Monday, August 03, 2015

summertime -- and the living is easy

I cannot hear that Gershwin tune without feeling the beads of sweat form on my forehead.  Nothing better evokes the essence of the most complex of seasons.

Sure.  There is Berlin's Heatwave.  But whether sung by Marilyn Monroe or Olga San Juan, the only image it conjures is the silver screen.  Gershwin's song requires sun screen -- and a sweat rag.

A week or two ago, the weather in our little village by the sea cranked up both the heat and humidity.  Just in time to welcome the waves of Mexican families who come to the beach as part of summer vacation.

Even though Melaque has had plenty of visitors since school let out, the crowds were nothing like they were this last weekend.  The past few weeks, families have arrived mainly by SUV -- and the occasional bus.

For whatever reason, the last two days saw bus after bus migrating into town.  Some for the full weekend.  More for day trippers who arrive early in the morning, and then board the bus for the trip home in the late afternoon.

Barra de Navidad, for some reason, had not been reaping the benefit of the tourist largesse.  Earlier in the summer, the tourist area of town (what one waggish reader labeled: "What Six Flags would imagine a Mexican village to be") was as deserted as a Fred Zinnemann set at high noon.

Not this weekend.  I could barely shoot the photographs for my mural essay because of the constant string of cars and buses passing in front of it. 

The town has had some rather rough patches lately.  For that reason alone, it was nice to see its main street crowded with tourists.

Why the big change?  Why did more people come to the beach this weekend than the previous weeks?

One reason may be that the start of school is just around the corner.  Unlike cosseted northern students, Mexican children only get a few weeks away from the classroom in the summer.

But it could be far more simple.  Maybe the idea just popped into the heads of individual families simultaneously.  Such mysteries are what make the free market work.

Whatever the reason, it is good to see our beaches being put to their best use.  Mexican families do not need all-inclusive resorts to enjoy themselves.  Instead, they remind me of my youth when my mother would pile my brother and me into our red and white Ford station wagon and drive us over to the beach for the day -- or weekend.

As I write this, a thunderstorm, with attendant rain, is moving in.  Just as the tourist families are moving out.

A perfect combination.  The tourists had the sun. Now, those of us who live here, can have a bit of heat respite.

And that strikes me as a rather good deal.  The living really is easy.

You didn't think I was going to sign off without sharing a version of "Summertime," did you?  Here you go.  The incomparable Ella Fitzgerald's rendition:

Note -- I shot the photograph from the new pergola at Papa Gallo's.  Pretty nifty, eh?  A shady table on a showy beach.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

every dog has his day

I am not certain if that is true.  But I do know every dog should have a home.

Rescue groups throughout Mexico have done a great job of reducing the population of distressed street dogs.  When I began traveling to Mexico in the early 1970s, the malnourished street dog could have replaced the eagle as the Mexican symbol -- they were that ubiquitous.

Fortunately things have changed.  But that does not mean every dog has a home.

Meet Cooper.  He is in need of a home.  Despite his tropical close crop cut, he is an Old English sheep dog.  Male.  Two years old.  Neutered.  Up to date on his vaccines.

All he needs now is someplace to call his permanent home.  Because he is playful and rambunctious, someplace with space would be a perfect match for him.

Here are my thoughts.  This is the breed of dog that would thrive in the highlands.  And I know there are several of you up that way who are dog lovers.  If Cooper is not a match for your home and family, maybe you know someone who would be.

If so, call Dave in Barra de Navidad on his mobile telephone.  315.100.1124.

I am positive someone out there would love to call Cooper their friend.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

mural, mural, on the wall

Graffiti art is the 21st century successor of 20th century Mexican murals.  So claims an academic article I read this week in one of the chi-chi journals I receive online.

Perhaps.  But the tradition of Mexican murals is certainly not dead.  And proof of that welcomes the summer tourist crowd to Barra de Navidad -- right at the gateway to town.

When I first arrived here, the wall was nothing more than a motley combination of paint patches, bare brick, and the occasional bit of tagging.  No longer.

Christine and Lee, long-time residents of Barra de Navidad, saw the same problem.  Unlike me, they did something.  Lee had the broad vision of a mural.  Christine made the vision a reality.

The murals were conceived to improve Barra de Navidad's first impression to visitors, and as a perfect way to convey its local history.  The Church employed the same technique with its history of the saintly through stained glass windows.  And the government similarly used murals to write and convey the official version of the Mexican Revolution.  (Even though several of the great Mexican muralists refused to toe the party line.)

The 17-panel mural, painted between 2011 and 2015, is the work of over 50 students from Barra de Navidad's grade schools, junior high, and high school, with the assistance of Christine and adult volunteers from the schools.  The murals are divided into two distinct sections.

The primary students painted 4 panels in what an art critic (or a doting grandparent) might label as "primitivism."  Their panels show the town as it was and as it is -- filtered through the gauze of naivete.

What first caused me to notice the work, though, were the history panels.  At the time, I was working on a brief history of Mexico lecture.  And it is all there -- for the most part.   

The tribes who lived here before the Spanish tribe arrived.

The conquistadors who absorbed them into the Spanish kingdom -- and then named the town.

The pearls that are produced in the laguna's oysters -- including the inevitable image of a princess who looks as if she has just escaped her Harlequin destiny.

The pirates who raided Barra and burned the ship yard -- making it a dangerous place for the Manila Galleon.  Not to mention the people who lived there.

The expedition from Barra de Navidad to the Philippines that established a trade route to the East -- and the even more astounding return voyage to Acapulco that opened globalization for the Spanish Empire.  The mural includes a nifty map.  I am always a sucker for a good map.

A celebration of the once-powerful fishing industry in the bay along with the current fisher tourist draw.

The Revolution -- with its eccentric emphasis on Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, proving that martyrdom is always preferred to actually governing. 

A tribute to Barra's carnival and its first King Momo, Ramon Mendoza, known as "El Jabalin."  An event I have yet to attend.  But there appears to be enough material surrounding the event to stock several future essays.

And, of course, because this is the 21st Century, a paean to the ecology of the bay -- without any inconvenient reference to the vast sewer and water problems the area currently endures.  A subject in which Lee and Christine are involved up to their knees.  Often, literally.

There is no doubt that the murals have greatly enhanced the face of Barra de Navidad.  I enjoy stopping just to look at the art work.  After all, who could be unhappy with anything that features a pirate with an eye patch?

I have noticed several pedestrians, mostly Mexican tourists, who stop to read the captions or to look at the drawings.  After all, that is why the project exists.

If nothing else, it has given the student artists a bit of pride in their community and their individual talents as artists.

"So many songs yet to be sung.
So many roads still unexplored;
We gave the world new ways to dream.
Somehow we found new ways to dream."

Friday, July 31, 2015

our scarlet letter

Last winter, I was enjoying coffee with my friend Lee, from Whidbey Island, at La Taza Negra.

Well, he was having coffee.  I was most likely drinking tea.  That "c" food thing again.

He asked me if I had ever seen a poinciana tree in the local area.  He had first seen one when he was in the military on Bermuda.

Do you ever hear words that you know you have stored in your head, but you just cannot access them?  That is what happened to me when Lee mentioned "poinciana."

My file search system went into overdrive.  Up came "poinsettia" and "needlepoint."  Neither was helpful.  But I knew there was some memory connection between "poinsettia" and "poinciana."

Applying my best trial technique, I stalled.  "I know the name.  What does it look like?"  (Almost every sentence with that construction contains a lie.  Politicians are masters of the form.)

Lee's answer provided a memory jackpot.  "It has beautiful red flowers."

I immediately knew the tree.  In fact, I had written previous essays about the tree (better than a box of keeblers -- where I compared the tree to Tolkien's Lothlórien -- and a tree as lovely as a poem -- which features a photograph of the tree Lee was searching for, a tree that stood at the gate of the place he rents).

The tree, as many of you already know, is popularly called a Flamboyant tree (or Flamboyan in Spanish).  Its fancier name is Royal Poinciana.*  That is why the name sounded familiar to me.

It is one of my favorite trees in Mexico.  I knew about it before I headed south because former blogger Isla Gringo often wrote about the tree, its exquisite flowers, and the sabre-like seed pods that are a favorite of hungry squirrels.

In this part of Mexico, they put on quite a show in the late spring and early summer.  We have plenty of local trees that produce tropical-colored flowers.  The bright yellow canopy of the primavera is probably the most obvious.

But there are not many trees that have the distinctive red of the Flamboyant.  In May, you can drive from Barra de Navidad to Manzanillo and repeatedly see slashes of scarlet in the jungle canopy.

Those wild trees are the exception.  Usually, the Flamboyant appears in gardens and yards because it is a non-native specimen tree.  And by "non-native," I mean it is not even from another area in the Americas.

Its home is Madagascar.  Ironically, even though the tree is grown throughout the tropical world, it is quite rare in the wilds of its native island.

Lee is usually here for the winter months -- when the Flamboyants are not flamboyant.  The only way to definitively identify them during the winter is by those seed pods.

Or, Lee can always ask a friend to track down the elusive prey.  And I did.

* -- For you classically trained scholars, the tree's scientific name is Delonix regia.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

palming the photos

While digging through my July photographs, I ran across this beauty.

I had planned to use it in one of my yard cleanup posts, but the prose never seemed to match the photograph.  So, it has languished unpublished.

Until now.

There is something about the shapes and colors that fascinates me.  Consider it my gift to you.

A lot more interesting than another essay about politics.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

float like a butterfly, sting like a caterpillar

When bloggers have little to say, they often troop out inside procedural statistics that are meaningful only to those of us who have the write-and-post obsession.

Today, I do have something to say.  But I am still going to trot a few numbers by you.

The year was 2008.  The month was September.  It would be another seven months before my sainted brother; the decrepit, but loyal, Professor Jiggs, and I would board the Escape for our trip to Mexico.

A fellow blogger, who resides in Morelia, had just sent me an email recounting an encounter with a stinging caterpillar in her garden.  As a fan of National Geographic, I, of course, knew that many insects have self-defense mechanisms that rival those of an infantry brigade.  But I never thought of them living in my new home.

Thus was born a little essay (sting like a butterfly, float like a caterpillar) that has continually topped the most-accessed list on my blog .  The title has always been a bit misleading.  After all, it was the caterpillar that did the stinging.  Seven years later, I may have set the title straight.  (And I will still get Google hits with my side car attached to Muhammed Ali's famous phrase.)

But why am I disinterring a tale of a caterpillar who long ago pupated?  Because I found this in my garden as I was cleaning up the debris from our recent wind storm.

I have no idea what this guy's destiny is.  I tried researching on my favorite butterfly and moth identification site, but I could not find anything similar.

What I do know is that I had no desire to touch him.  Considering my 8-year old love of things crawly, I am surprised I didn't pick him up and put him in a jar.

Instead, I let him make his way up the planter into the greenery.  And, yes, I know, he is now going to lunch on the leaves of my vine.  At least, that is a good possibility.  But there are plenty of leaves.  In the process, I may get a butterfly.

Or I may get stung.  I regularly dig through the vine to gather dead leaves before they fall to the courtyard floor.  Without gloves.

One of these days, I will undoubtedly fail to recognize his artful camouflage.  And, just like the stinging ants that surprised my fingers in the same planter, I will wonder why I did not take matters in hand when I had an opportunity.

I know why.  There is a bit of Harold Hill in me.  I always have hope there is a butterfly.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

drilling for political oil

The presidential election season is in full swing up north.

Well, almost full swing.  There will undoubtedly be a few more candidates who will modestly put themselves forward as being more beneficial than packaged salad mix.  But the tone is pretty much set.

Every four years, some political scientist, with a knack for writing college examination questions, puts together a series of questions to assist those of us, who believe we are rational, in choosing a candidate to support.  The results are mixed. 

During the last election, the test revealed I should support a candidate who held federal activist views I found less than desirable.  The second choice was far more to my liberty taste.

Well, my friend Ron sent the current version of the test to me the other day.  The test always takes me far more time than I think it will.  For good reason.  It is quite detailed.  And, for that reason, is should be a good decision-making tool.

This year's version is broken into eight issues sections: social, environmental, economic, domestic policy, health care, education, foreign policy, and immigration.  There are several questions under each heading -- with additional questions to refine choices.

The aspect I like best about this test is its ability to add weight to the questions in their importance to the test taker.  Not everything is equal in Steve's world.  And I suspect the same is true for you.

The complexity of the questions may lead to more accurate predictions, but they present a problem for me -- and that may be why it takes me so long to take the test.  On any given day (or hour), my opinions (and especially how I would weight the importance of that opinion) varies.  That may be why I ended up being tagged as a supporter of the 2012 candidate who I would not (and did not) support in the primaries.

I suspect the real reason I like these tests is that it is the only say I will have in the selection of presidential candidates -- during the primaries.  Nevada, my state of residence, does not have a primary.  The parties there pick their preferred candidates through a caucus system -- and I am not flying north to spend an evening huddled in a school cafeteria with fellow supporters of my candidate.

So, I took the test. 

As I knew it would, it took me over a half hour to thoughtfully answer the questions.  And, when I was done, what was the result?

This year, two candidates came up with a score of 96% each.  The choices seemed odd when paired together.  I would be surprised if the two of them would say they agree with one another 96% of the time.

The good news is that I would be happy to see either of them in the White House.  Of course, as an American, I will be just as happy to give the winner a few months to settle in, and I will then grumble about everything the new president is doing.

It is one of the joys of being an American.

Note:  If you missed the link, here it is again.