I remember walking from La Casa Azul to downtown Todos Santos. It was late afternoon. I don’t remember where I was going, maybe to meet my Spanish teacher Guillermo at the cafe. I was taking the side streets north of the highway. I passed a woman washing clothes in her yard, another taking stark white dress shirts down off a clothesline. A man in a hat was hosing down the dirt road in front of his house when I passed. He smiled and nodded. “Buenas tardes,” I said. I passed a house with a garden in the front, vines climbing the wire fence, purple blooms. A woman was scraping food from a pot into a white enamel bowl on the ground, her brown dog dancing at her feet. “Oh,” I said. I was grinning. “She’s so excited about it.” Ella está muy emocionada sobre su comida. I remember the woman’s laugh, how it opened up her face. I remember the sweetness inside that moment together, of being part of her love for her dog.
I’ve longed for ages for a home where I felt like I could spend the rest of my life. When I moved to Sonoma County, it was the first time I had that feeling about a place. I remember driving home from Santa Rosa on Guerneville Road past green farms, the oak-studded hills before me. Look where I live, I thought. When I moved into La Casa Azul in Todos Santos, it was the first time I had that feeling about an actual dwelling. Things went terribly awry with my landlord there, but I remember that giddy feeling, thinking I’d found the home of my dreams. I remember wondering if I’d be able to negotiate the wrought iron spiral staircase when I grew old.
Over the years I’ve built a habit of studying the yards, examining the homes whenever I walk down the street. “Oh, I could live there,” I’d say to myself, caught by the wrap around porch or the climbing wisteria, both pleasure and longing evoked by my ritual, a bittersweet practice. When I lived in Ajijic where buying a home might have been one day more within my reach, I photographed for sale signs. I remember one advertising an empty lot of neatly turned earth, a beautiful brick wall surrounding it, a blue metal gate. I went as far as to look at two homes for sale up in the hills. One was all white and one was green, and they were both two stories tall with miradores that made them seem like three-story homes. I don’t remember any details about the houses themselves, only those marvelous rooftop patios, the views of the village spread out below them, the lake in the distance. I would have lived on those roofs.
Now in my unexpected southern California life, thanks to two dear friends and the workings of a generous universe, I’m on the threshold of having my longing met in the old trailer home I’ve just bought. I don’t get to take possession of it, so to speak, until April, but it has possessed me from day one. It has grabbed me by my viscera, invoking big dreams of a magic home I can grow old in, tending my garden and writing my books, the stark place transformed little by little in the intervening years to lushness and color, where my birds will want to linger chatting together in the bougainvillea or the palos verdes. I can see myself sipping tea on my patio there years from now, watching the sun disappear behind my mountains, the sparrows and the mourning doves scritching among the leftover seeds in the late afternoon quiet. I don’t have words to say how grateful I am, how full this makes me, how much awe it awakens. But I seem determined to try anyway, to fall short but maybe brush the feathers of the thing in my attempt. Thank you, universe. Thank you, dwelling gods. Thank you, especially, my good friends. Thank you.
I’ve never been fond of pigeons. Even now, I admit I still tend to dismiss them, am less pleased to see a group of them on a telephone wire than a gathering of mourning doves, some strange bird snobbery at work in me. But now I remind myself of what I came to know of them in Mexico. When I lived in La Casa Azul, in the blue house in Todos Santos, I came to respect pigeons. They lived next door to me, in the eves of the artist’s studio, the man I rented my house from there. I always wondered if he initiated their residency, started the colony there on some whim, some fancy about the romance and quirkiness the studio should reflect, not realizing how it might grow. I never asked.
But I would sit perched on my tall wrought iron chair in my semi-third-floor roost and watch the pigeons fly together. I’d always loved the sounds they made nestled in the eves, the muted rounded coos, bird pillow talk. But I never really watched them fly before. I remember the first time I saw them take off for their morning flight, making big loops across the sky, flapping and gliding in tandem. I was struck by the vigor of their bird bodies, by their prowess in formation despite the quickness of their flight. They would launch into the air together every morning for the first looping flight, a burst of celebration for the day to come. In the late afternoon, they took flight again before dusk, a happy sky dance, a few last circles of gratitude and play before bed. And I would sit in my own roost, feet propped on the rebar railing before me, and marvel at the ease of their antics. Each time they took to the sky, I fluttered with awe.
When I moved into La Casa Azul, the refrigerator was filled with old food. It was sitting, skewed, on top of two old wooden pallets, and there was mold and rust everywhere. I threw out the food, scrubbed each surface with soap. When I brought its condition up with the man who handled the rental for the famous Mexican artist who owned the blue house, Umberto looked blank and suggested I paint over it. I didn’t let this mar my new dream home. The building was alive with color and light. I felt like I could spend the rest of my life there. I’d never felt that way before. When I moved into my current home, my landlord emphasized the importance of the hedges being watered, of my not interfering with the automatic timer. When I discovered the timer didn’t work, I told my landlord. “Do you have a hose?” he asked. Last year he stopped having the hedges trimmed, though I’ve fought for them to be done again twice now in the past six months. But the pyracanthas have been getting more and more bare, my privacy in my courtyard garden now more illusion than real. And then my refrigerator died, and he wheeled a “new” one for me upright down the road from around the block, rattling and bumping along the asphalt. My jaw dropped. I spent three hours cleaning it out and trying to get the marks out of the floor, only to discover it didn’t work anymore. It shouldn’t have been a surprise.
But it wasn’t just the hassle of the refrigerator. It was cumulative. The hedges might be dying. Could it really be from lack of water? “Do you have a hose?” rang in my mind. “Puedes pintarlo,” Umberto had said. You can paint it. And before I left Todos Santos, the refrigerator stopped working all together. I didn’t even ask them to fix it. Things had deteriorated beyond that. I lived out of my two little ice chests. I felt helpless in Todos Santos, trapped. In the end I fled my beloved Casa Azul. I’ll always be glad I did, and I’ll always regret it couldn’t have worked out differently. When the wealthy Mexican artist refused to give me back the $700 he owed me from my deposits, the bad fridge was one of his reasons. The memory still brings me to wall of anger, the stone cold against my fingers. So when I found myself living out of my ice chests again here, I know the rest of this was at work beneath the surface. I was desperate to get away, out of all proportion to the circumstances. I threw myself once more into looking for a mobile home, contemplating buying a trailer, even looking at other rentals. But then my landlord gave me his refrigerator, and the panic eased. I am now soaking the hedges every other day, hoping they’ll revive. And I’m thankful I’m not fleeing. I know when the day comes, it will be hard to leave my enchanted courtyard garden. I don’t want it to come in haste, unsettled, my need to escape eclipsing everything. I want the peace of mind to cherish what I have through that last day, still obscured in mist, be it in two months or twelve years. If I could do it over again, I would stroll through the kitchen at La Casa Azul with all my gladness and all my gratitude sitting there beside my grief. I would run my hand against the orange wall, take in the sunlight and the colors and relive that last goodbye without the taint of despair, my clear heart cheering in a loud and grateful voice.
They gave me a deck of playing cards at the casino the other day when I signed up for my rewards card so I could get $15 off day use at the spa. The cards had been used at one of the tables, had a small circle punched out of one side, scribbled information across the label. Walking home, I caught sight of the big red “Mexico” on the side of the box where it poked out of my canvas bag. They were made in Mexico, nothing out of the ordinary in that, but catching that one word in my unthinking downward glance surprised me, had me hesitating in the crosswalk, some secret message, a reminder of this new focus for my blog. It made me see how obsessive I may become about this. I notice all the things that remind me of Mexico, my neighbor’s white wall two doors down with the bougainvillea that could be the one in the photo of my first post here, “I Begin,” except for the lovely curve of that other wall and the sweet gated window. The white hotel downtown with the bougainvillea spilling over balconies on the second and third floor is much more tamed but still reminds me of my three-story bougainvillea beast behind La Casa Azul in Todos Santos.
But even if this chosen theme makes me obsess, so be it. I was already missing Mexico, have never stopped comparing my two worlds since I left California or returned to it. The fact I have now made this an official pastime, a required occupation, is not something I regret for a moment. (“Bring it on!” my corny self wants to say, something my stepfather would have appreciated, I think, had he lived long enough to hear the expression.) This choice is sharpening my writer self, helping me move into feeling like I really am a writer more than ever before. It’s teaching me to tune into the concrete world in a way I may have never done. Before, I’ve taken in the world around me, but I’ve been present with the whole, I think, more than with the details. For example, I remember stopping beside the fountain each time I entered the Villa Bordeaux, my favorite mineral springs hotel in San Juan Cosolá. I remember standing there, taking in the walkway, the fountain, the small pond, the charming little building behind it, the grassy area and the trees beckoning beyond toward the lake just out of sight. I remember the way the stone and brick and water and growing things made me feel when I stood there, relishing the quiet, luxurious, pretty peace of the place. But I couldn’t tell you if the walkway was old red brick or painted stone or how the water spilled into the pond or what it was I found so charming about that little building nearby. Did it have clerestory windows? A small cross on the rooftop? An open doorway, slanting sunlight inviting me inside? I can only tell you I knew I would be content to go live in that little room beside the lake.
I’ve always known as a writer I need to pay more attention to these details, and I’ve begun to do so more over the years. But now I see how this new endeavor might teach me to carve these details in my mind, so they can be there when I’m writing a story that needs that Aztec sculpture sitting beside the large mineral pool with the lake and the mountains behind it, or the silent, mottled turtles sunning themselves on the rocks below the fountain. And this excites me, to watch how choosing to write about what I love, choosing to make each of these 54 posts touch on Mexico in some way, is gifting me with this chance to become more fully a writer, to have it weave stronger threads throughout my days and nights. This morning on my walk, heading home down Palo Fierro, I heard a raven making those rounded softer calls I love so much. I looked up to see a mockingbird chasing him across the sky. I stopped to watch their airy waltz, and as they moved off toward the east I watched the waning half moon hanging in the air where they had been, poised above the mountains, thin white luminescence in a pale blue sky. I heard a breeze chasing dried bougainvillea blossoms across the driveway near where I’d stopped in the middle of the street, the papery blooms scratchy, skittering across the cement. It all happened at once, a sweeping arc of overlapping time, the raven’s call, the swooping sky dance, the moon, the mountains, the scrittering of sound. And at the center of it when I saw the moon behind the birds as they crossed the sky I thought, oh, this is one of those moments. And I came home to write about it, grateful for the fullness of things, glad and hoping to be able to gift that moment back into the world.
[This photograph is not mine. It is a promotional photo for the Hotel Spa Villa Bordeaux. I couldn’t find a website for them, but you can find more images and information here: http://www.hotels.com/ho367385/hotel-spa-villa-bordeaux-san-juan-cosala-mexico/.]