Wednesday, April 23, 2014

moving to mexico -- the fruit


Dora loves guanabana.

If you don't recall, Dora is the woman who comes in once a week to tidy up my place.  Just to be certain I have not acclimated myself to living in my own filth as a bachelor.

And, for those of you who do not know, a guanabana is one of those tropical fruits I had no idea existed before I moved here.  It looks like a cross between a mango and a hedgehog.  You might know it by its far less lyrical name: "soursop."

I understand they are grown commercially to sweeten ice cream.  And I fully know why.  My sole taste of the fruit almost shut down the insulin-production in my body.  It is SWEET!  And not in the complimentary meaning of the slang term.

But, as I said, Dora loves the fruit.  I have two trees in my garden that are producing a bumper crop of the prickly diabetes balls.  She looks forward to this season -- not to sweeten ice cream, but to create agua fresca.

Mexico would not be Mexico without agua fresca.  The process is rather simple.  Water.  Diced fruit.  Sugar.  All go into a blender. 

And what comes out is a drink that some people love.  I am not one of them.  They are almost always too sweet for me.  I can only imagine how cloying guanabana agua fresca would be.

To satisfy Dora's love of the sweet fruit, though, we went on a harvesting trek.  The young neighborhood boys had already climbed the fence to pilfer the low-hanging fruit.  Our prize was almost at the top of the tree. 

Dora tried using a leaf rake.  No luck.  There was nothing for me to do but to retrieve the ladder fro the bodega.  That seemed easy until I realized that the limbs from the mandarin orange had intertwined themselves in the guanabana tree.  Right in the line of my fire.


All of the citrus trees in my garden have one thing in common -- spines.  Some large enough to figure in a Good Friday crown.  With blood running down my left arm, we decided on an alternative course.

Dora ran to get the branch lopper.  It was a good idea.  But it would require me to lop and simultaneously catch the falling fruit with whichever hand was -- well, handy.  If guanabana fall that distance, they burst open like a
piñata when they hit the ground.

So, I lopped.  The fruit fell.  And I caught it in my right hand.  Those years of playing center field paid off.

Dora pedaled away with a fresh guanabana,  And I slunk back to my den to lick my wounds.  Or to balm them, at least.

And that is another reason to live in Melaque.  I may not appreciate the tropical fruit, but the people around me can be blessed by their bounty. 

Even the pilfering boys.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

stretching the rabbit

What do you do when Easter turns into Hanukkah -- at least, in form?

I told you yesterday in seasons cycle that I am agnostic when it comes to celebrating holidays on specific days.  For me, one day is as good as the next.

Well, it turns out I have a co-conspirator in letting my inner calendar run free.  While standing in line to pay my TelMex bill, I ran into my landlady, Christine.

She asked me how my Easter had been.  If I had given any thought to her past Easter escapades (crossing the border), I would have realized she was hinting when she asked if I had been visited by the bunny.

I had just been in the garden looking for ants earlier in the morning.  But I noticed nothing unusual.  "Look higher," she said.

When I returned home, Dora was still cleaning, so I created a mini-office on the patio.  As I looked up, there it was.  A robin-blue egg.  Resting on the orchid.  On the flamboyant tree.  Just where a bounder like the Eastern bunny would leave such a thing.

For those of you who ask me why I put up with the weather in Melaque, the answer is on that tree.  Or what it stands for is on that tree.

I have lived here for going on six years this month.  During that time, I have developed friendships and acquaintances that make living here a joy.  And that circle was recently widened by including my neighbors across the street.

Does that mean that I am staying in Melaque until I die?  Probably not.  Unless I die before the month is out.

But it does mean that the relationships are important enough to me that I am probably going to stick around for a bit longer than the end of the month.

I guess it is appropriate to say it again -- Happy Easter, Christine!


Monday, April 21, 2014

seasons cycle

Happy Easter!

You may think I am a day late, but I'm not.  Let me explain.

I have never been a person who takes much joy in celebrating events on set days.  Memorial Day.  Fourth of July.  Birthdays.  They are just days on the calendar.  The reason for celebration is there every day of the year. 

Are you happy that you have your independence and live in a country based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence?  Celebrate that fact each day.  Even in December if you choose.

The same goes for religious holidays.  I have never felt restricted to celebrating the incarnation and resurrection only on Easter and Christmas.  If I believe those concepts (and I do), but I do not live them each day of the year, I am living a sham.

So, I say it again -- Happy Easter!

Now, having set the tone of this essay, I need to eat a bit of crow -- feathers and all -- because this Easter Sunday -- yesterday --was a special Sunday for me.

Our church (now known as Costalegre Community Church) operates all year long.  But we only have an ordained pastor in residence for the winter tourist season. 

Because we are an English-speaking church, we draw a large group of congregants in the winter.  When Easter rolls around, our numbers have seriously diminished.  That is the point that Ron and Nancy Klein, our pastors, head back to North Dakota.

Today was that day.  After a very good sermon, the few of us who are still here, sat down to a potluck dinner and said our good-byes.  (This was also the last Sunday of the season for quite a few of the congregants, as well.)

When I left, I thought that was the last I would see of Ron and Nancy until next October.  Instead, a few of us met with them for dinner in Barra de Navidad.

There are moments that end up being stored as special nights.  This will be one.  We ate on the edge of the Barra lagoon while the remnant of the Easter crowd cavorted in or near the water.



The temperature was cooled by a constant breeze off of the ocean.  The food was good.  The company was better.  Six friends enjoying one another and another day that God has given to us.

Such days are rare.  And it would be churlish to say that I would do anything but cherish its memory.  And, better yet, know that there will be many more.

That, too, is the promise of Easter -- that we can live our lives to the fullest in the love of our God.

I hope that your Easter -- that all of your days -- will be that special.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

swinging my social mallet


Who says Melaque doesn't have class?

Well, that is the wrong question. 

The proper inquiry is whether Careyes has class.  But that is a bit redundant.  Careyes is one of a series of enclaves for the wealthy north of my little fishing village.  The string of pearls is populated with old money Mexicans and new money Americans with a sprinkling of Europeans from once-titled families.

Now and then, the high-falutin' open their gates to the hoi polloi.  At this time of year it is for the copa agua alta  (the High Water Cup -- which sounds like something on a bathing suit) polo match.

Yup.  Polo.  The game with ponies, mallets, chukkers, and poofy pants.

The sport is a natural for the upper classes of Mexico -- mixing a love for horses with a good dose of European snobbery.  The only impediment, if you listen to
Jorge Castañeda, which I often do, is that it is a team sport.

My friend Jack asked me if I was interested in acting as the driver on a polo expedition.  I have intended to attend one of these matches for the past five years.  And yesterday was the day.

The polo grounds are quite impressive -- and hidden from view from the coastal highway, as is true of most of the hideaways for the rich in these parts.  The jungle shelters wealth.

This is the 15th High Water Cup.  And yesterday was the final day of the tournament.  Participants -- if not full teams -- from twelve countries had crossed mallets during the past two weeks.  Yesterday the final four teams played for the cup.



I am not a novice when it comes to polo.  While I was in college, my friend Stan was pressed by his family to start taking on some of the accretions of old Portland wealth.  The University Club.  The Oswego Hunt Club.  That sort of thing.  And I tagged along through the membership maze.

The Oswego Hunt Club meant polo.  A one-year experiment -- including a fascinating test of Indian ponies from the Warms Springs reservation.  Mainly to attract girls.  I then revived the interest when I was stationed in English horse country.  Probably, for the same reason.

It was fun to disinter my polo strategy.  And to hone my ability to distinguish a mere bump or a line of the ball foul. 

Of course, there are the horses.  Each player has a string of them to switch out following each chukker -- something that is especially required in the tropical humidity.  Our 93 degrees was alleviated by clouds, but they then caused the humidity to spike at 88%.



The game was fast and well-played, but not really top-notch.  The Argentine team beat the Mexican team with a couple of well-thought out goals.

When it got too hot to stand in the sun watching the game, there were pavilions where drinks and food were served -- for a price.  Porsche doesn't give away its logo for nothing.  Nor does Lamborghini.



It was easy to spot the wealthy Latins from the rest of us who had slunk north with our cloth caps clutched to our breasts.  The Latins were stunning.  Handsome men.  Beautiful women.  Children that could have stepped out of a Nieman Marcus ad.


And we Americans and Canadians from La Manzanilla and Melaque?  We looked as if we had stopped by to apply for jobs in the kitchen.

But we had fun.  And that was why we were invited.  To show some interest in a local event.

We yelled.  We oohed.  We ahhed.  We cheered.  For both sides.  Sometimes for the wrong reason.  We added life to an event that already had life.

Even though there were two games scheduled, we stayed for just the first.  I told Jack:  "There are some games that are far more fun to play than to watch.  Polo is one."  Jack responded: "And boxing is not."

It was time to call it a day.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

two ideas -- one great; one silly

I love these little safes in hotels and on cruise ships.

They are really handy for important documents needed for travel, but that do not need to leave your room with you.  At least, daily.  You know.  Things like passports.  Credit cards.  Wads of cash.

Within the first five minutes in my room, I will set the code and dump the small, but important, indicia of my dwindling life into the tiny safe.  Now and then, I even manage to store my camera in its lilliputian innards.

But I seldom put my laptop in the safe -- for a very practical reason.  When my laptop is with me, I am usually using it on battery.  When I leave it in the room, I want it to be charging.  (That is, when I remember not to plug it into a socket that goes dead when I leave the room.)

If it is stored safely in the safe, it cannot be charging.  That is, until I ran across an interesting addition to my safe in Mexico City.  Take a look at this.



Pretty nifty, eh?  A power outlet right in the safe door.  A guest can store electronics in the safe while the gadgets charge.

Now, some of you sophisticates are going to tell me that hotels have been doing this for years.  But this is the first time I have seen it.  Maybe it was one of the unstated benefits for taking a room on the business class floor.

Whatever the reason, I thought it was a very clever idea.  I usually carry a small extension cord with me that would have allowed me to charge and secure my goodies simultaneously.

What was not a good idea was the little sign next to the plugin.  Does it warn of not overloading the circuit or relay some other helpful piece of information?  Nope.



The first part makes sense.  No need to bother the maintenance man who can open every safe in the hotel in less than 5 seconds.

It is the second piece that baffles.  "Suffocation danger exists."

Let's assume for a moment that my safe is not engaging me in a philosophical existential debate or that there may be someone somewhere that denies that suffocation do exist.  Instead, what we have, in its rawest form, is the blight of American litigation gone viral.

Unless you are Richard Gere who may absent-mindedly place his gerbils in the safe and lock it, I have no idea what could be suffocated in a space so small that I need to turn my hand horizontally to fetch my wares.

But it does make you start wondering if the souls I capture in my camera or the ideas I have stored on my hard drive may be in danger of being extinguished when I shut the safe door.

I shouldn't even give it a second thought -- because no thought went into the sign.  If I had seen the sign in Manhattan, I would not have even noticed it for the hundreds of other warning signs that would assault my senses up north.  But this was Mexico City.  In the land of personal responsibility.

Of course, the sign was in English and that gave away its provenance immediately.  It is just another legal alien that has made its way south into the NAFTA stream of commerce.

And that means I am free to ignore it.

Now, you can do the same.

Friday, April 18, 2014

another circus post


No matter how basic the surroundings are, there is a moment in every circus where a drab tent is turned into a house of magic.  The lights dim.  The music rises.  And we are transported to a place where children can imagine almost anything.

Hold it right there for one Cotton-pickin' minute, Steve.  Didn't you say the same thing in a post about Mexican circuses just a year ago?  You certainly did.  In bits of magic.  So, are you just recycling old material?  Or are you trying to fill Joe Biden's shoes?

If you want an apology, go over to Felipe's blog.  Because I like circuses, and this is another circus story.  I say "another," because I have trod the circus boards before with you before -- several times:
another opening; another show, llamas -- and tigers -- and bears -- oh my!, daring young men -- no trapeze.

Well, I did it again.  Last night was circus night.  I thought with the crowds in town there would be more people in attendance.  We numbered fifteen.  I guess the beach beats out women in tights.

That is too bad because Circus Atayde is one of Mexico's better circuses.  If you are looking for a New Age foo-faux Cirque du Soleil, I suggest you try Quebec.  But if you want to experience small circuses as they once were in the 1950s, this is your show.

What you will get is live entertainment with thrills and laughs.  And a lot of rough edges.  Where dropped balls and falling from a high wire are just part of the night.

Of course, there are animal acts.  What would a circus be without animal acts?  Starting with a lineup of healthy, theatrically-threatening tigers.  All under the control of a guy with a single whip.



But that is what Roy thought.  Or was it Siegfried?  I doubt the tigers could tell us.  Their nature is to burn brightly in the night, not to do a James Burke impression.

Then there was the lady with the horse act -- a giant beast and a nasty-tempered miniature horse (if that is not being redundant).  The act, of course, was for the big horse to stand there like a straight man while the pony got the Jerry Lewis part weaving back and forth through the big horse's legs.



I suspect there were more than a few of us -- even though there were only a few of us -- who would not have taken some pleasure in seeing the big horse lose its patience and flatten the pony into Friday's birria.

And then there were camels.  There always have to be camels.  First, bactrian from Central Asia -- which were eccentrically mixed in with four zebra.



And then, dromedary from the Middle East -- complete with the Lawrence of Arabia soundtrack.  More appropriately mixed in with two talented horses.


One was as talented on two legs as on four.


Those were the animal acts.  No lions.  No elephants.  But the tigers made up for their absence.

There were also plenty of people acts.  No circus is fit to call itself one without a juggler.  There were three quite good jugglers last night.

A duo that did not do anything original.  But they performed the classics adequately.



The other juggler started on a unicycle juggling bowls from his foot to his head.  And ended up on his back juggling everything from balls to rugs to what looked like carpet rolls.


There were no daring young men on trapezes.  But there was an athletic young man on a tight rope, who rode a unicycle and did back flips.  In this shot, he is pedaling in reverse.


For aerial acrobatics, we were offered a beautiful woman on a hoop -- always one of my favorites.  With daring heel hangs and spins.


The horse lady returned as the sole magic act.  Her schtick was as a quick change artist.  Whether walking through a dressing room on stage or in an up-to-the-neck bag or in a burst of silver confetti, she changed costumes in a split second.


Even though we all know the sleight of hand trick involved, it always amazes me that I am suckered into believing that the scarfy outfits are truly full costumes.  In much the same way that voters are beguiled by politicians.

Speaking of politicians, what would a circus be without clowns?  These two took their antics into the crowd and across several boundaries that would undoubtedly have got them prosecuted in Canada and boycotted in The States for insensitivity.  This jab at Muslims being the most obvious example.



I do not know why, but clowning is universal.  Or it once was.  Even when it is in a language I can barely comprehend, it is funny.  That is, unless you choose to be offended.  And that is just another universal language. 

And no one in the audience chose to be offended.  We just laughed.

For $150 (Mx) I spent an hour and a half laughing, catching my breath in my throat, oohing and ahhing, and thoroughly enjoying being eight again sitting next to my grandfather at the circus.

And what could be a better evening than that?


Thursday, April 17, 2014

tooting my buggle

Sometimes, I get an image in my mind, and I cannot figure out what I am seeing.  I observe, but I do not perceive.

The classic example is at the left.  Some people see the haggard, old woman first; others see the beautiful young woman.  But once you have seen one, it is difficult to see the other.

It can even happen orally.  Our textbook in freshman Latin would helpfully include a footnote with the English translation of newly-introduced words. 

One day in class, Bob Tyson raised his hand and asked: "Mr. McKenna, what is a buggler?"  Our teacher looked confused.  Thoughtful murmurs of "buggler" spread through the class. 

It wasn't until Mr. McKenna looked at Bob's book that he realized the word was "bugler."  Our repeated mispronunciation of the word kept us from a simple solution.

Well, that may be what happened to me on Tuesday.  We boarded a bus at the Mexico City airport to be shuttled to our ride home on Aeroméxico.

On the window were three international symbols scolding us not to be unsocial to our neighbors.  Two were easy to understand.  No smoking.  No cellular telephone usage.  But the third was a mystery.



Now, I have become accustomed to arcane signs -- like the one at the Manzanillo Soriana informing me that squirrels are not allowed inside the store.  But what was that third sign on the bus prohibiting?

Was I restricted from bringing my Uzi on the bus?  Or from using power tools?  Or glue guns?  And why is whatever-I-cannot-do wearing a cap?

Lupe and Alex had no further suggestions.

So, dear readers, I leave this mystery to you to solve.  After all, it is Easter -- the season of the greatest mystery of all.

Do you have any idea what the sign was telling me not to do?  Or have I now lulled you into the land of "buggler."