Saturday, July 26, 2014

getting my ape on

Friday was my day in Manzanillo.

I knew since I returned I would need to make the trip.  My Escape is past due for its periodic maintenance.  I have had a spot on the bridge of my nose for seven years that needs a bit of examination.  And my teeth are itching for a good cleaning.

Of course, there was the long list of replacement items I needed to buy as a result of our little lightning strike.  The Telmex repairman managed to take two things off the list, but I still needed a cordless telephone and a power strip. 

I was not going to get sucked into buying a much more expensive voltage regulator-surge protector-backup battery unit.  I still have a smoking hulk to remind that there are no prophylactics for the rage of Mother Nature.

The trip south was successful -- and quick. My dentist and dermatologist are married to one another, and are just two offices down from one another.  A five minute stop earned me Monday appointments with both.

And Office Depot offered all of the equipment I needed.  A bit expensive, as are all electronic goods in Mexico, but I will now have a land line in the house.  I have found it helpful for the occasional telephone call north.  Telmex includes a limited number of long distance calls in my internet package.

Out of curiosity, I stopped at the Cinepolis multiplex to see if there were any movies worth seeing.  There was.  In 10 minutes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would start.  So, I bought a ticket.

I was never a big fan of the original series of movies, and I have not seen the first of the new series: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But I had read some very good reviews. 

As is often true of early matinees in Manzanillo, the theater was almost empty -- with the exception of about six young Mexican women who spent the next two hours texting on their telephones, and chatting with one another.  I have just come to expect it as part of the theater-going experience here. 

I assume they got bored with reading the insipid dialog in the subtitles.  I know it bored me just listening to it.

Rotten Tomatoes sums up the movie with this: "
With intelligence and emotional resonance to match its stunning special effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes expands on its predecessor with an exciting and ambitious burst of sci-fi achievement."

I am not certain they watched the same movie I did.  The "intelligence and emotional resonance" is about the same level as those after-school television programs that the easy-to-please describe as classics.  About 20 minutes into the movie and I was looking for the remote control to change channels.

Because this is a prequel, you would have to have the attention span of a corn tortilla to be surprised by any of the hackneyed plot twists.  That is, if you can find the plot.  It is a linear story with few distractions to spice its inevitable march to the bank with our ticket sales.

A lot of money went into making the apes look "real" -- or as real as can be expected for an audience who has never seen apes in the wild.  Instead of the deplorable shag rug costumes hiding human actors in the original series, the apes are computer generated using the movements of actors.

That sounds as if it should be awesome.  It isn't.  Close up, the apes are as cutely anthropomorphic as any Disney creature.  Where the image falls apart is in long shots.  Gravity appears to have minimal effect on the apes.  Leaving them looking like a cross between bulky birds and a Cirque du Soleil act.

I was about to say that I might approach the movie a bit differently had I seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  And maybe I should.

Naw!  I've wasted enough time on this drivel.  Instead, I will watch a DVD of Company -- and find true intelligence and emotional resonance.

I was so busy muttering about the movie on my way back to Melaque that I forgot to stop at the Ford dealership to set an appointment for my Escape.  But I have a new telephone that is just the right instrument to solve that problem.

It is good to be back in the saddle in Melaque.

Friday, July 25, 2014

stritch redux

Earlier this month, I shared some of my reminiscences of Elaine Stritch in she's still here.

When I wrote the post, I searched for a video of her memorable performance of "I'm Still Here" at Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday concert.  That version was  blocked in The States.  And the other versions simply did not show her at her best.

While researching another topic, I discovered that an aficionado filled the gap following her death.  I watched it several times last evening.

I could have just let it go.  After all, I already had my say about her.  But she is worth an encore.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Elaine Stritch.  One more time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

look for small pleasures

There are other pleasures in life than traveling to London or having dinner at Enotecha Pinchiorri.  As pleasant as Trafalgar Square and Florence are.

Sometimes, those memorable moments are right where we are.  More accurately, they are always right where we are.  We just need to see them.  Or “perceive with seeing” as Old Sherlock would say.

I am currently indulging in one of Mexico’s traditions,  Waiting.  In this case, waiting for the Telmex repair man, who, I hope, will use his wizardly skills to restore telephone service to the house.  I can then drive to Manzanillo on Friday to pick up a new modem.  As my brother would say: everything has a sequence.

So, here I sit with no communication to the outside world.  No house telephone.  No internet.  Even my mobile telephone is not helping.  I apparently used up all of my purchased minutes by messaging them away yesterday.  (Yes.  I did solve my SIM card issue.  And, once I get over the embarrassment, I will tell you about it.  Probably, subtly.) 

Other than not knowing when I am going to get this piece posted, it feels rather good to be circumstantially incarcerated.  Instead of rushing off to eat at my favorite breakfast restaurant this morning, I slept in and started my day with some left over pasta.  Claiming time as one’s own is a great luxury of retirement -- something I should do more often.

Last night, a pocket rainstorm swept over the mountains -- dropping just enough rain to cool the night to let me I sleep well for the first time since I left Bend.  A good night’s sleep always improves my outlook on the day.

And that is why I am sharing this photograph.  The subject is nothing special.  Just a mop left hanging on the clothes line by Dora.  But its simplicity, tied with the rather baroque shadows of the courtyard plants, struck me as just the type of experience I so easily ignore.

Today, I didn’t.  I hope it adds a little something to your day.

In its own way, it is more memorable than the Palace of Westminster.

Note:  The Telmex guy just left.  And, wonder of wonders, he also replaced my modem.  I am now running one day ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

another one drops

Today I was going to introduce you to my new cellular telephone -- the HTC One M8.  Recommended by my well-informed and talented niece, Kaitlyn.

Instead, you get another shot of my kitchen counter.  The one that is starting to look like a morgue slab.  For the electronic deceased.

Let me start at the beginning.  As you know, I left my Samsung telephone in the back seat of a taxi in Barcelona.  (That would make a good opening sentence for a novel.  But not right now.)  After spending a month in Europe without a telephone, the first thing I did when I returned to Mexico was to contact Kaitlyn.  She always knows what constitutes cutting edge in technology.

Easy, she said.  There is only one choice.  The recently-released HTC One M8.  (Yeah.  Yeah.  I know I already gave you its full moniker.  But I like typing it out.  It sounds like the name of a spiffy handgun.)

There was only one problem.  It is not yet available in Mexico.  But that is why Amazon exists.  I ordered it, and was going to have a friend mule it down, until I decided to head north on my own.

And there it was at my brother’s house when I arrived -- all charged up and ready to go.  A quick trip to T-Mobile for a nano chip to replace the old SIM card I use in The States, and I was ready to go.  For my three weeks in Washington and Oregon, it proved to be a boon companion.  A veritable laptop in my pocket.

Of course, the moment I landed in Mexico, I had no telephone service.  Well, I did, but it was on roam, and my mama didn’t raise no economic fool.  I turned it off until I could get a Telcel nano chip.

That was supposed to be yesterday.  I walked into the local Telcel shop.  The clerk pulled out a nano chip, and I opened my telephone and ejected the tray containing -- nothing.

There should have been a T-mobile chip in the tray.  We looked around to see if I had dropped it.  The slot is so small we couldn’t see if anything was in it.  But, when I turned on the telephone, it still registered “roam.”  That means the chip is stuck inside.  And no matter of tapping would set it free.

Rather than start probing the slot, I decided I would drive to Manzanillo today to a mobile telephone repair shop – or the large Telcel store.  Certainly, I cannot be the only guy who has had a card stick in his slot.  (It reminds of my first grade experience of getting a glass bead stuck in my nose.  Don’t ask.)

I was going to combine the trip with a stop at the Telmex office to pick up a modem and file a service request for my dead telephone line.  But The Best Landlady in the World is already tackling that for me.

The list of Steve’s electronic goods that work as advertised is getting shorter.  But there are still a few candidates that could bite the Melaque dust.  For the moment, Mexico has provided me with enough challenges.

But here is some pleasant news from Mexico.  The moment the airplane touched down at the Manzanillo airport, my blood pressure dropped to levels I have not seen since – well, ever.  As far as I know.    It was 103/65 last night.  Even with all of these little bumps in the road, I am as calm as my mother.

Mexico is a good teacher.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

death walks the line

Death comes quickly on the beach.  Especially for electronics.

Early yesterday morning, we experienced one of our denture-rattling thunderstorms.  Around 5 AM.  I know the time because I had just slipped onto my bed and drifted off when I woke to bright flashes and almost–immediate booms.

When the lightning and the thunder are that close together, so is the risk of damage to my electronic buddies. 

Because I had not yet set up my usual computer table array, my laptop, Kindle, and new telephone were plugged directly into the electrical outlets in my bedroom – without their usual prophylactic surge protectors.  They were easy to yank out of the wall.

I headed into the living room.  My modem and telephone were connected through a high-quality voltage regulator and surge protector.  I spent the extra money on that piece because I knew that I could not always be present when thunderstorms struck.  They could wait.

Instead, I went into the kitchen and unplugged the microwave.  While I looked out the back door at the sound and light show, I considered unplugging the telephone-modem connection.  Just then, a bolt of lightning struck somewhere nearby.  It felt as if the house had been hit.  My friend, Ed the Artist, said the same thing about what I suspect was he same strike.

The clicking in the corner of the living room was loud enough that I knew something had happened.  Apparently, three somethings.  The modem was dead.  The surge protector was dead.  And, with a little investigation, it appeared the telephone line to my house was dead – even though some nearby neighbors still have telephone service.

Like everything in life, there is a sequence.  I need to call Telmex and report a dead modem before I can pick up a new one in Manzanillo.  That is problematic.  In the past, the company has required me to call from the telephone line associated with the internet connection.  The line that is dead as a toe-nail.

I will also need to buy a new surge protector.  Probably once again from Office Depot in Manzanillo.  That is fine because I need to drive down there to purchase a nano SIM card (or, Slim card, as we say in Mexico) for my new HTC.  It has had no connection since I flew out of Los Angeles on Saturday.

Of course, none of this matters until I can figure out how to get telephone service restored to the house.  I suspect the problem may be in the house’s wiring.  And that is a topic I will need to discuss with my ever-efficient landlady.

When people ask me why I moved to Mexico, I tell them the primary reason was because I had become too comfortable living in Salem.  I wanted to wake up somewhere each morning and not know how I was going to get through the day.

Sunday morning Mexico delivered in spades.  Just another adventure in what is turning out to be a very good life.

Monday, July 21, 2014

dr. lópez obrador has a cure for you

I thought the circus had come to town.

A stage had been erected on the village plaza.  Chairs were set out in tidy rows.  Loud, distorted music filled  the air.

It wasn't a circus.  But I was close.  A presidential candidate had come to town.  Andrés Manuel López Obrador.  The two-time loser in his attempt to be president of Mexico.  Affectionately known by his own acronym -- AMLO.

I do not buy his particular brand of snake oil.  But many Mexicans do.  After his razor thin loss in 2006, he had himself inaugurated as Legitimate President in a populist ceremony in Mexico City's giant public square -- though the election results said otherwise. 

Some people still consider him as their wronged and moral leader.  And a few of them showed up in San Patricio on a very hot Sunday afternoon.  For people to brave the 97 degree heat (with a matching pair of humidity trousers) for a political speech means the person is either an avid fan -- or a blogger in need of a story.

But AMLO was not in San Patricio to reminisce with the troops of his pretender presidency.  He was here to seek support for his role as the William Jennings Bryan of Mexico -- a third shot at the elusive presidency.

That analogy runs deeper than it first seems.  Like Bryan, AMLO is on a moral crusade.  I know that most Mexican politicians rail against corruption in their speeches.  For AMLO, the term "corruption" peppers every other paragraph.  And most of his disdain is aimed at the current occupant of the presidency.

He is more competent than fiery in his speeches.  But the acid in his voice whenever he mentions President Peña Nieto is not the least bit subtle.  He appears to have no respect for the man's reform platform.

In fact, he argues that Peña Nieto is one of the most corrupt politicians Mexico has experienced because he is trading away Mexico's patrimony to foreign interests.  If you do not have your Mexican political code book open, that means the president is allowing the United States to control Mexico's oil.  For people enamored with the Mexican Revolution, them's fightin' words.

A case can be made against Mexico modernizing its deep-sea oil capabilities, but AMLO is not interested in that type of debate.  There is a bloody shirt to be waved, and he is in the ring flying it as a banner above his early entry into the 2018 presidential election.  Reactionary socialism is a sight to be witnessed.

But he is doing it with an ever-decreasing power base.  In 2006, he had a broad center-left coalition.  Much of it came apart by the time of his 2012 run when he ran as a left-wing candidate.  But even the main partner of that campaign, his own PRD, tired of his increasingly obsessive need for control.

So, he took his football and left the PRD, setting up his a new political party -- the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA).  That is why he was in our little village.  Trying to stir up the political blood of my neighbors.

The handful of people who showed up in the heat were duly stirred.  To me, he seemed like a cross between Ross Perot and Ralph Nader.  A man who was once popular, but who increasingly talks more and more only to himself.  Like Bryan.

At least, I got a story out of it.  And a bit of sun. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

cheesed off

First, it was wine.  Now, it’s cheese.

With wine, it was the French.  With cheese, it is the full force of the European Union.  (And that is more annoying, than frightening.)

The French started the fight.  They were offended that California was churning out vats of bubbly and calling it champagne.  In Europe, champagne designates a sparkling wine produced under certain conditions.  And only within the confines of a province that existed when Louis XVI still had a head attached to his shoulders.

Of course, the champagne from California wasn’t champagne.  And anyone who tasted it knew that.

But the French were not satisfied.  Rather than give in, the Californians and the French came to an entente.  The label now reads “California champagne.”

Having toasted victory with a glass of Moet and Chandon, the Europeans have put Americans on notice that the other item on the chardonnay and brie circuit is next.  Cheese.  Well, cheese that is associated with either a European region or nation.  Starting with feta and parmesan.

The Europeans may be rather late to the party on parmesan.  Almost all Americans grew up (and still grow up) believing the dandruff in the green Kraft tube is parmesan.  What glamor once attached to the name is long gone.  It would be like the French getting upset about Americans using the term "French fries".  (And we have already had our donnybrook over that term.)

The Americans have good taste on their side in the dispute over parmesan.  “Parmigiano Reggiano” -- the real stuff -- is a protected trademark.  If the product cannot prove its true Italian provenance, the name does not go on.  For the Europeans to get all ticked off over the use of "parmesan" is like the Cotton Council suing me for infringing on its trademark.

I suspect this dispute will get resolved in a manner similar to the champagne dispute.  “American parmesan” has a nice ring to it.

But the Europeans better keep their hands off of that abomination known as spaghetti bolognese in America.  Anyone who has ever tried denying a child his “children’s spaghetti” knows that the Italians would not have a chance.