Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gypsies in Town

In the war years of the 1940's, in the small town of Mamaroneck where I live, Gypsies come to town most years.  There’s an open field near Mamaroneck High where they set up camp.  They arrive over several days in cars with tents and a few trucks with trailers.  Many arrive in closed wagons, painted and decorated in once bright colors and, to me, mysterious looking scrolling designs and flowers.  Those wagons are pulled by large, well-cared for horses.  Gas is scarce during the war and hay is cheap.  
Mom says they are families that come together for marriages.  She warns the Gypsies steal children and I'm to play in the backyard while they’re in town.  I want to go to the Gypsy camp but I've only seen it driving by.  I'm not allowed to visit there when Mom and Nan go.  They say I'm too young.  The two of them whisper together about the camp and it's possible dangers: pickpockets, child-stealers and black magic spells; but it doesn’t stop the two of them from going to have their fortunes told and later whispering together about their future. 
  When the camp is in town, a very handsome Gypsy man comes to our street with a pony cart and a bell he rings so we know he's here to take us kids on rides for a quarter.  One time he has a monkey on his shoulder too. Mom lets me ride in the cart all the way down the block and back.  The pony’s buff colored with a long brushed light blonde mane and a braided tail.   It’s glossy fur looks like gold in the afternoon sunlight. The cart is painted shiny black like my patent leather Sally pumps, with some delicate designs in gold paint and has red plush cushions with gold fringe.  The harness and fittings are polished leather with silver.  To my innocent eyes, it's the height of elegance.
I take my seat alone in the cart, touching the softness of the red plush spread around me.  The driver turns to me and smiles, his big black moustache is long and soft looking—much handsomer than Pop’s grey and red one—and his teeth shine white against his dark skin.  He flicks his whip over the pony’s head and we begin our leisurely trip to one end of the long block and back. He walks next to the cart with his whip in one hand and the other on the harness to make sure the pony doesn't steal me, a delighted little girl with blonde curls and a missing front tooth.  He walks at a slow pace, the pony clopping next to him, and I notice he has a ring in one ear, pierced.  I've never seen a pierced ear before.  It's almost as fascinating as the pony and cart.
As we turn the bend in the road,  Mom and Nan and our house disappear from sight. The big maple and oak trees on either side wave their canopy over Stuart Avenue and change it from a country street to a far-away place.  The sun filtering through the leaves dance shadows across my private coach, surely a magic spell transporting us...somewhere else.  The lazy summer air fills with the drone of bees, birds and insects, the hum of a few cars or an occasional truck left with enough gas to drive the Boston Post Road, and the clop-clop of the pony on its slow journey.  Several orange and black butterflies come and visit this strange entourage.
The Gypsy turns back to make sure I'm still there.  I've been very quiet.  He smiles.  I smile back.  A tear slides down my cheek.  I'm so thrilled with this adventure I can't control the joy.  All by myself.  No one else to share the magic with.  I imagine for these special moments I’m transported beyond imagination into the reality of my mind: a princess riding in a magical coach. 
We go to the corner of Sophia Street and turn around.  A dog barks off in the distance, probably chasing something down by Guion Creek.  No cars pass us.  No one is on the street or in their yards.  We have the whole road to ourselves.  I look around our neighborhood for the first time with total clarity and see the Victorian houses, the large three story monsters with verandas that lace around them, gliders on some, others with a chair or two to catch the cooling summer air in the stifling heat of summer.  Two story houses, country farm style sprawling into lawns that languish down the hill in back to touch the creek.  A 1920's French replica with stucco and odd shaped roof-line, and then our house, Mom calls it a Dutch Colonial, with Mom and Nan standing talking together as they wait for me to return from my journey.  I can see them as soon as we clear the bend.  They turn and wave.
As my coach stops in front of the welcoming slate step, crooked and raised on one end punched by a giants fist, a root from the tall maple that shades our front walk, Mom and Nan have been joined by Gongie, my grandmother.  They stop talking to greet me, their princess, as is my due.  I'm smiling so hard I fear my cheeks will crumble under the pressure as I get down and turn to grab the man around the waist and hug him.  I whisper so only he can hear, "Oh, thank you, it was especially wonderful."  He seems shy.   He pats me on the head and says nothing.  Do Gypsies speak our language? I wonder.
"Did you have fun?" Mom asks as she hands the man a quarter, plus a generous ten cent tip.
"Oh yes."  My eyes must still be shining, not dimmed by the fading magic of the ride.  "It was wonderful. Thank you Mom."  I sigh.  A princess must be gracious.
He turns the cart to back down the street and I wave goodbye to him.  He waves back with a grin.
I give all three of them a hug before I sweep majestically up the walk. 
It takes almost two days before the glow of my journey fades.  By then the Gypsies have packed up their tents and wagons, gone for places unknown.  I cross my fingers and with eyes closed, wish very hard that the Gypsies come back again next year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mexican Patio Concert

The sliding glass door opens to my patio.  Dog beds scatter the cracked stone floor while leaves skitter across, stopping only for a detour around a chair, a table, anything in their way.
Seconds ago rude birds intruded on the mornings silence in  cacophony almost painful to the ears.  Now it's quiet.  Cat on the prowl? The birds have no respect for the four small patio dogs, knowing their jumping skills are limited to the dining room table when no one is looking to guard a cake left in the middle, a wedge cut out perfectly for a snout to forage in. 
There once was a Jack Russell Terrier on the patio who, in his youth, could snag a bird mid-flight, faster than an eye could blink he'd have a grin on his doggy face and feathers out each side of his mouth.  He's long gone, beyond bird memory, and when he was on this patio he was too old for bird-snagging, slow with arthritis and half blind with age.  No, must be a cat on the prowl.
The school across the street is quiet.  No singing, no children's voices lilting "Frere Jacques" over the fence and across the street.  Quiet.  Where have the birds gone? 
A car passes in the street.  One of those non-bird-catching dogs jumps on a tarp protecting the outdoor loveseat.  It's plastic creaks and crumples in complaint. Somewhere close, maybe a block or so away, a loud bang breaks the silence left by birds.  Backfire? Firecracker? Gunshot?  Neighbor dogs bark up and down the fraccionamiento, but the patio dogs are silent. They save their voices for skateboarders.  The bang must be too far away, outside their zone to protect. 
An electric saw rumbles nearby. Could be home repair.  Maybe a new roof to brave the winter rains?  Maybe a new house bringing a new family to a once empty lot.  New dogs to join the Hound Chorale as they stake their verbal claim. 
But cats challenge both birds and dogs in the contest of who or what makes the most noise.  Late at night, on the verge of sleep, lights out and two patio dogs snuggled close, the howling, yowling, crying, screeching begins.  Generally close—outside my bedroom window.  For some reason unknown to me, my corner attracts skateboarders and fornicating cats.  The skateboarders own the day, the cats the night.  Thankfully, the dogs remain respectfully quiet when the cats sing.  Perhaps they are jealous or maybe enjoy vicariously the thrill of mating.  Perhaps they don't give a fig about cats.
One day we had a feral kitten in the bushes.  It was thrown there by someone.  To feed the dogs?  Maybe they thought with four dogs one cat wouldn't be noticed? 
Two days, two friends, many scratches and several cat traps later this three-quarter pound angry soul was out of the planter and into a home where it was appreciated.  Neither the dogs nor I appreciate cats.  It was cute, as kittens can be.  No thanks.
Still  no birds.  An occasional car.  Children's voices chatter far in the distance.  A loudspeaker on a truck chants its presence in and out of hearing. The saw quiets.  My coffee cup is empty.  Time to take a shower. No patio concert to miss.

Mexico Sings

Everyone sings in Mexico.  Some well, others know.  I hear the street vendors singing all day long on their rounds through the neighborhoods.  I am a gringo living in Mexico, in a small city near the border to San Diego.  Many of my friends live in the large condo developments dotting the coastline south to Ensenada, but I chose to live in the real Mexico. Hence my house in a community in town.  Not on the beach.  Not surrounded by other Norte Americanos.
I live where I can hear the music.  The man who pushes a cart through the neighborhoods sings about sharpening knives and scissors.  Several different men sing about ice cream, popsicles as I called them as a child, here called paletas—flavors of fruits, mango, coconut, papaya, kiwi, peach, strawberry and raspberry.  The garbage men sing, I can't make out their words, maybe it's just to let everyone know to bring out the cans please.  Or maybe they just sing for the pleasure of it.
A truck goes by with a recording singing the gas man is here.  Then another truck, loudspeaker blaring songs of the circus and the wonders to be seen.  This is replaced almost weekly by circus after circus; each with its own brand of miraculous things under the various tents I can see the top of from my house if I look out my bedroom window and crane my neck just so.  And their songs change to match the acts and events.  Some sing louder than others, volume jacked up to the max.  I imagine the loud ones desperate after five really bad money years, troupe not fully paid and complaints on all sides. 
I don't go to the circus.  I don't like to see the animals.  It worries me that they might not have enough water in the heat, enough food to fill their stomachs.  People tend to fill their stomachs first and the animals are an afterthought.  Hard times are harder on those who stand on four feet, hooves or paws.  And they can't sing for their supper.
We have concerts once again, events with music flood the town with song because tourists are back.  Many I can hear from my open window.  Parties always have earsplitting music.  It's de rigueur.  If the music isn't loud the people aren't having a good time.  And no one seems to go to bed.  Ever.  This past Sunday at 5:30 AM someone parked their truck under my window and serenaded me with Mexican ranchero music that blasted my sleep to pieces.
My neighbors occasionally give parties with karaoke machines on the front porch.  All partiers must join in, singing at the top of their lungs to whatever song is playing.  Until late.  Very late.  Very loud.
But I don't say anything.  I remember years when no one made a sound.  We all stayed home and were quiet. Very, very quiet.  Fear does that.  Street murders and kidnappings stemming from drug wars took away the songs.  But, thankfully, the music is back. 
When I first moved to Mexico, eight years ago, I learned to sleep to Mexican rap music exploding in my window all night long.  I was smart enough to move to a quieter locale, but since then I've also learned an excellent lesson: loud songs and music are more comforting on the nerves than the silence of fear—so go ahead Mexico, sing your songs all night long and I'll be the one applauding!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Matter of Hands

My earliest memories of going to 'the city,'  the borough of Manhattan in New York City, was to visit my godparents, 'Aunt' Alice and 'Uncle' DeWitt.  It was 1945, a long time and a different world ago. They were best friends of my mother and pops. I was lucky to have been born a girl, otherwise today I'd be sporting the monniker DeWitt.  I guess it would have been okay, but I much prefer Alice. 
They lived on Park Avenue and 77th Street, near the Lenox Hill Hospital where he was head of surgery, and two blocks east of Central Park.  It was one of the apartment buildings built just after World War I to house the newly wealthy professionals and businessmen. 
When we visited the city we often walked through Central Park amid its lush greenery, winding paths and hidden places—like the lake with rowboats, the Tavern on the Green, statues of Alexander Hamilton, and soldiers of the 107th Infantry from WWI and the 7th Regiment from the Civil War.  The Rambles, and  Sheep Meadow, the old grazing commons, were good places to stroll.  I thought it was funny to walk in Central Park when we lived in the country and never took a walk, but somehow it must have made sense to my parents.  I wanted to ride in the fancy open horse drawn carriages lined up on Central Park South in front of the Plaza Hotel and pretend I was a princess.
My parents took me to the Central Park Zoo when we had the time.  I liked the elephants and tigers, but the monkey house scared me; I didn't like their large staring eyes and the way they peed when they saw visitors coming. 
But my favorite was the tank where the seals swam and played and clapped their flippers together.  Their faces always looked so sweet that I dreamed of taking one home and having it live in our bathtub.  I would let it sleep with me in my bed at night if it wanted.  I was sure I could convince pops to build a little pool in the backyard for it.
Their apartment was as large, if not larger, than our big house in Mamaroneck.  I remember best the living room—almost cavernous with a grand piano in one corner.  I never heard anyone play it.  Maybe someone did once upon a time; Uncle DeWitt had a daughter and a son, but they were grown and out of the house by them.  Perhaps they took lessons as children.  Their mother wasn't Aunt Alice but someone else I never met.  I knew about those things, mom and pops had been married to other people once too.
On the piano was the piece that interested me most, a sculpture of Uncle De Witt's hands, by some famous sculptor of the day.  Just the hands and less than an inch of wrist.  In repose, one hand lightly over the other.  It was done in marble, a light color, lighter than skin but only slightly.  There was a delicacy, a gentleness in the pose, the veins prominent on the top and visible as shadows when the light hit them a certain way.
The adults sat on the other side of the room by a big window overlooking neighboring buildings. They laughed, drank cocktails or tea, chatted about whatever nonsense adults chatted about.  I was to entertain myself, keep quiet and out of the way, and don't get into any mischief! 
A little girl decked out for the city in plaid pleated skirt, white blouse and navy jacket, white socks and black patent leather sally-pumps, I sat on the piano bench and stared at the sculpture.  My blonde hair was just above my shoulders with the top piece twirled and twisted into a bun held tight by hairpins.  The center of the bun was left open, a convenient coliseum home for my pet turtle, George—named after the wrestler—Gorgeous George, who spent much of his time there.  If I had to go someplace, George went with me—seven year olds can be very demanding.  My parents gave in on that point, they knew where to pick their battles.  Also, I think pops was secretly amused when people realized a sleeping terrapin was nestled in the blonde top-knot.  They'd see something green, take a look and recoil.
My mother knew how to keep me quiet and well mannered, several books usually did the trick.  I learned to read at an early age and was content with my nose in a book. But at that apartment, I was fascinated by the hands. I assumed George was too since I occasionally talked to him.
The fingers were long and tapered, but there was a strength that emanated from them.  I could imagine them doing wondrous things, and in fact, what attracted the artist to them was Uncle DeWitt's reputation as a famous surgeon. 
As I sat on the piano bench I mulled over the dual questions of how an artist could make hands look like flesh and bones with such a hard piece of stone (once I had secretly touched it, although I was strictly forbidden to touch anything in anyone's house) and how a person's hands could learn to be so skilled that they could fix people.
At the dinner table after cocktails, Uncle DeWitt sat at the head of the table, my father sat at the other end, Aunt Alice on one side opposite mom and me.  Mom sat between me and Uncle DeWitt.  I always wanted to change my seat but mom said "Aunt Alice made the seating arrangements and a good guest never changes them."  There I was, one place setting down from the hands I was so desperate to study.  I wanted to make sure they were exactly like the sculptors rendition, and from what I could tell, they were, down to the last trailing prominent vein.  There was no way of knowing how skillful they were with a scalpel but I watched with interest as he cut his meat and gracefully changed his utensils from one hand to the other.  That was as far as I ever got in answering my questions.  I still don't know.

The Mountain

I feel golden rays on my shoulders.  It's good, warming my insides with a gentle caress.  Thank you sun, I think to myself.  I needed that after the harsh winter.  Snow makes me sad, covering me with cold as it does.  But I've learned each season brings both good and bad.  The bad is coming now, I can feel it even as the sun, the good, coddles me.
The first one comes, I can feel his heartbeat as he climbs. Harsh feet tramp along my sides, spikes digging into the soft flesh of my spring offerings and buds.  I can always hear the harsh breath of those who wish to mount me as they strain to attain my peaks.  They make me mad, these hikers, these stupid trekkers, interested only in heights.  Never looking when uncaring boots stomp whatever grows across their path.
My dearest friends, the little ones who emerge new and shaking from their mothers' wombs, and stand, knees not yet straight and strong, to wobble on my sides, nuzzle nearby teats and nibble at the succulent grasses and herbs I provide for them.  I love them.  They are proof of life and they honor me by using me as their home.  My joy is watching them grow, gain their horns or learn to hunt in stealth, limbs grow strong, climb my rocky  heights and mate to start anew the cycle of life.  All watched with pride by me, their home, the mountain.
But those hikers, the climbers, the ones who poke sharp sticks into my flesh, drop careless fire in dry brush, they make me mad!  I try my revenge on them, place rolling stones in their paths, loose gravel that spills them down the track.  But to no avail.  They come, ubiquitous fancy clothing, hooks and spikes and ropes meant solely to spoil and injure me.  They come, endless in their processions of conquest, packs flung over their backs holding supplies to aid in their constant quest.  Damn them!
In winter, they should go home to their fires and hearths on the flatland.  But no, they seek me still, with different poles to guide them down my now silken curved ribbons of ice and snow.  Is there no respite?  It seems mankind refuses to take a hint when I sneeze, tumbling crests and moguls of snow and rocks to bury them as they make their futile attempts to glide to safety.
They cut into my being to make their roads, perch their villages on my flanks, dig into my core for stones only they value.  They think they own me, can take what I offer, hunt my friends who live on me in peace.  It saddens me to see how arrogant they are. 
They don't understand. I am the mountain, and when I have had enough of them, I belch and shiver as my wounded sides easily shake them off,  tumbling helpless to the hard arms of the flatland below.  It is my joke on humanity.  In case they forgot.  I am mountain.  I.  Am.  Eternal.    

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Colors of Baja

Every turn around a corner in Mexico is a feast for the eyes.  If you love color, come join us in Baja, a place where the food is great, the locals are friendly and the prices are right.

My house is yours to rent for a week, a month or, if you go visit Tacos El Yaqui and Mariscos El Cabo like a friend of mine did and decided never to leave...for years.

Find the colors of friends, of comraderie, festivals, parties, things to do, things to learn, places to go.  Get out of your rut and decide to have fun!!!  All it takes is a trip to Baja.

For rental information, rates, and availability, contact


Mexico has taken it's lumps in recent years with a nasty combination of drug cartel wars and violence, lousey economy, flu scares and more violence.  Life has quieted down, Baja violence has moved to the Texas border where it should stay and plague our past president, fitting I should say.

Be that as it may, our little part of heaven is back to it's old smiles of sunny days, cool evenings and mornings, parties, mariachi music and fun.  For the 15,000 plus ex-pats who call northern Baja home, it's the usual round of fiestas, bridge games, tango dancing, art shows, wine tastings and too many events to do them all.  Restaurants are opening again, parking is not easy to find on the main streets, and life has returned to the joy we found so enticing.

My vacation house becons you to come, bring your t-shirt, a pair of jeans and the desire to enjoy life at a fraction of the cost in the USA.  Smiles are cheap and plentiful in Baja.  Come share some with us.

Rental information, rates, more photos availabel on request from