Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

Where do I begin?

So much has happened, it seems like, since my last post. To be honest, I half-expected to be staying in that hotel, with the wonderful wi-fi internet (with U2 on YouTube), for all our first week in Los Altos (the common name for this region of Jalisco state). But then, Tuesday morning, we got a phone call from our contact in Lagos de Moreno, and at the end of the day we were sleeping under a different roof in a different town with a very different to-do list for the rest of the week.

Even so, I’m finding it incredibly difficult to describe the situation in which we find ourselves. The paradoxes of our predicament are probably reflected in our energy levels, which go from psyched-up and relieved to have found a place to totally exhausted of dealing with a billion new things. But I should probably get down to specifics. So, without further ado: the Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful.

The Good

Our Lagos contact offered to meet us at the bus station with his pick-up truck; this way we wouldn’t have to pay a taxi driver for carting around our montón de maletas (ton of luggage). He walked us through the contract form, and then handed us the keys. We have our own place!

(Above: Finally, no more carrying this around! At least until July. Sigh.)

Our new apartment is located in Lagos de Moreno, a neighboring town to San Juan de Los Lagos. It’ll mean an hour commute for Chris to get to her research site, but we opted to go with it anyway, in part because we kept finding the possibilities in San Juan drying up and this one in Lagos opening up. But we also opted for Lagos in part because Lagos seems to us a much more pleasant place to live. San Juan is fascinating in its way, of course, but it is a tourist town, and everything – from the overpriced restaurants to the lack of public parks aimed at locals – seems to revolve around that fact. Lagos, by contrast, has leafy green parks lining a river (dried up now, but overflowing during the rainy season, we’re told), a peaceful town square, and lots of small reasonably-priced restaurants clearly aimed at the local community. As an added bonus, Lagos has a coffee shop with free wireless internet. This makes me unreasonably happy.

Within Lagos, our apartment is located only a short walk from the bus station that Chris will need to use regularly. It’s in a working-class neighborhood, not nearly as pristine as the ritzy suburb we lived in during our time in Guadalajara. For some reason we like this. It’s hard to describe the little jumble of buildings that make up our “apartment complex,” so I’ll try to take some pictures later this week, but somehow we got an apartment on the top floor, which is nice. There are two bedrooms, a big common room, and an accessible rooftop where I am definitely going to place a big ol’ lawn chair and spend hours reading and playing my guitar this week. (An old Drifters song comes to mind…)

We won’t be able to fill the apartment space with stuff, of course – we’re not here nearly long enough to afford to buy a couch or a TV or any of the other things that quickly made our Chicago apartment seem small – but we did pull our little stereo out of the suitcase and soon our new space was full of the sounds of U2 and Patti Scialfa…in other words, the sounds of home.

The Bad

Our friend here in Lagos is quite a character. We genuinely like him, we think, but he’s kind of all over the place. He talks a mile a minute, usually in English – he’s very excited to be able to practice his English with us. Every once in a while he’ll run out of things to say and suddenly tell me to “Talk! Practice your Spanish!” and of course inevitably I can’t think of anything off the top of my head so I just respond with “uhhh….”

Anyway while we like him he seems to figure things out as he goes along, which is okay sometimes and sort of bewilderingly frustrating at other times. We knew our apartment would need some work when we moved in, but most essentially it lacks a stove or range or actually any way to heat water at all, because the connection to the gas tank is broken. We’ve never seen this particular kind of set up before, so we can’t really fix it ourselves. We think he’s going to fix it for us, but now we’re really not so sure. We also think he’s going to deliver us a stove, or a range, or some way to cook food (to be specific, we’re not sure exactly what he means by a parilla), but again – now we’re really not so sure. We’ll see what happens.

Besides lacking a gas connection, the apartment is totally unfurnished, which is a problem because for us because despite the montón de maletas that we’re carrying around we definitely forgot our mattress. We don’t need much, of course, but at a minimum, we need a bed (sleeping) and a table and chairs (eating), and probably some dishes and towels and hangars and cooking utensils and… somehow things start to add up very quickly.

So our friend tells us he may have some furniture to rent us. He’s very vague about what exactly this will cost, but we figure, hey, we’re way under budget with this apartment, and we really would rather rent the essentials than buy them. So he takes his truck and goes to pick some things up. When he comes back he has me help him unload the stuff.

There is a mattress – twin size, so we’ll be sleeping close. The rest of the stuff, well… it consists of a rickety table that needs to be assembled somehow (finally figured it out the next day), a metal folding chair with padding that has soaked up decades of dust like a sponge, and a very rickety wooden folding chair half the width of the metal one, some wooden boards, some plastic stools. Before we realize what is happening (we spent half the night trying to figure out exactly how things went wrong), he has charged us 700 pesos a month for his “furniture.” I keep looking at it and thinking, hey, people make do with less than this. We really will be fine. But we can’t help feeling like we just gave this guy a giant wad of cash for a bunch of stuff he pulled out of the trash heap. And so we keep reminding ourselves: We're still under budget, we'll consider it payment for all the genuinely helpful services he's providing us this week, it's ok, it'll be fine.

(Above: Sweet dreams. Of a bigger mattress.)

We spent Thursday cleaning. After hours and hours of scrubbing, Chris somehow made a grimey bathroom shine, and I tried to clean our new furniture and figure out how to put it together. I mopped the floors twice, but our feet are still black after walking on them, so there will definitely be more of that to do tomorrow. But this, I suppose, is just what it’s like to move to a new place. Good thing we’ll only have to do that, oh, one or two more times this year. (Sigh.)

(Above: He's working on a dream.)

(Above: She's working on a dream.)

The Beautiful

But my favorite, my absolutely favorite, the thing that makes it all worth it for me, is the view we have – from our roof, from our bedroom window, from our front door.

(Above: The view from our front door.)

Look out from any of these places and you can see the whole city of Lagos spread out in front of you, the cathedral towering over it all in the near distance. Beyond the last buildings is a leafy forest of trees, and beyond that lies an endless plain, as far as the eye can see. In one direction it’s dotted by these bizarre little hills that remind me of the photos I’ve seen of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, and in another direction there are mountains. Mountains!

We have, truly, plunged ourselves into a world that is so different from any place we’ve ever lived before. It makes every place we’ve lived before in Mexico seem like easy street. We keep looking at each other and saying “Let’s never do this again.”

Yet I still can’t get over that view. It's like a constant reminder, whenever it's hard to believe, that it’s so beautiful… all of it, even when it’s harder than it’s ever been, and maybe especially then.

The adventure continues.


Zach & Hannah Parris said...

I don't even know where to start with my comments.

1.These 2 photos of you and Chris are my favorites of any I've seen yet. They speak volumes and make me miss ya'll even more.

2. Zach and I first of all hate to see you struggle. We pray for you still and hope things take a positive turn very soon.

3. On that note, when we read this post both of us were like "oh man" and worried about you. Then we joked "That's nothing, we lived in LSTC guest housing." A little humor (and fe) can go a long way. :)

From Michigan with Love said...

Interesting that U2 sang 'Beautiful Day' last night...just in time for your post!!! Nice thoughts... I also like the fact that right under the piture of Chris came the heading for the next section, but which could have easily applyed to your lovely wife :-)

I think we should scrap the housing plans and just try to cram all of us on your twin! Like a seven night game!!!

Just kidding...

Soon and very soon...