur of the moment.

That afternoon, C and I took a two hour bus tour of Querétaro (see below), visited the bank for more dinero, and bought a holder for my cell phone. At 7 we were at the restaurant waiting for a guy who had a beard (sounds familiar). Soon thereafter, Victor showed up and brought along some friends, Jorge, a lawyer, and his wife Elena. Jorge and Elena live about a block and a half away and are also knowledgeable about historic preservation.

Victor’s wife, Patricia, who is a graphic artist by trade, came later since she teaches an art class for fun after work. Everyone spoke English, Elena is from Brownsville, but it was agreed that the conversation would be in Spanish until I ran out of vocabulary. Luckily, that really never happened. I was in my element, talking about Mexican archaeology and historic preservation with people who knew what I was talking about.

Turns out Victor also has a degree in archaeology, has been very involved in historic preservation in Querétaro and even headed up the local preservation enforcement arm (a bit more important than the Dekalb County Historic Preservation Commission that I was briefly president of), is an architect interested in fixing up old colonial homes in the historic district with an office a block away from the hotel we had stayed in, and he knew two of my main professors, Peter and Paul Schmidt (they are not related). Paul is still an archaeology professor at the University of Mexico (UNAM), and Peter is, or was, the head of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in Merida, Yucatan. Talk about a coincidence.

Victor also knew some of the ICOMOS people I know (although not well), such as Nelly Robles in Oaxaca. Serendipity. We had, as you must understand, a really interesting conversation. We even got into a discussion of Machu Pichu and Cuzco (two of my favorite places), where Victor had helped represent Querétaro at an international meeting of World Heritage Cities. Jorge was funny and will be a real delight to get to know. Meantime, C was talking to Paty and Elena and got invited to a class Lena attends, to meet other Mexican women and find out what volunteer opportunities there are available.

Victor snuck behind our backs and paid the tab, so I now owe him one, or maybe two; but we had a really great time, and found out more in 2-3 hours than we ever could from a book or just wandering around. Victor even offered to help me navigate the DF when I make my obligatory visit to Paul Schmidt at UNAM. Can you tell I am elated?

Here are some pictures that did not fit anywhere else.

View from the kichen window of my new bougainvilla and geraniums we bought on the road between Toliman and Colon last weekend. Helps relieve the monotony of the ochre wall; and besides, gotta grow things.

Patio of the Peña y Peña house where the President of Mexico of the same name lived when he signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceding over half of Mexico to the US in 1848. The Library of Congress noted parenthetically that this territory which included California, Santa Fe, Texas, etc. was "(regarded by Mexicans as their territory)". Who says the Library of Congress isn't even handed. We called it Manifest Destiny, they called it imperialism. This was before Maximillian showed up. It is also the house where Christiane is taking the classes Elena introduced her to. Her class is held in the office right in the middle of the picture. BTW, Mexicans say that the treaty was OK because now they are taking it all back anyway despite Tom Tancredo and Congress (joke, guys, just a joke).

Door to the street of the Peña y Peña house. The detailing is pretty neat. The red pots have Tlaloc (Aztec rain god) on them.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

La Cruz Church and Market

La Cruz is the name for a church up the hill from us and for a market down the hill from us. In 1531, when Qto. was conquered by the Spanish, the Fransicans, who accompanied the army, put up a stone cross on the top of the hill, which later became the site of a church and monastery and the headquarters for the Franciscan attempts to evangelize Arizona and New Mexico for the next couple hundred years. It was the prison for Maximillian in the 1860s, and it was from here that he was taken to the Hill of the Bells on the other side of Qto to his execution. The Hill of the Bells is now the site of the University of Querétaro with a fancy monument to the memory of Maximillian (must have been a love/hate relationship).

The La Cruz market is one of, if not the, largest in Qto; and from what people tell us, if you can’t find what you want at el Mercado de la Cruz, you can’t find it in Qto. Home Depot and Walmart might want to disagree with that, but it is true that La Cruz is big and has a wide variety of merchandise, from mangos to internet cafes, and hardware to shoes and dresses and exotic caged birds.

Sunday, as we were cleaning up the apartment, we heard mortar fire starting at 5:30 AM that continued all day. Mid-morning the drums started that could be heard all over the historic district. When we finished up around dusk, we went in the direction of the noise to have dinner and to see what was going on. In the plaza in front of the Church de la Cruz there were a couple of large terraces or plazuelas (little plazas) filled with indigenas (Indian) groups dressed in rather authentic looking Aztec outfits and spectacular feather headdresses. Each group had 4-6 drummers beating on 55 gallon metal barrels with stretched leather tops to make drums. The sound was deafening, and the movement mesmerizing. At first, we took some pictures (no flash, of course), and then noticed that there were no tourists, not even Mexican tourists. These were danzas Aztecas (Aztec dan es), which seem to have made their re-appearance in the 19th century after 300 years. I really don’t know how authentic they are, but I do remember seeing them on TV years ago at the Virgen de Guadalupe celebrations in Mexico City. It looks like they have become more popular since we left.

As with most things in town, audiences are usually made up of a few criollos (Mexicans of Spanish descent), mestizos (majority of Mexicans) and a few indigenas (indigenous folks). This time there were only a few mestizos and us. Everyone else was indigena. This was clearly intended as a participatory event that had great meaning for the people dancing and the somewhat fewer indigenas watching. Nearer the church there were food stalls, and at the doors of the church there were tables set up for a kermesse sort of event where people sat to eat and play bingo, etc. This area also had a group of young Franciscan friars eating and enjoying themselves with the locals.

Inside the packed main church there was a mass going on despite the constant beating of the drums, and in the chapel next to it (which has a large stone cross.) Some say this is the Cruz of 1531, and some it isn't. I prefer to think it is. The people were sitting quietly and motionless in dramatic contrast to what was going on outside. All of this made up the celebration of the Señor de Esquipulas, presumably part of the pre-lenten celebrations. March 1, is Ash Wednesday. How it all worked together is and will probably remain a mystery, at least to us. But it had more going on than newbies like us could absorb before dinner.

We did come away with a better understanding of why the Spanish were so frightened by Cholultecans and Mexicans that they massacred hundreds of dancing warriors in Cholula and Mexico City. The latter massacre caused the Noche Triste (Sad Night), when Cortes and his men had to escape the city via the causeways across Lake Texcoco. They were caught at the breaks in the causeways where they tried to use the temporary wooden bridges they had built. It became a rout as men and horses ended up abandoning the bridges and jumped into the lake to get across the breaches in the causeways. Many died, weighed down with the gold they had stolen. It was easy to imagine how similar dances under dim torch light only a few months after arriving in this new world might have made the Spanish edgy.

We had dinner at a restaurant across the street, and the waitress, who was clearly tired out by the relentless beating of the drums and the fireworks, said she just hoped it would be over soon. We heard from Carl and Francis the next morning that they had been there too, in the morning and later at night, and that the fireworks in front of the church (built on bamboo frameworks) were really something to see.

Tuesday, we got our refrigerator and decided to explore the Mercado de la Cruz to fill it up. It is a block and a half away. We headed out and noticed a rustico furniture place. Needing cushions for the furniture that had arrived the day before, we dropped in to see if they could make them. They could but it would cost $1,800 Mx. They could also make us some tables for the water bottle and the computer. We shall see.

Two or three stores down, we stopped at an internet café and checked e-mail. Then on to the market, past the clothes, the bird market with all kinds of birds (some for looks, some for talking and some for singing), and finally to the butcher area where the old familiar smell of Mexican markets wafted towards us.

We finally bought an avocado, lettuce (I know, I know), jitomates (which are our tomatoes, as their tomatoes are very different from what we call tomatoes), a mango, a papaya to make up for the house we did not get, little red potatoes, etc. etc. and then we saw the flower market and had to get some flowers for our new dining table. As we left the market, we stopped at the chicken roasting place across the street and picked up a chicken which the lady cut into pieces with a big pair of scissors. She also gave us half a dozen tortillas, some roasted potatoes, and roasted chiles. The bags were cutting through my hands as we started to walk back.

We were proud of ourselves and looking forward to lunch when we got to the apartment and realized that we had absolutely no water, not a drop, except for bottled drinking water. Since it was too late to call the landlord (siesta time) we waited until later. After some telephone tag with our new cell phone, we finally got through. They really must fix the pump on the reserve cistern to get water up to the tanks on the roof. Hopefully tomorrow. This evening we hope to meet up with Maria and Bob at Harry’s, a Cajun restaurant for Mardi Gras, laissez les bons temps rouler.


There was a student band playing martial music in the square, all drums and trumpets at maximum loud. The restaurant jazz band tried to out do them! I only caught a fraction of the conversation, but did have a few mango margaritas.

A Typical Settling-In Day

Here is a fairly typical day, the Saturday after we moved in, February 25, 2006. We also did a lot of waiting for things to be delivered and set up. Without a phone for delivery men to call, we just had to sit and wait.

On February 25, we got up normal time, and it isn’t 6:30 anymore. Our main task, to get rustico (local hand-made Mexican colonial) furniture for the living area, dining area and bedroom. Because the water heater pilot would not light properly, we took cold showers. So, Task 2 for the day was to call the landlord about the hot water heater.

We also needed to replace the little plastic spigot on the water bottle holder we bought yesterday because they had given me the wrong one. We got the car out of parking lot, which involved me getting the car and Christiane pushing the button for the automatic gate since we do not yet have a remote, and naturally we bottomed out on our way over sidewalk to the street. Need to get higher riding car.

We took Ave. Constituyentes, one of the two or three main east-west streets, that turns into the highway to the town of Celaya. It took us 30 to 40 minutes to get to the State of Guanajuato and the town of Apaseo where they specialize in rustico/colonial furniture. It is called rustico in the city, and called colonial by the folks who make it. We drove through Apaseo to check the scope of the market and then headed back to a concentration of stores (sorry no pictures).

Upon arrival in Apaseo, we called the landlord about the water heater, using our T-mobile cell phone which we can use to call out, but which is an international call for people to call us. After several back and forths, (the owner was gone for the weekend), the office person said to ask another tenant to do it for us, assuming I was just a nervous norteamericano and did not understand how to light a water heater.

At the first store in Apaseo, the guy told us that what he had on display was for people in San Miguel de Allende, thinking we were from there and would be impressed. We aren’t and we weren’t. He showed us furniture catalogs from major manufacturers and said he could make anything in them (the quality would not be the same, of course). And it is true they can make most anything.

We ended up at a store owned by Jose Luis who, unlike the first guy, was nice, was covered in sawdust, and did the best quality work we had seen (best carving, best finishing, best construction). We decided on his sofa, loveseat, armchair, coffee table, dining table, 6 dining chairs, and two bedstands for around $650 US. He did not make bed frames, and suggested his brother next door, who could make one compatible in color and style to his. He took us there, and we asked the brother to make us a queen size frame, which he normally does not make. Most of the furniture still needed to be made or at least finished. We paid half up front, and went back to Jose Luis. We paid him for half his charges and arranged for delivery on Monday, two days hence. All told, we did the basic furnishing of our apartment for under $800, delivered.

We headed back to Qto. over the topes (speed bumps) along with all the trucks, but did not bottom out like we did on the trip out. Really need to get a higher riding car.

After messing with the detours from the upgrade to Constituyentes, which is being widened and turned into limited access, and passing the most modern looking hospital (San Jose) that I have ever seen (looks more like a glass office park in Atlanta), we headed to the northern part of Qto. for lunch and a visit to Home Depot (pretty much the same as in the US, except they play music in the background like a department store).

We had lunch at VIPs, something like Denny’s. We ordered a club sandwich that we would share and without being asked, they split it and the fries that came with it into two portions on separate plates. How often do you see that in the US? Well, maybe you do, but I don’t.

At Home Depot, we got bathroom fixtures, copies of keys to the parking and street entrance to the apartment, lamps, ceiling light fixtures (renters always take them when they leave here), everything except the little plastic anchors you need to attach things to a concrete wall and a carbide tip to drill the hole (back to Home Depot tomorrow).

We wanted a plastic garden table and chairs as a temporary kitchen table and a couple of other things after Home Depot so we headed to Walmart, which I had been avoiding since they are obviously out to do to Mexico what they have done to small town America. We got the table for about the same price as at Home Depot and the chairs for somewhat more than Home Depot! So maybe they won’t succeed down here after all.

Back home, we parked in the street and unloaded, and we left the car there to avoid having to go through the hassle of the parking lot. That was around 3 or 4 PM, and we began cleaning the apartment in anticipation of the furniture arriving on Monday, and the refrigerator and mattress, which we had bought yesterday and which will be delivered on Tues. I took the windows and high stuff (my back you know). C took the floors which still had the scum from the grout on them. We think we are the first to actually live here since the apartment was finished a year ago.

As it started to get late, I started to install the ceiling fixtures, and borrowed a step ladder from Carl and Francis, who are nearly our next door neighbors. I got the fixtures in the dining and living areas done just as it got too dark to do any more, and C met a guy in Casa 3 and asked him about the hot water heater (clearly a blow to my ego, BTW).

Peter is Polish, recently married to Gabriella, who is Mexican, and he ran right over to help. Of course, the heater started right off. Turns out that earlier in the day C had found the shell of a little land snail that had died in the area of the pilot, and the shell had prevented it from lighting. When she removed it, everything worked fine. I had seen it, but dismissed it as some kind of encrustation. Beginners luck, beginners luck.

When Peter found out I was an archaeologist he insisted on showing me a book he had on Mexican archaeology, so we went to his apartment, met Gaby, saw his book, chatted, and had a few beers. We learned about the trash pick up (daily!), where to get water delivered, how to get to Home Depot easily (Peter’s and my favorite place), life generally in Mexico, and soon it was 9:00 PM.

We headed toward the center of town (about three blocks) to find someplace to eat, and congratulated ourselves on a really fun and interesting day. When we entered Plaza de Armas, an estudiantina came at us from the other side, wearing their capes with all the ribbons and buttons, etc., playing guitars and singing. They stopped near us and we were immediately surrounded by a large crowd of family and friends and passers-by from the plaza. The estudiantina was made up only of women, and they sang a few songs with some solos. When they started to leave we all started shouting “otra” (encore), and they did. And we had thought the day was over.

We wandered around the area, and all the restaurants were full, so we checked out the side streets which all week had been empty. Tonight they were full of stalls selling things from handicrafts to opals (Qto. is known for opals) with people everywhere. We ended back at Plaza de Armas and went to what is becoming our regular restaurant for a fancy dinner (cheapest on the square). After another good, if expensive meal, the head waiter shook my hand in front of everyone like I was his old buddy and made a big deal about saying goodbye. C said, “I guess we have been accepted”, and I guess it is beginning.

We walked home in the chilly night air, and immediately went to bed on our air mattress on the floor. Can’t wait till Monday.

Pictures for previous posting.

Meson de la Merced across the street

Meson de la Merced (Interior View)

Christiane at Meson de la Merced Restaurant

Looking for Houses in Queretaro

Since we moved out of the hotel last Friday, Feb. 24, we have not been able to update the blog since we did not get our broadband connection at the apartment until March 4. A lot has happened since our last blog entry, and I will try to briefly recap it.

After visiting a dozen or so houses and apartments the last week of February, mostly in the historic district, we settled on one that was redone about a year ago in a little walkway or patio that gives it its name, El Quinto Patio. The Casa de Papaya, or as Bill had named it, the Papaya Palace, was not to be, and we heard later that it may have been for the best, since the neighborhood may be “in transition”. Our new address is 16 de Septiembre #114, Casa 6, Querétaro, Qto., Mexico 76000, but it is better not to send mail. E-mail is faster and more secure. (As usual, Blogger does a poor job of placing photos, and has now restricted the number of photos allowed so that I will have to post some of the others in the next installment.)

16 de Septiembre #114, White House with Red Trim

El Quinto Patio from the Street.

Casa 6, El Quinto Patio

Our apartment has a door flanked by two barred windows facing the patio/walkway. You enter the living/dining area, and the kitchen is through the door on the left. The rest of the apartment is through the arched doorway at the back of the living/dining room. The arched doorway gives onto a study and behind that a bedroom with its own bath. To the left beyond the arched doorway, and behind the kitchen, is the larger bedroom and behind that the master bath. Down the short hall past the master bath is a sliding glass door to the servicio (service area) which is a tile-floored patio with a place for a washing machine in an L to the right. Only the master bedroom has no windows, which might be a good thing during fiesta time. For this nearly new two bedroom, two bath, one study apartment with patio, we pay $5,500 Mx (roughly $525 US) a month.
View from Front Door

Of course it is concrete and echoes pretty badly; there are only about 4 hours of direct sunlight a day; and the electrical system is 30 amps, instead of the more usual 100 to 150 amps in the US. We hear that you cannot run more than two appliances at a time (which is typical in the historic district at least), and I will find my super-duper surge protector and battery backup from Georgia useful to protect the computer and other delicate electronics.

Jaime, our agent, really worked hard for us the last week of February, trying to find us an apartment within our budget, as well as in the historic district. We will definitely use him to find an old house to fix up later this year, we hope.

We did not know it when we rented the place, but it turns out that Carl and Francis live a couple of houses away. Shelley, also from Canada, lives next to them and has a border who is in the Peace Corps (a retired guy named Mike), and Gemma, Maria and Bob’s friend, owns a really big house just across the street where she rents out luxury suites in her garden for a few days or a week at a time. Also across the street and close to Gemma’s house is the Hotel de la Merced, that had been a convent of the Sisters of Mercy and later a tenement before becoming a hotel. We had lunch there a day or two after moving in, and it is really beautiful on the inside, although you might not think so from the outside.
Carl's and Francis', and Shelley's

Gemma's across the street