Report # 9: Another Trip, Another Visa

June 29, 2015


Many years ago —maybe twelve?— Linda and I were driving through Soria, in north-central Spain, on our way to someplace, who can remember. We were exhausted and hungry and we had picnic makings in the car, so we pulled off on a side road to a dirt road and off the dirt road into a grove of poplar trees where we laid out our cheese and bread and bucket of olives. A soft breeze, the forested slopes of Moncayo against a robin’s egg sky, and a tinkling of sheep bells. The baa-ing grew louder as the sheep approached, kicking up dust. The shepherd and his two dogs drove them past us toward a small barbwire sheepfold a little further down the dirt road. When the sheep were inside and he’d shut the gate, he took out his cell phone. Ten minutes later a woman, presumably his wife, drove up in a little yellow Se

at and off they went, leaving the two dogs sleeping by the gate. Forty-five minutes later, the olives and cheese and bread long gone, back came the Seat. The shepherd unlatched the gate, The dogs, awake now, dutifully drew the sheep out of the fold and herded them into a line, and the wooly ones grazed their way down the road.  A middle class shepherd on his lunch break. The old Spain has made it to the twenty-first century.


On this morning’s dog walk I took Qalba and Pedro, a friend who is visiting from Spain, up to the reservoir in the first gap where the rolling Etla hills become mountains. Pedro is a geologist, a bright and widely-read guy who is a wonderful conversation partner, and walking with him through rocks is like having my own private tutor. His wife Ana eons ago was one of our pilgrims. On our way back from the mountain, whom do we meet but the Santa Cruz town treasurer, Vicente, in his work boots, dirt-worn pants, and straw hat. His two yoked oxen —they sell yokes in the Tlacolula Sunday market— are wearing muzzle masks woven of carrizo splints to keep them from being distracted by the chest-high green foliage that has sprung up since the rains began a month ago. The plow is wooden, home-made; I don’t see an iron tip. Not long ago, in his official best duds —Sunday pants, a white shirt, and shoes— Vicente showed up at our porch with two colleagues who this year are also fulfilling their cargo, their Santa Cruz work commitment, by serving as agente (town manager), treasure, and head of public works. The visit’s issue involved a jurisdictional dispute between San Pablo and Santa Cruz, in the middle of which we had found ourselves (resolution: leave it ambiguous and go on with our lives). Today Vicente is back at his day job: pulling a plow through somebody’s field with his brace of oxen. He walked to from the home compound he shares with the oxen; he most likely will not go home for lunch, and even if he does he will not be ferried back and forth by a young woman driving a yellow Seat. Mexico may have one foot planted in the twenty-first century, but the other foot is firmly grounded in the eighteenth.


We are back in Oaxaca, 7,500 interstate miles from where we departed five weeks ago to tend to matters in the States. We attended a splendidly up-beat family bat-mitzva in western Massachusetts. We arranged some repairs to the wall on the Kingston property. We consulted with our financial advisor and our real estate agent. We had three sets of friends over for dinner. We had our teeth mapped and cleaned. We visited everyone with an medical degree south of New Hampshire, some of them several times, which we needed like a hole in the head (one of which I now have, thanks to a skilled surgeon who excavated and disposed of a growth that he suspected I would rather not carry around with me; AOK now, thanks). We made two overnight trips to Boston to the Mexican consulate to begin the process of getting resident visas. I played one round of golf, and managed to significantly lower my game’s cost per stroke and say goodbye to my old golfing buddies. We packed up the house and spent two days watching the movers fold our treasures into boxes. We are leaving most of the furniture and a large portion of the smalls behind, but books, notes, favorite art, a selection of my father’s tools, spinning wheels, rugs (from Turkey, through Abby), glass (Abby’s), family photographs, … did I mention books? … my hiking boots and a couple of cubic yards of wool yarn made it onto the truck. All in all, a nice relaxing two-and-a-half New England weeks. The drive through Texas may not be 2/3 of the whole trip, but it seems like it.


When we finally extricated our cramped muscles from the CRV on Saturday noon Qalba’s greeting wasn’t exactly effusive. We had expected an explosion, a mad tearing around the house, over the porch, in and out of the garden, two kilometers of skyrocketing in two minutes. What we got was a tentative “woof” and a little rubbing against our legs, before walking slowly back into the warm patch where the sun had been heating the gravel and going back to her interrupted map. But after five minutes had passed she was back at us, jumping up against us in greeting, frenetically licking every one of our surfaces that was not covered by clothing. She must be getting old. Linda and I, too, are increasingly finding that it takes a minute or two for us to put a newly encountered face into a context that allows recognition. By the way, we are really, truly glad to see you, whoever you are.


Whom we did see, as we turned off the motor of the car, was Cynthia, the architect, who knew we were arriving early Saturday afternoon, and had a list of questions about details that must be urgently dealt with. Followed shortly by Lalo, the general contractor, with his own attention-demanding list. Followed by Emma, who had been keeping the house splendidly while we were gone, and wanted to catch us up on the news. Followed by Habakuk, putting the last gutter onto the bodega shed, and a little unhappy about being instructed to replace the now rusted rain chains with galvanized chain that will keep its shine and keep the rust out of the cisterns. Followed by Ángel, the plumbtician, or electiricummer, whatever you want to call him, about the lights and faucets. . Followed by Moisés, the carpenter, ditto, likewise, and et cetera.


No, really: the casa is nearly nearly done, which is significant progress from only being nearly done. Dinky details, now; punch list. A working faucet in the kitchen

sink, now that we can incorporate the part we brought back from El Norte. A working faucet in the bathroom sink, now that we made yet one more trip to Home Depot (jom de pot) to buy one. Matching a few light switches to the corresponding lights. Painting the garden shed bathroom. Adding the middle shelf to the kitchen cabinets. Hooking up the dishwasher. Leveling the fridge. Putting some shelves in the pantry, and a stand for the garrafón of drinking water, a laundry table. The casita is now a guest facility, and it is currently full of guests as well as about half of our belongings, so we find ourselves running constantly back and forth. Wine here, opener there. Telephone there, telephone book here.


The biggest surprise on our return was that the bare ground in front of the casa, which we were afraid that the first gully-washer rain would carry into the street, is now a jungle. In the five weeks, with the onset of the rains, every seed that had been patiently sleeping for nine months, has opened its eyes, climbed out of its sun-warmed cradle, and stretched for the sky. Some of the plants are shoulder high. Some are already in flower. Unfortunately, an awkward incident has left us without our talented young gardener Martín, so in addition to being sad at the separation, we are urgently seeking a replacement. We fear that if we leave the car parked more than overnight in a single spot, we won’t be able to find it again for the greenery. Life in the tropics.


Saturday night, four hours after exiting the car, we climbed into it again and drove to our friends Evelyne and Bob’s house in San Agustín for dinner. We tried to turn down the invitation, but Evelyne insisted:  “If you stay home, you’ll do nothing but work and you will eat badly. And you have to bring Qalba; she won’t want you to leave again, and our dogs miss her.” She couldn’t have been more right, and more kind, and we couldn’t have been more thankful. Qalba too, though after a few minutes of mutual butt sniffing she went back to sleep on the floor by the dining room table between me and Linda.


David & Linda