Friday, July 10, 2009

And now, a rant






Construction seems to be going along well, so why does everything look so chaotic at our new house, and Stew and I feel ready to reach for the Prozac (or the Valium, depending on where we are at on the depression-anxiety spectrum)?

The crew just got finished tarring the roof, and the old Spanish-style shingles, piled up neatly near the house, should be installed next week. Following that--and a heavy rain to rinse off the schmutz on the roof--we should start collecting rain water in our cisterns.

Except the rainwater filters were not built properly, so parts of at least one them have to be redone. Bring out the hammer and chisel, and some poor guy to sit in the sun banging away at the cement for hours. Meanwhile we seem to have already bought four or six huge sacks of a special gravel--about twice as many as we'll need--to pour into the non-functioning filters.

Fuggedaboutit, there won't be any rain going into those cisterns for a few more weeks.

Instead, the water pouring off from the roofs--through the non-functioning filters--will gush into a lagoon that has developed on the back of the house in a hole that wasn't backfilled. After a big rain about a week ago, the water backed up and flooded the future storage space and mechanical room under the kitchen.

Several members of our totally unflappable construction crew--God bless their equanimity--just calmly went out there and dug a narrow ditch to help drain the water downhill. The workers shoveled, whistled and chattered happily, apparently grateful for the break from... whatever it is they were doing.

They also put all the stuff in storage up on wooden skids, about four inches off the floor, leading Stew and I to suspect that, yep, the place is probably going to flood again before this is all over.

A bright point was that our hyperkinetic dog Lucy--a Labrador-ish mix which has spent her entire two years on this earth looking for a place to swim--merrily jumped into what was left of the muddy lagoon. She had a great time.

Our high-tech septic system arrived too, looking like a tiny, flat-bottomed plastic submarine, something from a James Bond movie. If it works as advertised it should be a small ecological marvel: Using some sort of chelated copper ions (a process we still need to study) it will digest all the waste water from the house and expel it out the other end, so to speak, as clear water that can be used for irrigation. It's not called a septic tank but a "micro planta" and it promises to completely recycle all the water from the house without periodic pumping by a sewage truck.

However, we should expect to be looking at the gray submarine-like contraption lying in front of the house for quite some time. You see, work on the plumbing from the house and down the hill to wherever the micro-planta is supposed to be sited, hasn't even begun.

Though pieces of the house arrive daily, and work on the house is undeniably proceeding, certain elements of coordination, order and synchronicity seem to be lacking.

For us the gold standard for construction coordination was a young guy in Chicago who built an large addition to our house. He had the concept of just-in-time delivery down pat: A backhoe would dig a hole and ten minutes afterward a dump truck would appear to haul the dirt away. The windows would show up the day before the carpenters were done rough-framing the hole, and so on. He worked with the precision of a Swiss watch, and was so amazing we still remember his name: Steve Freund.

Ah get over it. Building a house in Mexico may take 50 percent longer than in the U.S., but that's just the way it is and, anyway, construction costs are 50 percent lower. Just a different way of building things.

Ah maybe so. I feel my tranquilizer beginning to kick in. Maybe we should stop visiting the construction for six weeks and see what happens.

But then Stew and I have an experience like we had this afternoon, when we walk around the ranch shaking our heads at the amount of destruction inflicted by the construction on the land and the vegetation.

Holes and dug-up boulders everywhere, random tire tracks as if truck drivers aimed for some out-of-the-way cactus or tree just for the hell of it--yeah, that one over there, 35 feet away, let's get that fucker!--that it's hard to imagine how the land is ever going to heal.

A blotch of dried-up cement on the ground, where the workers mix the stuff by hand, seems to expand daily, eating up plants and other living stuff along the way. Today, whirlwinds flung the trash clear out to the fence line.

After checking our new plantings for a while, we just whistled the dogs into the truck and went home. They jumped in right away, almost as if they wanted to get the hell out of there too.

Rick, of Rick and Andrea, friends and owners of a neat off-grid house on the other side of town, [http://www.relajada.com/ranchitoelcieloazul] mentioned to Stew the other day the growing practice among builders of "green" houses in the U.S. of putting up a fence all around the construction site, approximately 30 feet from the foundations, in order to contain the mess and damage. Wish we'd thought of that.

Meanwhile, details, details. By August 1 we need to move, not to one, but to two places. The first destination is a rental where we'll stay until the house is finished, and where we'll store about one third of our belongings. The rest of the move will go to the garage of the new house, which is supposed to be finished and secured by then, so it can hold the rest of our stuff.

Yesterday, we bought a truckload of appliances on sale at Liverpool, a local department store. We were asked for an address for the delivery truck which is coming from Mexico City. We explained that the washer and dryer are going to the rental--which has a clear street address--and the rest to the ranch--which has no address at all.

The sales clerk told us politely that the sheet of paper I had brought, and which explained, "Keep going down the road to Jalpa and when you see a huge green house then turn left a narrow dirt road and right at the culvert until you spot the construction up ahead" is not considered a proper delivery address.

So around August 1 we need to go to City Hall to request a proper delivery address and try to intercept that Liverpool delivery guy bringing our stuff from Mexico City, to tell him about the big green house and the narrow dirt road on the way to Jalpa.

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