Wednesday, February 10, 2016

you can't samba in a hula skirt

Barra de Navidad is not Rio de Janeiro or even New Orleans.

But we swim in what passes for a Roman Catholic culture. And if it is Fat Tuesday (as it was yesterday), it is time for Carnaval. A last celebration before the church-imposed strictures of Lent descend on our partying beach towns. (That is, if you do not take notice of the huge bacchanal that is the St. Patrick festival that falls right in the middle of the self-flagellation season.)

Yesterday evening was a time for the village to let down its hair and party like there would be no hangover tomorrow morning. At least, that is what I thought I was going to experience.

The Carnaval organizers put together what could easily pass for a limited parade in almost any small town around the world. Lots of cardboard and crepe paper slapped onto utility trailers pulled by SUVs. It looked far more like the opening of an auto show -- with the floats as a mere afterthought.

Even though there were no horses and no young school children marching in what could pass for some type of formation and no cacophonous bands, all of the other elements were there.

A pretty girl accompanied by guys in Brazil soccer shirts doing their best to bring a little Rio flavor to Barra de Navidad.

King Momo himself -- the traditional royalty of Latin American Carnaval parades.

The same girls who usually march wearing their school uniforms now undressed to look like Brazilian beauties -- even though most seemed to be quite indifferent to the whole experience.

A young dancing couple, accompanied by little mermaids, came as close as anything you might see in Brazil -- but with far more Mexican modesty.

Another pretty girl who appeared to want be anywhere else other than on the top of a pickup cab -- with male escorts who were content to be in her presence, but paid her no attention.

Little cab-top sitters in training. At least one was engaged with the crowd.

And, because this is Mexico, there is always something to let us laugh at just how silly all of this flummery called life really is. He got the most laughs if all. Maybe because he helped put the gras back in Mardi.

The parade serpentined itself through Barra de Navidad up to the major north-south highway (where it tied up traffic for about a half hour) and on to Melaque.

What struck me as being strange about the entire event was the lack of a sense of fun. Smiles seemed forced. Maybe with the realization that the "pursuit of happiness" is an American myth, not a Mexican tale. But all of that changed once the parade made its way to Melaque and dark fell on the celebrations.

The music pumped up. The laughter became louder. All because, I suspect, the drink started flowing. That would be my conclusion based on the obvious weaving of the parade SUVs once they started their slow progress back to Barra de Navidad.

In the seven years I have lived here, this is the first Carnaval parade I attended. I may even show up next year.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

mexico knows best

Northerners have a tendency to be know-it-alls.

I know. I am one of them. No matter the subject, I have an opinion -- and that opinion is always correct. The Dowager Countess Grantham has a natural understudy.

Mexico is a syllogistic trap for my type. Whenever I have visitors (mainly from The States), one of the first things I hear is: "They could certainly save a lot on labor here by buying paving equipment and getting rid of all these men and shovels." Explaining that it would take decades of saved labor costs to make up for the cost of capital improvements usually falls on deaf ears.

I caught myself in the same error last week.

When it rains heavily in the summer, the street in front of my house turns into a small river. I suspect the street was once part of a natural drain field.

The water then rushes around the corner and flows out across an empty field where it joins up with a drainage ditch that directs the trash and sewage that has joined the temporary flood into our local lagoon. The field absorbs some of the water. But it reminds me of the winter floods around Myrtle Point where the dairy pastures were regularly transformed into settling ponds.

The field here in Barra de Navidad is quickly disappearing. The photograph at the top of this essay shows the start of the construction that is well underway today.

I talked with the Mexican contractor to discover what type of building was going up in our local flood plain. I was concerned that it was a house for a northerner who had never experienced our summer water problems.

It wasn't. It will be a commercial building -- along with boat storage.

The boat storage portion of the tale sounded practical. After all, there may periodically be enough water to put the boats to good use.

Up north, the building undoubtedly would be prohibited -- the concrete will simply re-direct flood waters into other people's property. Just as the builder of my house did by building up the grade of the house to cause water to flow into the neighbor's house across the street.

But this building is going up where it is. It is not Grand Coulee, but it will have an impact on the neighbors whenever it rains.

And, frankly, I appreciate the freedom here far more than the nascent nanny nations up north.

I have said several times I am very happy to miss this year's politicking in The States. This is just another example why I prefer living where I do.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

moving to mexico -- the postal system

The Mexican postal service has long been the Rodney Dangerfield on the list of things expatriates dislike most about the country.

Before I moved here, every book I read, and every person with whom I raised the question, informed me the postal service here was to be avoided more assiduously than drinking the tap water. Anecdotes of damaged packages, lost checks, and glacial delivery times convinced me I would be foolish to rely on the Mexican system.

I have now come to suspect those rumors were invented, or at least inflamed, by a cottage industry that sprang up to assuage the fears of expatriates. Wherever expatriates congregate, there is usually a mail service that will forward mail from a northern address to a local office -- for a fee.

And that fee is usually exorbitant. But, if you have been sucked into the myth that your mail will end up like the Lindbergh baby, you will pay almost any ransom.

I was one of those people. The ransom-payers, that is, not the extortionists.  When I moved here, my mail came to me at in an office in Manzanillo. Each week, I would drive two hours primarily to pick up my mail -- and to leave a large wad of pesos at the office for the pleasure of receiving political fund-raising solicitations and thick catalogs of continuing legal education courses that I was never going to take.

One day I decided enough was enough. In lieu of a Texas address, I rented a postal box in San Patricio. I have never looked back.

All of my letters sent show up where they should.  Just as letters sent to me show up.  Several of my Amazon orders have been reliably delivered through the Mexican mail.

Then there is timeliness. 

A year ago, my mail was taking about 10 days to be delivered at an American address, and just over two weeks for the return correspondence to show up in my Mexican postal box. (I know that because I had a regular correspondent in Nevada who had no way to communicate with me other than by letter.)

For some reason, that very acceptable delivery time has shifted drastically. The last couple of weeks I received two Christmas cards -- from my cousin Marsha in Oregon, and from friends (Rick and Geoff) in Washington -- and a birthday card from a close grade school friend (Colette). (Thanks for the cards, pals.)

To me, none of them are late. After all, to me every day is Christmas and my birthday. (So far, I have avoided the heresy of thinking Christmas is my birthday.) It is always pleasant to receive greeting cards.

But not all is kisses and roses between the local post office and Mexpatriate. Because of my affiliation with the American military, I am reimbursed for 75% of my out-of-country medical expenses, less a deductible.

The Tri-Care checks have taken an inordinate amount of time to arrive. Three checks arrived in the last week with transit times of between four and two months. All of my other mail arrives far faster than that.

Thanks to an observant and helpful reader, I now have joined modern times by having the checks directly deposited to my checking account -- something I started with my other government payments in the 1970s.

Speaking of health care reimbursement, I had a mild shock when my most recent Social Security check was electronically deposited in my checking account.  It appeared to be $200 short of the usual amount.

It was. The premium for Medicare had jumped over 100% from $145 to $320.

I remember reading something about the increase -- that there was some sort of inexplicable link between the failure to award a cost-of-living increase causing the increase in the Medicare premium. A friend told me it was part of Obamacare. But he also believes that Obamacare causes the Zika virus. I simply don't know.

You may ask why I am paying the Medicare premium when I cannot be reimbursed by Medicare for my Mexican medical bills. The answer is simple.

Because I am now eligible for Medicare, Tri-Care will not continue my coverage unless I have Medicare as my primary insurer. My bills are submitted first to Medicare -- and, of course, they are refused. Tri-Care then pays the appropriate reimbursement. For anyone who thinks a single-payer system would be more efficient than private health care, I can only offer my own Kafkaesque experience.

The Medicare premium increase has caused me to start thinking about what I am getting for my payment of almost $4,000 (US) each year. Mexican medical costs are not very expensive.

My biggest medical expense last year was my week-long hospital stay that cost me about $4,000. Because I was reimbursed for only 75% of my bill (less a sizable deductible) by Tri-Care, I would have been ahead by insuring my own expenses, and not using Medicare and Tri-Care, at all.

Of course, it has been handy to have both systems during my recent medical treatments in Oregon and Washington. But there is a remedy for that: stop heading north.

Who knows? Maybe the American government will send me a letter dis-inviting me from any further visits up north.

If so, they will need to give me enough time to receive it. There is that little delivery time glitch in our postal system.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

let me entertain you

I call them "scan stoppers."

You know them. There you are reading along and a phrase stops you dead in your tracks.

It could be almost anything. A typographical error. An astoundingly improper use of grammar. A bizarre bit of irony that only Noel Coward could untangle.

But my favorites are the inadvertent comments on contemporary American culture.  And I was treated to one this morning.

I was reading my former home state's newspaper of record at Rooster's with enchiladas on the table and Barco grumpily waiting underneath.  One reason I continue to read The Oregonian is to keep up with just how nutty the Portland area has become. (Portlanders call it "weird." But that is simply an apologist's substitution for "nutty.")

And there it was -- under the headline "New Shelter." I had no idea what to expect. I certainly did not expect this.

"The former site of the Black Cauldron, a vegan strip club, ... ."  I didn't finish reading the sentence.

"Vegan strip club?" Images started dancing in my head more frentic that sugarplum fairies.

What on earth is a vegan strip club? I imagined strippers dressed as the meatless characters of the food pyramid strutting their green stuff on stage.

Remember Harvey Fierstein's opening monologue in Torch Song Trilogy where he described some of his stage names?
Virginia Ham. Anita Mann. Fonda Boys. Clair Voyant. Fay Ways. Bang Bang La Desh. Something similar played out in my head.

Carrot Peel. Lettuce Entertainyou. Julienne Potaotes. Husky Corn. (The article was silent on the gender of the strippers. But, gender is such a touchy topic these days. Or a topic not to be touched.)

Self-peeling vegetables.  What could be more user friendly?

Or maybe all of the strippers are vegans.  The juxtaposition of adjectives tends to confuse rather than to enlighten.

But I think I know what the hapless reporter meant. The Black Cauldron was undoubtedly a strip club where people of the vegan persuasion could go to congregate with other vegans to work out their respective sexual frustrations. After all, this is Portland.

Where there are enough vegans for the market to accommodate that special interest.  Much like a club for Left-handed Latvian Lesbians. Or maybe not. The rest of the article informs us the club is now an emergency family shelter. Perhaps, the salami was sliced too thin.

That explanation just makes the irony greater -- vegans seeking sexual release by watching what is commonly called a meat market. Even Jung would have to call that a bit perverted.

And because it is Portland, I would not be surprised if the Black Cauldron had at one time been a Wicken temple.  With services interspersed with vegetable servings.

Several people have asked me why I bother reading The Oregonian each day.  After all, it is a rather poor excuse for the newspaper it once was.

My answer is simple,  As long as Portland keeps serving up essay fodder like this, I will keep eating my vegetables.

Monday, February 01, 2016

moving to Mexico: car repairs -- or, you light up my dash

I knew the electronics on my new Escape would be a problem.

When I replaced the 2001 Shiftless Escape with a new model two years ago, I was surprised at how many electronic gadgets had been stuffed into the dashboard. Everything from the radio to the GPS to the telephone connection to the indicator lights made me feel as if I had been dropped into the cockpit of an F-111. Actually, it made the cockpit of an F-111 look primitive.

I am a sucker for gadgets. Always have been. So, one look sold me. Rather, it appealed to my "I love this car" attitude. My head was not so certain.

The Mexican Pacific coast is not kind to electronics. My first laptop succumbed to the salt, heat, and humidity within four months of my arrival. Moving away from the beach helped. But everything digital has a tendency to corrode here. My blood pressure wrist cuffs last about a year before the contacts simply fall off.

But, even with those doubts, I bought the car. With the exception of a glitch in the radio that existed from day one, everything has held up well. Until a couple of months ago.

In November, I drove north with my brother to Oregon to clear out some boxes from our mother's garage. After four hours on the road, I stopped at a red light in Puerto Vallarta, and a warning light came on: "Hill assist not available."  Darrel and I decided to soldier on rather than stopping at the Ford dealership.

Then the anti-lock braking system warning light lit up. Followed by the anti-skid warning light. My dashboard started to look like a reservation casino.

Because we had purchased a new tire in Melaque before the trip, Darrel and I conjured up a hypothesis that a sensor in the wheel had either been damaged or was confused when the tires were rotated.

The dealership in Bend confirmed that the lights were working properly. But we were heading south again and did not have time to wait for the parts that needed to be ordered.

Whatever was wrong did not get in the way of our trip back to Melaque. And I was not worried. After all, there is a Ford dealer in Manzanillo.

The service department immediately diagnosed the problem. I needed a sensor and cable -- computer stuff. Both needed to be ordered. That was early December. Five business days they claimed.

I set an appointment with a bit of trepidation. The supply system in Mexico can be a bit unreliable.

When I showed up the next week, mirable dictu, the part was there. While the service department had its way with the Escape, I wandered off to the shopping delights of Walmart and Soriana for four hours.

I thought I would return to a less-lit dash. I was wrong. The dealership had only ordered one of the two required parts.

So when would they get the other part? About ten days. But that would be nearing Christmas. That would make my next appointment during the second week in January.

Fine. And all went as planned. Escape dropped off. Shopping amongst the big box stores. Returned to a repaired car.

So I thought. Ten minutes out of Manzanillo, I drove over one of Mexico's national monuments (a tope). The jolt must have caused the car's memory to revert to lighting the dash. All of the lights that were repaired came on. Rather than turn around, I returned home. For two days, the lights would come on and go off. A loose connection, I thought.

Having paid good pesos for the fix, I started back to Manzanillo the next week.  And you know the rest of the story. No lights. Even after hitting several topes rather hard, nothing. 

I long ago learned that taking a car into a service department when the problem is no longer apparent is a bit like hoping that the government will actually spend tax money for the common good.

And if you think the lights came on again as I drove back to Melaque (because that is what usually happens in these tales of woe), you are wrong. But the problem seems to still be there. Now and then, the lights will make a brief guest appearance, and then go out. But they have never stayed on while I am in Manzanillo.

And the moral of this little essay?  Like A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Forum, morals are for tomorrow.  It is comedy tonight.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

planets on parade

One of the best things about owning a puppy is getting up at 5:30 in the morning for a bladder break -- both mine and his.

If you fail to see the virtue in that sentence, you probably do not live somewhere with clear skies and unobstructed vistas. I do. Each morning, the crystal spheres put on a private show for me.  And, since 20 January, something very special has been added to the mix.

If you read the other adams family, you know I am working my way through the biographies of each of the American presidents. My current subject is John Quincy Adams.

I always learn something new about each of the men who have worked in the White House. After all, that is the purpose of reading biographies. To learn something new. And useful.

John Quincy Adams is still a young man in my reading. But I was fascinated with the author's revelation that "[m]ore than any other subject, astronomy excited him." In April 1791, he observed a partial eclipse of the sun from Beacon Hill in Boston.

That may help explain my own fascination with astronomy. After all, Adams is my fourth cousin seven times removed (which is about the same distance of my other cousins: Barak Obama and Dick Cheney). There must be something in those genes. Even though I can best be called a hobbyist of hobbies when it comes to such things.

That special show? You may already have heard about it. Since 20 January, it has been possible to see all five planets (six if you count Earth) -- the ones that are visible with the naked eye -- parading across the early morning sky just before sunrise. Like a line of Ziegfeld girls.

Mercury. Venus. Mars. Jupiter. Saturn. All of them in the same elliptical -- just like we learned in grade school science.

Because there is not a lot of light pollution in the early morning sky here in Barra de Navidad, I have been able to see even the dimmest of the five -- Mercury. For those of you who live around more artificial light, you may need binoculars to see the tiniest of the planets.

The show will be around until 20 February. But the best viewing (especially for Mercury) will be during this week.

Do yourself a favor and get up early to see the planets show off. The phenomenon is not that unusual. But it is a reminder that some of the world's greatest art is not located in museums.

You might even get a smile out of old cuz' John Quincy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

foolish consistency

In a direct response to the loss of her poll leads in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary to the Sanders campaign, Hilary Clinton today made a surprise announcement in a crowded press conference.

"For too long, professional politicians like Senator Sanders have taken contradictory positions on some of our most basic entitlements in the Bill of Rights. That is stopping today.

"In the spirit of bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle to build real solutions for real problems suffered by real people, I am today announcing a major initiative to register and license all news reporters. 

"Some of America's most creative ideas come from citizen politicians (such as myself).  State Representative Mike Pitts of South Carolina (one of the patriotic states where this Democratic nomination will be decided, rather than by the elites of Iowa and New Hampshire) has proposed a fascinating idea to resolve the problem of irresponsible journalism. 

"His proposal would require journalists in South Carolina to apply for registration on a "responsible journalist registry." The South Carolina Secretary of State's office would operate the registry which would be funded by fees from the journalists. Failing to register or acting irresponsibly would incur fines and criminal penalties.

"We have already seen how an irresponsible press can distort democracy. The only people who believe our campaign could possibly lose in Iowa or New Hampshire are the plutocrats of the press who spread lies about polling data and stampede good American citizens to act unpatriotically when they cast their ballots. 

"Well, someone has to put an end to this. And, if I am elected president, that is exactly what I intend to do.

"When I am president, we will establish a National American Responsible Correspondents (NARC) registry to be administered jointly by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Council. It will have several elements -- that should sound familiar to you from other of my policy positions.

"The registry will make all journalists subject to background checks. There will be no writers' conference loopholes. Anyone who puts opinion to paper, will be required to have a background check -- and to be included on the registry. The registry will be open for inspection by all law enforcement officials with an eye to preventing dangerous people from wielding their irresponsible opinions.

"We have learned in other areas designed to prevent injury to the public that a slow background check by the government should not reward potentially dangerous people. If the government does not timely complete a background check, the journalist will be prevented from reporting.  Putting the blame for irresponsible journalism on government inaction is simply blaming the victim.

"The registry must be universal. 'Journlaist' will be defined broadly, by executive order, to include anyone who offers an opinion -- whether in print or orally. The shocking ruse of using Facebook to circulate false stories is coming to an end.

"All statutes, regulations, and Supreme Court decisions that place restrictions on libel suits merely because the person defamed is a public official will be ignored. Just because someone has a family with dicey personal problems does not give the public the right to air dirty linen.

"And here is where the rubber hits the road. If anyone files an irresponsible story or fails to resister, the offender will be subject to a fine of $10,000 and a term of imprisonment in a journalist reeducation camp for up to 69 years -- for each violation or contemplated violation.

"Some of you may wonder if this program somehow violates the First Amendment. Before you journalists start whining -- and remember, 'journalist' will have a very broad definition -- you might want to look at my proposals on gun control. If they do not violate the Second Amendment, then this proposal does not violate the First Amendment.

"I am not going to take any questions. I suggest that the reporters in the audience should sit quietly in their chairs and consider what they have done to bring all of this down on all of our heads.

"On to Sioux City."