Sunday, July 15, 2018

mr. moto takes a vacation

Something was happening.

As part of my afternoon walk today, I ambled down to the Barra de Navidad malecon. It is quite an attractive hunk of concrete and landscaping mounted atop the barra (sand bar) that separates Navidad Bay from a nifty little harbor. It is the bar in Barra de Navidad.

When I was last down there, it was a set for which the Spanish word tranquilo was made. There were very few people on the malecon. And even fewer on the beach.

Not so this afternoon.

My first hint were the number of motos -- motorcycles -- parked at the start of the malecon. The most I have ever seen there is two. This afternoon, they were as numerous as horses in front of the Rock Ridge saloon on Lili von Shtupp night.

And the motos were not there alone. But let me tell you two brief stories before we proceed.

Several years ago, I was standing in a long line waiting for the ATM to disgorge pesos into my pocket. In front of me was a woman I have known since moving here. But, unlike me, she spends only a few months each year in Mexico.

She looked at all the white-haired northerners in line in front of us,and said: "I really feel sorry for the Mexicans when we leave. There will be no money in town for them."

The second is not unlike the first. Last week, I received an email from an acquaintance in Canada. He wrote: "Thank you for your stories. I truly enjoy reading them because they remind me that even though we are not in Mexico for six months out of the year, life still goes on there."

And part of that life was on the malecon. The place was filled with vendors selling sugary treats to families made up of three or so generations. All enjoying a comfortably warm day in the sun.

What startles me each summer is to approach of a group of who I believe are Mexican teenagers, and hear them speaking English. A lot of American citizens come here to visit their relatives -- and to enjoy their vacation.

A young woman from Victorvile, California told me she was jealous that I live here. I told her I fully understood what she meant.

What struck me most though were the number of people in the water on both sides of the sand bar -- in the bay and in the laguna.

Some of the grumpier northerners have rattled on about how the beach at Barra de Navidad no longer exists, Plenty of culprits are blamed, but the dirge is the same. It isn't what it used to be.

That did not seem to be bothering the Mexican families that found the beach exactly to their taste on a Sunday on the sand.

I suspect all humans have a tendency to believe if they are not in a place they enjoy, somehow that that place folds up waiting their return. As if it were a freeze frame in a bad movie.

But that is not how life works. My friends in Salem are going about their lives without any regard to whether I am there or not. As is my family in Bend. And my friends in British Columbia -- and England -- and Germany. Life does not stop just because I am not there.

I suspect that is one of the flaws of existentialism and Cartesian logic. In truth, we can know that life does rely on our personal validation.

So, dear readers, do not worry. Life goes on here. And Mexican tourists are doing their best to see that the local merchants fill their cash registers with pesos.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

where do you get your ideas?

It is a fair question.

And my usual answer can sound a bit flippant, for the major part, I just open my eyes.

Even after living here for ten years, I am often awed by what goes on around me. Some things are amusing. Others charming. A few metamorphic.

I am awed because I am a fish swimming in a foreign sea, A rainbow trout in the Indian Ocean.

It is the interpretation where the nub of the narrative lies. And even though I can figure out some cultural vagaries, most stump me. I either misinterpret them -- or I go to one of my Mexican guides to unravel the paradox.

Those are my existential essays. But, there are other sources. I stumble across things on the internet. Northern friends send me articles.

And, from time to time, readers bring great ideas to me. That is the genesis of today's tale.

Wade lives here part time in my neck of Barra de Navidad. While going to the bakery one day, he walked past some new construction on the main street of this part of town. He said he had noted something very peculiar about the new building -- and included a photograph.

I thought I knew the building he meant. It is so close, I can see the top of it from my terrace. Looking a good deal like the Moorish domes of the remnants of Whitehall Palace seen across the duck pond of Saint James's Park.

I wrote about the construction in February 2016 when the foundations were being laid (mexico knows best). Back then, it was supposed to be a storage area. It has now morphed into commercial space -- though it is still unfinished.

So, I hiked over there -- earning a few more of my prized steps. And, sure enough. Just as Wade had pointed out. There was something very peculiar about the building.

At that point on the street, the utility poles is concrete. The electric company recently replaced the wooden poles that had a tendency to rot and come down in mild tropical storms and the occasional car crash.

The building is built very close to the street, and the first and second floor terraces jut out further. It is that jut that causes the "peculiarity," Here it is.

At some point during the construction, the building met the utility pole. Rather than alter the building plan, the building was built around the pole. I suppose they have a symbiotic relationship of support. We might call it Donald and Andrés.

But my northern mind conjures up some questions. What happens when the pole needs to be replaced? What happens if the terraces need to be re-modeled? What happens if a fiery asteroid collides with the Earth and ends life as we know it?

Of course, none of the questions relate to facts happening right now. The present problem was how to complete the building with the pole where it was. And that problem is solved. Any others are merely hypothetical.

There is one fact I have withheld from you (just like Agatha Christie). The owner of the lot and building is a Canadian. A citizen of British Columbia. Certainly, he must have shared some of my questions. If so, it is a fact not in evidence.

The point is: it works. And worrying about the future is just wasted energy.

I will confess, though, I will be interested to see how it all plays out over the coming years.

And we have Wade to thank for it all.

Wade -- Your royalty check will be on its way. Of course, that is dependent upon Mexico winning the World Cup.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

all hands on deck

I just realized I have not invited you to my upper terrace recently.

There is a reason for the slight. Not a very good one. Even though it is one of my favorite areas of the house, I tend to take it for granted.

The Mexican-French Canadian architect, who designed and built this house as her dream home, had a good eye for Barragánesque line. (Luis Barragán is the Mexican architect who is credited as the father of Mexican modern architecture.) The lines of the house are Enlightenment-logical.

The lines were what attracted me to the house. I probably did not even notice the upper terrace. I certainly had no particular plans for it.

When my artist friend Ed saw the terrace, he saw the perfect venue for an art collection. And he was correct. The angular walls almost beg for the presence of large canvases.

Ed is an abstract expressionist. Well, he paints in that style. And his work is quite good. But I was not certain until I saw the paintings mounted on the walls (the good life). It was almost as if the architect had these paintings in mind when she conceived the walls.

Since then, the upper terrace has become part of family life around here. The breezes make it a great place to read -- or to play Mexican train, which we do when the rest of the family is in residence.

But I now have a new use for it.

The house is square, the rooms surrounding a patio with a swimming pool. The terrace is essentially built on the roof of the other rooms forming a complete path around the upper level of the house.

Early on, the terrace struck me as being similar to the deck of a cruise ship. The deck just above the swimming pool. On most ships that is also the sports deck with a running and jogging track.

I do not know why I did not see it earlier, but the upper terrace is built to serve the same purpose. And, over the three years I have lived here, I have occasionally used it for my walking regime. Especially, when the summer rains make our local streets impassable. Or simply to be avoided on foot because of the sewage overflow.

Lately, I have had my own sewage overflow problem. For the past month, I have had a lower intestinal issue that gives me very little warning before my system turns into Old Faithful. As a result, I have created my own Elba in the house.

Admittedly, it is a self-imposed exile. But, I do not dare get very far from the comfort of ceramic without the possibilities of a catastrophe spiking.

At the onset, I really did not feel like walking. I was too tired. But that was only for a day or two. My energy quickly recovered.

It then occurred to me that I have the perfect solution at hand. I can complete my daily walking regime without leaving the house. 100 laps is the equivalent of 5 miles.

Is it boring? You bet. Walking in circles makes me feel like a neurotic gnu wandering methodically but without purpose. But it is better than no exercise at all. And I have worked back up to walking 7 miles each day.

When I lived alone, I would play music while I walked onthe terrace to at least keep my mind active analyzing it. Now that I have a son, his television played at Mexican levels tends to drown out everything else.

This diarrhea problem will pass. I can then invite you back to the terrace for something a bit more entertaining. Maybe a game of Sorry?  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

not ready for prime time

I really should talk to someone about this obsessive disorder.

For some reason, I keep picking at the scab of our local OXXO store. You know the one. I have written about it twice (does that translate to hugs and kisses?; hugs and kisses). And that is just about the number limit of guest appearances on Mexpatriate. Well, unless you are a scorpion.

I had decided I had OXXOnerated myself of the topic. That is, until last week when the store opened. Some of you mentioned in your comments that you hoped Mexicans would support their local abarrotes instead of buying their beer and ice at OXXO.

Last Monday, the store had its grand opening. It was to be quite the event. Invitations (with discount coupons attached) were stuffed under front doors. Unfortunately, the invitation arrived under my door the day after the opening.

That was just as well because the store was not really ready for the event. The contractor had told me the date and time. When I showed up, the store was open, but the staff was busily gathering up the required paraphernalia of such sacred rites.

Balloons. Posters. Ear-piercing music blared from a speaker placed just right to blast the eardrums of anyone who had the temerity to join the celebration.

I went inside. And I was not alone.

The store was not packed. There were perhaps 15 of my neighbors looking at the merchandise.

My Telcel (cellular) bill had just arrived. So, I decided to take advantage of one of the best benefits of Mexican convenience stores. Financial services. For me, it is a place to pay my telephone, electric, and cellular bills. For my neighbors, it is cash transfer point. These stores help fill the gaps left by Mexican banks.

To be a good neighbor, I grabbed a bottle of mineral water, and got in line behind a young woman with two small children who were fascinated with all of the small sweets just at their eye level. Like mothers universal, she was haggard.

The clerk was not quite so focused. Or, maybe she was just frustrated. The customer wanted to purchase one item. Toilet paper. But the clerk was having trouble. When confronted with a credit card, more problems ensued.

I stood there for just under 10 minutes and decided my transaction could wait. (I should note I have seen similar problems at one of the other OXXO stores in Barra de Navidad.) By then, there were about six more people in line. I returned my bottle to the cooler and left.

Since then, I have noticed a steady stream of customers at the store. Lots of young mothers. But the main demographic seems to be young Mexican men on motor bikes. The front of the store looks as if it could be in Saigon in 1971.

I was positive I knew what that last group was buying. They tend to be a beer crowd. But, when I went inside, I discovered the beer coolers were locked. 

The only unlocked alcohol cooler had a sign asking customers not to open the door.

It turns out there is a licensing problem. If I understood my informant correctly, it will be another month before the matter is worked out. Maybe.

For a company that bases its revenue on the sale of Corona and Victoria, that seems to have been an odd detail for OXXO to overlook in choosing an opening date. Or, maybe other sales will meet the company's capital recapture scheme. Who knows?

What I do know is that the store was not quite ready to open. A week later, the clerks are far more confident in manning their stations -- even if they are OXXO-slow. As yet, my attempts to build a personal relationship (similar to what I have with the owner of our local grocery and with the Kiosko staff in Barra de Navidad) have been rebuffed. But everything takes time.

Because of my continued need to be close to a bathroom, I have been taking my exercise on the upper terraza of my house. 100 laps gives me 10 miles.

A few nights ago, I noticed a bright light shining through one of the architectural features where there had once only been darkness. It was the OXXO sign. Doing its best imitation of John Winthrop's shining city upon a hill.

It was startling when I first saw it. Now it is just part of the background of my little village rolling into the twenty-first century.

I suspect in another week or two, I will not even notice the home of the moto cowboys.

Monday, July 09, 2018

insulting my country

Saying nasty things about Mexico will irritate me. Saying ignorant things will bring out the mother bear in me.

I have been friends with Al for years. Since I moved to Mexico, we stay in touch through email. Not frequently, he will send me something he has recently read. Almost always about Mexico. He is interested in my take. I suspect because he is still a bit baffled that I would have moved here.

Yesterday he sent me an article from an online magazine that I would not usually read. The writers are a mixed bag. But most are former conservatives who have given into a nationalist and protectionist philosophy.

The article Al sent me was about AMLO's election as president of Mexico and what it means to both Mexico and the United States. I would have anticipated the author would have been appalled at the election of a socialist in a neighboring country. But I was wrong.

The world of politics is changing. The old left-right divide is starting to make little sense. The new paradigm of "inward-looking" and "outward looking" makes far more sense. Or, as the British would have it, "somewheres" and "anywheres."

AMLO falls perfectly within the new political paradigm. The author points out AMLO ran "not as a socialist, but as a national populist skeptical of globalist neoliberalism." Having run twice before for president as a social democrat, he remade himself this year into a national populist. The author's prediction is that the new Mexican president and the American president will be able to work well together because they share a lot of the same interests.

Take this gem, for example. "
AMLO critiques NAFTA for banning Mexico's traditional tariffs that protected its small corn farmers, whose ancestors had been growing corn for thousands of years. The beneficiaries were massively efficient Midwestern American farmers, whose cheap corn imports pushed huge numbers of Mexican peasants into illegally migrating to the US over the last quarter century."

We will skip over the factual errors in that statement because I am far more interested in its comic book view of economics. He builds on that to point out that the celebrated Trump-AMLO telephone call was a success because both of them have a deal in mind: trading American investments in Mexican infrastructure for Mexico's help in lowering Central American immigration.

The idea is interesting. After all, in congress, AMLO will depend on votes from his coalition partner, the Social Encounter Party (PES), a socially conservative Christian party with views similar to the Christian right in the United States. And AMLO shares a few of those views -- opposition to gay marriage, opposed to abortion.

But, that is not what really caught my eye in the article. In discussing American investment in infrastructure in post-Revolution Mexico, the author noted: "Mexican elites traditionally resisted the threat of American dominance, but at the expense of tolerating (and even promoting) a culture of mediocrity and accident-proneness in its population. Mexico’s superb real estate would attract an influx of Americans, but Mexicans have managed to make their country boring and distasteful to most Yankees besides Jeb Bush. Mexico’s shoddiness successfully repels gringos, but also limits its potential."

There is a lot of vitriol in that paragraph. The sharp elbow to Jeb Bush is an example. And there are a lot of good reasons why American businesses have been reluctant to invest in Mexico. But, I really take exception to the gratuitous insult that the country in which I live has purposely been created "boring and distasteful to most Yankees." Those adjectives are born of a nativist mind.

It is true that some aspects of life in Mexico may be distasteful. Cartels. Corruption. Drug addiction. A violent crime rate that continues to climb despite the promises of politicians.

But the positives of living here are tasteful (if that is the proper antonym). In fact, delectable. For most of us, the negative aspects of Mexico are a distant echo. (With the exception of the recent scourge of methamphetamine addictions that has repeatedly touched my life through Mexican friends.)

Those of us who choose to live here have done so for many reasons. For me, it s the challenge of living in a new country. The weather, the availability of fresh ingredients for meals, the ability of my neighbors to accept what life offers with aplomb. Those are all sweeteners on top.

And "boring?" That is obviously the opinion of a man who has not spent any time truly taking in the life of Mexico. How can any country based on fiestas, faith, and family be boring?

What AMLO and Trump decide to do with their relationship is something I am looking forward to. But, I am going to do it in my country of choice where every day is to be celebrated.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

blowing up jiminy cricket

It is cicada time in our neck of the jungle.

But you would not know it just by listening for them. Usually, the neighborhood is abuzz with the love calls of one of nature's oddest-looking insects. With their oversized eyes, Lane Bryant bodies, and disproportionate diaphanous wings, it is no wonder they have to sing so incessantly to find a mate.

I know they are out and about because I run into them (literally) every night on my terrace repurposed as an exercise track.

They are attracted to the light at night. When they are not mooning away staring into the light (which must be far more attractive than a mate), they are battering their bulky bodies against the sconces.

The sconces win. In the morning, the bodies of the cicadas are scattered across the equivalent of the Little Big Horn. And that strikes me as a rather odd way to conduct a reproductive cycle. Suicide rather than procreation.

Two weeks ago, I received an email from a friend in Salem. Like me, he loves playing with words.

"I am reading the memoir of Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road.

"Ms. Thurston, a black woman, grew up in Florida in the early 20s, amid people of great simplicity and little nuance.  As a child she would go out into nature, talking to trees, birds, and lakes.  One day she returned home and told her mother about having spoken to the lake, which allowed her to walk upon its surface without being drowned.  She recounted how she was able to look down upon the fish below and to see the life in the lake.

"Her grandmother overheard her stories and cautioned the mother that the child was lying and that if she didn't beat the lying out of the child now, it would only get worse."

I often meet people who confuse the use of the poetic with lying. And who are impoverished by their inability to see the world through different eyes.

When I visited Colombia with my cousin and his Colombian wife, she told me of a cricket that would sing one last song and then explode.

I knew she was referring to cicadas because we had been listening to them. But I had never thought of describing their life cycle as singing and then exploding. Like something from a Monty Python skit.

The genesis of the tale is obvious. After cicadas dig out of the soil where they have spent most of their life, they go through several stages of molting. My planters are currently filled with the husks of cicadas who have flown away to mate.

Sons of the enlightenment see the remnants of a life cycle. A poet sees an insect whose joy at being alive cannot be contained. It dies in one last burst of song. It is a very Latin view of life. Joy and death walking together toward the inevitable.

I probably scoffed when I heard the Colombian myth. I shouldn't have. There are things in life that are better explained by the music of poetry than the sterile language of facts.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

a paul harvey moment

Some stories are simply not ripe to write.

So it is with my essay on Thursday (not minding my own business). Had I waited one day to tell you the story, it would have had a completely different ending. That is, if any story really has an ending.

On Thursday, we left off with me slinking away from the door of my neighbor, who had rejected a chicken peace offering in way of apologizing for getting angry at her children. When I learned of her immigration status, her reaction made far more sense.

Yesterday, as I was returning from a medical trip in Manzanillo, I drove past our neighborhood grilled chicken stand. Something down deep told me to stop and buy two chickens. One for each of the mothers involved in Wednesday's passion play. My head said: Why bother? But that little voice -- the one that talks to us in whispers whenever we are about to do something we know we should not -- said: Try again.

And, so I did. I bought two full chicken meals and took them next door. My knock on the Central American mother's door was a mere tap. Her son was out in the hall with what has become his game face when I show up -- pure disdain and anger. I asked if his mother was home, and he just glared.

When I turned around, she was standing in the door with a perplexed look. I apologized again for my anger of Wednesday. And offered the meal as a reconciliation gift. (Yup. I used those words. In my overly-practiced Spanish.)

I could not have anticipated what happened next. She started sobbing softly looking at the food I had given her. "We have nothing to eat. Thank you." She started to give me a hug and thought better of it.

The other mother, hearing the exchange, came out of her apartment and asked if she could have the other chicken. I chuckled and told her I had brought it for her and her family.

Now, I do not believe that the rift I created has been healed. Transactional gratitude seldom works that way. Just ask any husband who has given his wife a guilty gift of flowers.

But, it is a start. Had I taken the time to get to know them when they moved in (as I usually do), the fallout would have been minimal. It is very difficult for me to get angry with people I know. Certainly over some torn plants.

Every church I have ever attended has a weekly magazine filled with stories to inspire congregants in exercising Christan virtues. They have their purpose. But, most of the stories have a similar story arc.

I lived next door to a grumpy man who hated me. The only thing he loved were his roses. One day, he fell in his garden. I helped him into his house and nursed him for a week. The day he was better, four dozen of his prize roses were on my porch.

Those "I was kind and received gratitude" stories have always grated me. First, because that is not how life usually works. And, second, because we are not virtuous in hope of praise. We are virtuous to soften our hearts to the needs of others.

Had my Central American neighbor refused my chicken a second time, it would still have been the right thing to do on my part. As it turned out, she had a need unknown to me -- and a need I would probably have missed had this tale not started in anger.

I am not certain if this really is a Paul Harvey moment or not. Because there may be more to this story in the future. I hope there is.

But for now, it is sufficient to say this is the rest of the story.