New Beginnings: A Fresh Start For Two & Four-Footed Critters small bytes



In the wonderful world of Mexican statistics, it is estimated there are 50,000 to 1,000,000 foreigners living in Mexico. For each of those in that nebulous number the rational of ‘why' and the logistics of ‘how' will be different. This article explains the ‘why' and the ‘how' of two people in that number.


Much is known about the Aztec penchant for human sacrifices. Much less is known of their custom of tossing out all the trappings of everyday living every fifty-two years and starting anew.

Think of it. Chucking out absolutely everything and starting all over again. The practice had to do with the 52-year cycle of the Aztec calendar and not exactly with a person's age but if a person lived long enough, somewhere along the line, he or she started over with nothing from the past.

Perhaps we should have followed the less blood curdling example of the Aztecs, but at age 52 we began instead to take life a little seriously. A lifetime of traveling and rather eccentric living had suddenly metamorphosed into a realty check and some serious planning for retirement.

After almost three decades of wandering the road less traveled, this newfound responsibility seemed a truly breathtaking journey into the unknown. That is, until six months later, we were faced with a journey down the road marked ‘Cancer'.

We decided ‘serious' really sucked.

It especially sucked when we looked at the statistics and case histories and actuary tables. They all indicated the thumbs down verdict. Long-range planning had become a mute point.

However, for every figure that contains less than 100% mortality, there have to be some winners. It looked like we were two of the winners. So we had to decide what to do with the prize.

We were lucky enough to be survivors so now we could either return to the security more or less of life as it was or opt for the uncertainty of life as it could be.

In 1972 we made the first of a series of road trips to Mexico , staying anywhere from a summer to six months at a time. While friends, colleagues and family alike bemoaned our irresponsible lifestyle, we were having the time of our lives; collecting stories at the same rate we collected fleabites.

We decided it was time to start collecting, if not flea bites, at least stories once again. We had had enough of serious.

However, it is a fact pure and simple that our stuff acts as an anchor forcing us to a life in port. The problem then became, “What to do with all the ‘stuff'?” We decided anything too good to be simply relegated to Mr. Dumpster would be given away. Selectively parceling out items friends had expressed an interest in, we slapped a post-it note with the name of the new owner on the article. Then we started planning a give-away party. Actually, three parties were needed because no one could quite catch on at first that we wanted them to just take anything and everything that interested them and haul it away.

Our words were, “Remember us fondly as you use it or curse us roundly if it falls apart.”

Soon there was only an empty house. But it was the only house we had ever owned and in over 15 years it had been converted from a simple hunting shack to a rustic cabin...still primitive but beautiful in our eyes. A lived in and loved house is hard to leave. However without the stuff inside that makes it lived in and without the day-to-day life that makes it a loving place, it becomes a shell. It is easier to walk away from a shell.

Land has to be the hardest thing to leave. Even if it was just mostly swamp, it was swamp I knew well. There were the 3000 trees we had planted by hand, watching the survivors grow over the years, brushing out the undergrowth around the base with a machete, squishing one by one the worms that would attack the needles during the hottest most humid days of summer when deer flies and mosquitoes were at their peak.

There were the ponds that had been dredged in the most unlikely places and the paths around them that had been laboriously cleared and maintained by hand.

There was the marvelous stand of birch that stood in its majestic white glory now that the scrub growth and confining but worthless trees had been cut away one by one with a bow saw.

There were the rock gardens of perennials and raised beds filled with flowers and herbs and all the vegetable plots created out of thick patches of weeds with only a spade and sweat.

There was the flock of peacocks that had grown from the pair an elderly neighbor had deposited on the doorstop early in our stay with the pronouncement that “We were peacock people.”

Finally, we came to realize what certain peoples have always known. No one can ever really own land because land can't have an owner, only a caretaker. Still it's not easy. At least there was some satisfaction in knowing we had been pretty decent caretakers.

Pulling up stakes in such a fashion made me feel a bit like digging a deep grave and filling it with bits and pieces of myself while I stood on the sidelines to cover up the remains. But once the last of the soil was neatly tapped into place over the mound, I was free.

All that remained that Thanksgiving Day when we headed down the long driveway for the last time were two trunks and two dogs packed into a 10-year old van with 95,000 miles on the odometer. At 54, we were ready to start over again. We had, after all, only missed the Aztec guideline by two years.

But it wasn't like we were headed off on a really wild adventure. We were moving to a country we had known well for years. We were fluent in the language and had absorbed the culture. It wasn't as if we were canoeing off to Tobago .

Yet our plans caused enough raised eyebrows amongst friends and family. Comments ran the gamut from “COOL!” to “Do you two have ANY idea what the fuck you're doing?”

Maybe not but sometimes it all starts with just a blind leap of faith. Of course, when I had a round trip ticket mentality, it gave me a different perspective on a place. When I felt sick or depressed, I could always dream of going home.

From snowball fights


the easy life.

Now Mexico is home. When we crossed the normally crowded border in Laredo in a line of about six other people the day after the ill-fated $400 to $700 dollar car tax was rescinded, I never looked at the country of my birth with the same eyes again.

But then, maybe emigrating is in the blood. At sixteen, my mother set out alone by boat from County Cork , her only contact with the New World the scribbled telephone number of an aunt she had never met. My grandparents Pietro Altobelli and Filomena Pauletti left their southern Italian mountain home in the early 1900's and never looked back.

My German-born husband found himself a teenager on the streets of New York , leaving behind the Gymnasium and post-war refugee camps. His mother had left her native Latvia at the beginning of WW II.

We appear to be the first in the two families to emigrate for fun.

From one home to another

with half a continent in



But just like my mother and my grandparents found out, there were changes to be made. We have entered a land of the the unexpected, the unusual, the different.

It's said there are many Mexico's but no matter which one you slip into, change pursues you like a persistent puppy nipping at your heels. Some people find a Mexico they love. Some have difficulty adjusting to life away from hometown and family. Some find the difference in culture simply too much to swallow. Some start off absolutely smitten and then, once the tourist buzz wears off, tend to sour on the place in frustration.

My love has mellowed over thirty odd years and moved from the infatuation of a heady affair down the road to that of a long-term comfortable relationship where passion still exists but is tempered with realism. Mexico simply feels good to me and, despite its many problems, makes me feel good.

Sure, things don't work as they did in the States but I'm rather proud of my newly learned ability to take pleasure in simple things like when I open a door and am amazed that the doorknob doesn't fall off in my hand. Then there's the even harder lesson of acceptance.

It's a little more difficult to simply shrug my shoulders philosophically when the water disappears while I'm fully lathered in the shower with a head full of shampoo. And all this is just a sample of what can happen before I even step out the door.

What holds me the most, though, and prevents me from thinking of continuing the emigrating path to another country is the sheer exuberance of the land and the potential for being startled by the absolutely unexpected.

It seems that the leprechauns of my mother's native Ireland are springing up around every corner. Like the day in Mexico City during rush hour traffic when we saw the fellow on a bicycle weaving precariously between the impossible congestion balancing a large tray on his head. The tray was filled with take-out food in real dishes with the metal covers so characteristic of room service.

Even the uneventful attains status as memorable. Like the irony of the sight of two horses hitched to the pumps of the now defunct gas station near the center of town.

Or the sudden burst of color in the Libramiento leading into the fairly ugly, mercantile city of Uruapan. Amidst the auto repair stalls and the taquerías and the drab shops and stores, there is a wonderful wall completely covered in balloons and balls in every hue imaginable from the most garish to the simply bright.


A Brasilian friend who emigrated to the states aptly described his new home as a place where ‘there is more money but less joy.'

Here in Mexico, there is, it's true, less money. But definitely more joy.

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