Blog # 18: Wherever you go . . .

February 28, 2011

 “Wherever you go, there you are.”

 I needlepointed that motto for us 30 years ago.  It may not be entirely true.

Living in t

wo different places, two different worlds, is a bit schizophrenic. In Zirahuen, bouganvillas were sneaking through the open window, framed by pure sun and chatty birds flying overhead; the view of Lake Zirahuen was fantastic.  But a part of me was thinking about the Rhode Island friends who are still grading papers, the house and its drippy gutters, and, of course, the cat I left behind.

So I went back recently for 3 weeks to Rhode Island. Ironically,  I was warmer in RI than in Mexico, simply because we have central heating and tubs fo

r hot baths. I found I couldn’t do anything about the drippy gutters (they were too frozen), and the cat only wanted me­­ so it could sleep on the bed. So much snow that I couldn’t even see the old garden. The view of the snow and the snow piles just can’t compete with the view of Lake Zirahuen.

Thank goodness that my friends rescued me and took me to plays, dinners (burrrp), and came to the house to enjoy the Super Bowl ads --  over a bowl of Mexican chicken mole and JoAnn’s jalpeño corn bread.

Back in Michoacan, we ate dinner outside in the Morelia plaza, with music and no car horns. A woman passed by and gave me a couple of roses, saying I was too “pretty” [really! I quote exactly] not to have flowers. The restaurant’s special that night, ironically, was Caesar Salad.

How is it that both the US and Mexico have WalMarts and Sam’s Clubs and that the membership in the latter is good in both countries, and yet the products are not the same? How is it that I can choose between several kinds of heating pads in the US WalMarts, and there are none here in Morelia’s? How come I can buy Ibuprofin in US supermarkets in bottles of 500, but in Mexico the containers have only 8 pills and cost double? I can get over-the-counter antibiotics here when I get sick, but in the US only a doctor can prescribe me the same medicine; but why is my US insurance co-pay higher than the full price in Mexico? How is it that I can find 5 flavors of pre-made mole here in Mexico’s stores, and in Gringolandia, maybe, only 1 kind (Doña María) and that sporadically in Ocean State Job Lot? [Okay, I know, there are several Hispanic marts in Providence....] How come I buy the small limes here at prices so low that I am embarrassed, and yet walnuts cost about $25/pound?­­  That I gobble down imported-from-Mexico strawberries purchased in Rhode Island supermarkets (you know the prices) , but won’t touch them when in Mexico?  

I knit large wool shapes (“carports” as David calls them) in Mexico to take them home to felt them in our super hot water clothes washer, so that they shrink to about half the original size. I shape and dry them into the little bowls they’ve become, and then port them back to Mexico to give as gifts.


I buy large lavender plants for a buck a piece in Mexico, put them in simple large brown pots and then realize I can dry the lavender, but can’t take it across the border. So now I’m working on sachets of dried lavender for gifts – for the people here who think lavender is a weed.

When I returned to RI, I packed my carry-on bag not only with wool projects to be felted, but also with those items that I just simply must have when in the USA, but can’t get there: packages of hibiscus to make tea; Mexican silver and copper pieces; handmade wood picture frames, decorated with hummingbirds and flowers, and painted in vibrant colors.

I did the same thing in reverse for my return to Mexico:  ¼ pound of Spanish manchego cheese; a small tin of anchovies for a next door neighbor; a package of licorice for another neighbor; 4 small sandwich bags filled with Dan Carpenter’s superb chocolate chip/pumpkin cookies; a small bottle of dill weed; a hummingbird feeder.  The cheese is apportioned slowly over the evenings. Don, the world-sailor who cooks up gourmet meals so as not to be bored aboard his boat, snapped up the anchovies with a smile and handed me a plastic filled with home-made mango chutney, the recipe for which he learned in Tunis, where he has often wintered.  Alejandra gave me the biggest hug ever for the licorice and the next day we got to visit the house they are having built for themselves with a postcard-perfect view of Lake Zirahuen.  The dill weed was sprinkled over our first meal together : Spanish chorizo from the local market and fresh eggs from Gloria’s hens (2 doors down). The cookies got a little smushed, which means that there are no calories when we eat them, right?  Ah, the hummingbird feeder. The hummers are of the opinion that the fresh jasmine, bouganvillas, bottle brush bush flowers, even geraniums are much more tasty, thank you very much.

Lily,our “landlady,” the wonderful woman who has built Posada Los Santos ( and who, after several years of splitting her time between Tacoma, Wa (where she is a federal court bilingual translator) and Zirahuen, did finally retire here this spring, bringing all belongings, including her cache of marble so she can continue sculpting (there is a sculpture in her living room of a swan . . . swoon!) . Now she’s going back to Tacoma for 3 months; a big motive is to see her grandchildren, and, of course, there’s the matter of US taxes.


Miguel, the doctor who had been splitting his time between Morelia and Zirahuen, now finds himself in Lexington, Ky, with a sick friend. Josephine and Mel retired here 20 years ago. Mel, is a Brit who lived in America, and Josephine, a Texan of Mexican parentage. Patricia Lourdes Guadalupe, born in Paris of Hispanic parentage, lived in France most of her life when she wasn’t living in the US, and now finds herself writing a doctoral dissertation in Mexico City on the medical practices during the Texan/Mexican war.  Lynn, recently widowed, seems to have lived in China, Guatemala, and too many other places to mention. She’s building all by herself a house in the woods outside of Zirahuen, with solar heat and natural water collection. Her jewelry is exquisite and seems to bear up under her extraordinary work. There’s Tom and his wife, who bought a house in Mexico, but found that it didn’t assuage their wanderlust, so now they have 2 houses and still take several trips to other countries throughout the year. Ilan and Orit, who speak English and not so much Spanish, landed here from Israel, New York City (where she was a realtor), and Paraguay have built an hacienda on the ridge of a volcano overlooking Patzcuaro with separate guest quarters, imported Italian ovens, and their own organic garden.  Canadian George and American Deborah (of the forest fire of a previous blog).  

“Where are you from?” is a typical question.

Who are we? Israeli? American? Texan? French? British? Canadian? Mexican?

But, we live here, don’t we? Lily, our landlady works with Zirahuen-er Gabriel: he has been the carpenter-architect-designer-constructor-plumber-electrician-maintainer of every one of the 7 or more buildings that Lily has had built over the last, say, 15 years. He lives in the street just below us. He works every day with Lily, checks on her at 8:30 every morning as he returns from taking his cows to pasture. His wife Gloria does the laundry; their daughter Gaby cleans the houses. Yet Lily has never been inside their house.

Mexico: ex-pats in Acapulco, the west coast, San Miguel de Allende, yes. More than a million Americans live in Mexico. But Zirahuen? Our houses are tucked away in the hills, inside large gates (the typical architectural style), and we come out from time to time to have dinner together. Each with our own stories, lives.

It is all life. When David & I started out, it was easy, at least it seems so in retrospect, to put on the boots and take off.  A month here, a couple of months there, a semester somewhere else. All based around the academic calendar, making our travels comprehensible hunks of time.   Now retired, no calendar holds us.  Happy in Rhode Island, happy in Zirahuen, happy in Mexico, happy in..., but not happy only in….

 “Where are we from?” is the easiest question. Where are we now? Where are we going? And will we ever arrive or always be in transition?

Have to go now. Gabriel is trimming the big (5 x3 x 4 foot tall) hedge outside Lily’s side door. I’ve asked for some of the branches. They both ask me what I would do with them.The hedge is romero. Romero in English has two meanings:  rosemary and pilgrim.