Tuesday, November 13, 2018

no plumber required for these leaks

If you live in the Atacama Desert, this story is not for you.

But the rest of the world has felt my pain -- with roof leaks.

I moved into the Barra house in October 2014. Within a month, the rains came. And with them, leaks in the kitchen and the library. Even though the rooms are on opposite sides of the house, they are exactly the same shape. And the leaks were in the same place in both. Right in the center of the room.

I called the former owner to ask if she could recommend a local contractor. She did me one better and told me she knew of the leaks and had already arranged for the original contractor to fix the leaks. At no expense to me.

Free always sounds like a good deal to me. By January the job was done (i got rhythm). But there was something about the surliness of the workers that made me feel a bit uneasy about the work.

When the next rains arrived, new leaks traveled right along with them. So, I had a contractor friend, Tracey Ross, look at the previous work. Because water tends to find access where two different surfaces join, she thought the water may be seeping in at the base of two pillars. So, she modified them. And the leaks stopped.

They stopped, that is, until last year when the leaks in the kitchen and library returned -- with the additional problem of a leak in Omar's bedroom. I needed a better solution (beauty and the breach).

Tracey read read that essay -- about the two contractors who failed to show up after I accepted their bids. Last week she stopped by to offer some suggestions. She was the person who had originally proposed re-designing the terrace drainage system. My concern with that approach is that it would restrict the use of the terrace as a living and exercise space.

She suggested a different course. It was obvious where most of the water was leaking through the roof. The mortar that the surly workers used for the 2015 had dried out and was breaking away -- on both sides of the terrace. As a result, at least two tiles were loose.

Early yesterday morning, a full crew showed up to begin work. They deftly removed the loose floor tiles and a line of mopboard tile pieces without breaking them. They then re-sealed the cement underneath, cleaned the tiles, and reinstalled them.

By the close of the day, everything was in place. With the exception of the new mortar.

After letting the roof cure overnight, Pancho, the foreman, returned on his own this morning to install a high-quality mortar. He is dong that as I chat with you.

Will the fix work? I don't know. But it does rhyme with my prior roof problems. When my roof in Salem leaked, I did not need to replace the whole roof. The roofer looked for the place the water was gaining access and patched the problem.

That is what is happening here. And I have a lot of confidence in Tracey and her crews from past experience.

If it leaks again, we will try something different.

Or I will move to the Atacama Desert.

Monday, November 12, 2018

changing ways

When I walk the three miles to church each Sunday morning, I stop at a little grocery to buy a bottle of mineral water.

Yesterday morning, I grabbed my water and took it to the checkout counter. A northern woman was already there, engaged in a very one-sided conversation.

She was also buying a bottle of water, which she held in one hand. In the other was a 500-peso note that she was fanning in frustration. I had seen this skit before. She was buying an 9-peso bottle of water (about $.45 (US)) and trying to pay for it with a note worth about $25 (US). That may work at a 7-11 in Ontario. Here, it is more than problematic.

I have known the clerk and her family for several years. Her boyfriend was a waiter at Papa Gallo's, and she would often accompany him along with her two children to restaurant events. We talk every Sunday morning at the store.

She was patiently telling the customer: "No tengo cambio." "I don't have change."

I have written about our odd currency issues before (hoping for change) -- an issue that seems to be universal in Mexico. ATMs issue 500-peso notes, but there are very few merchants who have sufficient change when customers present those notes in payment.

With a couple of exceptions. There is always PEMEX. Filling my gas tank costs almost 1,000 pesos. My bill at my favorite small grocery usually runs between 500 and 1500 pesos, depending on how many imported luxuries have caught my eye.

Other than that, the potential spots to drop a 500 are limited. Even most restaurants struggle with them.

When I explained this to the woman yesterday, she noticeably relaxed and thanked me because she was afraid the bill was being refused as counterfeit. She had just arrived from Ontario on a Saturday afternoon flight and was staying with friends for two weeks. This was her first outing on her own.

And then she asked the question we have all asked: "If the ATM gives 500-peso notes and no one can take them, what good are they?"

She summed up exactly what I have thought of the 500 notes in our little villages. They are not so much currency as they are script. A portrait of Jefferson Davis on the font would be apt.

But, I shared my solution with her. As soon as I get a handful of 500s, I march into the bank, take a number, and trade my script for 50s, 100s, and 200s. I am then ready to sally forth and overheat the local economy.

I told her I had just given her a perfect lawyerly answer. it was 100% factually accurate -- and useless. The ATM coughed up her money on Saturday. The bank was not open. This was Sunday.

One of my favorite ethics texts from law school was (and still is) Thomas L. Shaffer's On Being a Christian and a Lawyer. Shaffer's thesis is that lawyers will always be misled into inappropriate behavior if they simply try to comply with the Code of Professional Responsibility. Instead, lawyers must be counselors of truth. To be guided by morality rather than hollow professionalism.

Having dispensed his factual take on the 500-peso situation, a lawyer guided solely by the code would turn and walk away. A lawyer interested in true counseling would do more.

So, I pulled out my wallet, asked the woman for her 500-peso note, and gave her two 50s, two 100s, and a 200, and asked her if she needed any more 500s changed. She thought she could now manage until Monday when she would go to the bank.

It was too bad her hosts had not told her about the money situation here. But, those of us who live or repeatedly spend long visits here often forget. Change is just one of those background issues. But it was a reminder to me to ask my guests if they need change after visiting an ATM.

Now, I have no idea if that little exchange was what Shaffer had in mind. It certainly was not one of those tortuous moral issues that lawyers face daily. But it was good enough for me on that fine morning.

The tourist from Ontario had her water, some spending money, and a bit of advice she may or not use. My pal the clerk was thankful that a moment of non-communication ended well for all. And I walked across the street for a church service that dealt with the need for Christians to live out the ideals Jesus taught -- and, once again, realized how short I fall.

But, for the three of us, it was a moment of change.   

Sunday, November 11, 2018

a flower and an apology

I may owe some of you an apology.

My essay yesterday (and some of the comments here and on Facebook) may have given the impression that I believe holding Remembrance Day services in countries other than Canada or the United States is somehow inappropriate (an affair to remember). I do not.

I practiced law in a community where a large portion of the residents were of Mexican descent. Our Salvation Army statistics pegged the number between 19 and 22% when other Latinos were sorted out. So, I am accustomed to people from other countries celebrating their national days in other countries. And I usually participate myself.

There is no doubt that celebrations like Remembrance Day and Veterans' Day carry political baggage -- especially celebrated in a country like Mexico which has been the target of economic and military adventurism by the United States, Canada, Britain, France, and a bevy of European countries.

That is why I always feel a little uncomfortable about public displays of foreign patriotism in Mexico. And it is not only because the singing of foreign national anthems and displaying foreign flags in Mexico is forbidden in most circumstances.

Last year I asked a young Mexican lawyer to assist me in researching the law on foreign anthems and flags. He wasn't even aware such a thing existed.

We quickly found out there are more laws and regulations concerning them than we could imagine. Just as an aside, we also discovered that almost every Mexican flag in town does not comply with the law.

I am particularly sensitive to flags and anthems. When I was very young, flags fascinated me. About the sixth grade, anthems were added to the list.

In the early 1970s, I was stationed on a Greek Air Force base. The American contingent was small. The flagpoles in front of our little headquarters building was directly outside the window of my bachelor officers quarters. Each night I watched the American security police lower first the Greek flag and then the American flag.

In full honors. With one exception. It could have been a scene from a silent movie. In The States, retreat is always accompanied by the national anthem.

Without asking anyone, one evening, I put a record of national anthems on my turntable and waited for the honor guard to start lowering the Greek flag. When they did, I cued up the Greek national anthem.

That startled the young flag team. But they recovered. I then played The Star-Spangled Banner as the American flag was lowered. The head of the team turned, smiled, and saluted me at my window.

What I did not know is that I had just caused an international diplomatic brouhaha. The detachment commander had me in his office within the hour.

Greece had just gone through another coup attempt months before. This time, officers sympathetic to the deposed Greek king had attempted to topple the Army junta then in control of the government. The Greek Air Force had chosen unwisely by siding with the king. I had watched both the Greek commander and deputy commander of the Greek Air Base being taken away by the Army -- and they were never seen again.

Because the United States had remained neutral in the coup, the Greek Army was very suspicious of our presence.

All relations between the United States and countries where its military forces are stationed are governed through Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA). You may recall it was the inability to arrive at an agreeable SOFA with Iraq during the Obama administration that led to the precipitous withdrawal of American troops.

The SOFA with Greece did not cover the playing of national anthems. And with the Greek Air Force in the doghouse with the Army, neither Greek nor American commanders would take the risk of approving something as sensitive as national anthems.

But the new Greek commander was a brave soul. He requested permission from the Army, and it was granted. I returned to my duties as an anthem disc jockey.

That is a primary reason I am sensitive to how our Mexican hosts may react to playing music that bears multiple meanings. Last year, I watched a Mexican couple at Rooster's look as if they were physically in pain while the rest of us sang our respective anthems.

They could have been offended by the thought we were celebrating military adventures that had caused Mexico to suffer. Or maybe they were annoyed at having their peaceful breakfast disturbed by our rowdy lot. I do not eliminate the possibility that they were music lovers whose ears were being challenged.

I don;t know what was in their mind, but their faces have haunted me for a year. After the conversations we shared yesterday, I stopped short when I entered the restaurant this morning. The place was packed with Canadians and Americans. But right up front were two Mexican families eating breakfast, with a third in the back. I was positive I was going to re-live last year.

I was wrong. And a lot of that credit goes to Gary, the owner of Rooster'
s, who emceed the service. Last night, the two of us discussed some of the issues raised by the anthems. But, rather than eliminate them, he had a plan.

He told everyone what the order of service would be. A moment of silence. My reading of "In Flanders Fields." And then the singing of the national anthems of Mexico, Canada, and the United States.

In the past, the Mexican anthem was last. That struck Gary as wrong. If was to be sung, it should be first because we are in Mexico. I was not certain that alone would do the trick.

But Gary had more in mind. He explained what was being honored that day. Not military adventurism, but the individual citizens who had fought and died for their countries. He did a marvelous job of creating a common field of interest amongst the three nationalities represented.

The Mexican families sang their anthem with gusto, and stood in respect while Americans and Canadians did what we always do with our anthems -- sing sincerely with a bit of minor keys where major are called for.

After the service, two of the Mexican families had a long conversation with Gary and his wife, Joyce. And the inevitable seal of approval was stamped with a series of selfies.

The only thing I would have added to Gary's introduction (and, in fairness to him, I thought of it only after we were doing our post mortem) would have been references to Mexico's days of honor..

Even though Mexico does not have an equivalent of Remembrance Day, it celebrates several days honoring those who have fallen on behalf of Mexico. Mexican Army Day. Independence Day. Revolution Day. Heroic Defense of Veracruz Day. Cinco de Mayo. National Maritime Day. Boy Heroes Day. Mexican Navy Day.

The Mexican families present at today's service understood what we were celebrating. The same concepts they celebrate in honoring their dead. Whether in pride or in mourning, every nation can appreciate the honor.

But what is it that causes some of us to be so uneasy about national anthems performed within the borders of another country. I felt that same way at a Democrats Abroad Fourth of July party in San Miguel de Allende.

And then it occurred to me. Some moments are perfectly encapsulated in film. In Casablanca, in their desire to extend German authority to Morocco during World War Two, a group of German officers sing Horst Wessel at Rick's Club. On nominally-Free French soil. The mainly French audience sits quietly seething in rage.

That is what I envision the critics of national anthems sung on foreign soil are thinking. The worst possible version of nationalism.

But Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch had the answer. Rather than let the French sit silently in despair, Victor Laszlo leads them in a rousing chorus of La Marseillaise. It is a great moment in cinema.

That is the way I like to remember this day. With people of three nations sharing a common, almost-Roman concept of self-sacrifice. For one moment, no one was talking about which nation is greater -- or even if any of them are. We shared the virtue of honor and the pain of loss.

Do I still have qualms about singing my national anthem in Mexico? Sure, I do. I cannot erase my own experiences. It will always make me uncomfortable.

What I do know is that today was one of the more gratifying days of my life.

And, if I have offended any of you in those beliefs, I do apologize.

You can pray for me.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

an affair to remember

Tomorrow is Veterans' Day (née Armistice Day, but renamed to honor all American veterans, and to wash Woodrow Wilson's fingerprints off of the War to End All Wars).

For Canadians, it is Remembrance Day -- a day for the Commonwealth to honor those who died in the First World War and wars thereafter.

Melaque has a winter population of expatriates and visitors sizable enough to honor days that have no significance in Mexico. Remembrance Day. Canada Day. Fourth of July. Two Thanksgiving Days.

So, some of us will meet, as we always do, on 11 November at 11 AM to honor the dead and Those Who Served. A tontine without subscriptions.

The program is always the same. Gary, restaurateur extraordinaire of Rooster's, will  make a few opening remarks on why we are there. I will, as I have done for the past several years, read John McCrae's sentimental "In Flanders Fields" with its thrown torches held high.

We all will then sing (or try to sing) the Canadian, American, and Mexican national anthems. I always chuckle during the last one when I hear northerners sing about foreigners' soles profaning Mexican soil.

I wish we would not sing the anthems. It is a violation of Mexican law to sing another nation's anthem in Mexico without governmental permission. And the inclusion of the Mexican national anthem is anachronistic because Mexico was not a belligerent in the First World War.

That is not to say that Mexico did not play a part in that war. Without a German diplomatic faux pas involving Mexico, The States may never have joined in what was going on over there.

While the European empires were drenching fields with the blood of their young men, America stood studiously neutral following George Washington's advice to avoid foreign entanglements. There were lots of reasons for that stance.

The American Navy refused to send any of its fleet to the Pacific in 1914 for fear the British would invade through Canada -- a fear that survived until the start of the Second World War.

Most Americans had escaped Europe and saw no reason to involve themselves in a war in which they could see no discernible national interest.

Americans of German ancestry were he largest of the European groups, with the Irish following quickly behind. Many of them had no interest in fighting against people who shared their blood.

Even the sinking of the Lusitania and the increased submarine attacks on American shipping were not enough alone to convert the American nation into a war machine.

 Mexico was involved with its own problems when Europe went to war in 1914. It had its own war boiling. The Revolution started in 1910. By the time an unknown Serbian killed the man who could one day have been emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the leaders of the Mexican Revolution had moved on from killing oligarchs to assassinating one another.

The Germans suspected it was just a matter of time before President Wilson maneuvered a reluctant American public into joining the war as an ally of Britain. There were German military advisers in Mexico during the Revolution. But that was not good enough.

Mexico remained completely neutral during World War One -- continuing to allow German companies to operate in the country even after many British, American, and Canadian businesses had been expelled. As a result, Mexico City became a headquarter for German saboteurs bent on mayhem in The States.

President Carranza, who had rejected American military assistance during the Revolution and was offended by the American invasion of Mexico in search of Pancho Villa and the American occupation of Veracruz, began leaning toward the Germans. And the Germans saw the time had come for an offer.

The German government sent a telegram, authored by a German foreign officer, Arthur Zimmerman, to the German Ambassador in Mexico City authorizing the ambassador to offer a military alliance to Mexico. If Mexico would declare war on the United States, Germany would provide financial support and would make peace with the United States only with the cession of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to Mexico -- part of the territory Mexico had lost in the Mexican-American War.

As bad luck would have it (for the Germans), British intelligence intercepted the encoded message. It was passed on to the Americans who made it public in March 1917.

At first, there was some skepticism about the authenticity of the telegram. British intelligence had already produced a stream of lies to induce American involvement in the war. Then the German Foreign Office, out of some Prussian sense of honor, admitted it was genuine.

The American public was outraged at German perfidy. (Much in the same way they reacted to the XYZ Affair when the French attempted to bribe American peace-makers.)

Within a month, the United States was at war with Germany.

We will never know if the Zimmerman Telegram would have been enough to take America to war. After its announcement, Germany authorized unrestricted submarine warfare against all shipping heading to Europe to support the allies.

America has long been ambivalent about the First World War. Even after the Zimmerman Affair, 50 congressmen voted against going to war.

When the war was over, Americans did what they could to forget the horrors they experienced in Europe. Wilson's idealism and rosy promises turned out to be dross. The First World War is the only major war for which there is no memorial on the Washington mall.

My grandfather fought in that war. Growing up, we had great admiration for those who had fought and died. But Wilson did not share that honor.

It is no surprise that Americans have done their best to switch over to honoring all veterans in general on 11 November.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I first encountered Wilfred Owens's "Dulce et Decorum Est." It had such a powerful; effect on me that I sat down and wrote a poem about the Vietnam War to rebut Owns's thesis. (Of course, my poem ironically proved his point.)

In today's world, "Dulce et Decorum Est" is far more apt than "In Flanders Field."

       Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Of course, I will not read the Owen piece; I will read "In Flanders Fields."

And we will all honor the citizens who defended our countries and our ideals -- even though the policies for which they died may have been terribly wrong-headed.

To all of you veterans out there: thank you for putting others before yourselves. Your service is appreciated.

Friday, November 09, 2018

hardware to flatware

Businesses are like weeds in these parts.

They pop up. And then they are gone.

I discovered a great luxury when I moved into my house just over four years ago. On the other side of the block was a hardware store. Small, certainly. But Sergio had most of what I needed for repairs around the house. Even better, he was open on Sundays.

A stopper in one of my kitchen sinks failed to live up to its name. The rubber portion at the bottom had suffered far too many informal disassemblies. But, that was not a big problem. Sergio could help me.

Or so I thought. When I walked around the corner, everything that looked like hardware was gone from his store. Including the counters.

Instead, a young family was moving in a food preparation table and a refrigerator. My deductive reason usually rescues me whenever that many clues are dumped on my plate. A new restaurant had arrived in the neighborhood.

I was hoping for something exotic. We have German and Italian food in town. Maybe it would be a Hungarian restaurant redolent with smoked paprika.

Nope. When I asked the young woman who was toting in fresh vegetables, she proudly declared she cooked the best tacos in town.

I was polite. But I wanted to point out the last thing our neighborhood needed was another taco stand.

From where I was standing, I could count four other Mexican cuisine restaurants within three blocks. And that does not include OXXO, which serves up something that some might call food. It reminded me of all the beach shops in San Patricio lined up one after the other that sell the same merchandise at the same price and with the same customer service.

I have a friend who decided during Holy Week he would rent out umbrellas on the beach. He was positive he was going to get rich. But he needed money to buy the umbrellas -- and some tables -- and food to serve to his renters. It sounded good.

Of course, he asked if he could borrow the capital from me. When I asked him to explain his business plan, he just stared at me. So, I approached it another way. How much did he need to charge per hour to recover his capital investment and to return a profit for himself.

No matter how we ran the numbers, I was not going to get repaid and he was not going to make a profit. And that is exactly what happened.

I thought of him as I stood there watching the hopeful young couple pull together what was going to be their dream restaurant. I knew the other nearby restaurants barely make their way on our street. And I felt a bit sorry for them.

I need not have. Their tables were full the first few nights as I strode by on my walk. And then the trade died off. Undoubtedly, leaving the new owners pondering the question every restaurateur asks: "Where did everyone go?"

Or, in the end: "Where did all our money go?"

Running a business in a tourist town is a rough way to make a living. The best I can offer is my custom.

And for a guy who is forbidden from eating tortillas, that may not be good enough before the wind blows the seeds off of this particular dandelion.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

tapping eternity

The tapping at the front door was soft but incessant.

Was it Poe's raven with nevermore promises? An early visit from the Spirit of Christmas Past stopping by to Marley up my morning? Or maybe Emily Dickinson"s coachman inquiring if I needed a lift?

I have a general rule at the house. I do not open the front door unless I am expecting someone. I tend to follow a "by appointment only" philosophy.

Whenever I violate it, I am always confronted by a stranger requesting payment for work around the house that I do not need, or by a line of mothers with babies each carrying a laminated prescription list almost a decade old, or a bevy of Jehovah's Witnesses intent on converting my obviously-languishing soul.

The wiser course is for me to ignore the knocking and lend my attention to the tasks at hand. Because, as a homeowner, there are always plenty of "tasks at hand."

I broke my rule this morning. But only because I was heading out the door on what Felipe calls my Bataan Death March. I told myself, if I purposely exited, conversation could be avoided.

When I strode out the doorway, I was a bit taken aback by four young middle class Mexicans. Probably in their 20s. Three men. One woman. Dressed in some sort of matching outfits. White polo shirts. Ocher pants. They could have been missionaries repurposed by John Waters into a 1990s version of The Book of Mormon.

The young woman commented that I must be on my way to exercise. My workout look may not be as stylish as Omar's, but it is practical. The smell of my shirt could have been a clue.

I know better than to do what I did next. I had effectively escaped their clutches, but I turned around and asked what they were doing. I may as well have asked: "May I give you a lot of money to buy whatever it is you are selling?

Each of them whipped open the booklets they were carrying. I anticipated I would be staring into the ever-engrossing pages of a Watchtower. But I was wrong.

Instead, I was gazing into a portrait of my future as worm fodder.

All sorts of goods roll past my house each day touted by some enterprising soul. Fruits. Vegetables. Cleaning products. Magic elixirs. Furniture. But, this is the first time I had encountered a coffin sales team.

My experience is that Mexicans have a far more realistic approach to death than do most northerners. Up north, death gets shunted into the dark corners of cancer wards or relegated to the conversation ghetto of barely-whispered words. I have a friend who will not allow the word to be said in his presence.

For Mexico, death is part of the circle of everyone's life. We are born. We die. It echoes through day/night of the dead and at the multiple funeral parlors here with their casket window-shopping.

So, why not sell them door-to-door?

I have two Mexican friends in their 60s who have picked out their own coffins and store them in their bedrooms. Being practical folk, they use them to store towels and linens. An un-hope chest.

The first time I saw a waiting-to-be-used casket, I was startled. Until I heard the explanation.

The practice is not restricted to Mexico. A few weeks ago, I read an article in The Economist that local officials in Chinese villages  send out thugs to remove purchased coffins from the homes of their elderly comrades. The coffins are then smashed and burned.

The purpose of this pre-grave robbery is to convince the elderly to give up the notion of being buried in the earth. The Communist Party wants them to accept the efficiency of cremation. Such are the ways of traditions in a totalitarian state.

And that is in a country where almost 50% of corpses are already cremated. I find it hard to believe that Mexico's citizens would ever countenance an increase in its relatively low rate of cremation. Especially by government diktat. Those coffins provide the best first step in Mexico's reverence of the passion of death.

You will undoubtedly be shocked that I did not buy my coffin right there on the street this morning. I do tend toward impulse purchases. And what to do with my body upon my death has been running through my thoughts this past week.

Maybe I could just be stuffed in my prospective clothes dryer and buried underneath the soon-to-be-repaired terrace floor.

Or I could just wait for Emily Dickinson's coach driver to make a home delivery.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

whrere there never was a light

In September, big news came to San Patricio.

The village is getting its first traffic signal (you light up my life). Actually, two traffic signals (imagine bumping into you here). Both on Highway 200 through town. The first at the corner with Álvaro Obregón -- less delicately called "Whorehouse Street." The second at the intersection with Lopez Mateos -- the main street into San Patricio's business district.

And the first signal is just one brick short of a wall. The poles were installed yesterday with their naggingly-commanding red-yellow-green hectoring.

But the colors are still aspirational. If I have calculated correctly, there is no electrical power, yet. When that happens, what was once a free flow of traffic will be disrupted.

Anything new always causes the usual suspects to mount their orange crates. It is just another version of the open-closed debate that internationally haunts our political lives.

The Openites love any change that rolls down the calle. You want to mix peanut butter with orange peel and habanero peppers? Good for you. Let's all do that.

The Closedians don't much cotton to anything that was not done by their great-great-great-great grandmothers. Would Moctezuma have approved of a traffic signal? I don't think so. And who is going to think about the children?

The debate really does not matter. It is simply an opportunity for the cheerleaders and grumblers to show off their chops. The signal is there. And will soon be operating. As will the second.

The more interesting question is what is going to happen when the switch is flipped. People who grew up here (and those of us who have inculcated the driving culture) are not accustomed to even looking for traffic signals in these parts. There are a few stop signs, but none are obeyed.

None, that is, except by northerners who keep an eye out for behavioral conformity. And therein lies the potential problem.

I do not know how universal the phenomenon is, but in The States studies have shown that whenever stop signs or traffic signals are installed at a formerly-uncontrolled intersections, traffic accidents increase exponentially.

The reason is simple, people assume that other drivers will see the signal and obey it. If drivers are not accustomed to the presence of a signal at the intersection, they will often not see it and accidentally bump into someone who not unreasonably thought other drivers would obey what The Authorities had decreed them to do.

Driving in Mexico is not so much a skill as it is an art form. Choreography, to be specific. I love watching anyone do something well. And Mexicans are experts at making the seemingly-unworkable work. Admittedly, it is far more Alvin Ailey than Swan Lake, but it is a wonder to behold.

The local choreography, which is almost always based on custom rather than something chimeral like objective regulations, has its own rhythm. And that beat can be thrown off whenever Mexican tourists roll in from Guadalajara or northern visitors venture forth.

To the uninitiated, the two soon-to-be-controlled intersections are chaos. I myself have commented several times I am amazed there are not more accidents.

There are accidents, but usually when someone tries to apply Tapitio
, American, or Canadian rules or customs to the dance. Usually, stopping when a cautious person would stop -- if they were not involved in a pas de deux.

The ballet will now have a director with a harsh hand. And the dancers will need to learn that free-style will not work at those two intersections.

And, for all of us, this is merely a reminder. Not everyone will see the lights as a code. And maybe not even guidelines. I will need to abandon one more strand of my libertarian love for Mexico.

Be careful out there.