Saturday, July 04, 2015

lighting the white house

Nope.  I am not going to talk about that lighting.

This is a story that gets to an issue that has infuriated many photographers -- the ban of cameras in historical buildings or museums.  I run into the "no camera" signs everywhere. 

The one that really surprised me was in the warehouse-sized cathedral in Puebla.  And warders were everywhere to enforce it.

When I have inquired, I have been given two reasons.  The first comes in two parts.  Museums are concerned that the light of a flash will damage their art.  And experience has shown that "no flash" signs do not work.  The curators have a point.  A lot of people either ignore the flash restriction or they simply do not know how to turn off the function.

The second reason is understandable in close quarters.  People who try to take photographs often impede the flow (and viewing opportunities) of other visitors.  My favorite example is the crowd around the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.  Or even The Pieta in Vatican City.

The White House has been a no photography zone for over 40 years.  I did not know cameras had been banned.  My last visit to the White House as a tourist must have been before the ban was imposed -- because I took lots of photographs.

The ban has now been lifted according to a newspaper article I read this week.  Or partially lifted.

The article states that the ban was imposed  because "strong light can damage the delicate pigments used in art work."  And, I assume, the colors in fabrics and wallpaper, as well.

As of Wednesday, visitors can now stand in the Blue Room in front of Healy's portrait of President Tyler and snap away -- blocking out most of the room with their own face as a selfie. 

The reason for the change?  "Changes in camera technology make it possible to take high-quality photos using less light."  Anyone with a new mobile telephone can tell you that.

It all sounds very democratic and adult.  And I applaud it as far as it goes.  The announcement is almost chirpy in its optimism that amateur photographers will not clog the narrow aisles with their inability to figure out what they are trying to photograph.  "Danny, move closer to Uncle Frank.  Now, you are out of the picture, Marsha.  Stop making that face, Robin."

At least, I thought it sounded very adult until I read the list of cameras that will still be banned.  "Video cameras."  Well, that makes sense.  They are the equivalent of following an oil tanker up a steep grade mountain road.

And I understand the logic of banning "tripods, monopods, and camera sticks."  Adding them to the crowd flow would be like calling on the Marx Brothers to haul ladders into a glass factory.

But I do not get this one.  "Cameras with detachable lenses."  Those are the cameras that epitomize the supposed reason for allowing cameras.  They use less light to produce quality images.

It makes sense only if the assumption is that photographers will be constantly switching lenses and tying up the tourist traffic intent on getting just one more selfie.  But there seem to be far easier ways to monitor that behavior.  The exception completely fails Occam's Razor.

Of course, the problem may not be with the White House's reasoning.  This may be another long list of news stories where the reporter did not know enough about his or her subject to even check the facts.  Or it could be a combination of both.

Here ends my rant.  Because it does not even come close to touching on my life in Mexico.  I suspect I will not soon be returning to the White House as a tourist -- or in any other capacity -- in the near future.

Instead, I am pleased to announce that anyone with any type of camera is free to visit the house with no name in Barra de Navidad.  And they are free to shoot at will. 

We provide a libertarian refuge.

Friday, July 03, 2015

the magic gift hole

Something in my youth programed me to believe the post office box was a portal to a world where one only had to wish -- and the benefits would flow.  Just like Social Security.

I have long had that feeling.  It started in Powers when I would accompany my mother or grandfather to the post office to check our box's contents.  At some point, I must have ordered something with box tops -- even though I have no idea what it might have been.  But the connection was made.  The mail forever would ping a Pavlovian response.

When I ordered my book and DVDs from Amazon, I was certain (based on the experience of others) it would get to Mexico.  But I was not so certain about it being delivered to my post office box -- even though my friend Nancy told me it had worked perfectly for her for years.

My skepticism was tucked in for a long nap yesterday afternoon -- or, actually, Wednesday evening.  When I checked the DHL site, it informed me the package had been delivered, and the delivery slip was signed by Saul Rodriguez Madreuno.

I immediately knew all was well.  Saul is the postmaster at my little chat shop.  If he signed for it, there would now be a notice in my box that a package had arrived.

When I walked in, I didn't make it to my box before Saul had the package on the counter.  We talked a little about the new Amazon warehouse in Mexico City and speculated on whether that would affect Amazon shipments from The States.

Most people who have priced items at the new Amazon site in Mexico have reported that the prices are higher than the same items purchased in The States.  But there are also exceptions.

If I try Amazon again, I am going to shop on both sites.  And I probably will order more from Amazon.  Having a ready source for DVDs (without relying on the local pirated copies sponsored by the narcos) is reason enough for me to keep on shopping Amazon.

It may be time to buy some CDs to replace the albums I tossed in Salem.

At least, I am no longer agnostic about using my postal box as a delivery point for my packages.  That piece of information alone is worth the cost of this little experiment.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

the monkey on my back

He is not much to look at.  At least, these days.

This little woven monkey (most likely purchased at a Dollar Shop) has followed me all around the world.  During that time, I have thrown away a lot of the encumbrances that were in the way of my next move.  But The Monkey has survived.

I still remember when he entered my life.  It was a farewell party from Castle Air Force Base in August 1973.  I had just received orders for my new assignment in Greece.  My former commander's wife, Joan Shinnick, brought a bag of gag gifts.

Joan was one of those personalities that come into our lives and forever change how we look at the world.  She was an incredible writer.  Witty.  Precise.  With a jeweler's eye for cant.  I think I once called her a cross between Mame Dennis and Erma Bombeck. 

I can still hear her describing each trinket as she pulled it out of her gift bag -- turning each into a small morality play.  And then came The Monkey.

He has no other name.  For some reason, slapping a moniker on him seemed restrictive.  As if the good charm he brought to my life would somehow be dissipated with something as common as a name.

My assignment in Greece was what the Air Force called "remote."  That meant I would be giving up the luxuries I would regularly find on an American base.  Like fresh milk.  And remote it was.

Joan, being an Air Force wife, understood what the term meant.  She gave me The Monkey with instructions that I was to hang it in my bachelor officers quarters.  And, whenever I encountered days that seemed unbearable, and I would encounter many (she predicted), I was to look at The Monkey and laugh.

It worked.  Numerous times.  No matter where The Monkey lived.  In Greece.  In England.  In law school.

When I moved down here, I found him in the bottom of a box.  I am almost positive I intended to toss him out when I left Salem.  But there he was.  Just like Chuckie.

He has now lived in three different houses in Mexico.  I had not yet found a good spot for him in the new house -- the house that shares the same aversion to an appellation.  Instead, I tossed him on one of the shelves in my bedroom.

When I returned from lunch yesterday, I noticed that Dora, the woman who assists me in keeping my house in order, had found an appropriate perch for him.  Hanging on the wall just over my computer desk.

Joan and I shared regular letters.  Not just during holidays.  But she would always send an amazing Christmas decoration made of paper.

Just after I moved down her, our correspondence stopped.  I called her for her birthday two years ago.  The voice was hers.  But I could tell she had no idea who I was. 

I seldom have to look at The Monkey for joy these days.  And you know why if you read these pages.  My life here is filled with joy.  When I glance up at him now, I can share the memory of Joan with him.

And isn't that what a good friendship is all about?

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

dancing in the dark

Now and then, I wish I could create some of the paintings I like to collect.

Take last evening.  I was on the beach to watch the phenomenon we talked about a few days ago (lights in the distance) -- witnessing Venus pass Jupiter on their respective rotations around the sun.  There they were, closer than two thoroughbreds at a Kentucky Derby photo finish.

I snapped a couple of photographs.  Of course, without special equipment, they appeared to be two mismatched headlights coming at me on a drive to Puerto Vallarta.  Not really photo-essay quality.

Then, I turned around.  The true show was taking place on stage right.

I have been noticing the moon make its way through its phases during the past two weeks.  Reading in the pool at night has been a bit easier with the moon's assistance.

Last night, it was showing off what it could do when it is in its glory.  And our beautiful bay was eating up the moonlight like a diva consumes attention.

What could be more tropical than a full moon, a shimmering bay reflecting the light right back to its source, and a beach to top it off?  Even the weather was cooperating.  Hot and muggy, but with a constant breeze that could make us Costalegre denizens a bit jealous of islands with trade winds.

Evenings like this make up for Mexico's flaws.  At least, they make me forget about them. 

After all, I can do little about the flaws.  I can do a lot about just enjoying the fact that this moment is mine.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

target sighted

I swore I was not going to do this.  But, since I did not tell you I wasn't, I am going to do it any way.

Tracking someone else's package as it wends its way through the shipping channels of The States and Mexico does not make for interesting reading.  But it is keeping me entertained.

The last time, we talked, my DVDs and book from Amazon has wandered from San Bernadino to Ontario to Los Angeles.  From Los Angeles, I thought it would make the jump across the border.

Not so.  DHL whisked it off to its central processing hub in Cincinnati -- where it spent the weekend.  Doing what?  I am not certain. 

After all, there is plenty to do in Cincinnati on a free Saturday and Sunday.  But for a package?  Maybe Truman wanted to take in a play at the Playhouse in the Park.

Having been refreshed by its respite, the package took an express route on Monday.  It flew to Guadalajara in the morning.  Customs then did what customs needs to do in a matter of minutes.  By early afternoon, it was shipped out of the Guadalajara DHL processing center for delivery.

Now, I have been around the package delivery world long enough to know that we are only in the second act of a three-act play.  Undoubtedly, there will be stops in intermittent DHL processing centers.  Colima or Manzanilo.  Maybe both.

The DHL tracking page claims the package will not arrive until 6 July.  Amazon is more optimistic with its prediction of 2 July.  But the Amazon page also contains a rather ominous warning: the dreaded "Delayed" notice.

Maybe someone finally noticed the package is to be delivered to a postal box.  Or it could mean almost anything -- or nothing.  I will simply wait patiently to see where the package seems to be tacking.

I may even head down to the post office once the DHL page indicates the package is out for delivery.  Even if it means spending the day at the post office, I really enjoy chatting with the clerks there.

And I won't bother promising this is the last post on this delivery.  I almost feel Magellan -- if it were not for the fact Nancy has been doing the same thing for years.


Monday, June 29, 2015

taking out the trash

Garbage collection fascinates me.

Of course, it is a necessity.  Modern civilizations could not exist without it.  Otherwise, our living areas would be buried in trash.

In Pátzcuaro, several times a week, the garbage truck arrives to the sound of a bell that any colonial town crier would have envied.  At the sound, residents run from their houses carrying bags of garbage -- along with a tip of pesos for the garbage guys.  Mexicans cannot stand garbage accumulating in their houses.

I suspect that is why our local garbage men show up early almost every morning to pick up the neighborhood trash.  That was one of the rhythms I needed to learn at the new house.  I usually put out my trash twice a week after Dora pays her visits tidying up my life.

In Villa Obregon, most houses have a very interesting apparatus on the sidewalk -- similar to this one in my new neighborhood.

It is a clever device.  It keeps the dogs and other scavengers from ripping through the garbage bags in search of scraps.  I do not have one at the new house.

Instead, I bought a garbage can to comply with the notice at the top of this piece.  It is painted on the wall of our local football pitch. 

The message is very clear.  I understand the residents of my neighborhood traditionally would gather up their garbage, put it in the type of plastic bags you would receive at a convenience store, and then deposit it on the street corner for the garbage men to collect on their regular rounds.

But custom is a hard thing to break.  Even though the garbage is supposed to be left in front of each house, my neighbors still drop their bags on the street corner.

And because no one on my street has one of those raised garbage containers, the dogs treat the bags as the equivalent of a Sirloin Stockade buffet.  The result is that the contents of the bags are strewn in the street.  The mornings do not paint a pretty street scene.

The garbage men will pick up any undisturbed bag on the corner, but any of the torn bags in the street are on their own.  That is why I bought a heavy garbage can.  I tote it to the curb twice a week.  The next morning the contents are gone, and I roll the can back into its resting place.

And what about the trash in the street?  It will sit there until the rains come and sweep most of it into the sewage system -- where it will damage the pumps.

Or it will sit there until either my neighbor, Mary, or I get tired of the eyesore.  It usually takes only about a half hour to gather everything up and prepare it for the next pickup day.

For some reason, it does not seem to bother the neighbors who put it out.  I have seen them watch me cleaning up the street.  Their looks are something between bemusement and comedy.

Mexicans are quite fastidious in the hygiene of their homes, their clothes, their vehicles, and themselves.  Getting the garbage outside of the house is just one example.  For some reason that attitude just does not square with the garbage issue.

A Mexican friend once told me, when we were discussing litter: "Once a piece of paper leaves a Mexican's hand, it s no longer his concern."  I do not know how valid that statement is, but the empirical evidence on my street would support the postulate.

Things are changing, though.  Local students regularly hold litter cleanups in the villages, as well as promoting more litter barrels in public places.

Maybe that is the answer.  Perhaps in another generation, when I am getting around with my walker, my Mexican neighbors will join me in cleaning up the street.

I had written an entirely different ending to this piece.  I decided I would play litter patrol on the street last evening.  As I worked my way to the corner, I noticed my neighbor, Israel, who I met when I first moved in, was also cleaning up the mess on the corner.

We re-introduced ourselves and chatted a bit.  He has a store in Melaque, where I have seen him numerous times.  Both of us laughed at how we had failed to make the connection that we are neighbors.

We commiserated over the dog problem and the number of times trash barrels have been stolen from the corner.  But, most of all, he undercut the entire premise of this piece.  Mexicans do care about trash.  At least, Israel does.

And, even if he is the exception, it is nice to put a neighborly face on a shop owner I see almost every day.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

the forbidden fruit

One of my failings as a traveler is when I am behind a steering wheel.

My idea of driving is to go from point A to point B.  There is nothing in between.  If I see something interesting along the road, I believe it will be there when I return.  When I do return I , of course, drive right by it.

I come by the affliction naturally.  My brother is the same way.  We blame it on the Y chromosome we inherited from our father.  My mother can (and will) tell stories about the absurd lengths he would take to avoid stopping on road trips.

On my drives to and from Puerto Vallarta, I have noticed some odd shrubs along Highway 200 south of the Tomatlán turnoff.  The plants are not that noticeable.  They are no more remarkable than creosote bushes -- which they resemble.  Lots of branches with no discernible trunk.

What caught my attention were the grapefruit-sized fruit that appeared to grow from each of the individual trunks.  Almost as if someone had taped green Christmas ornaments to them.

I cannot count how many times my curiosity has been tweaked -- and I would keep on driving.  When I drove my friend Jack to the Puerto Vallata airport, I pointed them out to him.  And I am glad I did.

He told me the tree and the fruit have the same name -- cuastecomate.  Interestingly, that is the name of a beach village just over the hill from Melaque.  And for good reason, the trees grow there.  Until recently, there was a giant version right in the village.  Before it was cut down.

On the return trip, I stopped to look closer at the fruit.  They look like a type of gourd.  A very hard exterior with an almost hollow interior.

Most trees around here have been imported.  The cuastecomate is a Mexican native.

When the gourds are dried, the local Indians found them very useful for carrying and storing water, as drinking and eating utensils, and the foundation for decorative pottery.  The Huichol make beaded maracas from the gourd.

I am told a local naturopath creates a medicine from the gourds inside the pulp.  When the gourd turns brown and falls from the tree, the top is removed, and the interior (including the pulp) is filled with alcohol.  After a curing period that sounds as if it might rival that of kimchi, the fermented liquid is used to control respiratory conditions -- including asthma.

I have never tried it.  But, then, I do not have respiratory troubles.

What I do have is a bit of new information about a naive Mexican plant.  And in an area filled with mango, tamarind, coconut, and other foreign plans, that is rare enough for me. 

I need to stop and enjoy those moments more often.