I thought to use this title sometime back, stealing in equal parts from both Dostoevsky and Zola. Today the title seemed apropos for more than one reason.

Food. I just celebrated Super Menudo Sunday at Maria’s with a big bowl of spicy, chewy, gelatinous goodness and fresh tortillas hot off the grill. I went to a birthday party last night and had a couple of pickled pig’s feet and had a big helping of the most outrageous jello concoction that I have ever seen in my life. It had 6 different fresh fruits layered into it, including star fruit. The jello/gelatin piece was clear and transparent which really showed off the fruit. This was very much different from the jello and canned fruit concoctions that I grew up on as a child.

Another food tale, also with a childhood origin. I made my first batch of pickled pig’s feet (manos de puerco) 2 days ago. I picked up the habit as a little kid from my mother but never actually made them until now. So we did 2 kilos worth which I’ll split today with the woman who lives 6 doors down who came up and showed me how. The most interesting ingredient apart from the lovely little pig’s feet is that the principle brine ingredient is freshly made vinagre de pina (pineapple vinegar). We only had to walk 4 doors up and cross the street to buy 2 liters of it (12 pesos) from a lady who makes the stuff in her house. I got to hold her very cute 8 month old baby girl while we waited. Don’t you agree that holding a healthy, happy, and recently changed baby has to be one of the most life affirming and joyful activities in the world?

Maribelen sat next to me at the table and I got to listen to her rather breathless catch up and introductory descriptions for all of the 26 family members that were present for her birthday party. I was the only non-family member there. I extricated myself early with the white lie of a prior dinner invitation so that the celebration could have more of that family kind of intimacy.

After I left the birthday party I stopped into Pancho’s cantina for a night cap. The place was less than a quarter full. Other than Pancho, Chelis, the big carnitas guy, was the only person I knew in the place. I caught up on some gossip most principle of which is that 25 people have been killed locally in the last 2 weeks since the Saturday night (Oct. 27th) that the bad guys turned out the lights; a story which I reported on a few posts ago.

Incredible. That’s 25 dead people. Local dead people. Local murdered dead people. I asked Pancho again, ’25 people? Are you sure’? He arched an eyebrow and peered over his reading glasses and said, ’25 are just the ones that I know about’.

He went on to say that no one – especially those with any serious money – were going out in the evening. Everyone was drinking at home, maybe having a buddy or two over but that was it. No one was out after dark. My sphincter shriveled to the size of a pore as I realized it would be a long dark walk home from the cantina.

Same players; same old story: the bad guys from the Jalisco shooting it out with the local bad guys. I asked Pancho, ‘So where does it go from here? They hand-grenade the local power plants? How do you top that? Okay, you kill a bunch of the other bad guys? But what’s next’?

His answer was an enigmatic shrug meaning who knows?

And one of my juice guys died last week. He was only 29 years old. Apparently he fell (how/where?) and hit his head. I liked him and a lot of other people felt the same way. He was a hard worker with a positive attitude who delivered a good product at a reasonable price. He’ll be missed.

My right heel and right Achilles’ tendon are majorly messed up. I went in and got the thing x-rayed (30 minutes/320 pesos) 8 days ago. The x-ray revealed an improperly -becoming mostly un – healed old fracture in the end of my heel. It happened a long time ago. It must have because I don’t remember it. When is anyone’s best guess but I am thinking it must have happened somewhere between happy hour and dinner.

The tendon wraps over this trauma and the Achilles’ chronic inflammation- a nonrelated problem-  has been putting pressure on the poorly healed fracture and in the process, making it worse too. So I limped around for 2 weeks before finally giving into the nagging reality of the pain. The doctor gave me some steroid based anti-inflammatory/muscle relaxant stuff.  Giant horse capsules that I need to choke down for another 2 weeks. The stuff is so powerful that it is typically only prescribed to people with the worst and most debilitating kinds of rheumatoid arthritis. The good news is that the swelling in my heel has dropped 50%.

The bad news is that I’ve had to significantly shorten the cocktail hour as I was fearful that my liver wouldn’t be able to stand the added competition. I reckoned that my liver, the fearsome organ that it has been for all of the these years – quietly and heroically breaking down the alcohols from anything from tequila and beer to soju and fermented cat piss  – just might not be to task with a bio-mass adjusted toxicity equivalent of adding a truck load of powerful pharmaceuticals into the mix. I am still going pro at this point and liver failure would permanently upend my future drinking career. Sigh.

And if that wasn’t bad enough – I also obviously can’t run. And to not run is to be something less than my usual monster self. And I am kind of seeing a woman now (we’ll leave that story for another day) and the whole not running thing is majorly screwing with my mojo.

Yesterday turned into a very social day. I ran into Minerva, my favorite mom, in front of the Inglesia while waiting for Manolo who I was meeting for breakfast. She surprised me with an impromptu invitation to her eldest daughter’s 15th birthday party at 6 pm. I was momentarily panicked as I had no idea what to buy as a gift. But who would turn down an invitation to see the two of the cutest girls in the world? There was Maribelen and then her impish and adorable 8 year old sister, Jimena.

I ran into Sergio a little bit later as I on my way down Calle Victoria. He shouted at me from his car as he was pulling out of his mother’s house. He had his 18 year old daughter with him. He told me to hop in. I wanted to go to the modern super-mercado to shop for a gift. We made a stop at his son’s school to watch a couple of minutes of his son’s soccer match before a brief stop off at his house so he could change for his own soccer game. Sergio deftly handed off the task of gift shopping for Maribelen to his wife and daughter and they promised to drop off the gift in a couple of hours.

I ended up at Manolo’s big, sprawling house in one of the gated suburbs to help him configure his new Window’s tablet while his maid fixed lunch. True to their word, the gift(s) got dropped off before the end of lunch and I was relieved that I no longer needed to worry about the whole present thing. Only a mom or another 15 year old girl knows what a 15 year old girl wants for her birthday.

My neighborhood is gradually becoming more personal as I get to know more people. My Spanish is definitely on the uptick as I am using it more and more with people in day to day situations. I stop and pet the white Chihuahua, Estrella (Star) and talk to tiny Carol every afternoon.  Then there is Carol’s grandfather; the Mexican version of the Keebler’s elf who doesn’t talk so much as uses sign language. His wife and I generally ignore one another in spite of the fact that she tends tiny Carol a good part of the time. She quite frankly unnerves me with her evil right eye that points orthogonally to the other.

Then there are all the other people on the street that I talk to as well. The juice lady, and her husband, Pelon. His brother, Jesus who lives a couple more doors down. Then there is the lady that works at the lavenderia. Jose who lives next door to that. The carpenter 2 more doors down. The guys in the barbershops. (Men still hangout in barbershops here and they still use the old fashioned straight razors). And I buy compost and periodically talk to the plant genius, Jesus who tends after all the greenery in the plaza.

And then there are also the people I see every morning in the Mercado. And I see some of the same and sometimes even more in the afternoon if I happen to wander into the Mercado again.

These interactions all happen within 4 short blocks of one small city tucked into the northwest corner of Michoacán. As I write these words, I perceive an opera with people singing and shouting out their daily lives from the streets and rooftops of a neighborhood that is becoming a little bit more mine every day. And I am personally witness to the fact that there’s sufficient music and drama here to power even the most epic of operas.