Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Heaviest Thing We've Ever Owned

We closed on our new house on Monday and received all the keys from the seller, who flew into México City from San Antonio. He and his cousin, who lives in México City, drove to Pátzcuaro for the closing and then went back immediately afterward.

The wire transfer of funds occurred while we were in the notario's office, so there were no hang-ups there, and we read through--slowly--the Spanish of the draft escritura (deed), picking up a few typos and other minor errors that were corrected before we signed. Like most legal documents, there were large sections of obvious boilerplate that we could pretty much ignore, and only a few places where we had to make sure our names were spelled correctly, that our passport and permiso numbers were correct, and that the property description was accurate. Unlike US legal descriptions that use precise measurements and survey data, the description for this house was based on the names of owners of the adjacent properties -- "to the north, 40 meters with Elvira Luna Domínguez, to the east, 20 meters with Domingo Alcalá," etc. It may seem a little unusual, but this is how they do it here, and it seems to work.  As our friend Lon said, it's the walls around the property that are the real boundaries.

In many ways it feels a little anticlimactic, after all the anticipation. But after the house sitters leave for Canada on May 1 we'll have plenty of opportunity before we also leave to spend time in the house getting a feel for it. As Mark said, we've spent more time buying a used car than we did looking at this house. But we're both confident that we're going to enjoy the house very much.

On to the next adventure!

(Why "The Heaviest Thing We've Ever Owned?" Well, the floors, ceiling and walls are made of concrete and brick, and the roof is clay tile. It's heavy!)

And if you're curious about what happened during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Pátzcuaro, we'll try to get caught up soon. It was quite eventful and we observed or participated in most of it, though we did opt out of Sunday night's "Burning of Judas." We saw the spectacular fireworks from our rental house, but we missed the excitement of Judas' fireworks-stuffed body burning and exploding to the delight of the crowds. Like most fireworks displays in Latin countries, there is little effort made toward "crowd safety," shall we say. Fireworks are ignited in the middle of the crowd, and the residue rains down on everyone. But as far as I know, no one has been seriously injured by this practice, and it does make things pretty darned exciting.

Lon mentioned buscapiés,  literally "search for feet"--fireworks that run around the ground. His partner Santiago remembers a time when he was a kid in Guadalajara one got under a priest's robe to the great amusement of the onlookers.  Maybe next year for us.

Our friend Tracy has photos and brief descriptions of the Semana Santa activities at her wonderful blog Patzcuareando: Peripatetic in Patzcuaro.

As for the trip home, we plan to leave May 9, and estimate it should take 4 or 5 days.  With the rainy season approaching in June, the air here has been pretty smoky as farmers burn off their fields in preparation for another growing season.  It will be nice to get back to our Colorado valley with its 100-mile visibility and distant, crystal-clear vistas.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Thinking the Unthinkable--and Then Doing It

Over the years, as we've driven around México, we've fantasized about buying a house somewhere. We've never found the right place until now, though all along we knew it wouldn't be anyplace on the beach.

Over the past month or so we've talked to realtors, looked at houses to rebuild or remodel, looked at empty lots and talked to a builder, and looked at finished houses. Are we crazy? Probably.

In late February we looked at a very nice house in our neighborhood recently built by a woman who unfortunately passed away within a year from the cancer that had plagued her most of her life. We agreed that it was a beautiful, well built house with lots of windows and sun and patios and portals and fountains, completely furnished, on a large open lot. The price, however, was out of our comfort range, so we filed it away in the "impossible" category.

The person who showed us the house indicated that the heirs would consider an offer, so we made one that we could live with, both feeling that if it was accepted we'd be happy, but if it was rejected it wouldn't break our hearts.

Well, our offer was accepted, and we're part way through the process of buying it. We have a signed contract and deposit, and last week went into Morelia with a bilingual friend who's been through the process of applying for permisos. While ex-pats can own property in most of México without having to use a bank trust (fideicomiso), we still have to get permission from the government. Our permisos were ready the next day, record time probably because the office isn't processing many requests. Between the stagnant US real estate market, dismal economy, and general press hysteria about all things Mexican, there are few foreign buyers.

Next was a visit to the notario, who prepares the deed (escritura) and makes sure that there are no outstanding liens on the property (like unpaid water bills) and that the title is clear. He represents the government and has no allegiance to either the buyer or the seller. We will close on April 25 at noon.

It's an understatement to say that we're both delighted and slightly terrified. We looked at each other and said, "If not now, when? We're not getting any younger, and the time to do this is now."

As you may have gathered from our posts on this blog, we like Pátzcuaro very much. It's a reaction to the friendliness of the locals, both Mexicans and ex-pats, and the beauty and congeniality of the entire region. We've made strong friendships within the small community of interesting and accomplished ex-pats. There are magnificent crafts to be found in little dusty villages, where a single artisan creates beautifully finished work in a rustic workshop, and we've bought quite a bit of it. (Mark laughs and says that buying a house just so we don't have to worry about getting it all home is a little extreme. And in fact we will leave much of it here.)

We're not blind to the difficulties here. The narco-wars in the northern states are horrible, and while this area is relatively tranquil, we've no illusions about the corruption, extortion and bribery that saddle local businesses at a time when tourism is suffering badly. Air pollution, trash, noise and congestion are daily occurrences that we deal with. So are fabulous free classical and jazz concerts, movies, dance performances and museums and galleries, and an abundance of wonderful foods in the mercado. The Mexican people are warm and gentle, and we think we have much to learn from them. After much discussion, we think the rewards outweigh the risks.

We have no idea what this means for our future. Do we stay as snowbirds, part-timing it for the winter and then going back to Colorado for the summer? Summer is the perfect time in Salida, after all, but the old farmhouse is hardly a "lock-and-leave" affair. We'd like to experience the summer rainy season here, when the countryside turns from drab tan to brilliant green. We have no answers right now--we're feeling our way in the dark, quite frankly. At least for the near future we will be part-timers, but we both believe that there's no time like the present, and why not try something new?

Click here for photos of the house.

Sunday in the Park with Saint Joseph

On a recent Sunday morning, as we were finishing a leisurely breakfast on the Plaza Grande with our friend Roberta Smith, who was visiting from Salida, we heard music. A group of women and girls, festively dressed in brightly-colored embroidered blouses and aprons, danced toward us to the accompaniment of a small band. The ages ranged from early 20s down to girls of 5 or 6. Like most small bands here, there was a tuba, an enthusiastic drummer, someone playing cymbals,  and a couple of trumpets and clarinets.

A crowd gathered around the edges to watch the dancers, including one where young women took turns dancing around a torito (little bull), wielded by young men and boys. Someone passed the hat and the crowd contributed, and then the band led the dancers to the Plaza Chica, where they would dance again.

This little fiesta was to celebrate San José, whom we would call St. Joseph.

The next day, Monday, was Benito Juárez's birthday, and a national holiday. He was born a poor Zapotec Indian in a small village north of Oaxaca, with no prospects other than a life of poverty and manual labor. He walked many miles to Oaxaca in order to go to school even though he didn't speak Spanish, and found work in the home where his sister worked as a cook. His intelligence and interest in learning attracted the attention of a priest who encouraged him to pursue an education. He became México's first indigenous president, serving 5 terms (1858-1872) and leading the reforms that began the creation of modern México. His portrait is on the 20-peso note.

Some more photos and a video from Sunday.

Eagerly watching the dance with the torito
Heading off toward Plaza Chica
The youngest dancers and the torito