Stitching a story
HAD I CLOSED MY EYES and only listened I would have known most of the characters that passed by my balcony in a daily parade. Early each morning the swish, swish of straw hitting pavement told me Mariano was sweeping the sidewalk; church bells two blocks away summoned the faithful to Mass; a beautiful baritone voice sang out " Agua pureza, agua pureza." I waved at the singer and ran downstairs to open the locked entrance door so he could carry the five-gallon jug of water up to the apartment.
Cowbells announced the arrival of the garbage men who carried large tin washtubs on their heads to collect each household's trash. Groups of chattering nurses made their way to work at the Catholic hospital. The tortilla machine in the mom-and-pop store across the alley clinked and clanked into full gear. People came at noon to fill their cloth-covered baskets at the shop. The aroma of the fresh corn tortillas tempted me to walk over and buy some, too.
The tinkling bell of an ice cream peddler told me it was afternoon and soon the alley was filled with the laughter of children making their way home. Near suppertime, a peddler honked the bullhorn on his bicycle; he pulled a cart filled with tubs of boiled corn on the cob.
I sat on the balcony watching the passing of ordinary people going about their lives in the city of Guadalajara. I was a foreigner from the United States living temporarily in their midst. I'd come to Mexico with my fiancé, Frank. We'd been living in Reno, Nevada, for a couple of years. Frank had already retired from working at a grain elevator in Wyoming, where we had both lived most of our lives. He didn't like Reno and wanted to move to a warmer climate where the cost of living would be less than in the states. He'd always thought he'd like to live in Mexico, so after doing some research he decided he wanted to move to Guadalajara. I had visions of grand adventure so I agreed to go along. I quit my job, emptied my savings account and packed a few boxes; we put our things in the back of Frank's pickup and drove down to Mexico in July of 1996....
Once we got settled into the apartment it became apparent that Frank and I had different goals in mind. I was up for exploring and adventure; Frank wanted nothing more than to "really retire." His routine evolved into getting up late, having breakfast, walking a mile to Plaza del Sol, visiting with a group of cronies he'd met, coming home for lunch, taking a nap, watching television, eating supper and going to bed early. I joined in the walks to the Plaza, highlighted by buying a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice each morning.
I quickly became bored with Frank's routine and looked for other ways to fill my time. I bought a book, Western Mexico, A Traveller's Treasury, by Tony Burton. Burton, a transplant from Britain, had written the book as a guide for both day-trip destinations from Guadalajara and two-, three-, or four-day trips from the city.
Armed with a map, a red highlighter and Burton's book, I spent days outlining the way I wanted to see Mexico. I eventually convinced Mary, Frank and other friends to go with me exploring the countryside. Of course, these outings only took place once a week at the most.
So, in order to fill the remainder of my days, I went shopping. But I wasn't looking for clothes or souvenirs, though I did buy some of those things occasionally. No, I went looking for fabric and sewing supplies. I bought yards of plain turquoise, a golden print, and a print with mixtures of pink, purple, red, green and black. At home, I cut the turquoise into 88 ten-inch squares; then the gold into 48 sun shapes; and the mixed colors in 40 moon shapes. The squares would eventually be sewn together to make a quilt I had designed. I had noticed that the Mexicans used the sun and moon motif in many of their designs and I wanted to make a memento reflecting their culture.
I often sat on my balcony and appliquéd the suns and moons onto the turquoise background squares. The tiny stitches I took followed the rhythm of the parade passing by. I stitched and watched and planned my travels.
Two weeks after we arrived, Frank and I went to a luncheon at AMSOC. There I met Nancy; she was spending the summer in Guadalajara to escape the heat in Houston, Texas. Nancy and I discovered we both liked to explore. She said she hadn't met anyone else who was adventurous and asked if I'd like to join her in jaunts around the city and to some villages. Of course, I said, "Yes."
September seemed to have awakened Frank. I suggested a trip south to the state of Michoacan. He agreed.
We drove past Lake Chapala, then wound up a narrow road through fields of pink, orange and white daisies to the mountain village of Mazamitla. Tony Burton's book said it is "a graceful, charming town of cobblestone streets, adobe walls, wooden balconies, old doorways and red-tile roofs, whose inhabitants make lovely woolen sweaters and ponchos." We dined at the La Troje restaurant. We both ordered trifajitas, tortillas served with three different kinds of hot steaming meat, cooked with onions, green pepper and squash and topped with fresh squeezed lime juice. Dessert was caramel flan custard, the best I ever tasted. We were also surprised to see several large posters, with pictures from our home state of Wyoming, hanging on the walls.
We journeyed onward to the village of Patzcuaro on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro. The town has two plazas, Plaza Chica and Plaza Grande. We found rooms in the Hotel Los Escudos, a restored 1694 mansion, on the west side of Plaza Grande. My room on the second floor faced an interior courtyard. As I looked out the window and fingered the dark red velvet drapes, I imagined myself as the young señorita Gertrudis Bocanegra, who was born there in 1765. The beautiful Spanish noblewoman fell in love with and married a Tarascan Indian named Pedro. They were active in promoting independence from Spain. Her husband and son died in the fighting; Gertrudis was tied to a tree in Plaza Chica and executed by Spanish Royalists. Today she is honored with a statue there.
Patzcuaro is known for its wooden furniture, lacquered boxes, and painted wooden decorations and toys. Frank bought a small chest of drawers and I bought a painted wooden sun to add to my collection.
The last morning we had planned leave at 7 a.m. and get an early start back to Guadalajara. I awoke at 6 and went outdoors to walk the quiet plaza and sit on a bench in a corner. Suddenly I heard singing. I looked up and saw a procession coming down the street with people carrying candles in red glass holders. Four of them carried a platform with the statue of a priest. They marched past the hotel and headed up a hill toward the church. I followed at a discreet distance and went in the sanctuary behind the procession. The church was lighted with hundreds of candles and draped in green and white bunting. For a short time I listened to the music and then walked back to the hotel.
We traveled all day, stopping to visit the small village of Angahuan where Purepecha Indians reside. The houses there were very different from the cement or adobe houses we had seen in other villages; they were built of wood with steep plank roofs. Ladies strolled the streets wearing simple cotton dresses, their shoulders draped in distinctive blue and black rebozos trimmed with bright pink embroidery. Boys on horseback wanted to sell us a ride to the volcanic ruins nearby. We declined the ride but hired them to lead us to a small visitor center to view the ruins at a distance. A volcano had erupted suddenly in a farmer's cornfield in 1943 and continued to emit lava for nine years. The village of Paricutin had been completely destroyed. Off in the distance, we could see the bell tower of the church, the only part of the building that was not buried in layers and layers of black volcanic rock.
Back on my balcony, in Guadalajara, I counted the finished quilt blocks. I was almost halfway done. Frank went back into full retirement. Mary and I visited and planned to join other AMSOC members for the Virgin of Zapopan parade.
On a cool October morning Mary and I took a taxi before sunrise to the La Gran Fonda restaurant, where AMSOC had reserved tables for our group. From the restaurant balcony we watched a two-hour-long parade of thousands of natives. They wore costumes made of bright fabrics decorated with feathers and beads. Different groups represented the many cultures of Mexico. The parade was in honor of the Virgin of Zapopan. A statue of the Virgin had been making the rounds—she had visited 200 village churches before returning to her home church at Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara. At the rear of the parade, the statue rode proudly on a bed of flowers resting on a platform; the platform sat on a brand new convertible. The engine of the auto had never been started; the car was covered in flowers and attached to white ropes pulled by 20 men wearing white gloves. Throngs joined the parade to follow the statue to the Basilica. The Virgin is believed to have curative powers for her devotees. Mary and I trailed after the people, but we soon realized we would not even be able to get close to the church. We finally detached from the crowd and caught a cab home.
A Christmas card from friends in Reno told us that they were coming to Guadalajara in late January with a recreational vehicle tour. Surprisingly, we were invited to join our friends, Don and Mary, and three other couples, for a trip to the village of La Placita on the Pacific coast south of Manzanillo. Don and Mary had met Alejandro, who owned a banana and coconut plantation at La Placita. The four luxuriant coaches were parked on the beach next to the tiny stick hut of Julie and Jose, and their two children, who were the caretakers of the plantation. The sound of the ocean waves lulled us to sleep.
For breakfast the next morning Alejandro and Julie cooked huevos rancheros on a stove made of clay and heated with a wood fire in the open-air kitchen attached to the hut. The women walked on the beach and the men attempted to catch fish. In the afternoon we all drove to a nearby village to buy fish. That night Alejandro cooked a feast fit for royalty. He prepared abalone in coconut shells, lobster in garlic sauce, cucumber salad and watermelon. The meal was placed on a plank covered with banana leaves and carried to a palm shelter. We dined on the beach and watched a silver sea swallow a golden sun.
I sewed together the 88 fabric blocks I had appliquéd. I added a backing, a middle layer of warm wool and quilted the blanket. The bright squares of suns and moons warm me as I snuggle under the quilt. I often dream of a land of salmon-colored haciendas where children ride donkeys; vendors peddle wares on bicycles; and people dance in the streets. I hear the mariachis, only in my dream, it is my birthday and they have come to sing for me, rather than the lady in the house across the street.
These extracts are reproduced, with full permission, from
Lasso the World by Starley Talbott.
(Plainstar Press, 2004). ISBN: 0-9762943-0-3
Available from the Publishers at 1555 Main St., Suite A3 #180, Windsor, CO 80550, USA, and from Amazon Books.
Extracts from Lasso The World; a western writer's tales of folks around the globe
Starley Talbott Anderson is an award-winning author who has been a reporter and freelance writer for more than 30 years. Her work has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines. Starley has traveled a great deal of the world and lived in four countries. Though she moves her campsite often, she currently collects her mail in Colorado, while she continues to collect memorable people and places on her journey through life. [Editor's note: Additional extracts will appear next month]