Thursday, December 14, 2017

the pen rests

Some lessons simply require re-learning.

I have received several email asking why I have not been posting essays on my travels with Robin. I thought I would be able to tell you about the places we have been visiting this week. And I should have. We have had some interesting trips.

But writing would take too much time away from enjoying this visit.

Robin flies north on Saturday. Starting next Sunday, we can have a discussion of some of the interesting places to visit near Barra de Navidad.

Until then, we will be on the road.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

does this navel ever move?

Talk about introspective.

I hint that I am going to stop blogging. Then I write two essays about my family.

At least, today, I am pulling our attention back to Mexico. Sorta.

I am currently sitting at the Manzanillo International Airport. That would usually mean I am waiting for a plane to whisk me either to Los Angeles or Mexico City.

But, not today. Today we are welcoming a guest to Mexpatriate -- and the house with no name.

He is not new to you. You met him last January. Robin Olson -- one of my best friends from my Air Force days. That is him on the right. Back in the days when we were young enough to look good in minimal clothing.

The other fellow (on the left) is another Air Force friend. Dennis Dooley. You met him almost three years ago when he came down from Wisconsin to regale all of us with his Irish wit and charisma.

For the next week, Robin and I will catch up on Air Force war stories, world politics, and whatever else two old friends manage to tote across the thresholds of their respective memories.

One of the joys of guests is that I get to see my part of Mexico through new eyes. What has become a daily humdrum to me is a fascinating and exotic world to our exotic northern visitors. And that is a boon to writers. The scales fall from our jaded eyes.

In theory, that means I will be writing about Mexico once again.

But, not right now. Here he comes. 

Friday, December 08, 2017

an anniversary to remember

I mentioned yesterday (duck, ma) that my brother's birthday was the day before my parents' anniversary.

That, of course, means today is the seventy-first anniversary of my parents' marriage. My mother has survived my father by twenty-one years. But their anniversary is still their anniversary.

I have previously mounted my moral high horse soap box (to mix my clichés) to decry the current trend of turning someone else's celebration into a love feast for the speaker. You have seen the greeting cards: "Thanks, Mom, for everything you did for me. I wouldn't be me without your attention to me and everything I did because I am me through you." Somehow parents become mere channels to validate our own solipsistic existentialism.

And that is almost exactly what I am about to do. I suspect the re-run of that photograph at the top has already telegraphed my vice.

Several readers commented yesterday on my relationship with my brother -- including my mother. I responded that Darrel and I could not now be such good friends without the excellent parenting we received.

We were not a wealthy family. At least, not in material goods. But our parents never failed to provide us with the raw goods that helped us to develop our individual lives.

Our Encyclopedia Americana was a perfect example. Dad and Mom purchased it for the family when I was in the fifth grade. For me, it was the key to a magic garden. Thumbing through its pages, I traveled to Ancient Greece, learned about the gross national product of the disintegrating British Empire, and peeked in on the wonders of the United States Congress. I trace my insatiable curiosity back to that giant shelf of books.

And there was music. My parents had an older record player that played 45 and 75 RPM vinyl disks. Most of the records were big band hits or Christmas tunes with a few popular songs like "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You" and Kate Smith's "God Bless America."

Mom approved my request to update our collection with a membership in the Columbia Record Club. We certainly added variety. Jan and Dean. The Beach Boys. But, I was most taken with the classical music recordings. Especially, Handel's Messiah. I had never heard anything that magnificent.

I would sit straight through the full oratorio. For a boy just entering his teens, the two and a half hour recording had to be good to keep my attention. And it was. To this day, it is still one of my favorite Baroque works.

Various threads in our lives come together in odd ways. I had just recently listened to Messiah on YouTube. Then came my brother's birthday and today's anniversary.

For some reason, I listened to Messiah this morning. And with the opening notes of one of its better-known movements ("Unto Us a Child is Born"), the pieces of this week's jigsaw puzzle fell into place. "For unto us a child is born/Unto us a son is given."

The second line of that couplet filled me with joy. And in the next few months, I will undoubtedly tell you why.

But, not today. Today is a day for my mother -- and father.

Happy anniversary to two of the most honorable people I have ever known.   

Thursday, December 07, 2017

duck, ma

7 December is a memorable day.

For some, it is a terrible day. The day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. A day that will live in infamy -- as FDR would have it.

For me, it is my sainted brother's birthday. My father would tell anyone in earshot that my brother was born the day before his wedding to my mother. Of course, he would omit the fact that the wedding was in 1946 and Darrel was born in 1950. My mother found the joke gauche.

Darrel is now my best friend. It was not always so. At least, not in the beginning.

For almost two years, I had life's stage to myself. All of the wonders of being an only child were mine. Then, one day, my mother came home carrying a bundled baby boy.

So, I reacted as any well-bred child would do. I picked up a toy truck and hurled it at the enemy. It missed Darrel and smashed into my mother's glasses. My peremptory attack failed. Darrel stayed.

And I am glad he did. When we both entered grade school, I came to his aid in the playground after classes one afternoon. A bully had gotten the better of him, and I sallied forth in true quixotic style. I would like to say the moment was altruistic, but it was summed up by comment to the bully: "No one beats up my brother but me." (Yup. I talked like that back in the third grade.)

There are plenty of tales about my younger brother. Even some where I am not the central figure. But there will be an appropriate time for those. On some occasion where he cannot defend himself.

I called him a couple of hours ago to wish him a perfect birthday. He is still in Bend, and will be celebrating over a plate of prime rib with our mother this evening. I wish I could be there.

But he will soon be here. In just over a month. With Christy (his wife) and my mother. We may even see a guest appearance by my niece Kaitlyn.

Until then, brother, enjoy your dwindling 60s. They go past rapidly. I know.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

who's your mama?

Speaking of  essays that have been sitting incomplete in my inbox -- .

Last summer I saw a newspaper headlining a controversy in Guadalajara. About a statue. Of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The article offered up a double scoop of Mexican history.

Like most big cities, Guadalajara wants to be known for its artistic elan -- especially, its public art. In that spirit, the city paid 5.2 million pesos (about $275,000 (US)) for a statue entitled "Syncretism," and then installed it in the median of a major street.

That seems a bargain for a 30 foot statue. But the price itself is not an issue. Well, not entirely. It is the subject matter.

There is a bromide here in Mexico that the only two persons who cannot be insulted are the president and Our Lady of Guadalupe. If it was ever true of the president, it certainly is not today. Insulting any Mexican president is a national sport. And some of my friends have medaled in the event.

But, insulting Our Lady of Guadalupe is worse than insulting your own mother. She is the patron saint of Mexico. And she wears that honor with pride. For those of you who do not know much about Our Lady, here is a Classics Illustrated version of her story.

In 1531, an Aztec Indian named Juan Diego (not to be confused with Zorro) saw an apparition on the hill where the Spanish had destroyed an Aztec temple dedicated to a goddess known as Our Revered Mother -- Tonantzin or Coatlicue. The woman in the apparition claimed to be the Virgin Mary and requested a church to be built in her honor.

So, Juan Diego did as he was told and went to see the archbishop, who did not believe him. The apparition appeared three more times to Juan Diego.

The fourth time, the apparition told him to gather flowers from the hill. To find blooming flowers in December was rare. But the flowers he gathered were even more rare. They were Castilian roses -- not native to Mexico.

He gathered the flowers in his cloak and rushed to the archbishop. When Juan Diego opened his cloak, the archbishop was amazed to find his favorite flowers -- Castilian roses. But he was even more amazed when the roses fell from the cloak revealing mirabile dictu an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The archbishop built the church which was later dedicated as a basilica. And Guadalupe was well on her way to becoming the very essence of the Mexican spirit.

It is that spirit that got wrapped around the axle of True Catholic Believers in Guadalajara. The controversial statue depicts Our Lady emerging from an image of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin or Coatlicue.

And if there is any doubt that the artist intended to convey the idea that the Coatlicue myth gave rise to the Guadalupe myth, he underscored the point with the sculpture's title. 
"Syncretism." A theological term meaning "the importation of an object of reverence in one belief system into another." 

The artist's point is not original. For centuries, people have pointed out the similarities between the two women. The Aztecs worshipped a mother goddess at the same site where the apparitions appeared. Catholics worship a revered mother who described herself as "the mother of the very true deity."

A newspaper supporting the protesters breathlessly (and somewhat inaccurately) reported: "The erection of the nine-meter-tall image has provoked massive public protests in the thousands, by Catholics who denounce it for confusing the country’s most important Christian symbol with the very religion of human sacrifice that it helped to defeat 500 years ago."

Historians tell us that the Aztecs continued to worship Coatlicue at the site of her ruined temple. Because of the similarities, it was easy for the church to substitute the similar attributes from Coatlicue to Guadalupe.

It would not be the only example of the Catholic church substituting saints for local gods in the finest tradition of hostile corporate takeovers. The most obvious example is Christmas. If the gospels are accurate, Jesus's birth was unlikely to be in December. The presence of all those shepherds is a start.

The Romans celebrated a huge festival (Saturnalia) to honor the lengthening of the days in December -- on 25 December. A lot of the pagan traditions for the day were adopted, and the whole shebang was re-christened "Christmas."

Some holidays the church just appropriated without any attempt to hide the pilfering. "Easter" still bears the name of the pagan English goddess for which it was named. Very similar to all of those Norse gods who clutter the names of the week in northern Europe and the Roman gods who perform the same service for Latin-language calendars.

But I could rattle on and on, and it will not change the fact that Mexicans will defend the honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a matter of faith. And they have done that in Guadalajara.

Tens of thousands protesters have shown up to vent their religious spleens. At the statue. At the fact their tax money was used to insult their dearest beliefs. At the archbishop who was too weak to do anything about the travesty.

I would say they were up in arms. But that phrase has a very particular meaning in this context.

Following the Revolution, Plutarco Elias Calles became president. One of the goals of the Revolution was to finish the job of taming the Catholic church that was begun by Benito Juarez's Reform War.

Calles took that mission to an extreme by enacting anti-clerical laws that not only stole the church's property, but treated the clergy as if they were not citizens of the republic.

The more religious areas of Mexico rose in open revolt during the three years of the Cristero war. Jalisco and Guadalajara were in the forefront of defending the church against the central government -- a government that eventually repealed the more offensives portions of the anti-clerical laws. The city government may be getting off lucky with this current perceived insult.

But all of that is for big city folk. Here, in our little fishing villages by the sea, we are in the middle of celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on 12 December. Like most religious festivals, one day cannot contain the zeal.

Since the beginning of the month, celebrants have been firing off cohetes -- those sky rockets that could easily substitute for the cannons in the Overture of 1812 without any of Tchaikovsky's even more annoying music. Starting at 5 or so in the morning.

And then there is the daily evening religious procession. Rather simple. "Indian" dancers. A float. More cohetes. And a bushel of deep-hearted devotion.

The historian in me defends the sculptor in Guadalajara. But my faith fully understands that deep devotion.

Monday, December 04, 2017

where are you tossing that towel?

"Boy have I been lazy with this blog"

That was Scott Parks's last entry on Sparks Mexico. On 26 October. He never got around to following up on that bit of self-criticism (dying alone).

But it is a sentiment I understand. I think all of us internet writers have ridden that horse. I know I have. Frequently.

Internet writers are a navel-gazing lot. And often for altruistic reasons. We like to keep our readers amused. But, in the process, we can be as introspective as any aging jock or fighter pilot re-living our great moments.

That is why we often fall into writing topics concerning the top hits of the year on our blogs (and, yes, one is coming), or where our readers are located, or how people find our blogs. I know because I have written about all three. More than once.

Writing about our own sites is almost Seinfeldian. What Larry David would call "about nothing" -- that is unless he was doing something to young women that he shouldn't have. And did.

Sometimes, though, being self-referential is exactly the correct tone. Such as, when announcing the writer is packing it all in.

My blogger friend Barbara (better known to most of you as Babs) did just that last month (nothing left to say). That is exactly how she felt. After writing her blog about Mexico (especially her beloved San Miguel Allende) for eleven years, she felt that she had nothing left to add to the conversation.

That was too bad. Hers was one of the blogs that helped me to decide to move to Mexico. She almost even wooed me into the spider web of San Miguel. When she announced she was shutting down her writing, it was as if part of me had been lost.

I knew how she felt. Two years ago, I shut down the presses of Mexpartiate.

Fortunately, Barbara thought better of her decision (i am glad i am a woman!), and has now returned to speed her roadster down the internet highway. I did the same thing.

But, for the brief period she was offline, I considered doing the same thing. Not because I had nothing more to say. I have a notebook of potential essays beside my computer. For some reason, though, I have lost the will to write. Or, maybe it was the time to write.

It first struck me while I was at sea in October. I had been rather good at publishing an essay almost every day. At sea, that urge was burned out of my by languid days. And it has continued since my return.

That is partially due to my involvement in several projects around the community -- all of my choosing. But I find that my day ends before I can sit down and write.

This essay is an example. I started it on 11 November when I read Barbara's retirement notice. And here we are, almost a month later, and I am just polishing it off. Considering her change of mind, I am glad I waited.

OK, Steve. Do you have a point to make?

Maybe. I wanted to at least answer the people who have emailed me to ask if something is wrong. They wondred why my output had dwindled. Now, you know. Probably.

In true Seinfeld style, I guess that is about it. I will churn out essays now and then, and try to get back into some sort of regular routine.

There are plenty of tales to be told about this part of Mexico. And I will enjoy living them. I may even write about a few.

Yup, Scott. I understand. Like you "I have been lazy with this blog."

Saturday, December 02, 2017

dying alone

Scott Parks is dead.

To some of you the name may not mean anything. You may have known him better as Sparks, the author of Melaque on the Costalegre and Sparks Mexico. For a brief period, he started his own message board when he had a spat with the community board. But, he soon abandoned it.

Like most people around here, I first met Scott through his online writings. In the late 2000s,  I started looking for places in Mexico to retire. Scott's blog proved to be a great source of information. Some of his pieces were helpful; some less so. But, he gave me enough information to let me know the questions I should be asking.

For better or worse, I ended up in this area of Mexico in 2009. At that time, Scott lived right around the corner from me.

He had moved down from Seattle. I had moved from Oregon. Ad that geographical connection was enough for us to strike up a casual acquaintance.

Even though we had frequent lunches and conversations, "casual acquaintances" is what we remained. We were close enough that he would borrow money from me (when he lost his wallet) or accept rides to Manzanillo. Neither one of us had personalities that formed quick friendships.

And we quickly learned each other's boundaries. His van brandished a Kerry-Edwards sticker five years after the pair had lost their run for the White House. But it was symbolic of one of his strongest personality traits -- persistence. Detractors would call it stubbornness. I call it "being human."

I also discovered, once again, that judging a man by his bumper is a fool's mission. Kerry and Edwards were noticeably to Scott's right. But, they were Not Bush.

In the last election, he was just as consistent. He did not care for Hillary Clinton. But, she was Someone Other Than Trump.

My politics frustrated him. He loved starting sentences with "Of course, you believe" painting me as Attila's Chuck Colson. Half of the time he was wrong.

But, when it moved to Mexico, he was a true believer in this country. Anyone who read his blog knew he had strong opinions about northern visitors -- especially those who were deaf to Mexican culture.

He loved the country. He loved the people.

Like most of us, Scott was searching for a place where he would belong. And he wanted to belong with Mexicans. That desire ending up costing him a good deal of money in an unconditional act of trust that was unrequited.

Instead of turning his loss into hate, he moved on. Literally. He left the pleasures of the beach in Villa Obregon and moved inland to a much poorer village where he seemed to find purpose amongst his Mexican neighbors. Essentially transforming himself into a Mexican grandfather offering care and love to a local family -- including transporting a disabled child to and from school each day.

I last saw Scott two days before he died. His van was parked outside an abarrotes in San Patricio. I saw him walking out of the grocery stiff-legged with his arms held out in front of him as if he were having trouble with his balance.

I almost stopped to see if he needed help. I didn't. To this day, I do not know if what I saw was a prelude to his death.

We can all learn lessons from the lives around us. But Scott's death has grabbed my attention.

Scott was single and lived alone. As do I.

If I understand the story correctly, he had been dead a couple of days before his body was found in his bed. A neighbor contacted his sister in The States to tell her of the death.

By some odd coincidence, our local message board had just hosted a thread on the importance of creating a personal plan for emergencies and death that someone could initiate if the need be. I am currently putting one together. When I gather enough information, I will share some ideas. I hope you will add more.

And, Scott, I am going to miss our thrusts and parries. Thanks for the pieces of good information you passed my way. Maybe we will pass one another again elsewhere.