Blog # 22: Adios, Zirahuen

March 17, 2011

One thing you get from a PhD in literature and a lifelong enthusiasm for the visual arts: an appreciation of symmetry and framing devices. On our way to Zirahuén back in December we stopped for lunch at the gas station restaurant in Pátzcuaro, and when Linda and I walked in we were greeted from the table next to the door by our Israeli friends Orit and Ilan Peleg … in Hebrew. Yesterday, on our way out of Michoacán, we lunched in the same restaurant with the Pelegs. We gave them the copy of The Lost Minyan that we’d been saving for them, and also, so that they can take a break from the corundas, huchepos, charales, sopa tarasca, and the rest of the Michoacán dishes that we all seem to be so addicted to, our last unused package of matza ball mix.

We said goodbye to the Raulstons in Morelia on Tuesday in the midst of a crashing thunderstorm that left us all soaked to the skin and drove back to Zirahuén to start packing up the house. I used up the last of the flour and most of the remaining  yeast to bake several loaves of bread –cinnamon and dill- to give to Pichi and Isabel and to Gabriel, Gabi, and Gloria, the family that takes such superb care of us and the Posada de los Santos complex. Linda spent an hour with Gabi, Gloria and Gabriel’s  22-year old daughter, helping her run Linda’s old computer through its paces. For reasons too convoluted to go into here, Linda has a sparkling  new computer; the old one now has a home in Zirahuén and will help Gabi keep in touch with us and the rest of the world. This may have been a mistake: she seems to be writing us hourly.

The stuff we brought with us to Mexico just fit into the CRV: three plastic tubs of household and research stuff; three small roller suitcases that go into our lodgings every night (travel stuff  for Linda, travel stuff for  David, and the third with meds, backup meds, CPAP machine , and tech support); a picnic/food box  and a travel library box that go on the floor in back, and an umbrella. Even on cobbled or rutted roads nothing shifts or rubs: there isn’t room. Everything fits together like the nine pieces of a Rubik’s cube.

The miscalculation, the same one we’ve made now several years in a row, is that in Mexico we seem to buy five or six things for every one we throw away. Our resolve melts like butter on a hot comal. Our will power whispers mañana and the ATM down the street opens its arms in welcome. Even though we have a protective mantra that we chant to each other every time we venture near a market – ‘Heavy. Large. Fragile. Expensive. No wall space’ – it doesn’t do any good. There are all those ceramics! That hammered copper! Those embroidered textiles! Those large carved colorfully painted chests! Those old lady dolls! Those bird cages! (Bird cages???)


You know those pull suitcases that have an extra zipper on them so that when you overindulge you just unzip them and they expand another three inches ? Their bloat is great on the airport ramps but incapacitating when it comes to the overhead bins. Well,  told the dealer I wanted a CRV like that to take to Mexico but he claimed that Honda doesn’t make them. Yet.


The bottom line is that Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning were a challenge.  We sorted and tossed. Linda took some of the pink and purple boxes she had knitted and turned them into gifts for some of our neighbors. I put my ten-year-old and now laterally aerated hiking boots on the edge of the road outside our gate, turned my back with a tear in my eye, turned again as I reached our door for a last look and … they were already gone. I don’t know whether the new owner is going to wear them or boil them up for soup or just bang the dust off them and plant a garden in it. That’s his business. As for me, I don’t have to pack them. Besides, I’ll look for new ones in Kingston. Oer the decades I’ve found that cars and boots, with similar kilometrage  logged on similar roads, must be replaced every ten years. We each gave up a shirt. We agreed that while the three round olla flower pots would look good on our Kingston wall, they really were more in keeping with Zirahuén décor. And so, eventually,  we reduced the pyramid of stuff to mere cathedral size, and by cram and by tuck, inch by recalcitrant inch, into the CRV it all went.

In the absence of Kevlar vests the two of us made a pact: no one opens any of the car doors without simultaneously jumping to one side. Just in case.

But as the car filled and the house emptied, I found my eyes misting. I went out on the back terrace and looked at the lake.  Mari Cruz and Ana Karen were in school, but I waved goodbye to their mom Señora Sagrario.  Don Gato wandered around the chaotic kitchen, wondering where his bowl of food had gone. But then he rolled over on the rug as he always does, waiting for his tummy rub. Pichi and Isabel came by for another round of goodbyes. Gabi came by for one more hug. Foxi and Frida and Pinpón barked goodbyes (or hellos, or whatever) from Lily’s yard, their heads thrust through the fence to better follow the action.  A beryline humming bird took no notice of us at all as he slurped sugar from the hanging feeder, another item that didn’t make it into the car.

I turned on the ignition, bumped down the hill to where our dirt road joins the adoquinado, waited for a very slow dog to yawn, raise himself from his sweet spot in the middle of the road, and amble to one side so we could pass. In the rear view mirror I could see our dust cloud settling on the dog, which had stretched out back on his spot. We drove past the feed store and waved at the fancy roosters tethered  to the front pillars. We crept past the combination lunch room and coffin store on the corner by the church. We held our breath as we eased the car over the town’s two topes (nothing shifted or broke), started up the hill toward the Ajuno pass, pedal to the floor, at one half of our normal speed (this car was heavy!). Two thirds of the way up we pulled over for a last look at the lake. I had to wipe my eyes with a Kleenex so that I could see enough to drive.


When Lily’s friends  get together at Los Gallos, the party house between Lily’s and Pichi’s houses, and when we’re passing around the guitar, singing silly songs and and drinking Corona and popping shots of tequila (as I sip lemonade), Pichi will sometimes start a round of the Blues of Zirahuén, which sounds vaguely  like a bolero version of “St. James Infirmary Blues.” The rule is that each person in turn has to add a verse, some in English, some in Spanish:

                   Those friendly blues of Zirahuén, 

                   They’ll call us back, though we can’t say when,

                   But you will see us here again,

                   Singing the blues, of Zirahuén.



David & Linda