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June 2011

From the Editors

June 2011: The Month of Fiestas and Rains



We're going out of our way to find scenes like this at the shores of Lake Chapala that at least make us think we are a little cooler.

June here at Lakeside is always a special time. The early days of the month are a waiting game as hopeful anticipation builds with the heat and the banks of darkening clouds each very warm evening. The growing desperate din of the "rainbirds" (our own form of cicadas or locusts) lets us know that the start of the eagerly awaited annual rainy season is near. After the heat of April and May, especially this year when the hot days have been hotter than usual, we're very ready for the cooler rainy season.

Coinciding with the start of the annual rainy season are two of our favorite Lakeside celebrations — the fiestas to honor the patron saints of San Antonio Tlayacapan and San Juan Cosalá.

The activity of the fiesta of San Antonio Tlayacapan centers around the church and plaza of the small village about halfway between Chapala and Ajijic. Most visitors only see the part of San Antonio that borders the carretera (highway). While SuperLake (the wonderful store full of imported grocery items), Tony's Meat's and Restaurant, Vinos y Licores La Paz, and Mail Boxes Etc. are favorite shopping haunts of the foreign residents and guests, the village below the highway too often remains unexplored.

San Antonio (St. Anthony of Padua) was an Italian monk who left the Dominicans to join the fledgling Franciscans, a missionary group formed by St. Francis of Assisi. Antonio, the son of a wealthy merchant had hoped to become a martyred missionary. Instead, he became a crowd-pleasing, risk-taking evangelist. He traveled 13th Century Italy preaching and converting under the auspices of St. Francis of Assisi and his order of Franciscan monks.

The patron saint's novena (nine-day celebration) and fiesta of San Antonio Tlayacapan conclude on June 13, the anniversary of St. Anthony's death in 1231. Each day of the town's celebration is sponsored by a different village family. While there are special masses, processions, and carnival rides and games each day for the duration of the fiesta, the castillos (Mexico's wonderful towers of fireworks) and the bands are reserved for weekends and the fiesta's final nights.

Although all area towns celebrate their patron saints with nine-day fiestas, over the years each celebration has taken on a different personality. During Chapala's annual October novena honoring San Francisco, more emphasis is placed on participating businesses and on the more commercialized fiesta tianguis (open air market).

 
(Left:) The children of the village of San Antonio are dressed in brown robes to mimic the style in which the Franciscans dressed. (Right:) The village of San Juan Cosalá is home to a number of dance troupes, including this group of oldsters who dance in sequined velvet capes.


The fete for San Antonio has all the noise and hoopla of a fair, and is known to get a little wild and wooly during the last few nights. Extra supervision and tourist police are taming those tendencies.

Although Ajijic residents are strengthening the old custom of daily processions to the morning and evening Masses honoring San Andrés, the late November event still places a lot of emphasis on the music, food, and drink stands around the plaza.

Jocotepec hosts two patron saints' celebrations — both honoring their own homemade representations of Jesus which were carved from one tree. Each of these "novenas" stretches to nearly a month-long festival with a huge emphasis on food stalls and the carnival which sets up in each town during the fiestas.

 
(Left:) The San Juan dancers create a flash of color and custom to the annual processions. (Right:) You'll see dancers of all ages in the church yard in San Antonio Tlayacapan.


The most traditional and devout of the North Shore fiestas is San Juan Cosalá's novena honoring San Juan Bautista. Beginning on June 16, the faithful in San Juan gather with the town band and indigenous dancers early each morning and again in the evening for a procession to the church. We've covered many of these traditions and customs in this month's Feature Article.

The Fiesta of San Juan, Cool Aqua Frescas, and Delicious Pitayas
It may sound like this whole issue is about the fiestas of the month, but that's just the pinnacle of this month's line up of articles.

When you've finished the Feature Article about the fiesta de San Juan Cosalá, head right for the Mexican Kitchen to cool off. We're making Mexico's super refreshing, delicious and vitamin-packed agua frescas.

 
(Left:) Some of the faithful in the San Juan Cosalá afternoon procession on June 24 walk bare feet and blindfolds as acts of faith and penance. (Right:) The contrasts between the old and new are clear in this photo of the drum that keeps the dancers moving with the rhythm.


What the heck are agua frescas? Think of lemonade, limeade, or orangeade. Mmmmm. The cool tastes of summer, refreshing, delicious, and packed with vitamin C, right? Now picture a tall icy glass of similar drinks but made with other fruits — pineapple, watermelon, peaches. What about "strawberryade" or "mangoade". Yep, we're talking agua frescas — just this area's term for those great cooling north of the border "ades." You'll find the how to, and a chart for using a variety of fruits in this month's Mexican Kitchen column. Start experimenting and enjoying.

Then there's an unusual fruit only available for a few weeks at this very time of year — the pitayas are the fruit of the organ pipe-type cactus. You'll spot the sellers immediately. They'll be carrying a round basket filled with fresh green alfalfa to keep the fruit cool and cushioned from bruising on their journey from the cactus to you. The fruit is that fragile! Each of the several colors has a different flavor ranging from the very mild whites and pale yellows to the "fruitier" reds and purples. Because we are so anxious for you to try this rare treat, we've gotten out Phyllis Rauch's People, Places and Things piece from about five years ago, dusted it off and are presenting the story again for you in the same section this month.

Living with Cash, Planning Ahead, Seminars and Part of the Family?
What are some of the best things about living in Mexico? In my top five reasons for loving my life here would be the conversion to living in a cash only society. Is that shocking news for some of you? It's true, we don't use credit cards, debit cards or even checkbooks. Nearly every transaction we complete each month is with cold, hard cash — pesos and centavos.

Even our phone, electric, gas, cell phone and cable bills are paid in cash — from our hands to the teller behind the window. Thankfully, there are a few more amenities to make paying these bills easier these days. I no longer wait in long lines to pay my utility bills. I take advantage of the phone company's drive-thru window, pay my electric bill at another location — Walmart, OXXO or other convenience store. I pay the gas man when he comes to the house to make the delivery. And, I save money and time by paying my private mail box, cable service, and internet provider in advance for a year at a time. In return, they reward me with two months' free service! What a deal, and all without taking out my checkbook or pen. Want more of these great tips for living in this cash peso society? Check out the new Cost of Living article.

 
(Left:) Paying the phone bill in cash? Yes, that's the way it works here at Lake Chapala. The good news is that the drive-through entrance is usually open until 3 p.m. most business days. (Right:) We hope that you'll never need one of the area ambulances but if you are being transported for care, we hope you can rest comfortably knowing that you've left information for those who are arranging for the care of you, your home, employees and pets.


Next up, in the Health and Safety section we welcome Susan — our newest writer to the Living at Lake Chapala team. Susan has just started a great new business to help area expats to help themselves. As an introduction to her services, she's written a piece for you to get you started in recording the information that those around you would need if you are ever incapacitated for either a brief period or long term. This organized lady has set up the information you need to have available, helps you know how to best arrange it and where to keep it. She even has cautions for readers about which information to shelter more carefully and how to handle the distribution of that information, too.

It's a bit uncomfortable, but after years of helping so many others promote their products, books, services and information, to now be touting my own work. This month's Getting Here column has an article about the weekly Living at Lake Chapala seminars that I present every Thursday morning at La Nueva Posada. Attendees tell me that the tips, pitfalls and facts they learn there are worth several times more than the modest fee they paid to attend. (Plus I pick up the bill for the coffee and present attendees with a 40-page handout book.) If you've already attended a session, remember that a trip to the seminar would make a fabulous gift for visiting friends or new neighbors.

I can hear you smiling and saying, "Oh good," as you read that Elliott Joachim is back in the Homes and Lodging column this month with another of her wry looks at life at Lake Chapala. This month, she has her tongue tucked firmly in her cheek as she expounds on the topic of housekeepers, quoting, only a bit sarcastically, "My maid? Why, she's just like one of the family." You'll learn a good deal in this piece and then be sure to come back next month when we take a facts and figures approach to the care and keeping of household help.

Helping the Tarahumara, Hand-Made Saddles and Milagros
Libby Townsend ended up in Mexico when her mother moved her here at just 14. As an adult, she wouldn't be nearly as happy living almost anywhere else. Libby's life during the past few years demonstrates the attitude of many expats who move to Mexico — she saw a need to help those who were less fortunate, and not only started the ball rolling, she's kept up the momentum and is continuing to make sure that large loads of blankets, clothing, medicine, and other needed goods make it to this indigenous group living in the mountains at the Copper Canyon. Jim Tipton interviews Libby and tells her story in this month's Community article.

Sometimes the simplicity of Mexico astounds me and calls me to task, forcing me to review how much of the world around me I take for granted. This month's Out and About piece takes us to tour a workshop in Jocotepec where for generations, members of the same family have been making sandals, bags and other leather goods. While they're experts at making anything from leather, it is their saddles — both the utilitarian and the elegantly inlaid and tooled that have made their name synonymous with quality saddle workmanship, on both sides of the border.

Last, but by all means not least, we need to talk a bit here about milagros — a Spanish word with many meanings and uses. It can mean miracles, hopes, even dreams — but it also refers to the many Mexican women named Milagros (Mili) to remember Nuestra Señora de los Milagros (Our Lady of the Miracles). As you'll read in the new Soul of Mexico article, it also is the word used for the small silver or gold prayer charms that are pinned by the hundreds to the robes of saints and virgins in Mexican churches.

 
(Left:) You'll find an article about this custom of milagros as ex-votos (fulfillment of vows) in this month's Soul of Mexico piece. (Right:) Please like you to meet Milagros Rosario — Mili Rose — my new Lab/Rottie puppy.


I adopted a rescue dog in May. I've been living in a dog-less atmosphere since the deaths of my three-year-old black lab, Molly, and my 12-year-old small shaggy dog, Maggie, in February. They were victims of poisoning (with approximately 45-50 other pets in three square blocks) apparently at the hands of a neighbor. I couldn't think of another pet until I was sure that he had returned north of the border and was likely to stay there.

Just as I got over that hump of shock and fear, when I called a local shelter to inquire about an advertised dog, I heard about the one-year-old black Labrador/Rottweiler mix that had just arrived. According to the internet, that makes her either a Rottador or a Labweiler — actually that makes her my dog, my Mili Rose.

So that's our issue for June. If you have a chance, please take a minute from praying for the rainy season to pray for the survival of my toss pillows and cushions. Mili is a beauty and a sweet girl, but at the end of the day she is also just one year old (on June 3) with tremendous energy, strength and teeth…and after life in a Guadalajara condo, doesn't like being left alone.

We'll see you back here again on July 1. By then our mountains and lawns will be greening up and the plants and flowers about to outgrow their spots in our gardens. Hurray for the lovely rainy season — our favorite time of year.

Love, Peace, Light and Joy
Judy King, Editor

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