Monday, January 23, 2006

There's only a little bit of spam in it…


I'm in a pizza place this afternoon, asking if they have anything "sin carne", without meat. "Pues, tenemos pizza con piña y jamon!" (Well, we've got pizza with pineapple and ham!)

[You'd have to know the Monty Python spam sketch--I'll try to explain if you ask!]

OK, got that out of the way, now where were we?

* Yesterday we took a break from it all, walking eight hours in the hills with our favorite dog, Mora (+ Zarzamora, blackberry, see photo). So good to be away from the madding crowds and deep into the lovely hills that ring the city. We ended up at a little village where we hung out at its four-centuries-old church, breathing in the vista below.

* Today Francisco, Rosa's brother (she's the sister who presently owns the house, since her nine brothers and sisters have ceded their portion of the house to her) was clearing out the last of her bits and pieces, all destined to the landfill, I believe.

* We gave our pals Jim and Jenny the Full Tour on Saturday. They've lived here for about 15 years after quitting Portland. They are both artists, and have created a studio in an old tannery on the other side of town, quite the inspiration for us. Of course, their place is much larger than our 1350 square feet (not counting the roof, where we'll be adding a small studio), but it gives us ideas for what we can do with our casa. Particularly our proposed internal courtyard/patio, where we plan on having many plants and a small fountain. Their website is (for which I take some credit).

* Louisa had two major successes today--her spanish is much better than mine (she did spend several years at a bilingual school in Quito, Ecuador when she was a kid, to my eternal envy). (1) She got the phone transferred to her name, and then arranged for DSL on our line; (2) She paid our property taxes for the year, so we don’t have to pay the post-January penalty. I'm impressed!

* We're both taking one-on-one conversation classes--one hour per day for Louisa, two for me. Fun. The only way to learn, from my point of view, chatting about anything and everything with someone who wants me to improve.

* Such a good time Friday afternoon, when we took Tom and Guille out for a meal. Tom--attorney from Texas who lives with his Mexican partner Guille--drove us to a new restaurant with a view to die for. They have been SO helpful with our house, really good to know that when we are living in our new place, they will be just up the road from us.

Guille and Louisa

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Just knock the roof off!

We've met twice with David, the architect who will be remodeling our new Mexican home. One early idea was to create an indoor courtyard, open to the sky, since we don't have a garden space (it's all building). The planta alta, i.e. upstairs (of two floors) had two rooms that lent themselves to this major operation: the room in the middle of the house, or the room next to the street (actually a callejon, i.e. no traffic).

The middle of the house felt better--that's where courtyards go, right? But it would be rather small--we're looking at about 14 feet by 12 feet, and we'd have to make space for stairs to the roof (assuming that we build a studio up there, as we're planning). We played with this idea for a couple of days, discussing with the architect, making sketch plans of how it could work. But it just felt like we were shoehorning too much into too little space.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I was sitting on the floor alone, staring at the space where the courtyard could be. It was like the moment in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where Pirsig is looking-without-seeing, zen-like, at his broken-down motorbike, for hours as I recall. Then he has this "aha" moment and out of the blue the answer comes. That's how it was for me--the courtyard should be in the room next to the street, where we could incorporate a closet that is currently dead space. "Knock down the wall between the room and closet!" was the aha.

Which means that instead of two roof areas on the roof with a hole between them (and no way of crossing between), we'll have one area. The sad little stairs to the roof can be demolished to make way for one nice set of stairs. And the part of the roof we were worried about, that we were probably going to have to replace anyway, will now be turned into a pile of rubble, the area open to the blue sky.

This is the middle room, where we thought of knocking the roof off and creating a courtyard. The main problem here was installing a stairway to the roof--the idea here would have been to open up the window, run stairs up from the left, walk out through the window opening onto a landing, then up to the right, to the roof. Leaving not much space for a patio area.

This is better! The little room beyond this room currently is a closet--dead space, with narrow and steep steps to the roof. The plan now is to demolish the wall between this room and the closet, take out the existing steps, open the whole area to the sky, and build proper steps running up from the left of the photo, then making a turn to the right to the roof.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

It's a house, all right!

Hey, it's a real house, with real rooms, windows, doors, staircases--just like in the photos (only larger and three-dimensional). My first thought was, "This is going to be a fun project!"

We arrived last Saturday night--our buddy Chris drove us down Thursday evening from Eureka (actually sideways and down, 101 was blocked by the usual Confusion Hill landslide, so 299 to Redding and zip down I-5), had a great day mostly playing with Chris in Oakland on Friday, and he got us to Oakland airport bright and early Saturday morning. (OAK is SO much calmer, happier than SFO, smaller airport, less flights, less stress.) To Dallas, four hour wait, and on to BJX = Guanajuato airport = Leon airport, take your pick. Where Julio met us with the Casa de Constancia limo.

OK, it's actually an old VW beetle. We stayed at Julio and Lupita's guest house earlier this year, OK room with an amazing view over the city (the photo of us to the right of this entry was taken on our balcony), and just the friendliest staff of two, we get to use the kitchen, perfect spot to base ourselves for this trip.

And more or less per plan, we rendezvoused with David, "our" architect (true, he works for others, but he's been SUCH a pal that we think of him as exclusively our personal architect) and Rosa (the house owner) and Francisco and Sebastian (her brother and 6-year old son).

And I got to see the place. Three hours later (most of which time L and I were alone in the house), we were exhausted with discussing, planning, talking about---

* removing the roof from one bedroom
* creating a second bathroom and kitchen on the upper floor
* building a studio on the roof
* making window openings larger
* converting the downstairs 'sala' into a beautiful guest suite
* adding a second stairway to the roof

---and much more. Now we're relaxing in the best way we know how--wireless internet. Coffee. She with her laptop, me with mine. And all's well with the world.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Louisa's note to her family this morning

Hi Girls 'n' Boys,

Well, good news. No disasters, no sudden owner disappearances, no fires, floods, or earthquakes in Guanajuato, in other words no major glitches. Rosa, owner, has moved out, other than a little furniture, she says. (hmm...)

We have arranged for a place to stay in Guanajuato and are meeting with our architect/ally David, Rosa and her brother for the walkthrough at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday. Think of us!

Monday, January 09, 2006

It's all happening! (this just in)

Hola Louisa:

Igualmente Feliz Año 2006.

Ya no estamos viviendo ahí, nos cambiamos a la nueva
casa, aún quedan muebles pendientes, esperamos en
esta semana desocuparla de cualquier manera nos
quedamos de ver el sábado 15, a las 12:00, para
entregarte las llaves.

Hasta luego.

Rosa María

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Calling David

That's da-VEED, the Spanish way. His name is actually David Chavez Chavez, in the way people are proud of their patrimony in Mexico.

We spoke to him this morning, worried about waking him (although it was 10 am his time, Sunday morning, he's a hard worker and we thought he might be still in bed). He's going to call owner Rosa Maria's brother to check on the status of the big Key-Transfer coming up (we trust) in a week. We fly down from Oakland Saturday ready to get the key Sunday.

More on this later. We're hoping to hear tomorrow that all is OK.

Here's a couple of photos of the house taken by Louisa just over a month ago.
Dining room looking into the kitchen

View across our roof, looking west


Saturday, January 07, 2006

Photos of Guanajuato

Guadalupe, the flower lady, whose stall is in the Plaza Baratillo
Hanging out in front of Teatro Juarez, opposite the Jardin
Louisa and Mora-la-Princesca atop La Bufa, hill to the east of town, seen in background
Dia de la Independencia parade
Our favorite plaza, Plazuela San Fernando

A Bit of Background

So Louisa and I first went to Guanajuato in November, 1999. This was at the start of a 20-month odyssey, we rented our home and traveled in Mexico, Greece, Egypt, Israel and the West Bank, Turkey, Georgia, Ireland, Spain and Morocco. At the end of that time away, we revisited Guanajuato, and discovered the more time we were there, the more we liked it.

Then, two years ago, we had the opportunity to house-sit and dog-sit for a month. Followed by the same deal this last September. That's when we seriously started considering the idea of buying a place there, to live in at least part of the year. We saw about 12 houses, made an offer on one (which the guy then decided not to sell) and came back home (to Eureka, California), still with a Guanajuato house very much in our thoughts.

Louisa went back alone in November, both to check on a couple of houses we'd heard about from friends (we were also running a "house wanted" ad in the local paper) and to look into the possibility of doing work down there.

A few days before she was due to return home, she heard about Tecolote 39. We talked on the phone, she emailed many photos, she took David, "our" architect over to see it and I discussed it with him on the phone, and we made an offer.

And now we're en route--flying down on January 14--to get the key.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Spot the Difference

Response to my first comment received. At least my beautifully-styled hair stays...
The trick is now, without reading the comment, to spot the difference between the two photos.
Thanks, Photoshop! (again)

To Begin at the Beginning...

...would take far too long.

It's the day of the Epiphany, 2006--January 6th for most of us--and Louisa and I are getting ready to return to Guanajuato, Mexico in just over a week. She for the fifth time, me for the fourth, in six years.

The last time she was there (without me), she bought a house. This blog is the story of our part-time home, Tecolote 39, Guanajuato, Mexico. This is it, from the street---