Saturday, February 20, 2016

The "winter" of our discontent

San Miguel, and particularly our mini-ranch, enjoys a nearly perfect climate. Warm summers, but nothing like the steam heat of Houston or Miami, and "winters" so mild that around here the word should be used in quotation marks, followed by a knowing chuckle, as in a private joke.

But still.  Instead of lighting thanksgiving candles to St. Alberto de Roker, patron of favorable weather, shortly after Christmas expats begin grousing about the oncoming cold weather and planning their migrations to the beach, usually on Mexico's Pacific Coast.

"On to the beach!," Gladys barked. 
Stew and I join in. Two weeks ago we loaded Gladys, our dowager and ever-plumper mutt in the car and drove seven hours to a modest beachfront bungalow Stew had found in Barra de Potosí, a spectacular and secluded beach near Zihuatanejo. Gladys seemed excited and for the first few hours sat up on the back seat intently inspecting the countryside as if she owned it.
Before leaving, though, and apparently under the influence of a case of Schadenfreude—a five-dollar word that means delighting in the misery of others—Stew set the weather app on our smart phone to report periodically on weather conditions in Chicago, our former home. Shame on you Stew for not channeling more charitable thoughts to our dear, dear friends [poor bastards] still living [stuck] in Chicago. 

Winters in Chicago. It's hard for me to forget the five-block trudge, from our house to the el stop, on sidewalks covered with snow and assorted urban detritus including frozen dog poop, to join other commuters at the station huddled under overhead heaters, glowing like chickens in a rotisserie and counting the nanoseconds until the goddamn train showed up.

And so to work and back. It's hard to imagine that, for the past two years, Bostonians and other Northeasterners have suffered through winters just as bad, if not worse, as Chicago's. Our condolences.
When arrived at Barra de Potosí, early in the evening, it was beautiful: coconut trees swayed gently to the tune of salty, ocean breezes. Our bungalow faced a small gazebo by the pool. Waves, some four or five feet high, constantly pounded the fine sand on the beach.

Next morning Gladys excitedly ran around on the beach—until the temperatures began to climb. By by noon they'd reached the mid-nineties and her enthusiasm had vanished. With her ears drooping and her tongue hanging out a couple of inches, she flashed Stew a pitiful look that said: "¡Mucho calor!"
"¡Hmm, mucho calor!," Gladys said, looking out from the porch.

Indeed, Stew was having his own problems with the heat and tiny "no see ums" that found his white Norwegian legs irresistible, and on which a red polka-dot pattern of bug bites developed. Gladys got bit on the tip of her nose too, and scratched it by rubbing it in the sand. For some reason, the bugs didn't bother me.
After that first afternoon, a pattern developed. Back from the beach, a quick lunch, perhaps fried shrimp at a beachfront palapa, followed by seclusion for two or three hours in the cabin's bedroom, cooled by a cantankerous air conditioner that sounded like a Cuisinart filled of nuts and bolts. Gladys often struck her four-legs-in-the-air pose for added drama.

About five o'clock, there would be a walk on the beach for the three of us, a dip in the pool followed by lounging on the porch where by now the temperatures had dipped to a pleasant seventy-five or eighty degrees, with a steady ocean breeze. After that, dinner.

"Not so bad after it cools off," Gladys noted. 
By that time a blazing sunset flickered through the fronds of the coconut trees and Barra de Potosí was a beautiful treat indeed but not a place where I would want to live year-round, particularly in summer when double whammies of high-nineties temperatures and matching humidity just about paralyze all living organisms.
During the drive home temperatures gradually dropped and when we arrived it was in the low seventies and breezy. Félix reported with some alarm—did a meteorite crash behind the garage?—that the night before it'd been so cold  that a thin sheet of ice had formed on the birdbath. Imagine. He was wearing double sweatshirts and a hoodie, and looked as if he might go home on a dogsled.

The landscape around the ranch did look "wintry," brown and withered like an old shoe. In San Miguel it stops raining for six months or more, beginning in November. Strong late afternoon winds stir up the dust, and occasional brush fires light up the night.

But by now—in mid-February—the huizache and jarrilla bushes, long before the rains start in July, are already exploding with tiny yellow flowers that in turn cue the bees to get buzzing. Buds have appeared on the magnolia tree too. Trays of flower and vegetable seedlings have been popping up in trays under fluorescent lights in the garage since January. Don Vicente, the farmer downhill from us, has started plowing his fields. Last year we had about thirty inches of rain that gave him bumper crops.

This is also the time of year when my guardian angel taps me on the shoulder and whispers, "Winter? You call this winter? What are you complaining about?"