Cacophony Days

March 8, 2022

I was out when my bedroom floor erupted. Floors in this house are of tiles placed over concrete, and some combination of factors caused a bunch of them in my bedroom to heave out of place. The moment must have been quite noisy, but I can’t know just how noisy it actually was. I just saw what had happened when I got back, with pieces of tile across the floor and others lifted up to form shallow tents.

A section of the floor with shattered tile. The little ‘tents’ are harder to see.

There’s an immense amount of construction around here these days. People from Mexico City, spooked by the pandemic, have bought existing houses or land that farmers are willing to sell, and they have begun expanding the old homes or starting on new ones. That’s created a huge demand on semi-skilled workers.

Thus, when we contacted Chucho, who was the original contractor for this house a decade ago, he was hard to reach. He is busy, probably looking to build up retirement savings as well as enjoy a prosperous moment. Inflation in Mexico right now is steep, running at 25 percent on some goods and services, and it’s no time to miss an opportunity to get ahead of the curve. And this inflation was happening before the attack on Ukraine began.

The maestro: Chucho when he was originally constructing the house.

So, when I went to take my dog Victoria out for her morning sniff around the neighbourhood, I was a little surprised to find Chucho right outside, along with an assistant. They had come for the first phase of work, which involved hacking up most of the floor in the bedroom, while leaving tiles that were still firm in their places.

I was about to ask why he had’t notified me he was coming, but another thought gripped me. The gates of renovation hell had opened.

It’ll be at least three days to get the work done, and more if there’s a more pressing job elsewhere. With construction in Mexico, there’s rarely a guarantee that work will continue without a break. It’s just the way things happen, and you live with it.  My bed wasn’t hard to move out … but when will it go back again? I don’t know.

While I’m currently exiled to my kitchen, the noise of chiselling and general bashing makes the whole house resound, and I can only achieve marginal relief from the noise. Some bits of tile remain stubbornly anchored in place, surrounded by accumulating cement chips, and Chucho’s man needs to apply fierce determination to remove the damaged tiles. And of course, a patina of dust is settling over the rest of the house. 

Just a little disorder. It should all be gone … eventually.

I just hope it all gets done … soon. Chucho’s a good guy, and pretty honest, but I only ever see him when life goes into a phase of miserable disruption.  I therefore can’t help associating him with expensive unhappiness. When you occupy a house in a seismically active area that gets annual deluges for four or five months, there’s no way to avoid periodical cacophonous misery.

I just hope none of the other floors are waiting to explode from their moorings.

Mechanical aptitude and feeling stupid

                                                                                                                                                                        August 23, 2019

Exactly how Lucero and her mother met Chucho, I don’t recall, but it was before I came to Mexico. When we started talking about building houses, he was already the designated builder.

My family was not, you might say, very mechanically minded. This failing passed on to me We didn’t have a car when I was young, though my dad could mend a fuse. (Remember doing that? Probably not). I never owned a car myself till I was in my late twenties, and was never one of those people who’d change the oil or a tire with enthusiasm: “Oh boy, macho car stuff to do!”

Now, any young male in Mexico learns how to get an old car moving. The girls are taught to cook and launder, the boys learn how to fix stuff. Yes, it’s very old fashioned, but that’s how it is. Many of the boys also learn construction skills, and Chucho was one of those. How to mix cement, how plumbing works, how to wire a house, how to lay bricks or cinderblocks … he does it all.

He even figured out once how to get his car back on the paved roadway after I reversed it off and got it jammed in a deep rut. I learned then why ancient Mexicans managed to build monumental temples. Forget all that stuff about aliens or influences from across the Atlantic; Mexicans for centuries have been born with an innate grasp of the physics of piled stones. Left to my own ignorance, I’d probably still be walking past that stranded car today.

And continuing to feel as stupid as I did when Chucho looked at it, laughed, and began figuring out how to get it on the roadway again.

A couple of months ago Vinicio, who lives in the adjoining house, had a problem with getting water up from the cistern to the tank on his roof. So, we called Chucho. Chucho came when Vini was out, played around with the system for a few minutes, then checked the heavy lid of the cistern.

“It’s empty,” he said to me, in that sort of tone that implied he didn’t want to call me an idiot, since he figured it was self-evident anyway.


The guy who fixes all the stuff: Chucho in front of my house during construction.

So, I ordered a truckload of water, Chucho came back, and Vini soon had the airlock in his plumbing fixed. But my track record wasn’t improving.

Now, for weeks recently, the shower in my house hasn’t yielded more than a splatter of hot water. That wasn’t so bad when the hot weather was with us, but as things have cooled off, it’s been more annoying. My Spartan sensibilities are no more developed than my mechanical skills.

So, having played with water volumes, put new batteries in the water-heater’s ignition system and tried stoicism (which dissolves fast under chilling shower-water), I called Chucho. He came round, and I showed him how I could get warm water out of the tap in the sink, but not the shower. He went through the checklist of checkable stuff, then shook the big propane tank.

“It’s empty,” he said, “can you hear? There’s no sound of propane in it.”

Now, I knew it was close to the time that I’d new a new cylinder of propane, but since the problem had existed for several weeks, I didn’t think that was the core of the issue. But once you’ve given a man a convincing reason to think you’re a bit daft in the head, the opinion tends to confirm itself. Get a new cylinder, Chucho suggested, and things would be fine.

So, cursing the timing of the cylinder’s expiry, I did so – and yes, things were better. I now get a minute or two of warm water if I run hot water through the tap in the sink first. It requires fast action with the soap and equally fast rinsing, but things sorta work. But while Chucho doesn’t mind being paid to attend to the foibles of the intellectually constrained, I mind paying him and more important, I mind feeling stupid.

There’s a leak developing in the kitchen skylight that could probably use his skills. No doubt when he comes to fix it, there’ll be some ridiculously obvious reason why the rain comes in through there after a storm, which I should have figured out for myself.

But what the heck – if I move the kitchen table a foot or two, I don’t actually get rainwater splashing into my breakfast. And the rains are mostly done till next year anyway.

I don’t need to feel any stupider this year, so I’ll pretend I haven’t noticed the drips after a storm.