Monday, August 29, 2011

In Praise of Ishmael

August 28, 2011

Home from Durango. Wrote up this email to my family:

Los Famdamos,

So the two Toms scared the Bejeesus out of each other on Saturday night. Tom Bell and Pattarapan were staying at our house while I was gone and they went up to the store and while they were gone my neighbor Tom Augherton came up the hill, saw the garage door open, beer bottles on the ground in the front yard, discarded bathing suits by the pool along with a strange brick with a cryptic, broken pottery shard on top of it, pointing at the pool in an ominous way and he thinks, "I wonder if goobers are commandeering Bob's house while he's gone?" He closes the garage door and turns on the kitchen light and leaves.

Tom Bell and Pattarapan come home from the store, see the beer bottles gone, the garage door closed and a light turned on in the house. Tom calls me in Durango and asks what is going on and I guess, correctly, Tom Aughterton is probably trying to help.

Tom Augherton looks up the hill and sees all the lights on. Now he's really freaked. He wonders if the party animals waited until I left and are boogying bigtime now!

Eventually, the two Toms got together and had a laugh. The beer bottles were from Ishmael and Rogelo working on our adobe wall and Tom offered them beers after work. Tom Bell borrowed some eggs from Tom Augherton. But here's the spooky part: neither one of them put the brick with the broken pottery shard on the edge of the pool. We don't know how it got there or what it means. Hmmmmm.

Meanwhile, I got home at three from Durango and saw Ishmael and his son-in-law, Rogelo working in the front yard. As I pulled up I realized they were making adobe bricks to replace the adobe wall in front of the water softener parked outside the north kitchen window.

It was 104 out and I was fried from the long trip and the last thing I wanted to do was talk in broken Spanish, but Ish is so nice I had to:

"Muy bien. Y tu? Hey, lukin' bueno, capitan!"

Unpacked the truck and went into the house to get out of the heat. Stripped down and went for a swim, then snuck back inside to read the Sunday papers , but I heard an anglo voice out front.

Yes, it was Tom Augherton. So, I went outside and joined the confab. It was still quite hot, but we were in the shade and it was tolerable. Now here's the amazing part: Rogelo has got on long, madras shorts that come down to just above his ankles. He is barefoot and he is slopping mud into a custom-made wooden, rectangular template. He pokes his hands in, wiggles them around, munches up the mud, sprinkles some more water on from a wet rag, using the back of his hand he scrapes off the excess mud, stands up, pulls the edges of the template box upwards slowly, until a pristine adobe brick is shining in the shade. There are 22 others setting up in two neat rows.

Ishmael takes the wheel barrow over across the driveway, behind the saguaro there and shovels up dirt from over there. He sifts it through an old piece of chicken wire he found at our old chicken house, north of the tractor garage, that has shortened posts on each end. He comes back with the fresh dirt and dumps it in a pile in front of the kitchen window. Rogelo goes over to the edge of the big bush in front of Tommy's window and gathers up dried horse manure in his hands and brings it back to mix in with the mud.

"Where'd you get the horse manure?" Tom Augherton says with a laugh. Ishmael smiles wickedly and points with his chin north. I assume he got it from a certain neighbor's corral. Ha. He never said where. Ishmael explains to us that you need the dirt from two different spots (thus the dirt from across the road and in front of the kitchen window) and dried horse manure to tie it together for the best adobe.

I watched with wonder as they expertly mixed the mud, turning it over like a pancake, grabbing a dab of water from a bucket, creating a round dam of dirt, pouring water into the center, working it for about five minutes until it had the consistency of wet cement. It really is an art. And they were building the bricks with found tools (the chicken wire for a sifter, a certain neighbor's horse poop and the dirt from both sides of our driveway. Oh, and water from our well!)

Eight bricks later, Rogelo, smiled, and said something in Spanish. Tom interpreted: "He says he likes to make bricks."

Suddenly, it wasn't so hot out. We were watching two artists at work, making bricks, the way it has been done for centuries all over the world. When Tom asked if this was still in demand in Mexico, Rogelo shook his head no. Something about it taking too long to do.

Tomorrow it dries, tonight I am in awe of these Mexican artisans. Tom Augherton took the photos.

"Everything is cooler when you pay attention."
—Old Vaquero Saying

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