Grab Your Hard Hats!

When we first moved to Merida in 2013 we knew we would be doing some remodeling on our newly purchased home. We had learned from previous experience what it is like to live in a construction environment.

We had built our mountain getaway home and guest house in the Tehachapi Mountains of California in 1982 from the ground up – an experience that we will never forget. The knowledge we stored from that labor of love has come in handy when it comes to construction.

However, in the Yucatan, construction takes on a different meaning, with different materials, different tools and of course an new understanding of ancient traditions. When we had our country inn in New Mexico, we built and moved four times in sixteen years and never left the 225 acre property. Perhaps you might call us compulsive builders. We remodeled the inn and restaurant three times in 20 years – with the intentions of improving and enhancing the property each time.

So…her we are in Merida and our first project was to totally remodel our master bedroom and bath at the back of the house while we camped out in the guest room upstairs.

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                                                                 In the beginning

                       Letting in the light / adding pasta tile / Shower with a garden view

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                Fill for the new tile floor in the bedroom (needed to raise it 7 inches)

Living in Centro has its special quirks. We learned that all building materials (cement blocks, bags of gravel, sand and cement –  tools and equipment had to be brought in through the front doors (properties don’t’ have a rear entrance). This meant that all construction debris had to be carried out the same way in reverse – through the courtyard, kitchen, dining room and living room with constant traffic moving back and forth – got the picture?

Next in October 2013 we tackled painting rooms and installing marble columns in the living/dining room area and the back portal while having some custom furniture made for kitchen storage and master bedroom closets.

                                             The bleak but sturdy bare bones in 2013

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                    Starting to look better – The arch needs something to hold it up – 

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                      There – that’s much better but the process isn’t finished yet.

In 2015 we made the decision to put a plunge pool in the center courtyard. The hot summer months were taking some getting use to. This took a month of construction (again…in and out the front doors.

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                                          The small courtyard needed some work

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                                        The improvements made a big difference.

And now we are starting to remodel half of the kitchen which is suppose to only take two weeks. I took some before photos and then the after photos.

The work begins with demolition of the counters and preparation of the work area

                    BEFORE ABOVE

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     AFTER

      BEFORE –  Concrete sinks are not pretty and hard to keep clean

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A heavy gage stainless farm sink  imported from the US works much better and the tile back-splash with mosaic tile accents give it a punch.

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Shelf down lights are soft white LED – Cabinets are hard wood with stainless pulls.

We did not do this ourselves but it is our design and was well executed by our contractor – on time and on budget.

I hope this is the last construction zone we have to live in, However… if our ship comes in, we may bite the bullet and redo the guest bedroom and bath…but that’s another story.

Meanwhile we keep the hard hats handy.

Around the boot by water – Positano to Venice…

2008 Cruise 093Positano was our last Italian port before we reached Venice.  This cliff-side village south of the Bay of Naples on the Amalif Coast is a well-known holiday destination for European travelers and others with its pebble beachfront, steep rocky hills in the back ground, and narrow winding streets lined with expensive boutique shops and cafes. We opted to stay on board ship for another day at the spa and lunch in our open cabana. There are more than a few famous chefs in Positano and several Roman ruins.

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We made plans with our butler to have a small party that evening as we passed through the Straits of Messina on our way around the boot of Italy to the Dalmatian coast and Dubrovnik. We had purchased several bottles of wine in Athens and added a couple of bottles of Champagne from the ships supply. Our butler had arranged complimentary hors d’oeuvres, finger sandwiches and chips and dips for the party.

We invited six couples we had met during the first part of the cruise. The butler delivered our invitation to each of their cabins and suites while the ship was docked in Positano.  All six couples attended and everyone seemed to have a great time watching the sunset from our back decks as we passed through the Straits of Messina once again. I forgot to charge my camera battery so I didn’t get any photos that night.

We dined with three of the couples at dinner in the Tuscany restaurant on board. The social director made an announcement that there would be dancing on the pool deck after dinner and we were forced to go along with the group. John and two of the husbands didn’t dance so I was kept pretty busy with the ladies.  They announced there would be a twist contest and one of my partners begged me to join in the contest with her. I did… and out of the final three couples left on the dance floor, we were the winners by unanimous applause. We each got a bottle of Champagne as our grand prize. My tired feet were crying for rest so we said good night and trudged off to dreamland.

By the time breakfast was finished the following morning we had arrived along the coast of Croatia.  Six ships were already ahead of us at the docks in Dubrovnik, so the captain cruised further up the shore to a small town that I forget the name of. It was not on our itinerary, but they had buses there to transport the passengers down the road to Dubrovnik. John and I decided to explore the smaller town where the ship was anchored and miss the thousands of tourist from the six other ships.

It was apparent that the town was fortified in earlier times. There was a tall stone wall climbing the hillside that surrounded the village. (It may be difficult to see in this photo.) The buildings were made of stone and there was an old fort sitting on the hill.

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The Fort

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The Wall taken from the ship.

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Fishing boats and small yachts 

Narrow streets were lined with tall buildings, and the main square near the church was small.

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High doorways with steps indicated rising sea waters 

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There was a storm blowing from south to north into the Adriatic Sea so the captain didn’t make a stop in Split that evening except to take on some supplies and head off to Venice.

The following morning as we sat on our back deck having coffee and pastries we could see the storm approaching and watched as a huge water spout formed about five miles in the distance and began to follow the ship. The captain revved up the engines “full speed ahead” to out run the spout. It was all very exciting and everyone was talking about it a breakfast and lunch that day.

Arrival in Venice

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Morning line-up of gondolas near famous Harry’s Bar

On arrival in Venice we had out run the worst of the storm. There was a light drizzle as we disembarked and wheel our luggage onto one of the large canal boats called a vaporetto.  Soon we were crossing the Famous Rialto Bridge trying to find our boutique hotel.  Finally I stood under an awning with the luggage while John searched the narrow streets for the hotel he had booked only to find out we were a day ahead of schedule (due to the storm).

Somehow we missed the Captain’s announcement that guests were welcome to remain on board until the following day. However, the manager / owner of the hotel was able to find a room at another small hotel close by for the one night stay, We left most of our luggage at the hotel we had reserved and checked into the small but adequate hotel close by.

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A Vaporetto boat with the Rialto Bridge in the background taken from our terrace.

The following day we checked into the hotel near the Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal from the main fish market. We had a room with a terrace right on the Grand Canal. Gondolas, vaporettos and other small delivery boats cruised past our windows daily. We could hear the songs of the Gondoliers as they glided silently on the canals. Narrow streets for walking, bridges crossing over small canals, discovering another palazzo around the next corner and having lunch at a sidewalk café, this is what living in Venice is all about.

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We have been to Venice three times and will always remember the little Hotel Fenice de Artistes and hearing a Vivaldi concert in a small chapel of St. Marc’s Cathedral – or running through the hundreds of pigeons gathered in St. Marc’s Square at six in the morning while listening to Gregorian chants echoing from the Cathedral.  As the sunlight begins to break through the misty morning fog, we sit at a small café sipping strong hot coffee waiting for the next vaporetto to carry us off to the airport and the final leg of our journey back to France and on to America.

Arrivederci !

Cruising the Mediterranean…

Have you ever wanted to take a Mediterranean cruise? It was our pleasure to experience just such a trip on Oceania Cruise Lines – one of the best cruise lines in and around the Mediterranean. There were several reasons why we selected Oceania that made the adventure enjoyable.

All restaurants on board were open to everyone – no assigned seating – all adults/no children – no formal attire required – dressy casual was the norm for dinner – and the ship stopped at all the right islands/with the best tourist destinations for sightseeing – plus only 684 passengers with 412 service staff not including the crew that operated the ship.

We booked one of the Owner’s Suites on level 7 at the aft of the ship with a large deck that spanned both the main room and the bedroom. I believe the ship only had six of these suites. We later found out upon boarding that the suite included a butler –who would have thought?

Once requested, coffee/orange juice and a ship’s newspaper were delivered at 7 am each day for the next 14 days. We dined at the Terrace Café on the back deck almost every morning. Room service was available but we liked meeting new people.  Tuscany was our favorite restaurant with its casual friendly atmosphere, excellent food and staff. The Polo Grill was fussy and fine, we ate there three times, but it was less casual with more of a club appeal.

Boarding took place in Istanbul where we spent five days at the Saltanahmet Palace Hotel prior to sailing. It was located facing the Marmara Sea and directly across the street from the Blue Mosque. Our room had a Turkish style Hammam bathroom complete with a marble bench and water basin with ladle for pouring the water over you. Fortunately, for me, it also worked as a shower. Our room overlooked the top of the restaurant where we had breakfast while watching dolphins playing in the Sea of Marmara below.

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The famous Blue Mosque

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Entrance to the Saltanahmet Palace Hotel

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The Hotel and a view from our room terrace.

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Our first port of call was at Kusadasi, Turkey to visit the ancient city of Ephesus. Here, we were bused in to the ancient city of Anthony and Cleopatra. Ephesus used to be on the coast but the coastline has changes over the centuries. We had an amazing tour through the recently excavated “terrace houses” with beautiful fresco murals and mosaic tile floors. Archeological engineers had built Lucite walkways over the various excavated levels to help preserve these artistic wonders. Seeing how people lived during the days of the Roman Empire brought history to life.

Arches and the column lined, stone paved streets of Ephesus where Cleopatra and Marc Anthony once walked. I had to search to find shade that day.

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The amazing terrace houses – with murals still in place.

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Arched and painted ceilings

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Mosaic tile floors and indoor pools and fountains.

I’m reminded of some of the grand houses in Merida today.

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This is the front of what was the Roman library. Quite ornate!

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Entrance to the public restrooms

We also learned, that in ancient times they had live entertainment in the public restrooms where you could sit on a toilet and listen to music or poetry while taking care of business. There was running water below so you didn’t even need to flush. The Mayan palace ruins in Palanque also had similar facilities – King Ludwig came much later with running water in his palaces – But on with my story…

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The ruins on the Isle of Delos – Roman columns framing arches must have been popular.

The Isle of Delos was our next destination. This is referred to as “The Isle of the Gods” – it was believed to be the home of the Greek gods. No one is allowed to be on the island after dark – that must be when the gods had their parties – no visitors allowed.

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Houses were close and the streets were narrow.

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Four large cruise ships anchored off Delos. Ours was number five. – Very little vegetation on the island.

Due to shallow water around the isle, the ship is not able to anchor close so they ferry passengers in on the tenders (lifeboats). Here you need to take a guided tour or you won’t have a clue about what you are looking at.

We sailed next to Mykonos where many of the passengers went ashore to spend their money on lunch and shopping. We took advantage of the quiet time to have a massage in the ships spa and a private lunch in our reserved open cabana above the pool deck at the front of the ship. We could see most of the town from there and avoided the crowded streets, restaurants, and shops with their outrageous prices (our massages and lunch were included in our Owner’s Suite package).

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We cruised over night and were having breakfast the next morning as we arrived at the magical island of Santorini which had been created by a volcanic eruption. Like the teeth of a giant, the gleaming white town spread along the black volcanic rock smiling at us in the crisp morning light, dotted with domed caps of blue here and there. Several ships had arrived at the same time so we knew it would be like a colony of ants scurrying to take in all the important sites and devour the meat off the bones.

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Crisp white building like this church clung to the cliffs edges and stair stepped down.

Once off the bus, we stayed away from the tour groups and wandered on our own finding a delightful restaurant hidden off the street and down a couple flights of stairs. Sitting on a small terrace overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean we enjoyed a delicious lunch while listening to Greek music in the background. See below…

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Athens was next on the ships agenda. Here we decided to take a tour to the Acropolis with a guide who was out to give us the entire history of every Greek war that was ever fought – forgetting the romantic Greek poetry and stories of Greek gods.

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We left the group – did our own architectural tour and had a soothing, cool chocolate shake at the restaurant near where the buses were parked before the group returned hot, tired, bleary eyed and over educated on Greek wars.

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Yes…there was smog in Athens as you can tell from the haze in the background.

We bused into town and had lunch then wander through the famous downtown Palatka full of shops and winding streets where the gypsy women try to sell you beautiful lace while their children are picking your pockets with a professional touch. Six of our fellow passengers came back to the ship without their wallets – word to the wise – stay alert.

 

We purchased a few bottles of Greek wine at Ermou Spirits Cava wine shop and a huge bouquet of mixed flowers at a corner flower stall. Our butler got us a couple of vases for the flowers and we relaxed with a bottle of wine on our deck before dinner that evening with Carolyn and Sidney Schultz.

We met and had lunch the first day on board with Carolyn and Sidney from New Rochelle, NY, while waiting for the crew to deliver luggage to the cabins. Carolyn used to teach drama in NYC. One of her students was Bernie Schwartz before he became known as Tony Curtis. She was also in a Broadway play with Bea Arthur.

The ship traveled over night from Athens to Taormina, Sicily where we visited a church on top of the hill and participated in a wine tasting event before heading off again.

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2008 Cruise 101Taormina

Passing through the Straits of Messina between Italy and Sicily while having dinner, we arrived in Positano the following morning. Positano is a cliff-side village south of the Bay of Naples on the Amalif Coast of Italy. It’s a well-known holiday destination for affluent Europeans and others with a pebble beachfront and steep, narrow streets lined with expensive boutiques and cafes. We opted to stay on board ship for another day at the spa and lunch in our open cabana.

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We had made plans with our butler to have a small party that evening as we passed through the Straits of Messina once again on our way around the boot of Italy to Dubrovnik.

I will save the party, the dance contest, Croatia, the Dalmatian coast and Venice for the next blog post.

Until then Bon Voyage!

And the Rains Came Down…

Okay – I think I need to do some explaining here. It was my full intention to write a blog post about the Noche Blanca festivities here in Merida. However, unfortunately that ain’t gonna happen.  I will share with you the reasons why.

John and I are in our seventies (reason number one). Thus, we are old fashion “Early to bed early to rise” people (to bed by 11 pm and up around 6 am). We delight in all of the fun evening events that take place in this beautiful, tropical, colonial city whenever we can. The word “Tropical” is the operable word here. When the month of June arrives with the summer monsoons, outdoor activities are a hit and miss opportunity. Thus was the scenario last evening (reason number two – rain).

Our “good intentions” were washed away when it began to rain here in the city around 3 pm. At first it was a light drizzle – turning to a sprinkle – then a deluge…lasting a good three hours and tapering off to a light rain until around 9 pm. Thor struck his lightening-bolts and the thunder rolled across the darkened sky – quite a show of electrical power play. The poor turkey buzzards who usually weather a storm sitting on a tower atop the PAN party headquarters building across the street from us were nowhere to be seen. If they had been sitting on the tower we would have had fried buzzard to deal with. Imagine all those singed black feathers flying in the wake of a strike.

Our street can usually handle a heavy rain since the city has been cleaning out the storm drains here in Centro to prevent water back-up. However, crossing streets is like wading a small rushing stream – especially at the intersections.  Having a pair of rubber rain boots stashed in your closet is not such a bad idea. Although I must warn you about the buses, taxis, trucks and other vehicles who believe the phrase “full speed ahead” while driving on the rain filled streets. They are like speed boats living behind a wake three feet high and if you can’t jump that high you are bound to get drenched just walking down the sidewalk (reason number three).

Of course the temperatures were stifling and the 100% humidity made it a very sticky and damp evening outdoors. However, there are the true “die-hards” who braved the elements wearing their light weight plastic ponchos and rain gear to attend what few events were able to muster-up the courage to finally set up and stage everything by around 9:30 pm. (which lasted until about 2 am); while the leaves in the trees continued to drip-drip-drip on the party goers.

Needless to say – we stayed home, had dinner and watched a movie in the comfort of A/C. All that was missing was the pop-corn. Our pool is filled to over-flowing wuth the added rain water and this morning the palms and plants in our garden look happy and refreshed. Even the geckos were out racing and chasing each other. The parrots were up early squawking as they circled the air above and the doves seemed pleased with the drop in the heat.

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In case you wonder who is writing this blog – I’m the one in the blue Levi shirt (25 years ago when I was 50). John was and still is a great chef…Just one of the reasons we have been together for 48 years.

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Lamb Chops with a little 1982 Grand Vin Chateaux Latour

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No folks – this is not Soupa de Lima but a spicy tomato soup with creme fresh, with home made sour dough bread and a Savignon Blanc wine.

I just started a Facebook page but it will take me some time to learn how it works. I’m a firm believer in the phrase “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks.” – Unless you provide him with an operations manual written in “senior language” (i.e.…before all this technical jargon.) Right now, I can’t even remember the password I used because I didn’t write it down – so it may be a while before my Facebook friends hear from me. Please forgive me it you happen to be one of them.

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A gift from some friends, the Virgin of San Juan de Los Largos was the patron saint of the Rancho de San Juan Country Inn. Bachelor Buttons and Yellow Chocolate flowers add color at the base. She stood guard over the entry courtyard. Photos of any kind always make a blog post more interesting.

That’s a wrap folks. I’ll see what I can come up with for the next blog. Perhaps I will do a post on our  Writer’s Group TV filming next Monday 19th.

Oh…by-the-way, a big thanks to those of you who have read my book Tales from a Country Inn and posted your comments on Amazon…Muchas Gracias!

Saludos!

 

 

 

“Windows in the Earth” – The Shrine … at Rancho de San Juan Country Inn – NM

Eons ago a vast amount of New Mexico was covered by water as volcanoes began to erupt and seismic activity caused mountains to form and steam rose from the lava flows as the molten masses created a layer of black basalt rock on the sandy floor below the water’s surface. Mesas became islands or I should say islands became mesas as the waters receded and evaporated into steam. Over thousands of centuries this shallow expanse of water became the high desert of northern New Mexico – blessed with the beautiful Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountain ranges. Deep valleys were carved out of the solidified sandstone beneath the hardened cap of black lava flows.

Chama River Valley

The verdant Chama River Valley flows from north to south, carved through the dark mesas seen in the background. Fertile farm lands are blessed with the waters from its mineral hot springs to the north.

Lava rock trapped the ash and sand beneath its hardened surface. Ancient people used this capped “Tufa Stone” or volcanic ash as dwellings. In Bandolier National Monument Park – you can visit these cliff dwellings today. They normally faced south and are depended on the warmth of the winter sun during the freezing cold temperatures of December through February.

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Puye Cliff Dwellings of the Anasazi Indians ( Ancient Ones )

This was Georgia O’Keeffe country – where we settled and became innkeepers in 1994. The flat topped mountain is know as Pedernal. It stands watch over Lake Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch. Georgia once told a reporter that God had given her the mountain because she had painted it so often. She was a New Mexico resident for many years, along with Mable Dodge Luhan and Millicent Rogers – all women who were involved with artist and the culture of the southwest.

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Pedernal Mt. with Lake Abiquiu in the forefront peppered with juniper trees pinon pine and cacti.

We were open less than a month, when a man appeared wearing Bermuda shorts, a Panama hat, a floral Hawaiian print shirt and sandals. He carried a portfolio in his hands like a traveling salesman – and sold us on the idea to create a shrine on our property. It wasn’t an easy sale, but we finally gave-in and commissioned him to create a hidden chapel among the giant sandstone butte formations on our 225 acres backing onto the tall mesa east of the inn.

The Shrine

Shrine Windows – There were six tall windows and a glass door.

It was supposed to be built in six weeks but ended up taking two and a half years. I have to admit, it was our fault. We encourage him to increase the size and make the ceilings higher. More windows were needed to allow the natural light to illuminate the interior space. What we wanted was a venue where people could have small weddings and other functions. What we got was a work of art – a unique space for meditating and a sanctuary that served for many occasions. However, it was a quarter mile hike up the side of the mesa on a rocky serpentine path – but worth every step, once you arrived.

Windows in The Earth

The sand was not solidified like rock but it was densely compacted and very firm for digging. This was not only and artistic architectural masterpiece but an engineering feat.

The artist, Ra Paulette, used shells, stones and semi-precious stones gathered from around the property and inlayed them in the sandstone as decoration. Mirrors were incorporated on flat surfaces where votive candles could be set to add light and soothing ambience.Sculpture 3

Inlayd shells and stones used as decoration around a larg sculpted Nautlious shell.

Many of our guests often referred the shrine to works and designs of Antoni Gaudi on a much smaller scale. Glass windows and a glass door were installed to keep the natural elements from causing erosion and weathering and to keep black bears, mountain lions, bob cats and coyotes from make it their den. – after all, we were living in the wilds of northern New Mexico 38 miles from Santa Fe. To provide housing for the desert critters was not our intention.

Sculpture 2Shell altar with mirror surface reflecting the sculpture.

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The “meditation chamber” had no windows. ( sorry – no photo) It was the shape of a giant egg with a round pedestal in the center. Standing in the center of the stone pedestal you could extend your arms in every direction and not touch the sides or the ceiling. The acoustics were so amazing you could hear you own heart beating. And if someone else was in another part of the shrine you could hear them whispering.

The shrine was used on numerous occasions for storytelling and small musical events. The artist carved a large chair for the storyteller while the guests would sit around to listen.The Storyteller's Chair

Storyteller’s Chair

A member of the Albuquerque Symphony carried her chello up the ¼ mile trail and played a concert in the shrine for 16 people. Another person gave a concert on his lap harp for a small group of friends before dinner in the restaurant.

In the Shrine

 

Meditation Room

The tall cathedral-like windows created a chapel-like effect for numerous weddings. Jessie Diamond, Neil Diamond’s son was married in the shrine and in the courtyard at the inn (a double ceremony). Older couples enjoyed renewing their vows in the shrine. Our cat “Scooter” attended the first wedding in the shrine – and they said he was as “quite as a mouse”. – Perhaps he didn’t make any sound but I wasn’t about to compare him to a mouse – I had to live with him for 19 years.

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Arches of stone and swrilling sand in a mystical Land of Enchantment.

This was just one of the many things that made the Rancho de San Juan a “Uniquely Different Experience.”

In closing, I should mention that the artist finally received the recognition he deserved for his magnificent creation. His life’s work was featured in an Oscar nominated documentary short subject film called “The Cave Digger” at the Academy Awards in 2014. There are several short films about other shrines he has created since. You can find the film on line.

Live everyday as if it were your last!

Enjoy and embrace life. Read my book, Tales from a Country Inn, available on Amazon, for more about the shrine and interesting guests.

D.G. Heath

Next Blog Poast – Noche Blance weekend in Merida – stay tuned for SNL south of the border.

Down Memory Lane…

Has it really been only four years? It all happened so fast – but this August 23rd will mark the date that friends in New Mexico drove us to Denver in the wee hours of the morning to depart on the next adventure in our lives. I was seventy-one years old and John was just three days away from turning sixty-seven. We had lived in the Ojo Caliente River Valley, 38 miles northwest of Santa Fe, since 1993 while building and operating our country inn and restaurant known as the Rancho de San Juan.

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Custom Bronze Logo by artist Star Liana York

I was going through old photos recently trying to justify what I need to keep on the computer and what I could delete and suddenly memories of former guest and the great elaborate parties we used to have came back to me in a flash and I thought it would be fun to share them with you – Especially those of you who were a part of our lives in those 20 years.

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This was the entry to the main buildings as you arrived at the Rancho.

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The custom made front door was 10 feet high with a fancy artistic touch.

The inn grew from 5 guests rooms in 1994 to 15 rooms by 2013 – and the restaurant which opened to guests and the public went from 4 tables in a one small dining room to sixteen tables in two dining rooms, a full bar and a chef’s table in the main kitchen area.

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The Chef’s Table in the kitchen area could seat up to eight people. This is where guests could watch all the action happening and chat with John about hwo the various foods were prepared.

Our Haviland china was custom made in Limoges, France with our logo in the center. Our main dining room would seat 24 in comfortable chrome and leather Bruno chairs and was a place for local artist to display their paintings and sculpture – with with French doors that opened to a western view so guests could enjoy the magnificent colors of a New Mexico sunset.

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The main dining room looking west.

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A different view looking north.

The entry reception area was a place where guests liked to gather for a morning coffee or evening cocktail.

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An antique oak mantel surrounds the raised fireplace

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The fountain patio was just through the French doors on the east where guest enjoyed having their breakfast with a view of Black Mesa

There was a six burner double-oven Garland range in our first kitchen which eventually became the breakfast and dinner prep kitchen (originally it was only 16 X16 feet).

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The main kitchen that came about six years later was done in Mexican tiles from floor to ceiling with an eight burner double-oven Jade range and warming station where the servers retrieved their orders.

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The warming station separated the kitchen staff from the wait staff so they didn’t get in each other’s way. There was a patio for outdoor dining when requested off the chef’s table area.

In the beginning, the restaurant didn’t have a name but it became known as Three Forks Restaurant at the suggestion of one of our guests – as you can see from this photo, the tables were always set with three forks (amuse/salad/entrée).

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We used Royal Danish pattern sterling silver. It was a very popular pattern in the fifties and sixties and is still made today.

The second dining room, used mostly for breakfast and cocktails in the winter had a southwest flare with a cabinet filled of our Kachina collection and a full view of the small bar with its Taos drum tables and wrap-around banco-seating.

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This area was our original bedroom until we needed to make room for more dinner guests and add our bar.

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The antique wood doors painted a turquoise blue were from Mexico and the ornate carved wood desk came from the American Conciliate offices in Mexico City.

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The bar would hold about fifteen people but we also had a covered portal with five additional tables for cocktails or breakfast outside.

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The back bar in this shot was an antique black oak English break-front, originally used in Geronimo Restaurant in Santa Fe.

We used two napkin folds. For dinner the staff was trained to do what I called the

Sydney Opera House fold – or the “Duck Tail”

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And the breakfast fold – which I called the “Bird of Paradise”

Many local artists were happy to show their art on the walls of the inn and restaurant. We had sculptures by Star Liana York, Doug Coffin and Gregory Lomayesva and paintings by Brian Coffin and his dad Doug, Shelia Mahoney, Bette Ridgway and Antonio Arellanes. It was like dining in an art gallery.

I will continue this little trip down Memory Lane in the next blog with some photos of the shrine we commissioned by the famous shrine maker “The Cave Digger” Ra Paulette.

Until then…You might want to read Tales from a Country Inn available on Amazon and join the thousands of guests who visited with us and enjoy some of their unusual stories.

Thanks for the company, (and the memories).

D.G.Heath

Saturday Night Live!…It’s Noche Mexicana

When you live three blocks away from live entertainment and its FREE… well who can resist? We have come to enjoy the amazing cultural exhibition of arts, music and dance on Saturday nights on stage at the Remate. However…that is not the only entertainment available. We are people watchers and Saturday night when the temperatures start to drop around 8:00 pm the families come out to enjoy an evening of dining, shopping and Ballet Folkloric performances with colorful costumes, guest singers and Mariachis on stage.  001

   Setting up the stage

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It’s only 7 pm – but the crowd starts to arrive and reserve their seats

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Later, around 9 pm there isn’t an empty seat to be found.

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And this is what they have been waiting for.

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Ballet Folkloric Dancers from Chihuahua entertain at Noche Mexicana.

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Many Ballet Folkloric groups travel around Mexico performing dances from their state.

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Colorful costumes reflect the state and and area they are from.

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The early shoppers arrive before dark to check out the stalls and visit with friends.

We are lured to this festive scene by the sound of lively music and the precision stomping of the dancer’s shoes on the scenic decorative stage. The seductive aroma of Yucatecan foods as they are cooked in the open air at individual stands tantalizes the taste buds as we are drawn into the mood of the evening. This is serious cooking folks.

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I started with delicious tamales served on banana leaves with sauteed white onions and pickled red onions. John had a plate with a selection of three large tacos. Sorry no photo he must have been hungry.

These stands are run by local families who have been doing this for years. Take your choice of homemade tacos with all the trimmings and salsas, or perhaps you would prefer a delicious pork or chicken filled tamale with black beans and a salad. Panuchos and salbutes with cochinita or turkey, pickled red onions, avocado and of course habanero salsa await the hungry mass of humanity.

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Homemade pies and cakes are very popular as are ice cream cones.

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Get there early to get a table – Coco-Cola chairs are everywhere and fill up quickly.

Adults of all shapes, sizes and manner of dress wander around.

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A trio of Fashionistas – Eat your heart out TJ Max!

Some kids have all the luck – their dad buys them a car.

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Young man out for a stroll in his red Mustang. 

Others are in tow while pulling behind them their plastic toy dogs, ducks, and horses

This young lady trains her pony on wheels.

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Toys on wheels and colorful plastic balls on a string are popular with the kids.

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Kids fashions straight from the Fashion Show Runway – They learn early how to shop. This mom has her hands full with two fashionistas – note the leg with a white sandal on her left.

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Handmade toys are a big seller – they don’t need Toys ‘r Us   –    Just look at the selection!- Yo-yos / spinning tops / paddle balls / puppets / guitars / building blocks, etc. etc.

This is a gathering of friends and families who are here to have a good time in the cooler part of the day. Occasionally you will see a young one who must have missed his or her siesta cradled in the arms of their mom or dad.

If you take a close look you might notice what’s missing…no alcohol, no drugs, no guns, and almost no smoking. There are smiles instead of frowns, laughter in place of anger, no pushing or shoving, people mingle like fish in the sea or stream…some moving upstream while others are swimming downstream. I call it polite harmony.

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If you listen carefully you will hear many languages spoken…Spanish of course, perhaps German, Dutch, French, Scandinavian, Italian, and maybe even English blended into this amazing melting pot of tourism called Merida.

Two and a half hours later we are ready to head home as more people are still arriving.  But we couldn’t leave without having an ice cream cone or a bag of churros, those delicious deep fried sticks of pastry covered in cinnamon sugar and hot from the pot.

028…or perhaps a delicate rolled crepe filled with chocolate or a salty string cheese. Ah…the deserts in life.

An evening on the town – drinks – dinner – dessert and three house of entertainment all for for about $10 for the two of us. Retirement comes easy in the Yucatan but we run out of time trying to enjoy it.

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Your carriage awaits – Cinderella !  Now where are those little mice?

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Ah…home at last – No that’s not us in the carriage but that is John’s shirt in the corner as he unlocks our front doors.

A glass of red wine for a night-cap and a recap of the evening’s events – then it’s off to dreamland between our cool, freshly starched and ironed sheets (I do them myself) as the moon shines through the glass-block skylights above the bed casting ghost-like angles on the walls.

This puppy is pooped.

Night all…Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And They’re Off!!

Well…at least they were on Saturday.

When I say “Mint Juleps” what does that bring to mind? Of course…you think of the Old South. And if I say “Derby” you may think of the bowler hat worn by detective Mr. Steele in The Avengers…if you remember back that far.

But if I put the two together – what comes to mind? The Kentucky Derby !

Now don’t shake your head, just pretend you got it right. I should have mentioned horses and the first Saturday in May, but that would have made it too easy.

We attended a Kentucky Derby party here in Merida last Saturday with around thirty other guests at the lovely home of some friends. I’ll have to admit, the weather was a lot better here in Merida than it was in Louisville, Kentucky, where they were serving up rain and mud with those mint juleps.  We were served Bar-B-Q, potato salad, cold slaw, delicious baked black beans, peach cobbler and of course mint juleps. Even though I’m from Texas, I never acquired a taste for bourbon or beer, but there were a lot of mint juleps drinkers in the crowd.

Before the race began they had a grease board chart with all 20 horses listed and a space to place your bets. I can remember when they started running twenty horses – it used to be fifteen. You could place as many bets as you wished at $50 pesos per bet. My dad use to say “Never bet on horses or people they’re both unpredictable.” However, in the spirit of the day I put a bet down on Always Dreaming…Guess that’s because I’m always dreaming I will get rich someday.

Of course by now, you already know who won the race…Always Dreaming. I didn’t strike it rich but I did win $250 pesos, minus my initial $50 pesos. Good thing the IRS wasn’t there with their hand out for the taxes. There were five of us who bet on the same horse. I was born in August of 1942 which according to the Chinese Zodiac was the Year of The Horse so I knew I was bound to pick the right one – you might call that dreaming…but that just tied the two together in my book.

Did you know that the Kentucky Derby is the oldest and longest running sporting event in the USA? It was started in 1875 at the Churchill Downs by Meriwether Lewis Clark. The track was named after his uncle John Churchill. There was one other time I was sure of a horse winning. In 1975 on the 100th anniversary of the Derby, a horse by the name of John Henry won the race. My partner and I had been together five years – his name is John Henry Johnson.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to bet on that race – but I won anyway.

Life is just full of surprises!

Best New Restaurant Award…

Merida is known for having some of the finest restaurants in the Yucatan. It has inched closer and closer to those in Mexico City over the last few years. Having owned an AAA Four Diamond / Mobile Four Star restaurant and country inn for twenty years we are accustomed to fine dining, good food and wine, plus outstanding service and hospitality. However, it’s not about pretention and awards when searching for true hospitality. Some of the most rewarding surprises can be found even by accident.

We are preparing ourselves for an exciting two weeks of dining out in Merida while our kitchen is under a remodel construction. We normally prefer to dine in the comfort of our home and once a week venture out with friends or just the two of us for a night on the town. Living in Centro without an automobile has made us aware of the numerous restaurant choices we are fortunate to experience with little or no effort. We can enjoy a variety of different cuisines in less than a six block walk from our front door. We have Mayan, Mexican, French, Cuban, American, Irish, Yucatan, Thai, Lebanese, and several types of Italian restaurants.

However…last night we discovered a new “jewel in the crown” of Merida’s cuisine-scene…The Korean Grill -located on Paseo de Montejo next to the florist shop near Café Pistash. The décor is minimalist contemporary with eye pleasing clean lines in dove grey and black, using orange as an accent color, blond wood table tops and comfortable black chairs.

The menu is available in both English and Spanish with a wide variety of choices to select from at reasonable prices. These are dishes that are made to be shared as is the custom in Korea. I can’t begin to remember all the names of the various selections but the seaweed soup with tofu in a light clear fish broth was outstanding and accompanies some of the entrees and appetizers. The steamed dumplings stuffed with pork, ginger and garlic served with a soy/sesame dipping sauce made a great starter. But save room for the dessert! We ordered one chocolate Ice cream to split and were glad we did. I won’t give away the secret on this one but can only say I’m going back to order it again. Have you ever eaten “fresh snow ice cream”? If not, then you have to try this one.

Back to hospitality – I would have to give this place a Gold Medal. From the greeting as we entered, to the excellent service at our table and the thoughtfulness to let us know how long something would take to prepare. Don’t be in a hurry – everything is prepared to order – so plan on a relaxed and enjoyable evening while listening to the soft music in the background (recommend dining inside) – you can actually carry on a conversation without having to shout at the table. Kay, the owner, is a most gracious lady and truly makes you feel welcome and pampered.

I believe they are open for dinner only, so check the hours before you go. We were there at 8 pm on a Thursday evening and it was not too crowded. As word spreads, I hope we will still be able to get in. Three cheers for the Korean Grill!

Best of luck to you Kay!

Long Ago…in the Far-away Nearby

Author! Author!

I have longed to hear those sweet words to my ears. This Easter I will remember forever. My first book has been published and is now available on Amazon. It only took three and a half years to write and rewrite. I lost count of the rewrites and finally worked on five pages a day until I got it tightened up, chapters rearranged, photos selected and the eighty-four tales organized to my satisfaction.

Tales from a Country Inn – The Rancho de San Juan Story  –  by D.G. Heath

   Shared photo memories 

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Bronze Plaque by artist Star York -Quail logo with Raven in the center of a bear paw

With the help of three editors during that three year time frame, it was an interesting process and a learning experience, not without a little stress, disappointment, anxiety, and many glasses of wine. It’s difficult to judge just when comprehension will kick-in. It could be at three in the morning or in the middle of siesta, but eventually the light goes on in the brain and there is nothing left to do but get up and make the changes.

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    Arriving at Rancho de San Juan in the fall

Believe me…if you wait until later, the thought will most likely be gone from memory. I have created entire chapters for my mystery books while in a half-sleep only to find I have no recall in the morning. It’s frustrating, but I have surmised that comes with being a writer – along with a few other frustrations

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 Dining in luxury – main dining room with 16 ft. high ceilings and grand fireplace

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The Black Mesa Suite on the courtyard with two private patios

Of course there will always be the critics. Critiquing is the bane of being an author. Not everyone will agree with you…but then, no one is asking them to. You are the author and it is your story. It should be written in your voice and the way you want to tell it. Even editors and publisher don’t always agree. Depend on your own instincts. If it is a failure you will take the blame no one else.

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 Dinner at the Chef’s Table while watching the action in the kitchen

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Lunch with red wine and the sound of trickling water on the fountain terrace 

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Cocktails on Taos drums with a view of the high mesas and distant mountains

Never give-up…most of us have learned from our failures.  As my dad used to say… “If you fall off the horse, get up, get back on, try not to do it again…and pray God, you didn’t break an arm or a leg.” My Father was always reassuring. He also taught me that I could achieve what I wanted in life, but it wouldn’t come easy, because nothing worth having ever does.

       Culture – History and Native American Art by Doug Coffin 

All apart of what made the Rancho de San Juan a special oasis in the rugged countryside of northern New Mexico

Finding joy in your work and loving what you do makes it much easier, but when you find a passion for what you want to do – it doesn’t seem like work – it becomes a labor of love.

A shrine to Georgia O’keffe – “Windows in the Earth” – Creator/ Ra Paulette

The Rancho is no more…but the memories linger on.

I hope by this fall my three mystery books will also be available on Amazon.

Double Martini     /     Island Web of Intrigue      and      Codes and Confessions

Time will tell…

If you enjoy reading Tales of a Country Inn, please send Amazon your review to let me know.MeridianSixPhotos 010

               Sunset in the high desert at the Rancho de San Juan

               Land of Enchantment 

Enjoy the pristine beauty of a rugged landscape. Listen for the mystical sounds of ancient spirits drifting on the soft winds of the high desert. The echoing sounds of night creatures begin. Bats flutter in the stillness of twilight. A coyote voices his cry as a sliver of moonlight peaks over a distant mesa.

Watch as evening shadows move in silence and stars begin to sparkle in a black velvet sky. The Milky Way stretches a celestial greeting of comfort as satellites float across the vast darkness. Hush and hear the heart beat of the land.

All is right with the world in the Land of Enchantment. – D.G. Heath

                      Thanks for your support,