Return to Tai Land

Just as Kahlua and Rufus instantly reconnected with us in San Pancho, Tai took a nano-second to catch our scent and wag his tail. Judy and Lee had graciously offered to pick us up from the coast and drive us back to Patzcuaro for our three-week sit with their fierce but friendly Thai Ridgeback. The condition was that we would make the three-and-a-half hour journey with a panting, drooling dog wedged into the backseat with us.

To strangers, Tai radiates a don’t-mess-with-me vibe. To those of us who have walked with him, eaten with him, cuddled on the couch with him, slept in the same bed with him (and endured his melodious and odiferous exhalations from nose and rear), we know his secret: he’s a big baby. He’s afraid of a lot of things — dogs, cats, birds, flies, loud noises (particularly fireworks), and the car. And since Rick regularly, and conveniently, cites motion sickness to justify sitting up front, it was Judy and I who were assigned the back seat and the job of keeping Tai calm for the duration. This consisted of cooing to him, patting him and dobbing his drool.

Nearly four hours later we arrived back in the lovely colonial pueblo of Patzcuaro only slightly damp. After we got settled, we took a stroll around the square and noted that little had changed since our last visit. A new tienda here, a cafe closed there (no more Mistongo!), a relocated panaderia up the street, where we bought fresh-baked rolls and cinnamon buns. Speaking of relocations and yeasty things, we discovered that Ivo had moved his pizza place from Erongaricuaro to Patzcuaro, just off the main plaza. It was here we finally got a clearer idea of his bread sked, since he posted his hours out front — no more straining to discern his mumbling! For the next three weeks we indulged in delicioso Italiana and Hawaiian pizzas (no Mexicana, oddly), moist, gooey brownies and still-warm multi-grain, rye and baguettes. I can’t even begin to imagine how we’ll cope without him in Eronga. Delivery?

After Judy and Lee left on their vacation, we settled into Tai’s routine: his deer-like leap onto the bed in the morning, upstairs to the den for coffee and the news, the tense, high-alert walk (for him, not us), back for breakfast, sunning out back on the lower level, moving up an hour later to the upper level, inside for supper, TV and cuddles on the couch, then bed. And that’s about as good as it gets, and it’s pretty good.

Judy had decided enough was enough with the hummingpigs and refused to keep running out for bags and bags of sugar to keep them in sweet water. We couldn’t blame her, but after The Enforcer kept hovering 10 feet in front of our faces, as if demanding we pony up, we broke down and filled one feeder. He merrily went back to bullying any other hummer who dared sip from his sweet nectar. One percenters, even in the bird world . . .

Lee had defiantly planted a couple of lemon trees; he intended to cook chicken piccata and this lemon-forsaken country was not going to stop him, dammit. After four years had yielded small, hard, green fruits from one tree and nothing from the other, we gently encouraged him to admit he was the proud owner of a lime tree. He remains in denial.*

Saturday in the park features a rendition of The Dance of the Old Men.

We slipped out for supper just one night, to a restaurant we’d always wanted to try. Called El Primer Piso (“the second floor”, not the “first” as you would naturally deduce from the word “primer”), it has three, one-table balconies overlooking the plaza — a perfect bird’s-eye view of all the Saturday-night activity (unfortunately, that was all that was perfect about the place . . .). From our perch we watched bug-eyed kids being led around the square atop ponies, vendors selling balloons, paintings, hamburgers and corn cobs, lovers snuggling on benches, strolling musicians, masked, costumed performers doing the “Dance of the Old Men”, young guys in hot cars cruising the circumference looking for action. It was the kind of scene you’d find at any North American park on a warm summer evening, and a world away from the kind of scare tactics that dominates much of the news coverage about Mexico.

While Tai slept the day away, we also snuck out for lunch at Lupita’s, which has never disappointed, from the rich Tarascan soup to the tender arrachera to the clubhouse and burger when we were hankering for a bit of home. We could easily while away an afternoon here in the peaceful little courtyard, sipping tangy margaritas, listening to the splashing fountain and admiring the unique artwork on the walls. A couple of times we stopped at La Surtidora (“The Office”) for a cafe latte and, of course, spinach omelettes at The Gran Hotel. Other than that, we stuck close to home, preparing our meals with fresh fruit and veg from the market, where we also bought roasted chicken that the senoras plucked from the spit, snipped into parts and stuffed in a bag with two kinds of salsa, all before you had a chance to dig out your 55 pesos (about four bucks). A few taco stands have sprung up on the fringe of the market and when we were hungry from shopping we’d pull up a stool and point to whatever looked good on the grill. We’d walk away happy and sated — for about a buck.

Since June is the start of the rainy season, we worked around the daily deluges. Fortunately, they didn’t last long. We’d typically wake up to bright sunshine, which would stick around until late afternoon, when the clouds would creep in. As the wind picked up and the first few drops splatted on the stone walkway, we’d all make a mad dash inside, Tai in the lead. One day there was so much wind and rain, one of the big heavy planter pots teetered off the ledge and crashed to the walkway. When the skies cleared we went out and duct-taped it back together like a jigsaw puzzle, with Tai overseeing us like a foreman.

Adobe-style homes are built to keep the heat out and the cool in, but when it’s cool out, it’s cooler in. We often found ourselves layered in T-shirt, sweat shirt and fleece jacket, socks and shoes. One night we convened on the couch under a blanket, with senor frias orejas wedged between us. I swear one year I’m going to bring him some ear muffs . . .

And then, just like that, Judy and Lee were back and our time was up once again. Before we took our leave, Tai and I posed on the front step for our annual smooch photo. Three summers of kisses from Tai, like three wishes from a genie, are indeed a magical thing. Hasta pronto, mi amigo.


LemonTree* A recent photo submitted into evidence which proves otherwise forces me to retract my damning statements and admit that, yes Lee, there is a lemon tree that grows on your property. You were right, I was wrong: those are lovely golden globes you have there. Please make me piccata someday…

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