Saturday, July 28, 2012

Patzcuaro Gardening 101


Prior to moving to Mexico I had lived in a condo for 14 years so gardening was really not a part of my life. When I moved here I was quite excited, not only about building a house from the ground up, but also about landscaping the yard. For some reason I thought I would be able to grow almost anything. It’s Mexico after all!

Clearly logic didn’t enter the picture. I failed to take into consideration the fact that I was 8000 ft. up the side of a mountain and that bitterly cold winds swept through the back yard from the field next door. Oh yes, and the soil was about 70 percent clay, thinly covering bedrock.



View From The Rooftop Patio


However, undaunted, I soldiered on. After sifting all the dirt in the areas staked out for gardens and mixing the result with potting soil I was ready to plant. Todd had purchased a veritable library of gardening books and we had carefully researched everything we would need to get started. I sketched out each of the gardens I intended to build and the plants that I wanted in each one. There are quite a few viveros, nurseries, in and around Patzcuaro and I visited them all. Many times.

Another thing that we hadn’t taken into consideration, was that due to our lack of expertise in the Spanish language when interacting with the vendors in the viveros, that we might not purchase the ideal plants for our location.



Notice The Plants On The Left


Hence, almost 70 percent of everything we bought died almost immediately. Clearly more research was required. I also think that I had been misled by an incident that occurred not long after the house was completed. One day Todd and I were walking around the back yard, talking about laying sod and where the gardens should go, when we came across the little lean-to where the workers had rested and built a fire during their lunch breaks. It quickly became clear that the ever-present “cup of noodles” was not the only thing that they had been having for lunch. There were about a dozen little marijuana plants growing around their little campsite, some of which were already about six inches tall. We dug them up, put them in pots and gave them back to the guys that had “planted” them, but at the time I thought, wow, things grow really fast here.

Unfortunately I learned pretty quickly that all plants are not created equal, and very little else, other than peaches, ever grew as readily as those little marijuana plants. So we took a gardening class offered by a couple of friends who had a farm in Lake Ziruhuen,  a beautiful, pristine lake about 1/2 an hour from Patzcuaro. The lake Ziruhuen area is also colder than Patzcuaro and faces many of the same gardening challenges, so we felt that we were on the right track.  We took soil samples to our class and analyzed them, and we learned about what would, and would likely not, grow in Corazon de Durazno.



Peaches In Abundance



Fern Garden, A Rare Early Success


Armed with all this new information we were ready to start again. Recently friends from Erongaricuaro, another little town around Lake Patzcuaro, had told us about a wonderful  vivero in a small town about an hour from us, called Lombardia. The nursery there is huge, with acres and acres of plants to choose from. It is also a wholesaler for the surrounding viveros so the prices were fantastic. The man that owns it was wonderfully friendly and helpful and also very honest in telling us which plants would not do well in our area.


pict 001

Vivero In Lombardia


We still made a couple of mistakes, trying to grow things that the nursery owner had told us were probably not a good idea, but overall we were much more successful this time around. After quizzing all the neighbours in the area about their gardens we had more realistic expectations this time as well. We knew that the plants were going to have to be coddled and would not grow quickly so we managed not to be too impatient and frustrated.



The Secret Garden


As it turned out we discovered that it takes about a year for anything new to really become established in Corazon de Durazno. We bought a lot of cactus and succulents as well as other plants so that we would have something growing in the interim and eventually we managed to make a very pretty yard.



Back Yard



Front Yard

Thursday, July 19, 2012

…And Me Without My Camera

I imagine everyone has uttered the phrase “ well, you don’t see that every day!” when something unexpected happens. I don’t say that anymore because living here in Mexico I am likely to see just about anything, just about anywhere, at any given time.

Morelia is a large city, and like all large cities the sidewalks are usually crowded and the 4  to 6 lanes of traffic are bumper to bumper. There are shopping malls, car dealerships, restaurants, movie theatres and all the usual things you expect to see in a big city. What you don’t expect to see is a man, in full caballero regalia, riding his horse on the sidewalk. Yet there he was, people stepping aside to let him pass, and then carrying on without really taking much notice. I certainly noticed, and if I had had a camera I would have recorded it, if not for posterity, simply so that I would be believed when I recounted the tale.

Another day we were in the Centro Historico, downtown, in Morelia. We were in Plaza San Francisco, relaxing with a coffee, after visiting the Casa De Las Artesanias, an ex-convent which is now a beautiful gallery of Mexican art. Plaza San Francisco is a large plaza right in the middle of town about 2 blocks square, and is not a garden, as is often the case with Mexican  plazas. It is completely paved with a lovely fountain in the middle, and as we sat on the edge of the fountain we saw a goat enter the plaza. We watched as it crossed the plaza, oblivious to the people around it, and stopped at the crosswalk. When the light changed it crossed the street with the rest of the pedestrians and then disappeared around the corner. Again I had no camera.

On yet another cameraless day I was driving into Patzcuaro from Los Tanques to have lunch with a friend. I was approaching what I like to call Vendor Row, a stretch of road several blocks long lined with food kiosks, carts, trailers and tents. Now this area is considerably more rural than downtown Morelia, so I wasn’t overly surprised when I had to stop to let a cow cross in front of me. What did surprise me was the fact that it headed straight for the nearest taco stand. I guess the owner had stepped out for a minute and I just sat there, wishing I had a camera, and watched while the cow tasted all the condiments on a little shelf to one side.

Although there are problems here such as poverty, drug wars and political agendas, there is also a whimsical side to life here. Often, for me, it is in these things that I have just related, which are everyday occurrences for the average Mexican. Still, there is (almost) nothing the Mexicans like better than a good laugh and they have a sense of lighthearted frivolity that tends to rub off on the rest of us. I think it makes us old ex-pats inclined to be a little less inhibited and a little more inclined to play and have fun.

Table Dance

You can see it in the architecture, such as this free and easy house design in the picture below. You also can’t be too full of yourself with a 30 foot duck on your roof. (2nd picture below)

Architectural Design by Dr. Suess?


Every day I think I shed a little of the overtaxed grownup and the child in me rejoices when I wake each morning wondering what extraordinary thing I will see today. I am more likely to have a camera with me now as well.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Old Habits Die Hard

One of the things I have always loved about Mexico is the shopping. I don't mean for the arts and crafts or the beautiful clothes, although that is fun too, I just mean the every day shopping for the house. The local butcher store, produce shop, bakery, cheese shop, flower kiosk, or even the hardware store.

You can make a day of it, slowly working your way through town, stopping to chat with people, visiting all the different vendors. A visit to the local mercado, food market, is a wonderful way to spend a morning. Usually crowded and noisy, it is also alive with colours and smells, music and laughter, and always entertaining. Children and dogs run between the legs of the shoppers as the vendors bellow, advertising their wares.

Fresh Fruits And Vegetables

There is also the mercado version of the shopping mall food fair, where the mouth-watering smells of local delicacies vie for attention with the sweet smell of baked goods, and the not so pleasant smells of some of the other stalls, such as the meat vendors. There are usually several little "restaurants" where you can sit at a counter or on small benches and partake of the local cuisine. Frequently featured foods are  tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, pozole, birria, or chicken with mole, all served with the ubiquitous frijoles y arroz, rice and beans. If you are really adventurous you may want to try the menudo.

Menudo is a hearty soup often used as a hangover cure. It is an offal soup which includes liver, kidney, tripe (the stomachs of ruminant animals) and pig trotters (pig's feet). It is seasoned with guajillo chilies, Mexican oregano, dried red chilies, cilantro, cumin, sugar and vinegar. All of this is simmered for many hours, and I have yet to try it, but I am told it is very good.

Emilio's Enchiladas Placeras

You could really do all your shopping in the mercado if you wanted to but personally I like to make the rounds of all the little shops. Now having said that, I must tell you that it has been a long time since I have been to the mercado.

There's Even A Bar!

Those of you who do not read Todd's blog, Life in the Corazon, may not know that I had a serious accident two years ago. While rescuing a humming bird from the sky-light in my dining room in Patzcuaro, the ladder slipped out from under me and I fell about twenty feet to a floor of tile and concrete. I have since had seven surgeries and (hopefully) have only one more to undergo. I still get around with the help of a wheelchair or a walker and I find it difficult to get into, and around, cramped places like the mercado. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it!

Costco In Querétaro

In reality, I think it is more of a case of falling back into old habits. We can't always get everything we want at the mercado or the little shops in town so we will often go to one of the big-box stores such as Mega, Soriana, WalMart or Costco. Admittedly these types of stores are easier for me to navigate, but I suspect that we would be shopping in this manner regardless. It's a quick, easy one stop shop. Todd likes his Coke Zero, I like my H2Oh! and we can get canned and packaged goods and produce ( which is NEVER as good as at the mercado ) all in one place. If I want a bottle of whiskey or wine it is just a couple of aisles over from the deli and the bakery.

It is all so very free of charm. I moved here because I liked the laid-back lifestyle and the fact that I would have the time to live it in the manner of the Mexicans, but now I find myself falling back into the same old rut. I have managed to navigate such events as the plant show in the park and the Chili Cook-off, with my walker, both of which were wall to wall people, and I suspect that with a little effort I could manage the mercado as well.

I think it is time to stop and smell the too warm meat and get back to my life as it was when we first moved here. To take the time to appreciate my surroundings, to be grateful that I am still alive and to remember how lucky I am to be living here in Mexico.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Singing In The Rain

Singing, laughing, rejoicing, doing everything short of dancing nude in the rain, which actually appealed to me, but I thought it best not to subject the neighbours  to such a frightening spectacle.

rain cash 016Oh Heavenly Water!

Coming from the Pacific northwest it never occurred to me that I would one day be desperate to see rain. I remember commenting during one long, gray rainy season in Patzcuaro that I might as well have stayed in Vancouver, for the amount of rain, fog and bone-chilling dampness I was experiencing. However, even in Patzcuaro , by the end of the dry season I was whining about the dust and was more than ready for some rain.

Now, after living in San Miguel for almost a year, I am beginning to understand what dryness really is. This area is high desert and gets much, much less rainfall than Patzcuaro, and last season, according to locals, it was even drier than usual.

We live behind six soccer fields. They are not grass, they are dirt and gravel. We also get some pretty strong winds here. April, May and June are very warm so we like to have the windows and doors open to catch some of that nice breeze. What this adds up to is so much dirt and dust in the house that a shovel is more appropriate to remove it than a broom. Yes, I’m whining again, only more this time.

We brought two little humidifiers from Patzcuaro but they weren’t really up to the task of raising the humidity in the house much. Todd started to get nose bleeds and we both developed very bad allergies. When we went to the doctor for some allergy medication he told us that this was a common occurrence and that it would pass when the rains came.

We went immediately to Liverpool and bought a very spiffy, powerful air filter and a new, larger, and more sophisticated humidifier and settled down to wait. With the air filter the allergies eased up some and with three humidifiers Todd stopped having nose bleeds. I retired the shovel in favour of a broom and life went on somewhat more comfortably.

About three weeks ago we began to experience heavy black clouds, thunder and lightning in the evenings. Seeing as the rainy season was already about a month late in arriving, there were reports of rain from many other areas, we thought this must be an indication that rain was imminent. We stood by the window watching the lightning and listening to the thunder, and waited…..

rain cash 017Blessed Rain!

We waited for about two weeks. Then finally one night about a week and a half ago we heard it. A light patter of rain. It started slowly but since then we have had rain almost every evening. The weather during the day is beautiful with temperatures in the seventies and then the rain comes in the late afternoon or evening dropping the temperature down to the fifties over night.

The lawn is green, the flowers are flourishing, my jasmine is blooming and life is good. It is so beautiful here now that I am understanding the great appeal this city holds for so many people. I now count myself among them.

rain cash 023