Tuesday, June 30, 2009

offering and accepting a hand

And here ends my list of factors for choosing a place to live in Mexico.

I should have not left these two factors until the end because they certainly are not the least important:

Factor #12 -- offering help to others graciously
Factor #13 -- accepting help from others

I credit my mother and grandmother for teaching me the underlying truth of the Biblical assertion "it is more blessed to give than to receive."

Keeping excess leads to greed. Giving beyond our excess teaches us that there are values higher than the material. Giving out of love, rather than compulsion, honors the humanity of others.

The easiest way to turn a truth into a cliché is to write about it, rather than to take action.

One thing I knew I would miss in Mexico was my relationship with the Salvation Army. As an organization, it embodied the truths I learned from my mother and grandmother.

The Salvation Army is active in Mexico, but the closest corps to Melaque is in Puerto Vallarta -- a four drive away, one way. There is no possibility of being as active there as I was in Salem.

As an alternative, I have already found local organizations (including the church I attend) that offer assistance to the community. And I will be active in those groups.

But I wanted to spend most of the space for this post on that second factor: accepting help from others.

I added it at the request of a former work colleague, who has gone through some big changes in his life. He told me that the most important lesson he learned is that, when you go through troubles, there are always people willing to help. The trick is to accept that help.

He knows me well. Like him, I have been taught to suck up trouble and get on with your life.

The result is that we end up isolating ourselves from people who are ready to give us a helping hand. Sometimes, just a hand of encouragement.

When I originally put that factor on the list, I was not certain how it would apply to Melaque.

I now do.

During the past two months, I went through one major "move crisis" when Jiggs was starting to fade because of the trip south. I honestly wondered f I had made the correct decision -- to move to Melaque, to move to Mexico.

I ended up receiving help from a source I would not have anticipated two years ago. A number of readers posted comments or sent me email that may have not taken much time to write, but the sentiment made all the difference to me.

Several of you have made similar observations in the past. When you try to explain how close you have become to people who are the equivalent of electronic strangers, most people react with indulgence or bewilderment.

All I can say is thank you. Because of you, this trip south is turning out to be the time of my life. When I was in need, you offered a hand, and I accepted it.

And that has made all the difference.

So, there they are: the 13 factors. How do they add up? Was Melaque a wise choice? Should I choose another spot?

My conclusions will soon follow. Yours are more than welcome.

Monday, June 29, 2009

geared for success

OK. So, I am trying to spend time out of my truck.

And I am getting all kinds of unrequested help.

When Darrel and I were driving down here, we crossed the coastal hills to San Blas from Tepic. The road was not too bad -- not when you learned to drive on rural Oregon roads. Not too steep, Not too windy.

But at least three times on that short drive, we heard an odd clunk as we went around curves. And that was before we encountered any topes.

For over two months since then, I have been driving on local roads and have not heard that sound.

That is -- until last Friday. When I was climbing the hills between La Manzanilla and Melaque, the transmission was a bit mushy shifting between gears. And then came the clunk. But this time is brought its own percussion quartet. There were clunks. Grinds. Jerks.

Fortunately, I was at the top of the rise, and the rest of the road was down hill. I was positive I was going to be stuck on that shoulderless narrow road.

I made it home without incident.

The first thing I wanted to check was the transmission fluid. And I was hoping it was simply a bit low.

No such luck. It was as normal as normal could be.

So, on Saturday, I carefully drove over to the local mechanic to have my oil changed and to discuss transmission options.

The father wasn't there, but the son was. He changed the oil, and we discussed the transmission.

He looked at the fluid level, and declared everything fine.

Asked I: "Isn't there something we could do?"

Answered he: "Why? It's still working."

There is some wisdom in the response. But it certainly flies in the face of that Northern European Protestant ethic that makes my mind work. Most of you know it well. If there is a problem (even one possibly coming your way), there must be a solution. It is why we waste so much money on insurance.

But I understand his response. It is not culture-based. It is an answer bred of limited resources.

I saw the same responses in my work with the Salvation Army. When you have just enough resources to deal with basic needs, you cannot spend time (or money) worrying what might happen.

But I do have enough resources to ward off potential problems.

I did not replace the fender trim I clipped off in my backing accident. I have not replaced the tire that I gouged when trying to park near the curb. But this is a bit different. Losing my transmission on one of these narrow roads could be more than simply inconvenient.

As much as I appreciated the son's advice, I am going to return when the dad is in. We can then talk about the future of my transmission.

When I talked about spending time out of my truck, I did not anticipate that circumstances would assist me in making my wish come true.

If I had my druthers, the SUV fairy could just holster her wand. And I would be happy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

living outside of a car

Saturday evening I was sitting on the balcony, leafing through The Economist, thinking about today's post.

I knew the topic (Factor # 11 -- living outside of a car). A very important factor for me in choosing where to retire.

I looked up, and a sail boat was coming directly at me from the horizon. It then tacked right in front of the house. What could be a better symbol of escaping the confines of a car than a sail boat?

Well, feet for one (or two, I guess). And that is what I had in mind when I put "get out of the car" on my list.

According to The Economist, the average American spends 45 hours a month in a car. That number seems extremely low to me.

But it is not just the time lost or the lost exercise opportunity that bothers me the most. It is the sense of isolation.

On one of my trips to the dealer in Salem to have the truck serviced, I decided to walk to work rather than avail myself of the courtesy van. I was amazed at the life that was missing as I sped by in my truck.

I made two decisions that day: 1) I would get out of my truck as much as possible while I lived in Salem, and 2) when I retired, I would live somewhere I could park the truck and walk.

Melaque fits the bill perfectly. I can walk to almost everything I need for daily living. Grocery stores. Fruit and vegetable shops. Butchers. Barbers. Restaurants.

And these walks give me an opportunity to practice my Spanish on unsuspecting people I meet on my way to and from the main part of town. It is just over a mile into the shopping area. Just right for early morning and evening jaunts. Fortunately, almost everything is closed during the heat of the day.

Saturday evening was a perfect example. I needed some lunch meat. So, off I went into town. Along the way I greeted several people, had a longer conversation with three people, stopped in the jardin to watch a political party set up a stage for a political rally, chatted briefly with a restaurant manager, bought my lunch meat (all in Spanish, thank you vey much), and walked back to the house. I was going to stop at the restaurant where I take my Spanish lessons to listen to a country-western band, but I needed to get my meat in the refrigerator.

I know there are many areas in Mexico where this type of interchange is possible. Some may even be superior. But I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to experience this part of Mexico on a human level -- outside of a car.

Of course, I would not turn down a day or two on that sail boat, either.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

walking the dog

If we listen, we learn from our pets.

Fifteen years ago, I doubt I would have put the beach at the top of my list of favorite places. As a family, we visited there occasionally when I was young. But, as an adult, it was a place to go for legal and political conferences.

Professor Jiggs changed that perspective.

Thirteen years ago, I took him with me to a bar function at the beach. He was eight months old, but every Golden Retriever gene fired simultaneously. He had a passion for water, and that big pond was his to play in.

I doubt that I saw much of the conference. I certainly do not remember it. But it started Jiggs's love affair with the beach.

No soccer mom was as dedicated to her child as I was to driving that dog. For twelve years, I spent many a Saturday driving him to various beaches. Where he tried to teach me that all of my legal and political obsessions were nothing when compared to what mattered. The sand. The surf. The birds. But, most of all, the smells.

And that meant learning dog time. Living in the moment. "Those dogs coming down the road may never get here. I need to figure out this smell. Right here. Right now."

Some days, we would make the hour drive to Pacific City, he would get out of the car, walk around for five minutes, and be ready to leave. Other days, we would walk for hours until he was about to drop, but he refused to get in the truck.

When I started thinking about moving to Mexico, Jiggs had to be a part of that move. And the beach was going to be a big part of the equation.

And that was the genesis of Factor #10 -- long walks with Professor Jiggs before breakfast and after sunset.

I unashamedly lifted that notion from
Nancy's blog. Nancy and Paul took their Pacific Northwest dogs with them to Mazatlan. They were an inspiration that Jiggs could do it, as well.

Those of you who have been reading the blog for some time know that the Jiggs portion of the dream has been tenuous since December of 2007. He started losing the use of both back legs. The muscle structure just disappeared until he looked like a hot rod creation of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth.

But he survived long enough to make the trip down. Then he survived the trip -- barely. And now he has made it through a month of health crisis to become a familiar sight on the Melaque beach.

Up until two weeks ago, I was allowing Jiggs to get accustomed to his new haircut. It was short enough that I could not take him out in the sun -- especially, the hot sun. So, we have been taking walks in the early morning, at dusk, and around midnight.

They are not aerobic walks. But they are usually substantial in time.

The best part is just spending the time with him.

He thinks the best part is getting to greet new people. Children are fascinated by his size. Almost to a child, they run up to him and ask me if they can pet him. How old he is. Is he a boy or a girl. Sometimes: Does he bite.

And he eats up the attention.

He tries the same routine with teens and adults, but most of them recoil from him. For the same reason: his size. If he were not a Golden Retriever, he could be a formidable dog.

When I was having trouble finding a veterinarian for him, I started wondering if I should have brought him. If I had remembered the first rule of dogdom (live in the moment), I would have stopped worrying. Because if I had not brought him, I would have missed the following two days together.

The first was last Tuesday. We got up early for our pre-breakfast walk knowing that a storm was on the way in mere hours. For some reason, Jiggs insisted on walking the beach that morning. The temperature was in the 70s, and he seemed a bit livelier than he had been for some time.

Just as we were about as far as we get from the house on our beach walks, huge drops of rains started falling and the wind started gusting. As far as I knew it was the leading edge of the storm.

But the petrichor had barely begun to hang in the air, and years fell off of Jiggs. He began running -- well, trotting -- and twisting in circles. He seemed to be saying, if this is a hurricane, we are going to enjoy it. As I told you earlier, he sulked all the way home when I pulled the plug on his circus act.

Kim of Boston made a comment this week that it seems as if I have confined myself to the house. I haven't. But I am certainly not getting out as much as I would like.

One reason I came to Mexico was to pursue my archaeology hobby. All of that is on hold for right now. I need to work out some sort of schedule where I can be gone on short trips during the day. For example, I could easily do a day trip to Colima. But not with Jiggs.

On Friday, I tried a little test to get both of us out of the house on a guys' road trip. We headed north to La Manzanilla, the littler beach town that introduced me to this part of Mexico. I had a nice conversation with a friend, and Jiggs got to meet his dog.

We then walked the beach at La Manzanilla. The surf is minimal there. Jiggs walked in the waves up to his belly. And that was good enough for him.

I had never been to the little village of Tenacatita, north across Tenacatita Bay from La Manzanilla. La Manzanilla makes Melaque look like Los Angeles; Tenacatita makes La Manzanilla look like San Francisco.

Tenacatita is extremely small. But it has an almost perfect beach for swimming. Nice sand. Shallow rise. Uncrowded. (Deserted would not be far from accurate.)

We stopped for another walk. I made a big temperature miscalculation. There is a wide strip of dry sand between the road and the wet beach sand. And that strip was hot. I ended up carrying Jiggs across it. He never would have made it, otherwise.

But once his paws hit the wet sand, he was prancing. He was even brave enough to lie down in the sand and let the waves wash up to him. (In Oregon, he let the waves wash over him. But that was a younger dog.)

One day while sitting around a Hollywood pool, Greta Garbo turned to Cole Porter and asked: "Are you happy?" Porter paused, thought about the question, and responded: "Yes. I think I am." Garbo looked off into the middle distance and said: "That must be very strange."

When asked why I chose Mexico, I guess I should answer it the way Jiggs would: because this a great place to spend today.

And like Cole Porter, I can say: Yes. I think I am happy. With life. With my dog. With Mexico.

Friday, June 26, 2009

in the groove

Now and then a day comes along where everything not only seems to go well, but the going seems preordained.

That is how Thursday felt.

Jiggs gave me one of the nicest presents he can extend. He let me sleep in past 8.

No rustling on his bed. No sharp woof to tell me it was time to get up. No klaxon bark warning that horses -- and who knows what other types of invaders -- are on the beach.

Today was the day I had planned on driving to Manzanillo to refill Jiggs's medication. He was originally scheduled to go along with me to have two growths on his neck removed. But he inadvertently consumed some sea water (a tale soon to be related), and was suffering from the gastric Big D.

Instead, I took him for a walk around the block. A walk that he willingly extended to several blocks. We stopped and talked with neighbors -- me in my halting Spanish, he in his fluent Doggish. Between the two of us, we enjoyed fresh air, aerobic exercise, and a nice bout of neighborliness.

Then I was off to Manzanillo. The one-hour drive can be somewhat monotonous. There is little to differentiate the few villages between here and there. Today was different. There was something new to see at each village. And I had an open road without the usual combination of slow cars and tailgaters.

I stopped at Mailboxes, Etc. and picked up the two latest editions of The Economist. They are now coming directly to that address. It also means something informative to read between my Spanish studies.

But this topped my day. I stopped in Wal-Mart to pick up a few grocery items I cannot find elsewhere. I usually do not venture near the fruit section. Good fruit I can get in Melaque.

But a perforated bag caught my eye. It looked like cherries. Bing cherries from the Pacific Northwest.

My favorite food on the planet is fresh cherries. The season in Oregon runs from June through August. And local cherries are available the entire season -- in Salem. I have been known to eat three pounds within an hour.

For me, they are the ultimate comfort food. They bring back memories of sitting in my grandmother's tree and eating cherries until I was ready to drop like some ripe -- cherry, I guess. Or driving to The Dalles with a woman I am glad I did not marry to buy a huge bag of cherries for $.50 a pound. Or the simple joy of eating cherries in my hot tub.

There was no price tag on the cherries. No surprise. They were a specialty offering. And there were only two bags. I really wanted to buy both. Instead, I showed some restraint, and grabbed just one.

When the cashier rang up the cherries, she looked at her screen. Looked at the bag. Matched the bar code numbers. And looked rather sheepish.

Almost exactly 1 kilo. Total = $161.21. Pesos, mind you. Not USD.

I will not bother with the official exchange rate and the kilo to pounds conversion, but we are talking about $6 to $7 a pound for cherries.

And I did not flinch. This was a luxury purchase. The big question was whether they were truly fresh. The biggest question was how long they would last.

I could not wait to get them home for a bleach bath. I started on the first before I was out of the parking lot.

Perfect. Juicy. Firm. With that hint of berry in good quality Bing cherries.

As to how long they lasted -- they almost did not make it home. Once again, the drive was perfect. But it was far too easy to get into the rhythm of eating the cherries one by one and reflecting on the many good times I have had centered around this noblest of all fruits.

And I now have one more experience to add to the list.

I am almost positive that I will not see any further cherries this season. And that may be just as well.

Thursday was one of those practically perfect in every way days. It would be a shame to devalue it with repetition.

Of course, if you know where any cherries are for sale, I do travel.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

the crush of life

When I told my colleagues I was retiring, they wanted to know where. Florida? Arizona? The Oregon coast?

When I said Mexico, the reactions ranged from interested nods to bewilderment to outright horror.

I have said it several times, but I think I need to say it again -- if, for no other reason, to remind myself why I am in Mexico.

I have never been interested in retiring in comfort. I wanted to add some adventure to my life.

So, I added these two factors to my list of where I should retire:

  • Factor # 8 -- daily learning to survive
  • Factor # 9 -- facing mountains of difficulties; and being repeatedly crushed

I realize that not everyone wants a lot of drama and adventure in retirement. They are happy to be safe and comfortable surrounded by family and friends. How do those lyrics go? "Some people sit on their butts;/got the dream, yeah, but not the guts."

Like Mama Rose, I am not one of those people.

I joined the Air Force because I wanted a job where I could appreciate simply surviving to live another day.

I opened a law practice right out of law school with a law school classmate. We had no business experience. No client base. No money. But we survived and thrived.

I lived in Europe for three years and learned some skills in dealing with new languages and cultures. More than anything, I developed a passion for living in new countries.

My mantra for moving to Mexico was that I want to wake up every morning and not know how I am going to get through the day.

And how is that working for me?

As it turns out, my transition has been a bit more cosseted than I expected.

I am currently house sitting. That means I stepped into a house that was in full operation before I arrived.

I did not need to negotiate with the telephone company to install a telephone and internet. No unpaid bills for me to pay off before service could be restored.

The young man who delivers bottled water to the house already knows the owner's usage pattern. Mine is similar. The day I need the bottle, he arrives unbidden.

The propane gas man seems to have the same sense. I had barely switched to the reserve tank two weeks ago, and there he was outside of the gate. No need to call for service.

I don't even need to worry about paying the electric and telephone bills. The owner pays, and I reimburse her.

As a result, I am not developing very many survival skills in my current living arrangement. A lot of the headaches that expatriates face in Mexico are simply not on my plate.

The biggest hurdle I have faced was finding a veterinarian for Professor Jiggs, with all the angst that went along with his transition to the heat -- and trying to figure out how the human food chain worked.

So far, not much of an adventure. But it has been a sweet transition.

I added that second factor (facing mountains of difficulties; and being repeatedly crushed) because I believe that we learn far more from failure than we do from success.

During one of my college courses, we were required to write a short biography of someone in the class we had known for at least a year. The fellow assigned to write mine started: "Everything comes easy to him."

I thought of that sentence this past week. I may not be able to learn easily, but my life has been almost charmed. Good things do come easily to me.

This retirement is one of them. For the past two months I have whinged about some rather minor issues. And none of them has adversely affected my life in Mexico.

One of my major concerns about living in Mexico is in the process of being fixed. My language course is starting to turn me from a bumbling tourist into a bumbling expatriate. I feel like a walk-on character in a mediocre play. My lines are minimal,. But, at least, I have some lines. If all goes well, I might even end up as Murphy Brown's secretary.

And then there is the amazing Professor Jiggs and his Merlin impression. But that is going to be the center of tomorrow's discussion.

That brings us to the question of how Melaque measures up to these factors.

I did not plan it this way, but Melaque may actually have made the "adventure" factor an easy transition. And I was spared the death of a thousand Dorothy Parker cuts in the more carnivorous expatriate enclaves.

If I want a crushed life, I may need to move somewhere else.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

time to read; time to learn; time to rest

Time to return to our regular program, students.

Everybody. Take a seat. Get away from the window.

The big storm is over.

What we are going to review today is the seventh factor for finding a place to live in Mexico: time to read; time to learn; time to rest.

Of course, that is nothing more than a list of what I saw as the moral center of retirement. I still do -- with a few modifications.

Anyone who has ever read anything about retirement knows that one of the first warnings is to keep your mind active. People who continue to learn, live longer and enjoy life more.

Reading is my favorite hobby. Not just any reading. If I am going to invest some of my time in reading, I want to learn something. And I have been doing that.

  • I brought about six months worth of books with me. Biographies. Essays. Novels. In that last category, of course, is the Harry Turtledove series. I should just stop reading them. I have four to go. But, every 100 pages or so, I find an interesting point.

  • When that treasure trove is empty, I will use the local book exchange -- or have friends and relatives bring books with them when they come to visit. (One of the down sides of living in Mexico is that books are simply not generally available.)

  • Now that I have my Mailboxes, Etc. account, I have a regular flow of magazines. Some of those are simply comfort pieces: National Geographic. Some of them represent the detritus of past overseas ventures: The Economist.

The first category complements the second: when I read, I learn. But I also want to learn more about my new home. To do that, the key is going to be learning Spanish.

On Monday, I began a Spanish class with a local businessman, Ricky. We meet for an hour on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning. "We" are the teacher, a woman who has lived in Melaque for five years, and me. This is tutoring at its best.

Ricky's teaching method is similar to the Pimsleur method. He writes a series of Spanish sentences on the board with the English translation. Ricky then asks each of us to say the sentence in Spanish.

Then comes the learning part. He asks us to build on that sentence by changing the person or the object or the tense of the verb. And, often requiring us to use words we may not actually know.

It is a method designed less to build vocabulary than to teach how the language works.

Unfortunately, I am already a full week behind my classmate. I did not realize the class began last week. And we missed a class yesterday because of the storm. I hope we can start up again today.

I am excited about this.

Once I get a basic grip on Spanish, I would like to take a course on Mexican history -- with an emphasis on the Revolution. A friend of mine is a professor t a large Southwestern University, and he is an expert in that topic.

And then there is rest. I have not done too well on that factor.

For the past two months, I have not slept well because of the heat. I go to bed late and get up early.

I should tack on a confession here. For as long as I can remember, I would stay up until midnight or 1, and get up around 5. So, the heat may be an excuse for sleep patterns that do not even qualify as dysfunctional.

I thought I was going to make up the lost sleep by indulging in that most civilized of customs: the siesta. To a degree I have. But various factors around the house have kept me from napping.

I will get into a nap rhythm here -- one way or another.

How does Melaque rate on those three factors?

Quite well. But so does almost every other area of Mexico.

And, if I want to take academic level courses, I need to be in some other area of the country.

But, I am simply repeating myself now. Melaque has one advantage that the highlands does not have: the ocean. The question is how much that weighs against the other factors.

Next post?

Daily learning to survive, and facing mountains of difficulties -- and being repeatedly crushed.

Didn't I just get a lecture on that?

We'll talk.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

andres redux

Knowing I run the risk of sounding as if I am issuing royal health reports (The king is resting. The king has fallen into a coma. The crown prince is having his coronet fitted.), I thought I would let you know what is happening on the storm front.

Last night we had a thunderstorm with accompanying lightening. Because I am a good electronic steward, I shut down the computer and unplugged everything.

This morning I tried to turn on the computer. Nada. I tried it on battery only. Nada. I took out the battery. Nada.

I simply reconciled myself to the fact that you would all assume I was dead and eventually wander off to blogs about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens -- or whatever your favorite things might be. And Jiggs and I would wallow in our pity. Well, I would. Jiggs knows no pity.

During my Spanish class yesterday, I noticed that the salt air had begun to corrode the gold on my fountain pen. That gave me an idea.

I popped open the computer's battery again, and, sure enough, there were salt crystals on the contacts. Enough salt crystals to flavor a family size popcorn at the neighborhood cinema.

The battery went back in. And, voilà (or whatever it is in Spanish), here I am again.

Enough about process. Where's the carne? Or, more to the point, where's Andres?

Jiggs insisted on his morning walk around 8. A quick look outside disclosed a usual morning at the beach where rain was a possibility. And no blustering hurricane.

So, off we went, down the street greeting the two or three people who are out, and down to the beach where Jiggs began his McGruff impression -- sniffing out crime and tasty tidbits.

One moment, we are on a warm beach with overcast sky. The next moment, it was as if we had strayed onto a Gene Kelly movie set in Paris.

I am accustomed to tropical rain. Anyone who has walked in Miami on a summer afternoon around 4 knows what I mean. The rain comes out of nowhere. Well, it comes out of the sky.

But this rain was accompanied with strong winds. Winds strong enough that a woman lost her balance in the sand.

Jiggs loved it. The wind, that is. He started running and twisting in circles -- as if he were a young dog. He thought it was pure joy. When I ordered him home, he sulked the entire four blocks.

But that was not Andres. Just a precursor, so we are told.

It is now almost noon. Andres does not look as if it will turn into a hurricane because it is starting to head seaward. However, I would not want to be on a sail boat caught in the tropical storm that it shall be. But we have apparently dodged the bullet on land.

As long as the hurricane warning is in place, we will keep an eye out. But Jiggs is pestering me for another walk on the beach. So, off we go.

More later.

By the way, the king is better. The crown prince pawned his coronet.

Monday, June 22, 2009

an ill wind . . .


If this was a word association test, most people would probably respond: Florida, New Orleans, Caribbean.

Two years ago, I would have been right there with them. The notion that hurricanes are a creature of the eastern Pacific was not part of my experience.

The reason is easy. Lots of people live along the Gulf of Mexico. That means people are interested in news story when weather causes problems on the East Coast.

But the eastern Pacific has tropical storms and hurricanes. I knew that years ago from my cruise visits to Mexico. Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta have maintained ruins from their recent rounds with variously-named storms. But that piece of trivia never stuck with me.

Tomorrow I may have an opportunity to improve my memory by experiencing up close and personal my first hurricane -- or tropical storm.

Andres is headed our way. Whether giant or midget, we will find out tomorrow. It is a tropical storm at the moment, but predicted to pick up enough speed to graduate to the esteemed rank of hurricane.

Take a look at the picture at the top of the blog. About in the middle of the red area (marked "hurricane warning") you will find my little village of Melaque. (You will have to imagine because no population centers are marked.)

Admittedly, this is just a prediction. And as President Michael Dukakis can tell you, predictions are not always accurate.

I will predict one thing, though. Sometime early tomorrow morning, I will lose electrical power. That means no blog entry.

So, this will have to be it.

I suspect we will end up with some wind and rain, and a few severed plam fronds.

When we have power again, I will fill you in on how my three-day a week Spanish course is going, and whether there were any interesting storm events.

Until then, salud.

challenge of a new language

Mexico is the land of professional wrestling.

And I have been wrestling with Spanish as earnestly as Jacob wrestled with the angel.

Except -- that is not really true. Even though I desperately need to know far more Spanish than I do, I keep floating along.

Let me catalog some very practical problems that have arisen because I do not know Spanish.

  • When Jiggs appeared, literally, to be on his last legs in May, I could not find an English-speaking veterinarian to explain Jiggs's symptoms. A fellow blogger found an English-speaking veterinarian in Manzanillo, an hour drive away. I pay American rates for his care.

  • I shop in the local vegetable and fruit market. I know the names of most of the produce. But I cannot speak enough Spanish to ask about new varieties and how to prepare them.

  • Numbers still baffle me. I have no trouble asking how much something costs. But, I need the clerk to write down the total so I can understand the number. No one mocks me, but it is a nuisance.

  • Marta, the maid who cleans the house I sit, speaks no English. After cleaning on Saturday, she came back to the house almost frantic. I could not understand her concern. We needed to grab one of the local property managers, who was pedaling by on her bike, to translate. Marta had lost the money I had paid her. For her, that was a disaster. We were able to fix the problem. But I should have been able to do that on my own.

Living in Melaque is not like living in the areas of Mexico where expatriates congregate.

Melaque is a tourist town. But it is a town for Mexican tourists. There is no premium for English speakers in the shops because very few shoppers speak English.

That is the practical reason why I need to learn Spanish: to be understood I need to speak the lingua franca.

But there is an existential reason, as well. Not learning Spanish will leave me in the role of a permanent tourist -- no matter how long I live here. I will be an absolute outsider looking in.

I also know that learning Spanish will not turn me into a cultural Mexican, any more than simply moving to Quebec would make me French-Canadian.

At best, I can learn to communicate in Spanish and be a part of the language community.

I have picked up a lot of Spanish simply by listening to the language as it is spoken, by working my way through my Spanish software, and by using the Spanish dictionary that Teresa gave me as a traveling gift.

I have the advantage of Marta being at the house three days a week. She teaches me new words when I ask.

Jiggs has been a big draw for Mexican children on the beach. They run up to him to pet him -- I think because he is so large. I have learned quite few words from them.

The conversation usually follows a normal pattern about whether he bites, how old he is, how big he is, whether he is a boy or a girl, why he walks so funny. Strangely, I have no confidence issues when talking with the children.

Yesterday I talked about the connections I am making with the few expatriates that have remained in Melaque for the summer. All of them speak Spanish to a degree.

So, here is what I intend to do.

You already know that I want to set up a rotating potluck. I need to ensure that some of the Mexican residents I know are invited. Most of them are functionally bi-lingual. We could learn from one another through conversation.

I need to be more diligent in using my Spanish software. I allowed my recent magazine treasure trove to distract me.

A local businessman offers conversational Spanish courses for expatriates. I am going to give it a try.

If that does not work, there is a professional course available in La Manzanilla. It is a bit too late in the afternoon for my "schedule." But I think I can work around it.

I brought my DVD collection with me to Mexico. Most of the movies either have a Spanish soundtrack or Spanish subtitles. I thought this would be an easy way to pick up some structure. Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to use my laptop to try any of my DVDs. But it is a resource for the future.

And then there is Marta. She is here often enough that I can put what I learn into practice without fear of embarrassing myself. She will gladly correct me when I need it, and that is often.

So, there it is. Melaque is a great environment for me to learn Spanish. I suspect that it is much better than one of the expatriate enclaves.

I have at least six more months to take advantage of the linguistic environment Melaque affords. I don't want to waste it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

new acquaintances; some with a love of food

I love socializing.

No. It's more than that.

I love performing. And to perform, I require an audience.

Almost everything I have done for the past thirty years has revolved around that simple axiom. Attorney. Trainer. Sunday school teacher. Small group leader. Politician.

And each job came with a built-in audience.

No more.

One of my retirement miscalculations was that I did not consider what would happen when I no longer had an entertainment venue.

I guess that is not exactly true. I, at least, knew that wherever I was going to live in Mexico, I would need to make new acquaintances.

On the plus side (and a big plus it is), I had forgotten about technology. This blog, email, and MagicJack have kept me in contact with relatives and friends -- some friends who date back to grade school. In one sense, it is almost as if I had not moved from Salem -- or, more accurately, I could live anywhere in the world and maintain those contacts.

But I long for new relationships. So, I wanted to find someplace where I could make new acquaintances.

Melaque is not the best place to do that. It is a small beach village where most of the people are just in for the weekend.

But I have already started making new acquaintances. The first group was to be expected. There are very few English-speakers in town, but I am meeting the few who are here. Fellow bloggers. Church congregants. Local business owners.

As an example, Friday night I had dinner with Tim and Becky, a younger couple from Eugene. They have lived in town for almost two years. We had dinner at a restaurant well-known for its sunset views. And like most view restaurants, the food was indifferent. Fortunately, the conversation was fascinating.

And that brings me to the second half of this factor: food.

I love to eat. That is how I managed to pack on 30 pounds at the end of last year.

I had looked forward to the cuisine when I decided to retire in Mexico. And I have had some adequate meals in La Manzanilla. But the best I can say of Melaque and Barra de Navidad, so far, is the food is filling.

But no one needs restaurants to share good food with acquaintances. I am a good cook. And I like sharing my creations.

In the mid-1980s, like every pretentious yuppie, I was a member of a gourmet group. The members would rotate the dining venue between our respective homes and prepare a meal based on a set theme. That group gave me some of my best memories from that decade.

I do not want to reproduce those moments, but I would like to find that same spirit. Perhaps, setting up a regularly-scheduled pot luck.

And I think it will work. After our dinner, Tim contacted me to borrow some of the magazines I have just finished reading.

What a great opportunity to share a common reading source and then discuss it over good food while watching one of our tropical sunsets.

That sounds like a pretty good performance to me.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

warm, sunny days; cool nights

When I graded Melaque as a potential spot to start my Mexican adventure, I knew that weather was going to be a problem.

I like warm, sunny days. The type of weather that lures you outside to enjoy adventure.

Remember? The ultimate goal of being here is for the adventure, not the minor details.

But I need those days of adventure to cool off at night. I seldom sleep under sheets or covers -- I like my sleeping chambers to be cool.

If we were in court, I would be objecting to my testimony. Warm. Cool. How subjective can you get?

OK. I will be more specific.

My comfort envelope goes from about 45˚ to 69˚.

65˚ to 69˚ is warm. Anything over that is hot -- and I will tolerate it: to a degree.

55˚ to 45˚ is cool. And usually comfortable.

I gave Melaque an unabashed "F" on this factor. And then I weaseled: "I am not moving to Mexico for the weather."

So, has two months changed my mind?

No. But I certainly know more than I did before I moved down here.

Nancy recently commented on the weather in Mazatlan in "It’s a scorcher" complete with charts and graphs. Jennifer then entered the discussion.

I now know that I should be looking at dew point if I want to fully understand the comfort factor between temperature and relative humidity. I also know that any dew point over 74˚ is considered "extremely uncomfortable, fairly oppressive." And that does not strike me as being very subjective, at all.

Let the record reflect that the dew point in Melaque has been over 74˚ for the past two weeks. And I will stipulate that it has been "extremely uncomfortable, fairly oppressive."

And what about those weasel words of last August? "I am not moving to Mexico for the weather."

True. But almost irrelevant.

Ignoring the weather on the coast is like trying to ignore that your left sleeve is on fire. You may not be there to be immolated, but it is happening.

I have discovered, though, that I am not the dilettante I styled myself to be in August. I have a far greater tolerance for weather -- when forced to be tolerant. (There may be a broader lesson there. But, it will wait for another post.)

Both Jiggs and I have enjoyed being out in the otherwise-oppressive weather for short bursts during the day. Otherwise, we sit in the shade of the patio reading. Well, I read. Jiggs thinks about reading -- with his eyes shut.

But tolerance only goes so far before turning into mindless patronizing. And all of my ability to tolerate the sun during the day does not work when the sun goes to bed and leaves its demon heat children behind. Even with three electric fans, I have trouble sleeping.

To give Melaque a fair shake, I need to see what the other seasons offer. But, so far, my inability to sleep is starting to affect my judgment on other factors.

The warmth by the sea during the day gets a passing grade. But the nights get an "F."

Friday, June 19, 2009

a crabby day

For those of you who tuned in to read about factor #4 (warm, sunny days; cool nights), we are going to head off on a tangent.

A related tangent. But a tangent, nonetheless.

Melaque has entered the rainy season. Thunder. Lightening. Rain.

None of that is news. What is news is the march of the creatures from the deep.

Two nights ago, Jiggs and I were headed out through the garage for his midnight walk. When I turned on the lights, the garage floor turned into scurrying mayhem.

My first reaction was that the cockroaches were on steroids. But, I was wrong.

They were crabs. Land crabs.

And the sound they make can only be called scuttling. Carnivorous scavangers with their stiletto defenses -- as if J. Alfred Prufrock had discovered his ragged claws in the second chapter of a Kafka novel.

But The Professor and I ignored this phenomenon -- though it was new to both of us. I have heard the tales of land crabs, but I had never seen one.

The Crab was not to be so easily ignored. Yesterday morning, while opening the house to catch the cooler morning breeze, I found the fellow pictured above. He decided to repose on the screen door.

I took that as an omen to spend part of the day away from the house with Jiggs. So, over the ridge we went to a small beach community: Cuastecomates.

I suspect because it was in the middle of the week on a rainy June day that the place was deserted. Deserted as in ghost town deserted. Other than seeing two dogs, Jiggs and I had the beach to ourselves. We still had to share the town with a mottled carpet of land crabs.

Just when I thought it was a perfect day, Jiggs discovered the one strip of boggy septic water on the beach. I know it was septic because I have a nose. I could also see the source of the pipe -- rest rooms next to the beach.

The solution was easy. We simply took a quick wade in the warm ocean.

But the incident reminded me of another of Jiggs's antics.

The year was 2001. I was doing trial work at the time. Jiggs and I had driven down to Klamath Falls, a town John Calypso and Gypsy Rose Lee (at different times, I might add) know very well.

I had just checked out of my motel room and was about to drive over to the courthouse. Jiggs needed a walk, and the county fairgrounds was just across the road. So, walk we did.

While I was practicing my opening statement, Jiggs wandered. I looked around and discovered that his wandering included getting into a ditch that drained the waste from the fairground livestock barns. He was in it up to his shoulders.

So, there I am in my three-piece suit and a dog that could scare away a skunk.

I am not certain that being in New York City would have been any better. Where do you take dog that is a scent sample for a perfumist's nightmare?

I grabbed the yellow pages. Found a pet groomer. Wrapped Jiggs in a sheet. And headed off to the groomer.

The groomer knew only that I needed to get my dog washed, and agreed to fit him into the regular schedule. When I unwrapped him, the groomer almost backed out of the deal.

But I headed off to my trial. I think it went well. After all, what law war story ever goes badly?

I do know I was happy to have Jiggs back in the car for the seven-hour drive home -- through the worst snow storm I have ever experienced. But that is another story.

Yesterday, Jiggs smelled a bit of the sea (and land crabs). And I can tuck away this story with my growing treasury of dog tales.

The day was not sunny, but it was warm. And the night certainly was not cool.

But that sounds like a lead-in to factor #4.



Thursday, June 18, 2009

archaeology rules

How does that line go?

"New York, New York/ so good they named it twice."

That is exactly how I feel about archaeology.

That is why I listed it as two separate factors:

  • archaeological sites within driving distance
  • central location for other archaeological sites

When I was in my teens, ancient civilizations fascinated me. Egypt. Babylonia. Greece. Rome.

I read whatever I could find. To this day, I remember an afternoon in 1964 when I first saw a photograph of "Ram in a Thicket" (pictured at the top of this post). I was hooked.

Other than a few courses, I did not followup on my love for archaeology until the summer of 1973 when I moved to Greece for a year.

For someone interested in archaeology, living in Greece was every bit as satisfying as an actor spending a year on Broadway. I visited the big sites. Some small sites. Helped on a dig. Went off searching on my own.

I then used those newly-developed skills during my two years in Great Britain. And saw the original Ram in the British Museum. It was almost as if I was reunited with a long-lost love.

If my archaeological background sounds Eurocentric. It is.

But, when I decided to move to Mexico, I knew I had hit the Indiana Jones jackpot. Troweling through new layers of old civilizations was enticement enough for me to head south.

Most people have a very limited knowledge of archaeological sites in Mexico. They know about the pyramid of the sun or the sites in Oxaca or the big sites on the Yucatan.

But those places are the Disneylands of archaeology. Big. Bombastic. Reconstructed. And as sterile as a maiden aunt's bathroom.

The west coast of Mexico offers some fascinating sites. Colima is a perfect example. But there are also petroglyphs and barrow tombs. Archaeology on a human scale.

Melaque meets half of the two factors. There are archaeological sites near to town. But it certainly is not central.

So, why have I not got out in the last two months to see the local sites?

We all know the answer. But, now that Jiggs is feeling better, I feel comfortable leaving him for a half-day at a time.

That will give me time to visit the sites around Colima -- a two-hour drive from here. I may need to make my visits in series.

Melaque gets high marks on the first factor, not so much on the second.

I have had this dream for 45 years. Now is the time to put it into practice.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

university nearby

OK. I admit it. This first factor sounds just a bit odd.

Neither Jiggs nor I are going to get another degree.

So, why worry about being somewhere near a university?

Anyone who has lived in a university town will understand what I am after.

Universities are cultural magnets. Symphony orchestras. Chamber orchestras. Art exhibits. Film festivals. Plays. Lectures. Libraries. Discussions over coffee.

Not to mention the popular culture attractions. Where there are students, there will be entertainment.

Plus that unquantifiable vibrancy that exists wherever young people congregate. Just before I left Salem, I befriended a young man at our church. It was always a joy to talk with him. His energy was almost contagious. After talking with him, I almost felt a decade younger.

With the exception of two years in the Air Force, I have lived in university towns. Portland. Denver. Oxford. Salem. And I have learned to depend on what they have to offer.

Melaque is not on the list.

Even though I have never been part of the academic community, I have certainly feasted on the hors d'œuvre.

In August, I gave Melaque a "D" as a grade on this factor.

The closest university of any size is located in Guadalajara -- a day's travel away. You would think that an "F" would be a fair grade on this factor. But there were mitigating circumstances. (Please recall that I was once a criminal defense attorney.)

I have met two people in town who would qualify as intellectual stimulants: a retired French archaeologist and a professor of Rhetoric from a large Midwestern university. I am certain there must be others.

This is an important factor for me, and I have already felt its absence in the last two months. In defense of Melaque, it does not pretend to be Cambridge. It is what it is: a little tourist town on the beach.

And that is the deal I have struck with myself. Enjoy Melaque for the sand, sun, and surf. But be ready to move on to something a bit more challenging when the time comes -- if the other factors weigh in that direction. Because there are plenty of places in Mexico that draw their cultural energy from their universities -- one of them is pictured at the top of this post.

Tomorrow we will talk about another intellectual pursuit: archaeology.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

the 13 suggestions

"So, Steve. Is everything in Mexico as perfect as you thought it would be? Are you ready to admit it is time for you to come home?"

The dreaded telephone calls have started already.

I left Salem two months ago, and some of my friends now expect me to tell them they were right and I was wrong.

OK. I admit I fed that attitude a bit with a few of my posts that made me sound as if I were in way over my head.

But the quick answer is: I never thought Mexico would be perfect. That is why I retired here -- knowing a lot of its blemishes.

And, NO, I am not returning to Oregon.

Rather than have this little dialog turn into a talk radio glandfest, let's take a little more analytical approach on what I have learned during the past two months. It certainly is not the final exam -- not even the mid-term. Let's just call it a pre-test.

Last August, I wrote a series of posts grading my July scouting trip to Melaque. Several months earlier, I had developed 13 criteria to pick a retirement spot -- or, at least, the spot where I would start my retirement.

I summarized them in
not quite the end of all things. They were:

  • university nearby

  • archaeological sites within driving distance

  • central location for other archaeological sites

  • warm, sunny days; cool nights

  • new acquaintances -- some with a love of food

  • the challenge of a new language

  • time to read; time to learn; time to rest

  • daily learning to survive

  • facing mountains of difficulties -- and being repeatedly crushed

  • long walks with Professor Jiggs before breakfast and after sunset

  • living outside of a car

  • offering help to others

  • graciously accepting help from others

I would like to spend the remainder of this week looking at those criteria. It may give me a better idea why I am doing what I am doing.

And I know that each of you will have some pithy comments to add.

Time to slice open this "same life," and see how it is doing in this "new location."

Monday, June 15, 2009

up on the rooftop

Despite the title -- no reindeer will be found here.

And, far as I know, Santa Claus has never jumped down a chimney on this roof.

In Melaque, chimneys are as rare as tax-paying cabinet nominees in Washington.

But the rooftop of the house is the last area we need to visit on our tour through the house.

So, up we go one more flight of stairs -- to the roof.

Most homes north of the border do not have roof living spaces. In contrast, many Mexican homes have their "family rooms" on the roof -- especially in coastal regions.

At the top of the stairs, this is the view that will greet you. I remember my first impression was that Salvador Dali and Edward Hopper had produced an uncataloged collaboration.

The owner of the house uses the roof as one of her prime living areas. It is easy to see why -- with views like this.

I have not been able to spend much fun time on the roof. There are just too many stairs for Jiggs to make the trips up and down.

But I have spent a good deal of time on the roof in my role as Chief House Sitter.

Most homes have their working parts hidden away in basements or garages. Not Mexican homes. They wear their utilitarian functions proudly.

The roof is where the important workings of the house reside.

I already told you about the clothes drying operation in i have a little list. It is on the roof.

But, so are the water system and the hot water heater.

For those of you who do not live in Mexico, let me describe the large black tank. It is called a tinaco.

A pump fills the tank with water from the municipal supply in the street. The water mains do not have enough pressure to force the water up to the roof. Gravity then feeds the water down to the shower, toilets, and sinks. Very economical. Very simple.

There is an additional structure on the roof I have not yet discussed. And that is the dome.

The dome is more than an interesting architectural structure -- a structure I can spot at anywhere along Navidad Bay.

When the Moors conquered Spain, they brought many innovations with them. One of them was the dome.

I wrote earlier that the house does not have a chimney. That was not entirely accurate.

When domes are properly constructed, hot air will rise through and out the dome, allowing cooler air to replace it in the dwelling. Natural air conditioning. No ozone holes created here.

So, there you have it io three installments. The house where I will be living until mid-December.

I will leave just a bit too early to discover whether reindeer and Santa Claus will show up on the rooftop.

Something else for me to put into the "not entirely accurate" list?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

the spirit is willing

I promised some of you that I would give a brief update on Professor Jiggs.

Even though our heat and humidity are steadily increasing, Jiggs is doing far better at acclimating than am I. Of course, his solution is to sleep the day away. But that was his doggy agenda in Salem, as well.

On Friday, I took him to Manzanillo. His veterinarian gave him a clean bill of health -- for an old dog. Even he was amazed at how well Jiggs is getting around.

He would have been even more amazed if he had seen Jiggs on our midnight walk.

There are three dogs that live in the next block. Dogs in their prime. When we walk during the day, they have a tendency to gang up on him. Nothing bad. They just push his space.

All three of them were at the end of the block when I let Jiggs out the gate. He took off in a trot. Not a run. But I had to run to catch up to him.

I was positive the three dogs would take it as the opening gambit in a dog fight.

They didn't. Instead, all three of them took off like burglars caught in the act. And Jiggs was ready to turn on the overheads in hot pursuit.

I had to remind Deputy Dawg that this is their neighborhood. Not his.

He was not buying it. He was as adamant as a Temperance woman from Topeka that things needed to be sorted out.

So, how is he?

He has the same spirit as that little ball of fuzz I brought home thirteen years ago. Except some of the parts don't work as well as they once did. Mine and his.

I am heading to Manzanillo later this morning to assist
New beginnings in Manzanillo move house. But we will let her cover that news in her blog.

When I get back, we will finish up the tour of the house. I need to show you the roof.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

i've got mail

When we were in grade school, my brother and I had newspaper routes. On Sundays, one of my parents (usually, my mother) would drive us around our routes.

It was more efficient to run portions of the route.

I still remember the feeling of those crisp mornings and hitting a running stride where each stride felt like pure joy.

I am beginning to feel that way about this move to Mexico. If this were a steeplechase, I would have tripped over a few fences and slipped in a pond or two.

But Friday I knew things were going to be all right.

I drove to Manzanillo for a followup appointment with Jiggs's veterinarian. Jiggs's legs passed muster, but the veterinarian wants to see him in two weeks to excise two growths.

While Jiggs was getting a bath, I stopped by Mailboxes, etc. to see if I had any mail. I did.

In fact, I had a huge packet of mail -- as you can see in the photograph at the top of the blog.

During the early 1970s, I lived in Greece for a year. Telephone connections in those days were not good, at least, in my part of Greece. But they were expensive.

My sole umbilical with friends and family was a small postal box. I literally lived for the moment every day when the mail would be placed in the boxes, and I could retrieve the flotsam and jetsam that floated my way from across the Atlantic.

I felt exactly the same way when the clerk handed me that huge packet. Because I pay for the box by weight, I knew this would be an expensive care package.

A large portion of the contents was the type of mail that makes its way from the box to the trash can with hardly a glance. Well, that is what would happen at home. With this mail, I opened everything and looked at it -- even the cruise brochures.

But there were true treasures. Magazines and newspapers.

I have managed to avoid most news stories for the past two months. My sabbatical is over. I now have two months of reading -- and the regular flow should start soon.

Last Sunday, our church congregation discussed what it means to seek justice in a society where we are expatriates. I think I now have a better answer.

In one of my Salvation Army newspapers, I found an answer for me. The Salvation Army is starting an initiative on social justice through an
International Social Justice Commission.

The commission's eight goals are immense:

  1. End hunger and extrme poverty
  2. Universal education
  3. Gender equality
  4. Child health
  5. Maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases
  7. Environmental sustainability
  8. Global partnership

OK. It sounds highly idealistic. But the Salvation Army is not known for aiming low.

Getting involved with the commission may be exactly what I need to get my full stride in retirement. Everything on that list is an issue that my Mexican neighbors face -- some more than others.

That packet brought great news -- and perhaps a way for me to truly hit my retirement stride.

Friday, June 12, 2009

still walking

On those days when the pleasures of outdoor living pales, Jiggs and I can head upstairs.

In truth, we spend very little time on the second floor. Other than to cook a meal, use the computer, or sleep, everything we need is on the ground floor.

But, people like to see rooms in houses that seldom get use. So, show you I shall.

Yesterday we left off at the bottom of the stairwell. At the top of the stairwell, this rainbow burst greets visitors.

Turn to the right, and discover the dining area and kitchen.

Turn to the left, and sit in the living room.

And, if you have forgotten to wash your fruit and vegetables, you may want to visit this room. It is straight on.

But, even with all of these rooms, the house is built around two balconies.

My favorite is the balcony that faces the ocean. If I cannot be found downstairs, I can usually be found on this balcony.

Tomorrow, I will show you the roof.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

walking through my dream

Last July I stayed in the house where I am starting my Mexican adventure.

The house was painted white. Everything was white. With the exception of a few blue accents. I woke up several mornings thinking I was on Mykonos again.

I wasn't. I was in Melaque. But color has strong memory links.

The owner told me that she was going to add some color. She did.

The photograph at the top of the post was my introduction to The New House when we arrived in April. And those colors certainly help set the tone for the house.

Let me give you an overview. A realtor would describe the house as a three bedroom, two bath, with living room, dining room, and kitchen. But that hardly catches the spirit of the house.

There are three distinct living areas -- the ground floor, the living area on the second floor, and the roof. For convenience, let's look at the ground floor first and then tackle the other two in subsequent posts.

If you will step through the dark blue garage gate at the left in the top photograph, this is what will greet you. Palm trees. The beach. The ocean.

I remember the first time I saw how close the ocean came to the back of the house. I was transfixed.

I have always enjoyed the motion of the sea. But this house gives me an opportunity to experience it in true tropical fashion.

And what would true tropical fashion be without a hammock? Better yet, what would retirement be without a hammock?

During the past two weeks, I have spent hours reading at the table or napping in the hammock. This 100 square foot area has been my "activity" center.

Jiggs sleeps most of the afternoon next to the hammock. He is feeling much better. But our weather has been climbing into the upper 80s -- with matching humidity.

Neither one of us needs to exert too much energy with those temperatures. I honestly expect Gilligan to show up at any moment. (You young people can ask your parents about that reference.)

This food bar is just behind the hammock. The tile work and paint scheme gives you an idea of the detail in the living area.

But the living area is upstairs. Just follow Jiggs up the stairs, and we will walk through those rooms -- tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

bats about melaque

The year was 1971. The president was withdrawing ground troops from Vietnam, but the number of air sorties increased.

I had just entered flight training at Laredo, Texas, arriving in the fall.

Southern Texas in the fall has weather unknown to a boy from Oregon. Heat. Humidity. Muggy nights stretching to dawn.

I recall one evening walking back to my quarters from one of those easily-forgettable movies of the early 70s. The temperature was in the 80s. So was the humidity. I stood watching moths, cockroaches, and other unnaturally large insects fly in and out of a street lamp's light sphere. A schizophrenic's version of a snow globe.

Now and then, bats of various sizes would swoop through, as efficient as any shark grabbing a herring, and disappear into the night. As a pilot trainee, I almost envied the bats for their ease in finding and destroying their targets. Of course, for the bats, it was merely a trip to the dining hall.

Those memories popped up on my memory screen Tuesday evening. And I immediately knew why. The temperature. The humidity. The pause under the street lamp. And those marvelous bats.

I probably became reflective because on Tuesday I started thinking about plans for the second portion of my adventure in Mexico. I will be staying where I am until mid-December. But I need to start thinking about where I am going then, and where I will be staying.

Here is my blog plan for the next week.

  • I have been promising to publish photographs of the house where I am now living. I will do that.

  • I am going to take a look at the criteria that brought me to Melaque, and evaluate those factors.

  • I will show you some of the various rental options available in December.

As always, something more interesting may pop up, but that is my publication plan for the week.

Who knows, I may actually find where all of those bats hang out during the day. They certainly make my evenings interesting.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

selling others' dreams

This is not Craig's List.

What we sell here are dreams and distilled reality.

But, now and then, every rule must be broken -- if, for no other reason, to prove the rule has worth.

My amigo Todd has a house for sale. Not just any house. His house. Just outside Pátzcuaro.

So, why am I flogging real estate for Todd?

I already told you the first reason. He is a friend -- in the sense that we bloggers are friends.

He also has a pet rabbit named Larry. What other references do you need?

But, here is another reason. I came within weeks of being Todd's neighbor. I saw a real estate advertisement on the internet for a house that looked as if it had my name written on it. Todd lived in the same development.

That was before I knew my retirement date. Someone else bought the house. I did not become Todd's neighbor.

But in the process I discovered Todd's blog. I learned a lot about the neighborhood where he lives. And, somewhere in a corner of my mind, I wish I had bought that house.

So, says you, why not buy Todd's house now?

That answer is easy. I have moved on from my idea of purchasing a house. I want to move around Mexico as a renter -- living in new areas of the country whenever a move hits my fancy.

Besides. If I bought Todd's house, Todd would not be my neighbor.

For those of you who want to find your own dream in Mexico, take a close look at Todd's house. If nothing else, enjoy the presentation of his house. This is a man who takes pride in his home, his neighborhood, and his community.

So, hop on over to say hello to Larry. And put some money on the barrel head.

That way, I can get back to posting pictures of the house where I am currently living.

Monday, June 08, 2009

pressures of life

Nancy announced yesterday that she is starting an exercise regime.

That reminded me of two pieces of news that I have left hanging.

filling the hole in whole, I told you that I saw my doctor to get a baseline for my blood pressure and blood sugar. When she took my blood pressure, she was concerned that the pressure was elevated.

So, off she sent me to a lab to get a blood and urine workup. As you know from
el médico está comiendo el pan, those test results were amazingly good. The only thing I did not feel comfortable about was the elevated blood pressure.

I finally found my doctor in her office this week. She was as thrilled about the lab results as I was. We were both even happier when my blood pressure fell well within the normal zone.

If anyone says that losing weight does not make a difference to health, I am living proof to the contrary. Those 30 pounds lost were highly relevant -- as we used to say in the law biz.

But clouds are forming. I noticed that I am beginning to put on weight.

No surprise why. I am not getting out of the house as much as I have in the past. Instead, I am sitting and reading. And when I read, I eat.

Time to get involved in the little store-front gym in town. I am going to check if they have a stationary bicycle -- my preferred choice of exercise torture.

But eating is also involved with my second piece of news. I have discovered that I like the local zucchini. When small, they are almost as sweet as a cucumber -- and they are a very versatile stir fry ingredient.

I mention zucchini only because I am doing my best to find new vegetables to include in my cooking -- for variety, if nothing else.

So, I'm joining Nancy in my continuing quest -- in my case, to lose at least another 25 pounds.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

color me aghast

"It's an Irish tale, not an American one."

A friend always begins stories, which do not have a happy ending, with that warning.

Following that tradition, I suppose I should say this is a Mexican tale with an American twist.

Just as I was packing to leave Salem in April, a sales notice appeared on the Melaque message board. A fellow who owns several bungalows was selling his older van.

For a month, he kept the sales talk alive.

And then the tone changed.

In late May, he announced the van was no longer for sale because one of his renters (or an acquaintance) had stolen it along with some valuable personal property.

That sounds like your garden variety of theft. But here comes the twist.

Within days, the owner received an email from the thief stating that he could have the van back for $10,000 MX.

In one of my previous career lives, I was a criminal defense attorney. So, I am used to auto thefts. Car strips. Joy rides.

But van-napping? Now, that was different.

Then the plot really thickens.

On Saturday morning, the owner received the following note at his house. Paraphrasing would completely lose the chutzpah that drips off this communication.

Hi [owner], how are you? Your family? Well, I hope that all is well for for everyone. I am sending you the list with the new prices of the things that you asked for.

Van 10,000
Laptop 5,000
Nintendo 3,000
Çamera 2,000

You told me before that you would accept the van, if you would like anything else, just add it to the list, here are the keys to the van, let me know what else you would like and I will leave them in the van. Tell me what else you are interested in and mail them (to an email address) and I'll let you know the way the payment can be made and once the bill has been paid I'll tell you where you can pick up the van with the articles inside it.

With nothing more for the moment, you can contact me at the email address for any information that you need.

Hoping that you and yours are well,

[the thief]

I have read that several times now. And it still astonishes me.

"The new prices of the things you asked for?" This is a ransom note. Not a Costco shopping list.

It almost sounds like a bad Grade B movie -- possibly starring Jan-Michael Vincent.

Or worse. It is the type of note that Kim Jong-il would send to some functionary just before the arrival of a poison chop stick.

You may ask, where are the police in all this? To ask that question is to answer it.

In the interim, the van owner continues to entertain us with frequent updates on the message board. If there is a subtext here, it is certainly not apparent.

But it has certainly frightened people at church. Burglaries were the talk of the day last Sunday.

The moral?

Did you forget? It is a Mexican tale.

Morals tomorrow; parody tonight.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

smooth sailing

I am an occasional sailor -- on sailboat or cruise liner.

One thing I learned early while sailing: I have an extremely good sense of balance. My sea legs are usually steady within an hour of being on board.

But every sailor knows that no matter how well-balanced he may be, there will come a moment when the entire world seems to turn topsy-turvy.

That is exactly how I have felt for about the last two weeks. My head knew exactly where I was, but I could not seem to find my footing.

A few readers even commented that I seemed to have turned negative toward my Mexico experience.

But I have once again found my footing.

Thursday helped. Just getting out with Jiggs and seeing him enjoying life was a lesson that I need to stop being overly-concerned about him.

He is a dog. He knows how to live in the moment.

I was going to take Jiggs to the La Manzanilla beach on Friday. But he was still tired from his seaside walk on Thursday.

Instead, we took an extended walk through our neighborhood. He even got to greet some young children on their way to school. Even though most adults shy away from Jiggs, children love him.

I then took a relaxed approach to the day. I listened to Oregon news on the internet. Read more of my tiresome novel. Napped. Exchanged email with friends. Making some sort of order out of my day.

Some of you know Scott Parks. He has several blogs about the local area. He has also been very helpful -- especially, in showing me the process to register my FM3.

I had supper with him tonight at one of my favorite shrimp restaurants. I knew that one thing I was missing in Mexico was regular conversation. We spent almost two hours sitting and chatting about a wide range of topics.

The topics are not important; the fact that I got to converse with an articulate fellow was. I walked back to the house almost elated.

And then came the icing. The sun was just about to set. I have not yet had an opportunity to sit by the ocean watching the light show that nature offers up in Melaque. So, I sat on the steps to the beach.

While staring out into the middle distance, I felt a nudge against my right arm. Jiggs had managed to wobble across the sand of the yard and to climb the steps.

So, we sat there. A guy and his dog just enjoying the simple joys of the sea and the sky.

It is nice to have my life sea legs back.