Mexicans are land conscious. The last revolution was largely about land ownership. Women like to own their own home. They usually start out by buying a lot, or someone gives them a lot, and then they take forever finishing their house. At first the family may be living in a two-room shack, such as you see at the frontier. But eventually they may have a lovely big house. One reason is that there is very little home financing available, interest is high, and essentially no long term financing, partially due to the history of drastic fluctuations in the peso.
Americans aren’t like that. They are accustomed to all now and pay for it later. I don’t own a home, though I have a lot with some improvements. I could no more live in a small house than I could do without a car. Chela could. Maybe it’s my age.
We rent a place near the center of town and also near the outskirts. Tlaxco is small. We are in the older part of town, with cobblestone, somewhat narrow streets. You enter our living room directly off the street. The living room is small for our large family, but it has a high open-beam ceiling, as do all the other rooms in the house. The floors are decorative cement tiles. The kitchen is small and we only have one bathroom, but we manage. Needless to say, it’s an old house. No closets.
The rest of the property is a bonus. Above the house are areas where at one time someone raised chickens, I think. There are two areas, which had lots of windows that were covered with chicken wire. I framed in the windows and covered them with strong plastic; wired the areas for lights and outlets and telephones; then I painted the walls. The larger section is my museum (38 ft. by 22 ft) and the other is my office (15 ft. by 22 ft.).
We have a large concrete patio area. It serves as a place to hang clothes (we don’t have a dryer), and I installed a basketball hoop. It is also a place for the two dogs and three cats (when I can keep them outside).
There is another cement block structure behind the patio that is divided into sections. I also had to do work on the windows and the electricity. One section is now my shop (32 ft. by 22 ft.) and the other for laundry and storage (24 ft. by 22 ft.).
Behind all this is a space where Chela has her greenhouse.
What do we do with all this space?
I spend most of my time either in the office or the shop. Today I finished two projects. One project was a chess table. Carpenters in the States build houses. Carpenters in Mexico build furniture. I am one of the former. Anyway, I am proud of the chess table. It is made mostly of Huanacaxtle. Don’t feel bad, most people in Mexico haven’t heard of it either. It is an exotic wood from Tabasco that, with a clear finish, looks like walnut. For the white squares I used a white wood, also from Tabasco, and I don’t know what it is. Quetzal and Vidal helped me with the sanding. They like to work with me in the shop.
The other project, which has been in progress for over six months, is a calendar. It is a composite of the Gregorian, Aztec and Maya calendars, integrated for reading dates from August 11, 3114 B.C to the present and beyond. It also gives you your horoscope. Its size is a little less than 5 feet by 3 feet, containing all sorts of glyphs, concentric circles with dates, in English, Spanish and the Maya numbering system. I also have copies of three books of instructions that tell you how to use it.
Tavo (Octavio), our 17 year old did most of the initial drafting and design. He is quite an artist. At the age of 12 he won a DARE contest and had his artwork covering a large billboard at a busy intersection in Kansas City. Then a couple of years ago he won first place in the State of Tlaxcala, for his age group. He prefers to draw monsters. However, I noticed the other day that he had drawn a portrait of a girl from a magazine. She was more beautiful in his drawing than in the photo. He must be growing up.
An elderly engineer who is now living in a small town in Veracruz, near the State of Tabasco designed the calendar. I think he is a little eccentric. There is no way to communicate with him. When I bought the original calendar from him, his projects were making banana wine and experimenting with making paper from banana leaves. I paid 2000 pesos for the original and the books and he threw in a sample of banana wine. The original I sold to a friend in Texas who is a psychic and is interested in the ‘Mystical Maya’.
I ran through an exercise that was supposed to define my character. You count the days since August 11, 3114 B.C. up to your birthday, taking into account an extra day every four years and making an adjustment for the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar. The results were a joke. Then, out of curiosity, I checked my calculations and found that I had made a mistake. The new results were alarmingly accurate. Coincidence?
To the average person a calendar is something that tells you how many days untill Christmas, when the bills are due, and so on. Actually it is an astrological chart, primarily based on the earth’s position relative to the sun. Some calendars even show the stages of the moon for any given day. Almanacs give you all sorts of information based on the calendar. In pre-Hispanic Mexico, the day you were born could determine your training and education, your future, as interpreted by a priest.
The Calendar is finally hanging in my museum, mounted on sheet of board, and framed with Huanacaxtle. A transparent varnish darkened the paper gives it an ‘aged’ look. At this point I can’t vouch for the validity of the calendar, but the banana wine was delicious.