Monday, July 28, 2008


It is thundering here. Loud booms of thunder that roll from one side of the sky to the other, trailing the atmosphere behind like an echo. It hasn't started to rain.

I think I've finally managed to coax a fire in my cute brick fireplace. It's built in the shape of half of an upside-down ice cream cone, with u-shaped openings into the bedroom on one side and the living room on the other side. It's big and oval inside, maybe four or five feet from one opening to the other, and about two feet wide, and tall, about three feet from the bottom to the top. The openings don't face each other, they each point into the room they occupy, so at first you can't tell that there is only one fireplace. It might be two separate fireplaces, back to back.

I grew up in Montana, and I have probably started fires a thousand times or more. Not just campfires for s'mores, but real fires in a black cast iron stove just like Laura Ingalls Wilder, who every good pioneer girl wanted to be like. The fires I started heated the house, kept us warm in the bitter Montana winters. I have carried armloads upon armloads of wood, from where they fell from my dad's ax on the chopping block to the woodpile outside, then from the woodpile to the bins near the stove. I have laid fires in the stove, ready to light with a single match when we come home. Though I hated all chores, I didn't mind carrying wood, except when it was freezing outside, and dark.

You'd think with all this experience I would have no trouble starting a fire with heartwood kindling and small, almost identically cut eight inch by two inch by three inch heartwood "logs." By all reasoning, I should be able to light a fire like that with a single match, after it has been perfectly stacked in my fireplace every day by the staff at Rio Caliente. I should be able to light a fire like that with a look and a snap of my fingers.

But I think something about the oval shape and the way the two openings are not directly across from each other has done something to the oxygen in the fireplace. There isn't any, or at least not very much. The fire has to be set in the dead center, right under the chimney, because even though the ceiling of the fireplace is domed to point to the chimney, smoke can't find its way out and air can't seem to find its way in. And they've built up the floor of the fireplace with spare bricks, so that it's eight inches shallower than it was built to be, and four inches narrower.

I've been feeding heartwood kindling into the center of the stack of logs, lighting each piece of kindling from a candle on the mantle. It has taken me almost an hour to get the fire going, but I finally did it. At first I didn't think it would catch, but maybe the chimney got warmed up, or the barometric pressure changed, or maybe the wood just decided to spontaneously combust. I can't see the flames from here in the living room, but I can see that they are there, flickering just beyond the opening, bright and cheery. And I can see the reflection in the window because I haven't closed the curtains yet.

The thunder has stopped. It's still not raining.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Journey of a Thousand Miles

I know the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My journey yesterday was more than a thousand miles, and it took several steps to get started.

The first step was finding out how I could spend more time here at Rio Caliente. I came in September of 2006 the first time, and I knew that I loved it. The second time I came, I took the first step and spoke with the owner about my desire to be here. From there it took just a few short conversations to determine that I would be moving down here in July to run marketing. And what happens after that...well, we'll see.

The second step was preparing to leave my glamorous life in New York (yeah right). I spent months sorting, packing, selling, and storing my things. That was a journey of a thousand miles in itself. I like things. I'm not materialistic, but I like things, and I had a lot of things that I really liked. Some I sold on Craigslist (boy was that interesting). Some I put in storage--the interesting part there will come when I open up that jam-packed storage unit and see what was so important to me that I had to cram it into the 5x5 space till it was full to bursting.

The next step was quitting my job. After four years at Publicis Modem (nee Modem Media) that was a very hard decision to make. But the time was right, and even though it was difficult, it felt like the right thing at the right time.

I've spent the last two weeks staying with different friends (thanks Phoebe and John, Mario and Su Li, Aurea and Lino, Rich and Chris) and really enjoying my time in New York. It was like the city was determined to show me its best side before I left. I had some very memorable evenings, fun parties, drinks, dinners. I do love New York.

And then the day finally came to leave. The whole time, building up, it hasn't quite seemed real. My ride showed up at 6:30 am (thanks for the Towncar, Steven!) and I took one last look out over Oyster Bay and then I was on my way. The driver was convinced I was someone famous, even when I kept insisting I wasn't. He told me some very bad, very corny jokes, that I will not repeat here. But he was friendly and talkative, and he didn't mind when I told him to take a different route from what the GPS said. (Who takes 495 at 7 am?? We took the Northern State and made it to the airport in 45 minutes.)

Once at the airport, I had to stand in a VERRRRRY long line, which really didn't bother me, except that there were three people behind me who were incensed at having to stand in the same line. I was about to let them go in front of me just to shut them up, but they were so disagreeable that I couldn't bring myself to do it. I finally made it through the line, then went for some breakfast down in the food court. The guy asked me ten times if I wanted cheese on my veggie burrito, and I said yes every time, but when I got my burrito, no cheese. Oh well.

I tossed my coffee before I went through security (oops, should have bought that after I went through). Biscuit and I made it through just fine. The only thing I was still agonizing about was whether I should drug Biscuit or not. I've flown with him before and I've never drugged him. He's generally pretty good, but he does bark and I really didn't want to have him upset for hours on such a long day of traveling. Just before we boarded the plane, he started his little bossy "let me out of here" yip, which is how he gets started. I bit the bullet and fed him half an acepromazine inside a stale Auntie Annie's pretzel. The drug was a good choice. Biscuit mellowed out right away and was basically stoned for the rest of the trip, but he has recovered completely already this morning.

When I got to Chicago, I learned what a nightmare O'Hare is. I had to leave security, find a train, and ride to another terminal to find my connecting flight. I am not sure, but I think Terminal 5 is somewhere near Detroit, because it sure isn't convenient to Terminal 1, where I landed. After dragging my drugged dog through security a second time, I was pulled aside to have my bag searched. The security screener was less than pleasant and told me that my bag was "very messy" and didn't even zip it up before returning it to me. Um, maybe it's messy because you just rifled through it.

The worst part of Terminal 5 is that there were NO monitors displaying flight info. I had no idea even where my airline was, so I went to the nearest counter where they basically said "we're not Mexicana, good luck, I think they're over there." Thanks so much for your help.

I finally found a counter for Mexicana Airlines but at first I thought it wasn't my flight because the board was displaying "Mexico City, 2:55." I certainly didn't want to go to Mexico City! Then after about 5 minutes I realized that the board was alternately displaying information for two different flights, and mine was the second one. (Kind of confusing if you ask me.) But at least I was in the right place. I waited in line, because I had to exchange my United boarding pass for a Mexicana one, and that's when they dropped the bomb on me.

"Oh yes, we see that you have booked a dog on the flight, and we see that you have paid for the dog, and confirmed the dog, and even traveled with the dog from New York, but it's up to the captain if the dog will be allowed on this flight." Um. No one mentioned this to me! I'm afraid I kind of lost it for a few minutes, picturing me and my drugged dog wandering around Terminal 5 of O'Hare airport until some Mexicana Airlines captain would allow us on the flight. But...and here was the real shocker...the Mexicana Airlines staff was SOOOO nice and helpful. They assured me that it wasn't usually a problem, and they would do everything they could to convince the captain if he needed convincing. One of the flight attendants said she knew the pilot and that she was sure it would be fine.

And it was. The even let me board right after first class, and someone helped me carry Biscuit down the aisle and get him situated under the seat. Biscuit was so stoned this whole time, I'm sure he didn't really care what was happening, but I was kind of a wreck and so relieved that they were so nice.

The flight wasn't bad, although we had to circle in Guadalajara for a while because it was pouring rain when we tried to land. Once on the ground, I went right through immigration and easily secured a 180 day visa by asking for a 90 day visa. I waited at the baggage carousel for a while, and of course there was no sign of my bags. But someone came up to me and said "Are you Gardenia Willoughby" and told me that my bags were still in Chicago. I kind of had a feeling that would be the case. It was no problem, though. They took all my info and stamped me with lost bags at customs and promised to deliver them this morning. The woman who helped me gave me a receipt and her name and a phone number to call with any questions. I'm telling you, Mexicana airlines is GREAT!

Biscuit passed quite easily through customs. The vet came over, glanced at the dog, and took the third copy of his paperwork. No sweat.

Mario from the spa was waiting for me when I came out, and we drove to the spa through a Friday night traffic jam. It still only took just over an hour to get to the spa, and when I arrived, Caroline was waiting with the pink keys to my little casita.

The casita is adorable, all brick and tile, with an awesome round fireplace that opens into both the bedroom and the living room. I have a sturdy wooden desk, a phone, wired internet connection (we couldn't get the wireless to work, but maybe I'll figure it out later), and a small kitchenette with an adorable gas hotplate. Everything outside my windows is green and lush, and there are tiny flowers and birds all around. Biscuit loves the grass and doesn't want to come inside because there are so many interesting smells.

So far, day one hasn't really started. I had breakfast in the dining hall, and now I'm just waiting for my bags to show up so I can change my clothes and go for a swim. Or vice versa.

I'm here. I'm in Mexico.
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