Friday, March 06, 2015

driving the rut

Last Sunday, fellow blogger Sparks -- over at Sparks Mexico regaled us with his road trip through the mountains in our neck of the woods (Cihuatlán to Tequesquitlán).

I made the same trip in the summer of 2013.  If you don't recall how I managed to mix Burt Reynolds, a brush with death, and the X-Files into one essay, you can find it at burt reynolds is god.

Sparks's trek gave me an idea.  My Air Force chum Dennis was flying into Manzanillo the day Sparks filed his story.  Why not let Dennis experience a fun drive with death as our co-pilot?  After all, the closest we ever came to meeting Mr. Bony Fingers, while in the Air Force, was driving the mountain roads of California in my 1967 fire-engine red Oldsmobile convertible.  Life was good then.

And life is even better now.

One of the best aspects of the trip is that it is VFR -- all visual.  IFR traveling is impossible.  As you can see at the top of the essay, my GPS was positive that we were all driving through The Great Unknown.

Unlike Sparks, we came at our quarry from the mountain side.  When Barra de Navidad was the Mexican port for the Manila galleon (back in the 1500s), the goods traded with China would be loaded on mules to be carted over the mountains to Mexico City -- and on to Vera Cruz, where the goods would be laded on ships heading to Spain.

That road is approximately the route that Highway 80 now follows to Guadalajara.  But we were not going that far.  Just a few miles after La Huerta, we abandoned the paved ribbon of civilization for the road less taken.

I have visited the mining town of Tequesquitlán twice before.  Once, in 2012, with tour guide Ray on our ATM adventure, and once in June 2013.  What has always struck me as unusual is how tidy the town is.

And not just Disneyland tidy.  It is as if all of the people in the world who suffer from anal retentive conditions have been awarded homestead rights there.

I have seen nary a piece of paper or plastic strewn in the streets.  If the residents were not so openly friendly, I could almost imagine them in the night, in a zombie-like state, searching out litter for disposal.

I really like the place -- and its odd accompanying story. 

I told you this is a mining town.  On the outskirts, you will see a very odd sight.  A Mexican flag flying with a corporate flag flying with a Red Chinese flag.

It is a joint operation.  To produce mine ore -- even though the locals whisper that the Red Chinese have come for gold.  Just like other conquistadors.

When we drove by, the mine was as silent as Tiananmen Square on 4 June.  For all I know, they are digging the proverbial tunnel to Beijing.

But we were not in the Sierra Madre Occidental to indulge in ad hominem geopolitical exchanges.  We were here to tempt death.

In this case, tempting death means driving far too fast over a road with more potholes than pavement, and sheer drop-offs where the pavement is narrower than the width of my Escape.

At least, that was the joy of my last trip.  This trip with Dennis was merely a challenge to my suspension.  Well, the Escape's suspension.  Mine has been shot for a decade.

Maintaining these mountain roads is made more interesting with our rainy season.  Water knows no master other than gravity.  And when water builds up, the concept of curves is a known unknown.  It cascades over the side of the road into the void -- along with a good deal of asphalt.

And when it hits a ridge of stone and sand, the sand is eroded and gets a free ride through some farmer's house.

Those of you who live in this area know what happens when heavy rains hit Cihuatlán.  The city streets fill with sand, and shut down until front loaders can clear a path for civil commerce.

Well, these hills are the source of that sand.  And looking at the supply, there is plenty to keep the public works folk busy.

Was it a dangerous trip?  Naw!  No more so than any weekday trip through the hills.

We did encounter a couple of humorous moments, though.  Like this landslide that restricts the flow to one lane.  I was going to say I did not see the point of the "no passing" sign -- until I thought of several recent highway incidents here in Mexico.

I suspect we were too far out from the rainy season to make the road as fun as it can be -- and has been.  Showing off the full monty of sluffed pavement may need to wait for the next set of visitors.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

query me this

"How is it that you ended up here?"

My Air Force chum Dennis asked the question in the neutral tone we were taught by our mothers to mask any lingering sub-text.  By nature, he is polite enough that the rule may not apply to him because there was no hint of inflection on that last word.

I call it The Question.  Even people who like the area are often surprised that I actually like living in an environment as primitive as Navidad Bay.  They forget I started my life in Powers.

There is no real way to avoid defensiveness in answering.  So, I use an old teaching method by hauling out the visual aids.  And that is where this area is at its finest.

As I mentioned yesterday, one of the joys of visitors is getting to see my neighborhood through their eyes.  That is what we did yesterday.

I take everyone to La Manzanilla.  Not just because it is beautiful -- which it is.  But because that is where I started this quest to live in Mexico. 

We drove over the mountains for two primary reasons.  To see the area-famous crocodiles.  And to indulge in the delights of Lora Loka's chicken enchilada bake.

These trips are always good reminders why I ended up living where I did.  Or, at least, why I did not end up living somewhere else.

The house of many stairs (candidate number one -- please sign in), that drew me there in the first place, is still for sale.  I suspect it has now reached the point where no further reductions are in the offing.

The view from the hill is still stunning -- the major draw to La Manzanilla.  But the risks of ejido property are just as enduring.  It was the ejido problem (and its attendant title issues) that drove me from that hill.

After the thrill of the view, the crocodiles were a major letdown.  Mainly, because they were not there.

I knew the laguna had been opened recently to reduce the water buildup.  What I did not know about was the sidewalk construction underway near the main area where the crocodiles congregate.  Both had cleared the laguna of crocodiles as efficiently as a PETA raid on a Gucci outlet.  Instead, Dennis had to rely on some antiquated Mexpatriate commentaries.

Without a Captain Hook-eater in sight, we took a walk along one of Mexico's most pleasant Pacific beaches.  Beaches that were almost deserted but for a few locals and a man casting his net for bait.

Even with the absence of crocodiles, I knew Lora's enchiladas could resurrect the day.  I suspect they could resurrect the dead.

But we will never know.  She is gone for the week and the substitute cook was not up to the task. 

That is just as well.  Asking a substitute to fill in for the master is a recipe for -- well, I don't what.  But it is not a recipe for chicken enchilada bake, I know that.

Even without the crocodiles and enchiladas, a visit to La Manzanilla is never a failure.  It almost feels as if I am returning to a home I once had.  The fact that it has a really good delicatessen is another reason to return before too long.

Even if I am not answering The Question for visitors.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

dancing in the dark

My Spanish embarrasses me.

Well, it would if anything I did embarrassed me -- which never happens.  But it should.  At least, the Spanish.

I always feel better when I run into Mexican signs similar to this.  When we were in Vera Cruz, we drove past a dance studio advertising all sorts of dances by their Spanish names.  The largest letters, though, were devoted to: "Pole Dance."  I am quite certain they were not teaching the mazurka under that rubric.

There have been several moments recently in Mexico when I have experienced one of the thrills of foreign language conversation -- not knowing if I heard my interlocutor speaking English or Spanish.  They are very rare moments.  Usually where I scripted the entire conversation in my head -- and the scene plays out as if Orson Welles were shouting directions.

But seeing an obvious English term in a flow of Spanish terms is still a bit jarring to me.  Unless, of course, "Pole Dance" (similar to "OK") is a term of art imported by foreign experts.  It makes you wonder if you sign up for 10 waltz lessons, perhaps you get two pole dance lessons gratis.

What struck me as funny was the presence of a "Learn to Speak English" business next door to the dance studio.  And me with my camera ensconced deep in my backpack.  At least, Dan and Patty are witnesses to both the signs -- and my folly.

But that sign is no more humorous than the sign I pass almost every day on
Álvaro Obregón in Villa Obregón.  An avenue indelicately referred to as "Whorehouse Street" -- for obvious reasons.

There she is, we are to assume, in an almost natural state splayed on a pole, inviting guests to enter the bar.  The problem (and you are all far ahead of me on this one because you are a smart crowd) is the figure and the words do not add up to the same product.  Not that they are contradictory.  But it strikes as odd that a pole dancer would get a table dance come-on.

Even better is the surveillance camera at the left top of the photograph.  Now, that is contradictory. 

I guess it is nice to know that The Wife can have a souvenir glossy of hubby's late night visit to the establishment -- whose defense may well be that he was there to investigate the philosophical and grammatical contradictions of a dance that can simultaneously be modified by both a table and a pole.  What might be called the Professor Higgins defense.

And, for all of you who have been wondering if I discovered whether table or pole dancing is on offer beyond that door, we will have to leave that to others who have actually passed through the portal. 

The world's worst transvestite show is offered next door.  I doubt anyone is staying up late at the Bolshoi in fear of our local competition.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

when stupidity is a virtue

"It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them."

Ralph Waldo Emerson got a lot of things wrong.  But, when taking the measure of old friends, his dart struck the bull.

My Air Force chum Dennis arrived at the Manzanillo Airport on Sunday.  That factoid would seem to be irrelevant.  It is -- but for my stupid friend behavior. 

I thought he was arriving at 6.  He arrived three hours earlier -- and had the great privilege of learning every inch of the grandly-named (and poorly-appointed) Playa de Oro International Airport.

You have met Dennis before.  Actually, there is no reason you should remember his name because I did not mention it.  But you have seen his photograph in naked youth

(Yeah, I know.  I keep using that title just to increase my hits.  Hits of a nefarious nature.)

When I was stationed at Castle Air Force Base in the early 1970s, Dennis and our friend-in-common, Robin Olson, were almost socially inseparable.  The war was still on in Vietnam, but we were in California. 

Even so, there is something about the intensity of the military experience that bonds people together.  The three of us are still fast friends.  But for another obligation, Robin would have joined this little reunion.

The last time I saw Dennis in uniform was in 1973 when I headed east to my assignment in Greece.  I visited him in Wisconsin in the early 1980s and saw him in London in 1997.  We would also talk on the telephone each election cycle -- usually reenforcing each other's intended votes.

That does not seem much upon which to build a long-lasting friendship.  But we have been spending the last two days as if we had dinner together every weekend.

Of course, we have shared stories -- even using a few pieces of knowledge we garnered during a geology class at the local community college.  Dennis has an incredible memory.  The next time someone reacts incredulously to one of my Castle tales, I will refer them to my best character witness.

But this is not merely a nostalgia trip.  We have not done anything unusual other than walk or drive around the villages on the bay.  I like showing off the familiar to new eyes -- because I get to see it with new eyes, as well.

And Dennis has the eyes of a photographer.  That is what he is.  A commercial photographer -- as you can tell from that magnificent camera in his hands.

Dennis was the person who launched my serious interest in photography.  I had been a shooter since I was 6 or so.  He convinced me to buy a very good SLR that I kept until my move from the Salem house.  We have been enjoying shooting similar subjects here in Barra.

But he is more.  He has long been a drummer.  He even keeps his drum set in his studio.

He has also taken up painting.  The art kind.  Not the two coats by Monday kind. 

That seems to be a natural step for a photographer.  In a way.  They are two completely different mediums.  What I admire is his ability to take on new challenges.

With all of that in mind, he should be a natural candidate for retirement.  He is not.  He so loves his work, I suspect he will be working on an advertising campaign when he fires off his last digital shot.

He is also a fan of music.  I am not certain if Dennis shares my appreciation for Sondheim's works, but there is an appropriate bit of lyric from Merrily We Roll Along:

Most friends fade
Or they don't make the grade.
New one's are quickly made
And in a pinch, sure, they'll do.
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?
Here's to us.  Who's like us.
Damn few!
So, here's to you, Dennis.  And Robin.  We can afford to be stupid with one another. 

Monday, March 02, 2015

i'd like to do a scene from faustus

I am in the market for a dog.

Apparently, word got around that I was holding an open casting call.  An incorrect word, that is.

About a month ago, a dog showed up on our street.  My next door neighbor, Mary, says he followed her dog, Lily, home.

The dog is smitten with Lily.  He does not appear to be here for sexual reasons.  But who knows with dogs -- or Bill Clinton?  For the first couple of weeks he hung out under Mary's van waiting for Lily to come out to play.

He then moved his affections to me.  Or to my house.  He sleeps in the cool of my porch and in the landscaping to avoid the heat of the day.

I made the mistake of petting him.  He is incredibly friendly.  A pat or a rub behind the ears is proof positive that I have adopted him -- in his eyes.  And he does have great eyes.  The type where you can see to the furthest reaches of his soul.

What Mary and I cannot figure out is where he eats.  I have caught him trash surfing on the corner.  But he is far too sleek to be living off of the orts of Mexican take-out.

Both of us have seen him hanging out in front of a house that fosters animals for my former landlady's rescue organization.  They say they have not been feeding him, and had come to the same conclusion as had I -- he belongs to someone, but spends most of his day paw-loose.

There are several dogs like that around the bay.  Like Blanche Dubois, they live off of the kindness of strangers, but belong to no one.  They are the free spirits of Merle's Door.

I will confess that I like this dog's attentions.  Like most of his species, he is the ultimate manipulator.

But I have plans of my own for a dog.  I may buy a golden retriever pup up north when I return from Red China.

Or not.  That is another story.


Sunday, March 01, 2015

putting the sound into flavor

If you cannot have fun in Barra de Navidad during the winter, you must be reaching room temperature -- and, lately, that has been pleasantly cool, with blessed mornings in the 60s.

Yesterday was a day to celebrate food in the town square -- while simultaneously advertising some of the better fare of our local restaurants by raising money to reconstruct public access to the beach.  All at the Festival Sabores y Sonidos de Barra de Navidad 2015.  That last phrase (the one about public access to the beach) may need a bit of amplification. 

The beach that forms the bar in Barra de Navidad has suffered severe erosion.  Erosion, as in "It ain't there no more.  Or wasn't."

You can pick your theory on why the sand disappeared.  Change in ocean currents.  Natural periodic erosion.  Climate change.  Obamacare.  Miley Cyrus's tongue.

For over a year, a number of engineering projects have attempted to re-create the beach.  And the sand would come and go.  Right now, it is sticking around.  Sometimes in places where I wish it wouldn't.

I ignored my duty as an investigative reporter by trying to verify just what the money spent on the event would do.  But I suspect "reconstruct the public beach access" would be about as much amplification as I would get.

Doing Good was simply a cover for having a good time.  And everyone who was at the event seemed to be doing that.

The organizers promised flavor and sound.  They delivered.

The flavor was two long lines of booths (one professional for the restaurateurs, and one amateur for the -- well, people who were not restauranteurs, I guess).  There was a contest with the attendees acting as voters.  Their charge was to taste the food at each booth and then vote for the best entrant in three categories: chicken mole, salsa, and seafood.

Because I was on my way to another event featuring food, I tried only one sample from the realtor booth.  That would be them at the top of this post.  Rivals united in the pursuit of flavor.

Now that I am getting settled into the house, I am looking forward to becoming part of the Barra community.  That means participating in events like this. 

And getting to know names.  The woman, who runs a Mexican restaurant two blocks from my house, was there.  I hate to admit that I did not recognize her by name.  What caught my attention was this piece of kitchen pottery.

It originally caught my eye in her restaurant.  When I asked her about it, she said she bought it in Guadalajara.  I want to buy something similar for my house.  Do any of you have an idea where I might find one?

I walked away from her booth with a vow.  I need to get to know my neighbors by name.  Especially, if I am going to be a regular customer at her restaurant.

The organizers also promised sound -- in the form of a series of bands.  I am not much for bars.  And that is where most of our local bands play.

When I do hear them, I am almost surprised at how good they are.  I have become so accustomed to our local guitar strummers, who are stymied by searching for a key in which they can sing "Guantanamera," that I forget there are some real musicians in these parts.

I need to search them out.

For me, that is the best result of these little festivals.  Barra is blessed with some fine restaurants and some very good musicians.  I need to enjoy them more.

And for the next two months, while I am waiting for my next trip, I will.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

filling the well

"Do you ever run out of ideas for your posts?"

It was Ed the Artist, whose works now make my house a home.  We were having our usual Friday morning breakfast at our secret restaurant.  I am certain, as an artist, he has had dry moments himself.

I told him: "Not really.  It seems that whenever the well runs dry, something happens to deliver a story on a silver platter to me.  Like this morning."

We call that an anecdotal transition -- because I am about to tell you about yesterday's silver platter experience.

I have told you about my series of mishaps getting in and out of my old courtyard.  My new Escape has several scars (and replaced parts to prove it).  When I started looking for a house to buy, one requirement was a wider front gate.

Well, "requirement" might be the wrong word.  The garage doors in the house I bought are considerably narrower than the house I left.  I cannot get the Escape through the gates unless I fold in my mirrors.  (They now remain permanently folded -- lest I forget.)

The narrow gate* and my lack of depth perception are not a recipe for maintaining the once-pristine appearance of my vehicle.  When Darrel was here, we devised a foolproof method to avoid mishaps.  It would have been foolproof if I had not been the fool driving on Friday morning.

I had plenty of time to get to breakfast.  Rushing was not a factor.  The trick of getting in and out of the garage is keeping the wheels straight.  Simple.

As I was backing up, I saw some movement on my left.  The wind was blowing that garage door shut.

One of the first rules my Dad taught me when I was learning to drive should have come back to me.  It did, but too late.  Whenever you turn your head, you will steer in that direction.  In reverse, of course, the rule works just as well -- but the direction is opposite.

And I proved my father to be a wise man.  The right front fender caught a 1/2 inch piece of metal on the garage door's locking mechanism.  What you see is the result.

What you don't see is the bent metal on the garage door.  I skewed it far enough that I could not lock the door when I left.  Fortunately, a big hammer and some Mexpatriate muscle fixed the door when I returned home, laughing at my folly.

The fender will require the ministrations of my ever-faithful body man -- Cruz.  He has been the cosmetic surgeon on my past failures.  He jokingly suggested I might consider buying an ATV.  As my former secretary Jamela was prone to say: Many a truth is said in jest.

But all of that will have to wait until after my week-long visit with my Air Force pal Dennis.  He arrives on Sunday to enjoy the new house.  It appears that my walled compound may turn out to be a draw for visitors.

I am certain Dennis and I will encounter sufficient adventures to keep Mexpatriate's well from running too dry during the next week.

* --
See Matthew 7:13.