Three days ago, a tropical depression settled in over Mexico. Our balmy weather turned soggy, with a steady downpour that's put a damper on the sculpture symposium taking place in the workspace nextdoor. Then last night, a strong wind kicked up and temporarily knocked out the power. Casa Alexandra has an open-air floorplan, with a small central courtyard, open to the elements. There are no glass windows, just louvered windows and doors that give the place the feel of a treehouse. When the wind came, the rain blew in horizontal sheets, knocking over potted palms on the roof, and perhaps most sadly, three of Manuel Palos' alabaster sculptures that lined the swimming pool. All three were shattered. The house has been clammy and the rain pouring off the roof into the courtyard has created a waterfall effect.
This morning, I stepped out on the terrace to view the damage from last night's storm. Francisco had piled up the shards of carved alabaster and righted the palm trees. The sea was the color of pewter, with the brown river water from the Rio Quale extending far out into the Bay of Banderas. Palapas on the hill behind us were wrecked and water has been running in small rivers over the cobblestones down into the town. I imagine the beaches are in pretty sad shape. I prefer not to drive the beast when the stones are wet, since it makes for treachurous driving as the tires slip all the way down the hill. I hiked up to Ricardo's villa and checked in with him. I guess his beach umbrella blew off in the storm, and he had some water damage.
It's supposed to rain through Friday. I've been in the house for most of the past three days writing an article about the symposium for Banderas News. It was posted today, along with my photos of the artists at work. My next project is copy for Casa Alexandra's website. Manuel has visions of making this place a year-round artist's retreat. He is a sweet, fascinating man, devoid of ego, despite his considerable reputation as an artist. He is known for his classical style of carving. He is most famous for the architectural embellishments he's done for major landmarks in San Francisco, and for a giant "dragon" fireplace he carved for the home of Nicholas Cage.
Road Trip to San Sebastian
Last week, Israel and I drove 60 mi. into the mountains to visit the small village of San Sebastian. It was a short, but sweet drive into rural Mexico, seemingly a world away from tropical Puerto Vallarta. San Sebastian is a former mining town, now trading on tourism. We arrived late in the afternoon and were surprised to find many hotels full due to a wedding to which the whole town was invited. We first checked out the Hotel Delfy. Yikes. The proprieter had one room available on the third floor of the 100 year-old hotel. Israel and I climbed up several sets of narrow, rickety stairs to the little room under the eaves. There was a double bed and a wooden chair. The bathroom down the hall was clearly being taxed by all the wedding traffic, and it smelled. Even though I try to be a good sport about such conditions, I just couldn't stomach the idea of trudging down the hall in the middle of the night to a toilet with negligible flushing capacity. Israel had already paid the guy 200 pesos for the room, so he had to chase the him down at the citywide wedding celebration to get our money back.
Local hotels in rural Mexico are nothing like what we're used to in the US. No TVs, phones, no lamps, and in many cases, no sheets on the beds. They are usually lit by a single bare energy-saving lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Anyway, we found another colonial-style hotel with a tiny room at the end of a square courtyard. The room had double wooden doors that opened with a large skeleton key. We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant (also open to the elements), warming our hands on cups of Mexican-style hot chocolate spiced with cinnamon.
Our room was tiny, but clean -- and thank God, there were sheets on the bed. Our night in the mountain town was frigid cold, but we slept well under piles of heavy blankets -- despite the Mexican banda music echoing through the town all night. I did, however, get bitten on the ankles during the evening by some sort of insect...bedbugs? fleas? I don't know, but boy did my feet itch. In the morning, we threw open the wooden shutters to let in the crisp mountain air. I guess the party must have ended just before dawn. After a breakfast of huevos and chilequiles, we headed back down the hill, nudging cows off the road and stopping for an inspection by the federales who were checking cars for drugs and contraband. You get used to seeing men in uniform carrying M-16s. It's just part of the culture.
Drug Bust on Calle Brasil
We've grown used to the cadre of teenage drug dealers who hang out on the corner near Casa Alexandra. They conduct their business 24 hrs. a day, mostly immune to arrest, or so it seems. But the other night I came home to see several pickup trucks-worth of federales conducting a bust. It appeared that most of the action had already gone down. One kid was lying handcuffed in the back of a pickup. The Scottish couple who rent the second-floor apt. across from the casa invited me over to watch the action from their balcony. We chatted, drank mango juice until the show ended, the soldiers climbed into the back of the trucks and drove away. Not ten minutes later, the drug dealers were back on the corner, conducting business as usual. Methinks this is a game they all play. Everyone is on the payroll -- including the police.
I asked Israel if it would make any difference if I called the police to report these kids. He said, "No, you don't want to do that. If they find out you called, you could have an accident."