Victor’s Cistern

84… Making a cistern, talking fresh water and coming full circle…

Victor oversees construction of a cistern, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photograph by Anders Tomlinson.

Victor takes a deep look into his newest construction project, a cistern.

Cisterns, the collection and holding of rain water using lined waterproof storage devices, began sometime in the Middle and Late Bronze Age, 2200 -1200 B.C. Our first record of lime plaster lined cisterns was in what is now Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Palestinian territories. In 850 B.C. King Mesha of Moab recorded in the famous ‘Moabite Stone”, “so I said to all the people, make your every man a cistern in his house.” Cistern comes from the latin for “box”. In the 1900’s rain collecting cisterns were common in new house construction across the USA. Victor, seen above overseeing digging, was owner of a flat-bed truck and Black Power, a black pickup truck with a powerful engine.

Digging a hole for a cistern, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Other than Victor's truck everything on this project is done with human muscle.

Victor was proud of this project. He saw it as the wave of the future and a wonderful opportunity for new work to keep his crew employed. I enjoyed my time with Victor, his deep voice and easy laugh gave a hard working man an easy going disposition. Not too far back in time rain water was considered, rightly so, a resource to be gathered and saved. 2.5% of earth’s water is fresh water and 68.6% is captured in glaciers and ice caps and the balance is stored as ground water. 73.1 % of fresh surface water can be in found ice and snow, 20.1% in lakes, 3.52% in soil moisture, 2.53% in swamps & marshes and 0.46% in rivers. However one looks at fresh water it is a rare commodity that is needed by a growing human population. There is the same amount of fresh water to take care of the soon to be seven billion people as there was for as few as 1,000 human breeding pairs surviving the eruption of Lake Toba’s super-volcano 69,000 to 77,000 years ago. Fresh water volumes are a planetary constant. Cisterns capturing rain water are a natural tool to help sustain human life. Yes, Victor was proud of this project.

Finishing off the cistern's brick walls, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

The hole is dug, the bricks are set and finishing work begins.

The maestro on this project was well respected and hired by Victor because of his experience with cisterns. This cistern was not designed to capture rainwater. Its purpose was to store city water to draw from when there were problems with municipal water deliveries. During my stays in Alamos it was not unusual to have access to city water for only a couple of hours a day and on isolated occasions no water was available. As Victor’s crew worked hard to finish this project I heard of other folks considering building cisterns. This was music to Victor’s ears.

The roof goes onto the cistern, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photograph by Anders Tomlinson.

The cistern's roof is nearing completion under the maestro's watchful eye.

The maestro had a lazy eye and I couldn’t figure out where exactly he was looking. When I watched him in town he struck me as on odd bird. The maestro liked to drink, and the more he drank the louder he became. I learned on my next trip back to Alamos that this project did not have a happy ending. I was told that Victor and the property owner had a falling out and they were going to court to settle the dispute.

Today nearly every home in North America has a cistern, be it a small cistern, the toilet tank storing water for the next flush. It may be time to consider each new home having a cistern system to capture roof rainwater. We face a constant reality – 99% of the water on our planet is unusable for man to freely drink or irrigate with, and of the remaining one percent: 99% is groundwater, .86% is from lakes and .02% from rivers. The sustainer of terrestrial life, fresh water, is in limited quantities. A good rule of thumb is grab fresh water when you can, and when you have it, value it and use wisely.

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Roof Repairs

39 … Workers on the roofs, a common sight for those looking down …

Workers repairing roofs, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Above a ceiling there is hopefully a working protective roof.

1750 was a hard year for Alamos with 6,000 people dying from the plague. King Charles III of Spain responded to the disaster by sending Inspector General of the Interior Don Jose Rodriques Gallardo who reported that Alamos has no jail, Municipal buildings or squares. Orders were given to layout streets, align houses and build a jail. A new Alamos street-grid was designed with houses that had adjoining walls to keep squatters out of Centro Alamos. The result is what exists today, Andalucian architecture built by imported maestros from Southern Spain. The mansions’ floor plans, patterned after Roman homes, were either square, U or L shaped surrounding walled courtyards. Then is now.

Worker painting roof in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

From a distance this could easily pass as modern art.

To have a roof one needs walls. Alamos walls started with four feet of rock and rubble. On top of the “foundation” adobe bricks stacked up to reach fifteen feet high and were two to three feet in thickness. Much of the hard labor was done by Mayo Indians. The wide walls would insulate the interiors and help support the coming roof along with plaster covered columns made of stone or fired brick.

Workers on roof, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Roofs can be nice places, in good weather, to work with their views and privacy,

In an coming journal entry we will look at how roofs were made by examining ruins and restorations. Flat roofs do not work that well in Southern Sonora when heavy rains that can not be removed fast enough. It becomes a ever-present vigil to spot leaks before they cause damage to the permanent structure. It is a dance brought on by squalls and summer torrential downpours. It is also wise to watch where one is walking on old roofs, since footsteps can create new leaks. And so it is…

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Cobblestone Crew

97… The cobblestone crew in action…

Road is closed for repairs, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

A rock blockade warns, do not continue on, there is road work ahead.

This is a cobblestone section of the old El Camino Real headed west out of Centro Alamos and then turning northwards. The airport runway is to the left and an open field is on the right. It would be interesting to learn when this important Spanish highway to the Californias went from dirt to cobble. Another time, another way exemplifies a grand human tradition of using materials at hand, and experienced intuitiveness, to create function and design.

Road repair crew working on road to San Bernardo by the Alamos, Sonora, Mexico airport.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson

They are out early on the road to San Bernardo near the airport terminal.

This is a special crew, a few men selected to continue road building and repair customs that go back centuries. These men spend days, weeks, months and years digging rocks up and placing rocks down. My friend Chacho’s father can be seen with a hat, or wrap, under a hat.

Rock, dirt, hand-tools, hard labor and minds that enjoys solving puzzles.  Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Rock, dirt, hand-tools, hard labor and minds that enjoys solving puzzles.

This is an ultimate jig saw puzzle that when finished reveals no image or icon. Pieces, rocks, go where they fit, or are compatible, for a variety of reasons known only to those who position the rocks. I didn’t see any overweight men on this work detail, nor back-braces. It is hand labor: pick axes, shovels, wheel barrels, dirt, boulders and heavy lifting. There are percussive rhythms that come with their tools in repetitive action and layered human harmonies from their melodic conversation, singing and laughter.

Working being done on a dirt road along with power poles in the campo, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Two men with hats and a wagon load of dirt at work in the campo.

It is summer and dirt roads are quickly damaged by monsoon flash floods.. The hot sun and humidity is unavoidable but rural road repair goes – on fill the hole with dirt. Is it a special dirt or blend of dirts or…? The road looks like it is a good distance to the southeast of Alamos. I was probably returning from the Cuchujaqui River and asked the driver to stop so I could get out and take this photo.

Digging a trench on Guadalupe Hill to replace a waterline. Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

A large crew is busy digging a trench on a road going up Guadalupe Hill.

Municipal projects employ workers. Digging a trench by hand employs more workers than bringing on-site a fossil-fueled mechanical trencher. Employment grows with inefficiency and decreases with labor-saving-payroll-cutting devices. Alamos, like the all the world, needs job. Work crews are digging on Calle Maria Felix, a street that climbs a short distance up Guadalupe hill before coming to a stop at the front door of a cliff-backed house. This is as close to being a cul-de-sac as any road in Alamos. Calle Galeana, to the west, is in the background.

©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Keeping Alamos Clean

93… Sweeping Alamos streets and cleaning Church candlesticks…

Alamos prides itself on clean streets. For some, it is a lifetime occupation. For others, it is a family chore. For all, it is a signaling that they care and they respect all of those who have, are and will travel these streets. These are serene moments.

Street cleaner at work on Calle Aurora, Alamo, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Keeping the streets clean by hand is an unending ptrocess.

Clean is as clean does. There is a sense of order to freshly swept streets and side walks along with a charisma of community caring and municipal pride. The post man delivers and the street sweeper taketh away. The eastward-slow-rising-tilt of oneway Calle Aurora shows off any street debris from a distance. There is no place for litter to hide. If it is there, it’s sheer presence, no matter how large or small, casts stained shadows upon aging walls – all is influenced by its reflection. Order is disturbed. The street’s two century old character is challenged by an errant plastic cup. The illusion is gone. In this way, the street cleaners are magicians: they take us back in time with each sweep of their brooms. Order, and respect, is restored.

Cleaning steps to the Bours mansion on Plaza de las Armas in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Another sunrise, another opportunity to tidy up the streets by hand.

It is morning in the Plaza. Women open their shops and offices for business and sweep their entrances. This woman is sweeping the street in front of the former Boors mansion, now a convent. It is a humble but gracious act. She can sweep away the trash and reveal the patina, if not spirit, of human travelers who have passed this way by foot, horse, carriage or car.

There was a 16mm film made by a North American couple living in Alamos, The Brooms of Alamos, about a girl, her true love and her eternal sweeping. It was suggested by an Alamos contact that the filmmaker’s name was Al Gordon. Anders had access to a film print, via Kit Nuzum, in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

Girl in barrio sweeping in front of her house, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Sweeping the front yard and your half of the street is the Alamos way.

Young or old clean the streets in front of their homes. Contrast the style of clothes, and brooms, between this young girl in pink sweater and red pants and the woman above in her paisley summer dress. No matter their differences, culturally or spiritually, as they sweep they share a common timeless experience. For as long as one is in Alamos there is sweeping, and as long as there is sweeping there are these Alamos streets, loved and passed on to the children.

Cleaning the Church's candlesticks, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

How many people have cleaned these candlesticks over the years?

The gentlemen smiling as he works could be a cousin of Noli Ernaldo Garcia. Noli was a long time Pember and Elizabeth Nuzum employee. He was their driver and took care of household maintenance and repairs. At the time of this photo Noli had retired because of illness. The doctors’ prognosis didn’t look look good. The woman helping clean candlesticks looks like she is the same person seen in a preceding photo sweeping the street in front of the Convent on the Plaza: similar dress, shoes, and hairstyle. Working together these two are closer to God, each in their own way and each on the universal path of cleaning that is life unto death.

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©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

Keeping Alamos Alive

92… Restoration and repair keep buildings breathing…

Old buildings carry on with the hands and minds of people dedicated to maintaining and restoring that which has lasted centuries. For many it is their way of life. We salute the workers and the owners. For the owners it is pride, responsibility and investment. For the workers it is a livelihood that supports their families, and hopefully, moments of pride for work well done.

Worker on a winter day, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Restoring and repairing old structures is an unending process

This is the busy corner of Calle Allende and Calle Cardenas. The Primary school is to the left. The two story structure is the north side of what was the Governor’s Mansion in 1828. Behind the stop sign to the right is the rear, east side, of the Museo de Costumbrista de Sonora which opens on the Plaza. There is much work to do to keep these three buildings alive.

Working on Calle Comercio, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

There is no end to doing what could, or should, be done.

Two buildings down from the Cathedral and Plaza, on the north side of Calle Commercio, a workman surveys a rain gutter. The flat roofs of Alamos have a hard time shedding water during a heavy downpour. Blocked or damaged downspouts need to be cleared and repaired before the next rain, especially in the summer when coastal hurricane remnants may pass through Alamos.

Street repairs on Calle Rosales.  Al;amos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

It is a busy morning on Calle Rosales. Places to be, things to be done.

Work and play on the architecturally diverse Calle Rosales. This is one of my favorite streets in Alamos Homes line both sides of the streetand the two story primary school’s northern side seen in the background. A home owner discusses her plans and needs for the day with attentive workers. This is one day at a time, day after day, month after month, year after year and…

Man breaking up street, Calle Rosales, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

One man, one pick-axe, one street, one task. Life goes on.

All great plans and achievements are created by muscles with minds. There are rhythms to hard labor starting with the cycles of breath and heart beats. There are the exertion groans and, in this case, the pick-axe moving through the air, crashing into the street and sizzle of sparks from hard metal striking rock, over and over. All of the elements in this photograph, minus modern clothing and fancy wheel-barrow, could have been here 200 years ago. This is one of many Alamos charms.

Working on the Bishop's mansion on Calle Comercio, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Framed by a classic arch man and sky do their thing.

The Bishop’s mansion, kitty corner from the Governor’s mansion on the south side of Calle Comercio, is having roof and rain spout inspection. King Carlos III established a new Bishopric in 1781. It would cover the territories of Sinola, Sonora and the Californias. Franciscan Antonio de Reyes was appointed Bishop and moved into this Alamos residence in 1783. The building’s two story majesty illustrates the grandeur that was Alamos in the mid 18th century. This period was the height of Colonial New Spain, an era of pomp and circumstance. Just think of the moments and secrets this perfect portales could share.

Construction crew working on Calle Allende talk about pay checks, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

The construction crew working on the Primary school meet with the boss.

What is the kid on a bike in a red shirt listening to? Are the men discussing what needs to be done next? Is it a safety meeting? Are figuring out ways to restart the truck? Are picking straws to see who goes get tortillas? Was there a problem with suppllies arriving? Are they gossiping? Are they striking? Has the city run out of money? The correct answer is it is Friday and they are gathered to collect their paychecks. All is good. The primary school’s western entrance is to the right and the south side of the Museo de Combrista de Sonora is in the background.

©2013 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.