Saturday, January 1, 2011

An Ex-Pat New Year's

For many Years Dan and I sought out quietude on New Year's Eve - we even went camping in the desert and saw in the New Year around a campfire, often with good friends. Apparently we have changed. Now New Year's Eve is all about a good party in Banámichi!

The purveyors of the best party in town are Tom and Lynn Matthews of Hotel Los Arcos de Sonora. Tom is a fabulous cook and takes this holiday as an opportunity to showcase his talents. For 24 hours ahead he cooks up a storm, including his famous New York rich that one slice could sink a battleship.

So this year the party started with a formal dinner of turkey, and two hams with sides provided by various friends. We gathered to feast early in the evening, as various friends both gringo and Mexican came and went.I love the way Tom and Lynn just simply include whoever is present - hotel guests, townspeople, friends of friends. By the end of the evening everyone has become a friend. The guest list also included the town's very handsome young doctor. Many of us women decided that we were developing ailments that would need immediate medical attention.

That's Claudia in the red eating cheesecake!
The night was chilly (but it was NOT Minneapolis!) and there were two fires going, so we were able to gather around them and stay warm.And speaking of warm, I love the traditional Mexican greeting...a warm embrace followed by a kiss on the cheek. I don't know about you, but I love hugs, and this was a hug-fest. The best!

After we all stuffed ourselves on the main courses, out came the cheesecake. Lynn and I teased with Claudia, who is slim and gorgeous like an Aztec goddess, that the cake will make her "nalgas" (butt) grow. She giggles at the slightly naughty reference, and Lynn tells her that it is totally worth it for this cake! Afterwards, the group dissolves into many conversations, some in Spanish and some in English and some half way in between, as we wait for the hours to tick away to 2011.

Bug Man Dan - a local "bad boy"
Whenever boredom threatens, our local overgrown bad boys go out in the street and toss a few firecrackers.
Tom launching a rocket
The personnel include Tom and Dan, cheered on by Raphael and this year, Minister Seth from Bisbee. A number of us decide that we might be willing to consider church if preachers were as fun as he is! We joke that the cops are coming - last year they did, but now we speculate that they are used to our antics.

Fireworks are legal here, and somehow the tradition started of someone going down to the town of Ures and getting a bunch before New Year's Eve. The stash includes the little red ones with dangerously short fuses that make a huge noise. Of course the boys got into taping them together to see how big a bang they could get. Who doesn't like a good explosion? Only minor injuries resulted.Tom now has a spot that he will no longer have to shave.

Bottle rocket
Then there were the bottle rockets that streaked into the air trailing fire.  A flag-pole holder made a perfect launcher for them. Lastly there were the actual big rockets which blasted into the night sky and exploded into a a cluster of multicolor sparkles. Of course the "boys" had to try out various taped configurations - firecrackers atop rockets, and multiples of each. The implied danger kept us all running into the street to see who was in danger of losing which fingers in between running into the courtyard to warm ourselves by the fire.

Where did you say that fuse was?

Times Square on TV
Midnight Stragglers
I went into the house and sat down in the warmth for a few minutes and fell asleep.So much for partying hardy! I am becoming old, dagnabbit! I woke up shortly before midnight and went back outside to find the last stragglers of the party watching the ball descending in Times Square on Dan's computer. How is it that New York has become the world's standard for bringing in the New Year? Why not a bottle rocket and great hugs and kisses in Banámichi?

Seriously, though, a couple of my blogging friends  (A Camp Host Housewife's Meanderings , and An Alaskan in Yucatan) have done great pieces on the New Year and the passing of time. Even though I am philosophical by nature, I won't go there this year. At this point in my life, I love good friends, shared good times and the simple contentment of spending time in this lovely little pueblo with a great community of loving people. I hope to do more of the same in the coming year, and I wish all of you good friends, good times and contentment as well. Happeeeee New Year!

Pizza Night in Banámichi

Pepperoni and 4 Italian cheeses
Ever since 1971 I have wanted to build an adobe clay oven. The idea first came up with an article in Sunset magazine. For some reason the time wasn't right, so I clipped the article and put it aside for later use. From time to time I re-found the article, but the time was never right.
When we were renovating the house in Banámichi, I decided this was was now or never. There were no codes here, and no one cared about backyard fires - in fact they had developed them into a sort of art form- smoky, smelly, burning trash and fragrant mesquite cooking fires seemed to be the order of the day.

While I was trying to figure out where to get all the supplies, my friend Lynn of the Hotel Los Arcos de Sonora researched mud ovens on the internet and found a wealth of information. While I was twiddling my thumbs and thinking about where to put the thing, she and Tom just built one! I was a bit miffed that they got to  my long term desire first, but couldn't help but celebrate the accomplishment with them.

Heating the dragon
Tom has even decorated his with a sculpted dragon that breathes smoke from it's mouth. It's way cool. My oven is now drawn out and the space  has been located in the back yard, however construction has not begun. When it does, I will keep you apprised of the progress!

Of course we had to experiment with making pizza in it. The first one emerged a bit burnt, but generally the results have been absolutely fabulous! The creations have been a joint effort and have been so enjoyed that we hope to make them a regular event. You can see the process and some of the results in the photos below. Don't you wish you were here for this? You can be! Come see us!
Preparing the dough
Spread the sauce

Add Ingredients
In it goes! Master chef Tom at the peel.

Now we're cooking!
3 minutes and out it comes


Caprese Salami and fresh mozzarella

Why I love Mexico and hate Minneapolis

It is two days before New Year's and I am outside in a short sleeved shirt pulling weeds in my garden in Banámichi. The sun is shining and the sky is a brilliant blue.The temperature feels like about 72 F. The day is as perfect as they get. I love the winter in Banámichi.

Early in December I had to make a quick trip to Minneapolis. I flew out of Tucson on a warm Thursday and had a reservation to return the next day. All I had to do was lead a quick meeting for the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center there and I could go back to the sunny southwest. But this was not to be. The universe had other plans for me.

As the plane came in for a landing I could see that the farms and fields were covered with snow. The sky was leaden and outside the cold damp air smelled like it would start to snow again any second. I was thankful that I would not have to be out too much.

I dragged myself out of sleep on Friday morning with a rising feeling of nausea. I'll spare you the gruesome details - suffice it to say that I was too ill to fly that day, so my reservation was changed to the next day, Saturday. BAD choice!

By Friday evening I was feeling much better, however it started to snow during the night. By morning there was a good two foot accumulation in my host's yard. She called the airport and was assured that the flight would go. She said; "I can't take you to the airport - the driveway isn't shoveled and the alley isn't plowed. We'll have to call a cab." I had a feeling this was not going to end well.

The cab arrived and I waded through the snow banks to get to it. It was bitterly cold - an alleged wind chill of -18F. The cold went right through all the layers I was wearing. The cab driver was a courageous man - in places it was hard to tell where the road was - nothing was plowed yet. He kept telling me how beautiful it was and how after he left me at the airport he was going to quit for the day and go out to take some pictures. On the way I was astounded to see groups of people jogging and others walking their dogs as if this snow was the most ordinary thing in the world. Those Minnesotans are a hardy breed!

I was so thankful to arrive at the airport that I gave him a large tip and headed right for my flight gate. As I got there, I heard the announcement: the flight had been canceled because all the runways were closed. There was no way I was going home that day.

I re-booked the flight for the next day on a different airline and made a hotel reservation with the voucher I had been given. They assured me they had a shuttle. Two hours later when the shuttle still had not come I called again and was told the shuttle was not running because they could not get it out of the parking lot!

By now a sweet young Chinese girl who was going to the same hotel - the Ramada West - had latched on to me. Perhaps she thought I was a native and knew what I was doing. HAH!

Eventually she and I piled into a taxi van with a Canadian guy, a middle-Eastern family and a Somalian driver who hardly spoke English. He had an English study guide open on the seat next to him. Again I had this nagging feeling....I never had heard of any significant snowfall in Somalia.

We headed out on the freeway towards the Ramada West. The only way to tell it was the freeway was the tire tracks through the two feet of snow. The wind howled and blew snow upside down and sideways. It was almost a total white-out. The driver had to stop several times because the windshield wipers kept freezing to the windshield. In the cab the tension was palpable and no one said a word as the car slithered along the tire tracks. Finally we approached the Ramada and the driver slowed to look for the entrance. He thought he spotted the correct tire tracks in the wind whipped snow and turned right - directly into a snow bank. Now we were stuck!

We all got out to help push. I looked up and noticed that the hotel in the distance said "Ramada Inn Mall of America." I pointed this out to the Chinese girl and she started shouting at the driver who was now ineffectually poking the snow behind the wheels with an ice scraper. "You brought us to the wrong Ramada.!!" The driver shouted back in a high screechy voice that sounded on the edge of tears: "This only Ramada inn. No other one! You go!" The poor man was clearly out of his element. He was wrong - there WERE two Ramada Inns - I saw them on the board at the airport, and indeedy we were at the wrong one.

There was no point in arguing with him and he wasn't going anywhere in the near future - especially if he kept poking at the snow with that scraper. I decided that the only thing to do was to walk to this other Ramada Inn and hope there was room. I paid him, grabbed my bags and headed out across the snow-drifted field toward the building - probably 1/4 mile away. The Chinese girl decided to follow me. The tiny pellets of snow the wind blew  into my face felt like needles. The wind blew right through all my clothes and I could feel the chill on the skin of my back. Behind me the Chinese girl whimpered. Poor thing didn't have boots, hat or gloves.

We blew into the warm lobby on an icy gust and went to the check in counter. Not only did they have room, they even honored our vouchers! The Chinese girl vanished down a hallway and I never did see theragain. The snow had drifted against one of the glass doors of the hotel. I stood next to it to measure it - nearly 5' high!

The hotel restaurant was packed at dinner. No one could go anywhere - it was the only game in town. I ordered chili, thinking of warm spicy, sunny flavors - the taste of home. Meanwhile, two women came and sat at the table with me.. Edith and Gladdie. (In extreme circumstances Americans will act European and share a table.) They were on a church outing to see the Christmas sights and now they were snowed in as well.They still had their name badges on.

They asked me where I was from and I told them Arizona. "Oh, you're the ones with the screwy governor!" Edith said. I almost dropped my teeth. They were Middle Americans - I was sure they were Republicans - and THEY thought our governor was nuts! They also thought the chili sounded like a good idea on this freezing night.  When it came Gladdie took a taste and commented: "Oh, it's very well seasoned!" Personally I thought it tasted like ground beef floating in canned tomatoes, and I may have mentioned that I thought it a bit bland. Edith said: "Oh, you Arizonans like your food to bite you back!" Frankly, those two and their brand of humor were a bright light in a very dark night.

By the next morning it had finally stopped snowing. All the papers said that this was the biggest storm on record in the Minneapolis area. The roof of their stadium collapsed from the weight of it. At the airport, I could see the snow blowers on the runway blasting plumes of snow about 200 feet in the air. When my flight finally took off after about  4 hour delay (frozen brakes and a broken de-icer), I nearly cheered. Even if it was beautiful, I had had enough winter to last me the rest of my life.

I was so thankful to land in the 75 F sunny warmth of Tucson, and to head down to Banamichi, where a cold day might go as low at 50 F. It's been 45 years now since I moved to the Southwest. I truly have become a desert rat. I love hiking up some canyon and lying on a warm sunny rock by an icy stream fed by the snow melt in the mountains. I love gazing up at the bright blue sky and not giving a thought to the people in Minneapolis shoveling their driveways and jogging in a wind chill of -18F. Sunshine, warmth and the bright sunny flavors of chili and salsa suit me just fine now.