Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Strippers, Cactus, & Other Edibles II

After dreams of making beautiful music with Lila Downs, I awake under a desert sunrise. Hit the road home to my ranch. Just outside the remote little village called Bravo, I turn off the highway onto a dirt road at the Corregidora Tech University. Here is where I work as a professor. The long and low sand-colored and rock-studded buildings meld into the landscape of desert scrub valley with distant blue mountains. The only sound is the wind. I savor the silence.

Not only do I spend my workday reflecting and composing before an office window that surveys this poetic wilderness, but my daily commute is a powerwalk under fiery swirling skies at sunrise and sunset. Even an unspiritual sort like me can be driven to converse with the infinite in such circumstances.

A desert is anything but deserted. Mice, lizards, eagles and rattlesnakes clear the road at my approach (as do owls and coyotes after dark). A desert is not a place without water either. It’s a place where the water is hidden from the tourists. Every cactus I pass is a secret stash of humidity and there are as many kinds of cactus as there are different veggies. Agave, nopal, organo, biznaga, garambullo, maguey – Mexicans distinguish cactus like the Inuit recognize types of snow.

Rounding a last curve, the road shoots straight for a quarter mile to the front gate of Rancho Las Aguilas: Eagles Ranch. Here comes Jack. My black Labrador bounds out to meet me – drooling, dancing, and shaking his ass in celebration of the miracle of my return. 100,000 Facebook followers cannot equal the affection of one dog.

Grabbing his ears roughly with my hands and putting my nose on his nose, I gaze into his eyes with adoration so intense it borders on nauseating. Jack howls orgasmically. If there were anyone in this desert to see us, they’d probably tell us to “Get a room!”

We walk together toward the house. Around the property is a four-foot wall of stacked rose, gray, and cream rocks that I constructed. This is my gym. Desert hiking and stone lifting are like using a treadmill and weights without the membership fee or electricity consumption, plus the Zen of sunshine.

Behind the wall are cactus rows. The double fortification is intended to discourage narcos, ex-girlfriends, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. My dog and shotgun echo the sentiment. Might does not make right, but in the big bad world, it all too often determines who’s left.

The house is white concrete with a terra-cotta-tile roof. Lime, peach, apricot, avocado, pirul, and pine trees surround my homestead in a desert oasis. On one side are agricultural fields. These are covered with fragrant black soil in spring, undulating golden corn in summer, and wild purple flowers in autumn. One the other side is a deep canyon. Across this rift rises a boulder-strewn hill, where migrant tribes once camped and where I have found many obsidian blades and projectiles.

Paradise on the cheap. There’s no TV or phone signal, but I’ve yet to decide whether that’s a hardship or a blessing. A stone table and iron grill furnish the shady yard. Some neighbors and friends will soon occupy the space at a fiesta planned for this evening.

I step inside to prepare the food. My party menu includes arrachera (flank steak marinated in spices and lime juice), guacamole (Mexico’s answer to caviar), tortillas (made from red or blue corn), nopalitos (a salad of tomatoes, onions, chilies, and nopal cactus pads), tunas (pink or green fruit from the nopal cactus), and pulque (fermented maguey cactus juice). This is vaquero cuisine for Mexican cowboys. It’s nearly as delicious as the Mexican cowgirls.

Inside, my house has a rustic cantina look. The ceiling is sloped timber beams. The walls are white with a faded red border along the bottom. Half the space is a big open room. The other side contains a bedroom, bathroom, and gym.

Main room furnishings include two leather sofas, a carved oak dining table, an antique Carta Blanca beer refrigerator, and a long pewter cooking counter. Wooden crates serve as end tables. Pottery jars function as planters. Mayan masks, Aztec suns and Spanish bullfight posters adorn the walls.

The home’s opposite half offers a more feminine aura. Mexican floral motifs are carved into a wooden bedroom partition and splayed across a king-size bed comforter. Gold, stone, wood, copper, and crystal Buddha figurines ornament a bathroom lit by candles. (The house does have a solar panel mounted on the roof, but I only use electricity occasionally for my computer and enhanced lighting.)

I now prepare the nopal salad. All spines must be carefully removed and the tender green cactus pads sliced into strips. Nopales are delicious but a little slimy. Next tomatoes, onions and jalapeƱos are cut similarly and tossed in. Finally, cilantro leaves are sprinkled on top.

I carry a bag of charcoal and a platter of the long thin arrachera steaks out to the stone table beside the parilla Mexican grill. Sit down to sip some pulque. This maguey cactus nectar has fermented for days into a frothy green brew that’s refreshing and intoxicating but again a bit slimy.

I listen to the music of the desert while awaiting my guests. Daytime birds and breezes transition into nighttime crickets and coyotes, while diamond white Venus and a silver crescent moon relieve a weary red sun of all celestial duties. The Eagles’ “Tequila Sunrise” was a fixture of my California childhood. It seems fitting that my life imitates art in the time of my existential sunset.

Jack senses the approach of a visitor from afar. His ever vigilant ears and nose strain to resolve the mystery of friend or foe. Jack is wise and good. He always welcomes new friends but is always prepared to defend his family against any whose intentions prove less noble. Take notes people!

The first guest to arrive is Gumaro. He’s a tall lean rancher sitting on a reddish-brown horse under an ivory cowboy hat. His face always wears a huge grin. Folds of weathered skin ripple away from his mouth, making room for the warm hearty laugh that constantly breaks out there. Happiness is a choice. Gumaro has obviously decided to enjoy his life’s ride rather than curse its roughshod nature. He would give you his last peso without hesitation.

Next comes Ramiro. He’s a short stocky guy with a gray moustache driving a dump truck. A savvy rural businessman. His worldly wisdom allows him to sniff out construction and earth-moving contracts before most competitors get a whiff. Such pragmatism recently inspired him to bring me the perfect housewarming gift: an unregistered homemade shotgun. Even discharging it in self-defense would mean prison time, so he urged me with a wink to “shoot, shovel, and shut-up!”

Gabriella strolls over the ridge. She’s an athletic blond with the taut tanned skin of a desert dweller. Her husband is a much older but equally energetic Frenchman. Like many Autumn/Spring romances, there is mutual comfort here. His stability comforts her anxious heart after bad love with abusive young hotheads; her innocence comforts his world-weary eyes after seeing too much of a corrupt planet. Old men desperate to rediscover beauty and young women desperate to establish stability often find each other. Sometimes it’s only about curves or money and that’s not good, but other times it’s two ships genuinely finding port in a storm. Then, heartfelt congratulations are in order.

After a big hearty dinner and much hearty laughter, we drink terra cotta mugs of pulque around a raging bonfire under a starry sky. The lonely howl of a coyote reminds us how fortunate Mexicans are to be such communal creatures. My peaceful easy feeling offers no hint of the insatiable hard arousal I will experience tomorrow night in our final episode of the nonfiction hunger games.

1 comment: