Thursday, November 23, 2006


Thanksgiving and no central heat. Didn't think we would need it. Didn't need it 30 years ago. Didn't need it last year, when there were only two cold weeks in January. But this year, the cold has started in November, and we don't have central heat. Brrr. But it is sunny, and it is a dry cold (the usual excuse).

This is Mozart season. The other evening we went to what we thought was another free concert at the Teatro de la Republica, and it turned out to cost $110 MN, not US, each. We reluctantly forked over $220 and went in. It turns out that rather than a little chamber orchestra as we had thought, it was the Querétaro symphony orchestra playing Mozart's Jupiter and his piano concierto #21, and some forgettable Shostakovich. Wow! It was worth a lot more than $220. At intermission, we bought tickets for their Requiem concert in a couple of weeks. We even bought tickets for Maria and Bob (tomorrow is Maria's birthday at Chucho El Roto restaurant where she teaches English to the waiters for free dinners.) When you feel depressed or need a pick-me-up, just walk around Querétaro and there is bound to be something going on to raise your spirits, even if it is COLD. Last night we went to San Antonio (the church, not the city) for a youth orchestra concert of chamber music. Pretty good, especially the encore, Albinoni's concierto for cello/guitar that was so popular years ago.

Imelda just arrived for her Thursday clean-up. She has the cold that C and I had for 10+ days, sore throat, slight fever, cough, phlegm. And she says that it is abnormally COLD for this time of year, and that this kind of weather usually lasts for two weeks in January. (Yeah, right.) Must be W's fault, i.e., "it'll be a cold day in hell when we lose both the house and the senate."

Lee, the ex-Peace Corps volunteer, Francis the guy from Canada and I have been making excursions to draw and paint. It is not exactly like Monet and friends heading to Normandy to paint the sea, but you gotta start somewhere. However, this week it is too COLD to go out. Lee has had some health problems, but it looks like he will be going to Guatemala, where his wife is living, with the Peace Corps' Crisis Corps for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. It is reportedly not much warmer in Guatemala.

This afternoon, we are having an early Thanksgiving meal (turkey tacos, I think; maybe enchiladas) with Pierre, Sophie and Antoine at 3 PM. This evening, we are going to a book signing and lecture that Edgardo is giving on his new book on the history of the theater in Querétaro, all 450 years of it. We may go to his house for a party afterwards, which leads me into my picture below, as I hope there will be an art historian at his party who can help me out.

I mentioned previously that there is a fresco under the paint on the walls of the entranceway. Here is a picture of some of what I have uncovered so far.

You can see a horizontal band of a reddish color along with a vertical band near the door on the right. This is a fresco in the stucco which has been covered by many layers of paint, most recently by blue and green in the late 20th c. Just above the horizontal band are what appear to be roots running horizontally in the same reddish brown. These lead to something on the left, but exactly what is still unknown. I am wondering if the roots lead to a vine or a tree or something. There are also two areas of very faint color midway along the roots, two little spots of paint, one blue and one yellow. Are these fruit, some kind of decoration, or are they unrelated to what seem to be roots? I need someone with some knowledge of how houses were painted 150-200 years ago and what I should expect before I start removing much more of the overlying paint, essentially destroying what might be contained therein. Even vertical archaeology is a destructive process.

This past month, the cactus have been growing by leaps and bounds. I thought they were all dead a couple of months ago, but now they are sprouting new leaves and branches. The tall one in the foreground (below) did not have the shiny new branches/leaves before, and they seem to grow larger every day. The shorter one in the foreground did not have any of the ball-like appendages that are so evident now. And the ones in the pot in the background have new little branches coming up from the bottom. We have always had trouble with cactus and never thought you could actually keep them alive, much less watch them grow. It is fascinating, especially if you have a magnifying glass to see the little thorns and appendages.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Final House Plan

To follow up on my last post, Franklin Garrett was Mr. Atlanta History. He knew everything there was to know about Atlanta history and was the unofficial city historian at the Atlanta History Center for decades. He died a few years ago at the age of 80 something, and so far no one has come close to replacing him.

Here are the final plans for the house. We met with Miguel today, and even though the final estimate is somewhat more than the original off-the-cuff estimate, it is still under $65,000 US. Miguel's main changes were that he relocated the doors between the original living room (now a guest bedroom) and bedroom (now the master bedroom), and between that room and the second bedroom (now a dining/living room).

This allowed a rearrangement of the new bathrooms for the guest and master bedrooms and a better use of space in the guest bedroom and the dining/living rooms. There will be a series of cupula skylights over these bathrooms and over the kitchen to allow for more light and for venting. We will remove the kitchen counter which was not original anyway and which is so deep that it would be nearly impossible to reach any cabinets on that wall.

The bathroom in the studio at the back has been made a little smaller and moved to the left wall, opening up the windows looking onto the back garden. The washing machine will be in the corner of the kitchen and there will be a closet along the front wall of the family room/breakfast room area for the vacuum cleaner and kitchen stuff, etc. The stairs along the back wall of the garden will have a metal railing to copy the one that will be along the balcony to the upstairs guest room, and the balcony will be supported by a large wood beam. My bike and outdoor stuff will be stored beneath the stairs. The steps to the roof from the upstairs guest room will be taken in part from the wall so that they will not intrude so much into the bedroom; and there will be a pergola (not shown) on the roof just outside the upstairs bedroom. This will make that room so inviting, it may become our master bedroom.

Miguel did not plan for a fuente (fountain) for the back garden since he feels that for a house of this modest type, one fountain is enough, and we will turn the pila (water basin) in the main patio into a water feature. We can add a fountain later if we really want to. Right now we are trying to save a little $$, too.

The next step is to get the info ready to present to INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History) which must review any historic building projects in the historic district. Miguel is confident that we will not have any problems, and that we should have a preliminary go-ahead within a couple of weeks. Assuming another week to get organized, we are hoping to start work in about four weeks or mid December. Of course then Christmas, New Years and Three Kings Day kick in, and we will lose a month. But at least we have a plan.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Franklin Garrett of Querétaro

We had a great time last night with Edgardo and his wife Alma. Edgardo is the author of the book on 500 years of history of the barrios of Querétaro. I was afraid that my Spanish would not hold out for an entire evening, but it did, with help from Christiane and some good wine. Having Edgardo in the house is like having Franklin Garrett over for dinner in Atlanta. He knows the history of Querétaro inside out, and especially the daily life of the inhabitants. Anything you want to know, just ask. He has written a dozen or more books on history and culture, and is fascinating to talk to.

It turns out that there were trenches in the streets near our new house during the siege of Querétaro in 1867 (after which Emperor Maximilian was captured and executed), and there could be cannonballs and what-not in our garden. He has another book coming out in a week or so on the history of the theater in Querétaro. There will be a shindig at the art museum, and we are invited.

He gave us some copies of a history review he helps publish and in which he has an article on the history of commerce in Querétaro. It starts about 600 years ago with the Aztecs, Otomi, and Purepecha and then moves on to the 16th to 19th centuries. The first Spanish market in the 16th c. was just down to street from where we live now. Pretty amazing. We are looking forward to a rewarding friendship.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Break from the Rain

This is November and the rainy season should have been over in September or October. It only rained all day once this summer, but we were all tired of the "constant" rain. There is still a line of storms running from the Pacific right through the middle of Mexico. And we are in store for more this week.

It started raining on Friday when we were at the Regional Museum (old San Franscisco monastery) for a harpsicord (clavecin) and flute concert with Pierre, Sophie and Antoine, and it did not let up until Saturday afternoon, and then it drizzled until night. It was, in a word, intolerable. (Amazing how fast you get over the humidity and rain in Atlanta.) This morning, Sunday, it was partly cloudy, and after a long day of rain yesterday I was getting cabin fever so we collected Shelly and Lee and headed to San Juan del Rio.

We pass SJR on our bus trips into Mexico City, and it always looks a little too industrial from the toll road, but we had heard it was nice so we gave it a try. It was really very, very nice ( Not something for the average American tourist or San Miguelito, but the architectural detail is better and more numerous than in Querétaro, there are wide streets (must have been laid out in the nineteenth century), plazas, parks and churches. In ways, it looks more like a city than Querétaro. Like Querétaro, it is also very clean and well taken care of. We are beginning to think that being clean and well taken care of is not just something for the city of Querétaro, but may be for the entire state. Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi states are pretty run down and do not appear to be well managed in comparison.

Did we make a mistake getting a house in Querétaro? I don't think so, but in 20 years when Qro. is jammed full of people and struggling with the infrastructure and water supply, it might be time to move, and San Juan del Rio might be the place.

At the main church in town, Saint John the Baptist, a lady was selling molcajetes, the three-legged mortars and pestles used to make Mexican sauces. Mole is from Nahuatl for sauce and cajete is Spanish for bowl. I bought a used one recently, but it was too small to make enough sauce, so I had been looking for a larger one. These were larger and in the shape of pigs (the newest fad in molcajetes, apparently). They are fine grained stone, and somewhat soft, for a stone. The lady had brought them all the way from Toluca, about a half day's bus ride. The price was considerably lower than in Querétaro, $130 MX, so I bought one and put it and a mano in my backpack. Must have weighed a ton. Later, at home, I broke it in by grinding rice in it, and to my delight it was easier to break in than the mano I had bought for the little molcajete. I can now become a sauce expert, maybe. I will try out the recipe we got when we went to the restaurant in Cadareyta a month or two ago with Faye when she visited with her daughter, Melissa.

After having lunch and walking around, we headed to Amealco about 30 km away. I cannot remember why Amealco sticks in my mind from 30 years ago, but since we have been back I have felt we should visit it. On our way, we happened on the Cañon del Galindo(?) in an otherwise flat upland terrain. It is not the grand canyon, but it is about 150 meters deep, impressive and very green with all the RAIN we have been having (

Amealco gives you the feeling of an old, traditional, indigenous town. It would not be out of place in upland Peru or Venezuela. It too is clean and well-maintained and worth a longer visit someday.

We then decided to take the back road via Huimilpan to Querétaro. Huimilpan, too, is neat and clean. Small, but worth a longer visit. Between Amealco and Huimilpan are some tree-lined streams with potential picnic areas, plus some nice scenery to sketch and paint. Yeah, I am getting back into watercolor mode, which I left in the early 70s after we left Puerto Rico.

The whole part of the state south of the Querétaro-Mexico City toll road is really very scenic with more trees than the center of the state and north into San Luis Potosi combined. We will be back.

This week is the big one. We should close on the sale of our house in Atlanta, get a final plan and estimate from Miguel, and make a few changes to the Niños y Niñas website; and we will be having Edgardo and his wife to our house for dinner tomorrow. He is the author of the book on the history of the barrios of Querétaro, plus another couple dozen other books on history, anthropology, etc. He teaches Christiane's culture classes on archaeology, history, anthropolgy, etc. Am I a little intimidated about discussing such weighty topics in my limited Spanish? You bet!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

New Plans

We visited Miguel, our architect, on Tuesday. He lives in El Pueblito in a house he designed and built 10 years ago, when he was just getting started. The walls are hay bails (covered with stucco, of course) like they have been working on the southwest for the past few decades, and it is a mix of rooms and patios and gardens. It is gorgeous.

He had about 30 different plans printed out. We rapidly discarded a bunch, and narrowed it down to two or three, and with some changes in the computer, we came up with our nearly final plan shown here. We turned the living room into a guest room, will have two full baths, a study, and two new doors to the back garden (from the kitchen and the family room). We will remove the current stairs to the upstairs room and put new ones on the back wall of the garden and have a balcony to connect them to the upstairs room. My original plan had a corridor along the back wall from the living room to the kitchen, but it was a real space waster. After Bob suggested making the living room into a guest room, which really does not need an interior path to the kitchen, everything fell into place. This plan above is still not finished and shows the washing machine in two different places. We may end up putting it in the front guest bedroom's bath room, which itself needs a door!

As I was waiting for the locksmith to change the keys on Monday, and the previous owner frantically removed the last of his stuff, I picked at the paint in the entranceway with my pocket knife. There appears to be a fresco mural under all the paint, and we will need to obtain some free advice from an art historian and restorer. If at all possible, I would like to preserve it or at least reproduce it.

On Wed. we showed the house to Shelley, and she is sure that the kitchen counter is not ceramic tile, but stone tile. At first, I did not believe it since the tiles are a very deep red, but the more I thought about it the more I thought it might be pipestone or something. If it is stone, then we might be able to refinish it, which would be spectacular. Even if it is a well-fired ceramic tile we may be able to refinish it. After I cleaned it off with cleanser, I realized how bad the surface is and that it is not the original stove, despite having the firebox holes in the front; as there are no holes in the top for pots to be set to cook. So for now we don't really know how old it is, only that it is over 50 years old.

Now, I really have to learn patience, as it will take weeks to get the permits and get started working; and then even more weeks/months to get it all done.

I've added a few more pix to the "before" pictures at

Dia de Muertos

This week has been dedicated to Dia de Muertos, from the 30th of Oct to the 2nd of November. I have uploaded some photos to our Flickr page. They are sort of divided up by the altar competition that the city put on for high schools at Jardin Guerrero; the stalls around the edges of Jardin Guerrero that sell candies made especially for this celebration, including candy and chocolate skulls, skeletons, special traditional candies, masks, etc.; the doings at Plaza de Armas where the state has set up a chapel in the main state office building with an Otomi altar inside; and the municipal cemetery where people came to say prayers, serenade their loved ones with their favorite songs, put out their favorite food and drink, clean up the tombs, and decorate them with flowers. The cemetery was jammed. It was an odd mix of sadness for the loss and happiness remembering family members. We bought some flowers and placed them on a child’s grave who died in 1941, but had no flowers.

We took a taxi there and walked back afterward. It was a long walk.