Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Random rambles 'round Ajijic: Part 3 - The odd, the goofy, & the beautiful

A cheerful dragon peers from side of an Ajijic house. For the final part of my 3-part series on Ajijic, I decided to display the odd, the goofy, and the beautiful sides of this gently weird place I call home. What follows is a collection of photos, in no particular order, that I have taken over the last 3 years and some comments about my reactions to the subjects. Above, the dragon is actually a water drain pipe. Roofs in Ajijic are often nearly flat, and need a way to drain off the water that collects after our sometimes voluminous downpours. The solution is a drain pipe that extends through the wall out over the sidewalk. After a rain, or sometimes after a maid has washed down a roof terrace, a steady stream of water cascades out of the mouth of the pipe. In this case the mouth happens to wear a cheerful, toothy grin. Pedestrians learn to beware of the cascading stream.

Figure from a nightmare. I am always astonished by the art work to which Mexicans expose their young children. The figure of a naked man, hanging by chains over a roaring fire, is part of a mural decorating the entire front of an elementary school on Calle Hidalgo. Another part of the mural depicts a naked woman giving birth. The over-all subject of the mural is the history of the Conquest of Mexico, an admittedly brutal and bloody affair. I can only imagine the reaction of parents in the US if their child's elementary school sponsored a mural in similarly brutal detail of, say, the Sand Creek Massacre by the US Cavalry of peaceful Cheyenne Indians. Howls of protest would be heard all the way to Ajijic. However, Mexican children seem happy, well adjusted, gentle, and friendly despite exposure to the realities of their history. "And the truth shall make you free..."

Fiesta crowd hugely enjoys the greased pole climb. Young boys climb on each others' shoulders to reach the prizes suspended from the top of the greased pole. The prizes were nothing much, household goods and such, but frenzied efforts were made to reach them. Disconsolate, panting participants surrounded those who still had energy to make the effort. Mexicans seem to love a spectacle like this, and it certainly got my attention.

Making sand the old fashioned way. In Mexico, they say "things are expensive, labor is cheap". Just the opposite from north of the border. Local Mexican construction workers would look at you in astonishment if you suggested going to the store and buying a sack of sand to mix with cement. All they need is a shovel, an old window screen, and a stick to prop it up. A bit of work, a little sweat, and they have a nice pile of sand, ready to go. This fellow couldn't imagine what I found interesting enough to photograph, but he was happy to oblige me.

My photo may be the only remaining evidence of the Hotel Boutique. I was entranced by the painting on the sign for this Bed and Breakfast on Calle Donato Guerra when I took this photo 3 years ago. The innocent sensuality of the girl, surrounded by the cascade of flowers flowing down the wall made an interesting subject. The hotel has since passed from the scene, as things do, but the flower cascade has not, and I think of the sign every time I go by.

What to do with that inconvenient stump in your back yard? Rip it out? Cut it down? No way! Turn it in to a work of art. Such is the community in which I live. This actually seems to be a popular solution, especially with tree stumps in the Ajijic Plaza.

The musician's assistant collects the tips. It is typical of street musicians that they have someone to hustle up when anyone pauses, or even walks by. In this case, the musician is terrible, with a singing voice that would set a deaf man's nerves on edge. He is widely known among my expat friends, and often people will pay up just so he'll move along. I suspect this may be part of his strategy. Often accompanying him is this gorgeously Scandinavian-looking little girl. I have never determined exactly what the relationship is, or even if she is Mexican. She may well be, since there are many blonde Mexicans. Mexican soap operas, called telenovelas, feature significantly more blondes than those in the US.

"Bring on the mariachis". When I visited the Panteon, or town cemetery, to photograph some of the interesting grave sites, I discovered more than a smattering of Gringos in residence. Some graves go back 60-80 years. The stone above, for Ethel Vertefuell, shows that she was born in August and died in July, but the years have worn off. The epitaph puzzled me greatly: "Bring on the mariachis". At first, I thought this lady really liked to party. Some time later, I observed one of the many funeral processions that regularly passed by my house on Calle Hidalgo--the main street connecting the Parrochia church and the Panteon. To my amazement, the procession was led by a mariachi band, a la New Orleans! The epitaph's mystery was solved.

Girlfriend from hell? One of the prime times for goofyness and oddities is El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Mexico celebrates, and even makes fun of death, probably a much healthier attitude than the whispers and dread found so often in my home country. Above, a young girl is adorned in her Novia dress. When a girl reaches 15 years old, she has a "coming out" (Novia) celebration with a special frilly outfit vaguely resembling a wedding dress. In this case the girl chose to top the outfit with a death mask as her Dia de los Muertos costume. She struck a perfect pose for my photo.

Dolphins under your feet. The sidewalk outside your house is your own affair. Sometimes there is none at all, sometimes just crumbling concrete and stones. The homeowner who owns the sidewalk outside his substantial home decided to commission an artist to embed tile mosaics into the concrete in each section of the walkway. Just another opportunity for self-expression.

Dancing the devils away. One day I was at the Plaza and an indigenous musical group was playing. Suddenly, this huge Indian picked up a large stick and began to dance, whirling and gyrating to the music. As far as I could tell, he wasn't part of the act, but just reacting to the music. Oh, well. Just another day at the park.

Speaking of stump carving. This was a piece of one of the big trees around the perimeter of the Ajijic Plaza which died. In other places, they might just haul it away, but a local artist saw something in it. The result is grotesque, intriguing, and funny with owls merging into howling faces and grinning dancers. People sit on it, dogs lie in its cool shade, and the stump has gradually become a normal piece of the Plaza's "furniture".

Tootling his way toward the San Andres Fiesta. This young boy was practicing his clarinet in the tiny plaza in the Seis Esquinas neighborhood where I used to live. He was preparing for one of the many parades during the San Andres Fiesta. San Andres (or St. Andrew) is the patron saint of Ajijic. The Franciscan friars tacked a saints name onto the Indian names of the many indigenous villages they encountered as they Catholicized the locals. There are many fiestas in each town throughout the year, but the one celebrating that town's special saint is usually the big blowout. Ajijic is no exception. Even though he was obviously interested in what I was doing, the boy never broke off his tootling to inquire.

A hole in the sky. During the summer rainy season, we get many dramatic views of lightning storms. In the photo above, I was able to capture a quiet moment. The entire rest of the sky was covered with roiling clouds, which reached down and flowed through the mountain hollows above the town. Just at dawn, a patch of blue appeared, and the unseen sun gilded the edges of the cloud hole just before the sky closed up again.

Shrine to the Virgen de Guadalupe, by Bruno Mariscal. This lovely little shrine is located just north of the Carretera (the main street through Ajijic) on Calle Galeana. It is shaded by a huge tree and faces a small tienda (neighborhood store) where locals gather to chat. There are similar shrines, some to the Virgen, some with other themes, in neighborhoods all over town. The Virgen de Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico, particularly of its Indians and common people. While grafitti may deface many other surfaces in town, it rare touches anything with a representation of the Virgen.

Bruno Mariscal used a popular Mexican artistic technique. As you can see, there is more to this mural than initially meets the eye. It is actually a series of paintings within paintings. What initially appeared at a distance to be the Virgen's halo turns out to be a brick archway. Her shawl becomes a set of winged angel figures. Another signature technique of Mariscal can be seen on the left side among the trees bare of leaves. Viewed closely, they become slender masculine and feminine figures.

Viewed closely, even more appears. The Virgen's eyes and nose become figures of male and female campesinos, the common people by which she is revered. They appear to be conversing with a couple of friars or monks, one of whom is holding a pot which makes up the Virgen's mouth and chin. The highlight on her cheek becomes yet another Virgen, with more detail. One of the remarkable things about this work of art is that it does not reside in a museum or a wealthy person's home, or even in a church. It is part of a simple shrine in a neighborhood of poor people.

It's hard to outdo Mother Nature. Below, the setting sun provides yet another spectacular view of Lake Chapala. A photographer friend of mine claims sunset pictures should be outlawed from photo contests. "It's just too easy to get a beautiful shot around here."

This concludes Part three of my Rambles 'round Ajijic series. Comments are welcome!

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. Jim,
    I just found your blog and it is just wonderful and informative and it makes this area a place I would want to visit. What about people like my wife and I who cannot afford to buy a big beautiful house in that area but just want to rent a small house or bungalow at a very reasonable that possible in Ajijic or Chapala? Thanks for any info.
    Michael Kane

  2. Michael- I'd be glad to provide you with some info about rentals. Email me at
    Buena suerte, Jim

  3. My sister, Lisa (from Toronto) told me about your blog.

    Wonderful pictures, great information & detail, its so beautiful there compared to boring, flat, humid Florida where I reluctantly live!

    older sister Shari :-)

  4. Hola!

    My husband will be in the Lake Chapala area the last week in June. We are retired and seriously contemplating moving to Chapala. We have researched many sources and are excited about the possibility of living there. Would you know of anyone we might speak with when we are there?

    Thanks for any information you can give us.

    Bruce and Sherrie Laird


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim