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now and then

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Lee Asheroff will be presenting her column "Now and Then" from time to time on this page.  Her most recent columns, in this order, follow:

The Maid Who Could Not Read  
What Color is a Blue Sky
The Constructions Site

The Maid Who Could Not Read  

Something we all take for granted - the ability to read and write.

When I built my first house in San Miguel I hired a wonderful woman to help me - Anna was her name.

Anna was the perfect maid - I found it hard to call her “my muchacha” because she was a mature woman with children and grandchildren. She cleaned the house and was careful to tell me who called when I returned home. But one day a friend told me she had called - didn’t I get the message? Since Anna was gone when I got home that day I asked her why she had not left me a message. I gave her a pad and pencil and asked her to write down any calls that came in before she left for the day. Anna stood there for a moment and then smiled ruefully. “I cannot write Senora” she told me. Here was a bright woman in her fifties and she could neither read nor write. She got her news from the radio and remembered everything. But she could not write her name..

I thought of all this when my almost six year old grandchild came to visit from California last week. She couldn’t wait to show me how she could read. Bedtime changed from “Read me a story” to “I am going to read to you tonight“. And read she did. She got stuck on a word occasionally but was able to sound out words she did not recognize. At the back of her “I Can Read” books she read the questions and answered them. Joy shone in her face at the mastery of this wonderful thing called reading. And then I remembered Anna.

How do you fill your days if you cannot read? What must it be like to see newspapers and books and know they are beyond your reach. I cannot imagine a day without reading - books bring me such joy. The simple reading of a street sign was beyond this intelligent woman.

Today my granddaughter asked me during a telephone conversation “Did you send me a book, Grandma” I have three books for her in my suitcase for my visit next week. The whole world is open to my Catalina in the library - and who knows what she may write as she grows older.

Anna seemed content in her world - but hopefully her grandchildren will expand their horizons - will read and write - and their future will be brighter with these skills we take for granted.

What Color is a Blue Sky       by Lee Asheroff                      


After five months in San Miguel I had forgotten that a blue sky is not always a blue sky. When it is not gray the New York blue sky is a pallid blue – pretty in its way but compared to the blue sky of San Miguel a poor imitation.


The winter sky – a fierce blue with nary a cloud in sight is what brings the artist to San Miguel – the colors of the buildings and flowers stand out in stark contrast to their backgrounds – the sky behind the bougainvillea stops the photographer to take yet another photograph. The artist on the corner tries to capture that special light – and sometimes succeeds.


The summer sky is beautiful in a different way – filled with fluffy white clouds that pile up higher and higher as the thunderstorms develop. And then the blue disappears and the sky turns black. Lightening flashes across the sky and thunder shakes the houses. Years ago the lights went out at this point but modern wiring makes this occur less often. Still there are candles in every room – just in case.


The rain comes in torrents – sudden and unbelievably heavy – water pours from the downspouts in town and rushes down the streets in rivers. Try running close to the buildings to escape the water rushing out of downspouts and you are likely to run into one that is shorter than the rest – and you are drenched. And then the storm is over – the stars come out – the sky is clear and the world smells freshly washed. If you are lucky enough to face West, you have seen a light and sound show that cannot be rivaled by man.


Having said all of the above – the last two days in New York were as beautiful as a San Miguel Day – the sky was indeed a clear blue – the leaves on every tree distinct against the beautiful sky – on local television they call this one of the ten best days in NY – there are about 20 of those a year and I was lucky enough to see two of them in a row. Today the sky is again overcast with a few glimpses of blue and a pallid sun – more typical of NY – but that glimpse of a bright blue sky makes me long to get back home where blue is blue almost every day.

The Constructions Site

Yes we are doing it again – I can hardly believe it – building our third house in San Miguel. It is like childbirth – the joy of what you produced makes you forget the pain of its arrival.

          The first house was the hardest – here we were in another country, building in another language, with entirely different customs. We were accustomed to a house framed in wood and were building in stone. Where were the machines we were accustomed to – were these men really gong to build our house with pickaxes and shovels? Yes they were and they did.

          Some days were completely bewildering – all these men scurrying around – digging into that hardpan with pickaxes – shovels flying behind them as they dug deeper and deeper for the huge septic tank.  Brick walls going up – makeshift ladders nailed together and the men fearlessly climbing up to the roof – five gallon cans filled with cement on their shoulders as they poured the roof – yes, five gallons at a time. Suddenly there was a recognizable structure in front of us. Of course, here and there a window was misplaced – “you don’t want it here?” – it was cemented up – “you prefer it here” – a hole was knocked in the new wall and the window was moved.

          We watched in amazement as the boveda ceilings were built – brick by brick until the whole dome seemed to float in the air and the cupolas were constructed.

          Then the roof was finished and it was time to celebrate.  We purchased what seemed like tons of carnitas,  tortillas and chilies. Wooden tables were constructed – smiling women appeared with huge platters of rice and beans – wires stretched to some unknown source and music blared from radios. It was a wonderful feast.

The next day it was back to work and the agonizing job of finishing the interior began. So many choices to be made – tile, floors, bathrooms and kitchens. We traveled back and forth to Vizzerón,  that marvelous town of marble and chose terrazzo for the floors and marble for the sinks in the bathrooms  All of this was not without frustration – promises broken – shoddy material rejected – wonderful sinks fashioned by hand – it was quite an experience for city folk. But the results were marvelous.

          Off to St Louis Potasi for special tiles, Celaya for toilets and Queretero for kitchen cabinets. The fun went on and on.  And finally the house was finished – painted, windows in, iron work completed and we were delighted. Gardening was the last step and finally we had our dream home.

          Ten years later and my husband was getting edgy – gee, he would love a house in Malanquín overlooking the golf course – Why not? So we sold our lovely house and started another.

This time it was easier – a back hoe dug out the hardpan – our experience helped us build without changes and more and more modern stuff was available in the ferretarias. We kept the boveda ceilings and the terrazzo floors but found a more modern kitchen. We carried an unbelievable amount of stuff by plane from NY including chandeliers and a microwave. We brought in filters for the water system and found an automatic garage door in Celaya and wonderful aluminum windows. This was really our dream house. Here we would stay forever.

So why are we building another house in Malanquín? Well at 88 my husband decided since he could not play golf every day anymore -  he was getting restless.  He did not just want to sit around playing solitaire on his computer – he needed a challenge. And what better challenge then another house. Well, why not? – we found another wonderful lot overlooking the golf course – near to the great neighbors who were fast becoming good friends.  We put our beautiful house on the market and we were off and building yet again.

Every morning the supervisor leaves our house at 7:30 to check on the workers – making sure there are no errors to be corrected later – he pores over the plans at night and is happy as could be. As a plus he has lost weight and says he never felt better. And I am poring over home magazines and the internet for home decorating ideas.

It took me three weeks - but I finally made the decision to use terrazzo floors again - who has time for television.

We are building another house!!!

LOSSES      By Lee Asheroff


            We face many losses in life – friends, jobs, money, opportunities. As we grow older the loss of friends occurs most frequently and is increasingly hard to accept.

            Living here in San Miguel for over 20 years I have seen many friends and acquaintances come and go. And this month I face once again the loss of two close friends – one from illness and the other preparing to leave San Miguel and return to the states.

            We were a group of 5 women – all living in Los Frailes and we met for a lunch at one of the local restaurants once a month. We shared  stories of  our experiences here in San Miguel and of our lives in other places. It was not too often that we were all here at the same time but we did look forward to these lunches and the big decision of where we should eat this time. We ate and drank a little and laughed a lot.

 Now our newly widowed friend is preparing to return to Canada and live close to family.  Another of our group has decided that after 15 years she and her husband are ready to move on. Although I now live in Malanquín, I am still considered one of the group - now shrinking to 3 members. But after all these years we are more than members of a club – we are good friends. And our parting will be a loss.

            In addition as our friends grow older, more and more of the snowbirds are not returning for the winter. The altitude, medical problems, steep streets and cobblestones contribute to their decision not to return “this year” but we do miss them. It was always fun to get that phone call saying “I am back” or to meet old friends on the golf course or at the Biblioteca or in the Jardin.

But being modern women we all do have computers and can keep in touch through e-mail. Some of us are lucky enough to own a digital camera so pictures can be sent back and forth but the hugs and kisses will be missed. And writing about one’s grandchild and the cute sayings are more fun shared with  group laughter.

But at dinner at our home tonite, shared for a last time with the dear friend returning to her friends and family so far away;  we agreed that it has been fun – a great friendship – and that we would love each other from afar. Still it is a loss.

Objectives of this page:  to present a column that has historically been enlightening, amusing, and many other things to the long-time resident readers of this town. 

“Underpromise and Overdeliver”

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