Tuesday, August 31, 2010

méxico en la piel


Music is an art, not a science.


OK.  I know music is based on a series of mathematical considerations.  Measures.  Beat.  Rhythm.


But they are not music.  They are merely the tools that allow composers to share their souls, their poetry, their hearts with us.


For some reason, this topic keeps coming up in my life.  The latest installment was a discussion with my house sitter.  He prefers his music (especially, film music) without lyrics.  I like instrumental music, as well.  But there are times when lyrics are necessary to tell the composer's tale.


I may need to eat a bit of crow.  At least a wing's worth.


Dan of North Carolina is a frequent commenter on this blog.  Because of my obvious interest in music, he sends me video clips he finds intriguing.


The video embedded below is from him.  And it came at just the right time.


He noted that some of my recent posts indicate a desire to be back in Mexico.  He is right.  Yesterday's post is a good example.  I am about to miss the second centennial of Mexican Independence because I am in Oregon.  And it should be a grand fiesta.


My heart longs to be in Mexico.  That is where the music comes in.  Music can reach out to spirits looking for something missing in life.  And that is exactly what Dan's submission did for me.


The song is
México en la Piel, made popular by Luis Miguel.  The music is celebratory music at its best.  And in Spanish, the lyrics sound liltingly romantic.


They aren't.  In fact, they sound as if they were written by an ad man while waiting to catch a plane.  That is where the crow comes in.  Lyrics do not always add to the emotion music speaks to us.  Sometimes lyrics can be an impediment.  Like these.   


With one exception.  The recurring theme of the song.  "This is how Mexico feels/Like lips on your skin."  Evocative.  Simple.  warming.


So, ignore most of the subtitles, and give free reign to your love for Mexico.


I did.  And I feel better for it. 


Monday, August 30, 2010

¡viva méxico!


I am going to miss Mexican Independence Day this year.


Unless there is a major change in my schedule, I will still be in Oregon on September 15 and 16.  That means I will not be able to meet in the Melaque town plaza to shout out "¡Viva México!" along with my neighbors.  I was there last year (
time immemorial), and I would like to be there again.  It is quite an event.


I will write more about the mythology surrounding Mexican Independence later in September.  But two recent events in Mexico have caught my interest.


The first, I have told you about.  The eviction of Mexicans and expatriates from land they thought they owned in the village of Tenacatita (
tears on the sand).  The police are still blocking access to the village, and the man who claims ownership is slowly removing buildings built on his property.


The second involves a dispute between a Mexican archbishop of the Catholic church and the mayor of Mexico City.  Mexico City enacted a statute allowing homosexual couples to adopt children.  The statute was challenged as unconstitutional, and the Mexican Supreme Court upheld the statute. 


The ruling angered the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, who accused Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City, of bribing the Supreme Court justices.  The mayor has now sued the archbishop for defamation.  In return, a church spokesman has urged Mexicans to vote against the mayor's party.


When Mexico won its independence from Mexico, several issues were left unresolved.  Two of the biggest were land ownership and the role of the Catholic church in Mexican society. 


Both would haunt Mexican governments for the next two centuries.  (And before Americans get too haughty about that, we need to remember that the reluctance of the Founding Fathers to tackle the issue of slavery ended up in a Civil War and years of legal racial discrimination.)


Even the great reformer, Benito Juárez, was unsuccessful in breaking up large landholdings and taming the Catholic church's role in Mexican governance.  Reform waited until the Revolution of 1910 -- a civil war that tarted up land reform and restrictions on the Catholic church to disguise its raw factional roots.


The reformers won.  The Constitution of 1917 allowed the central government to seize private property and to divide it into smaller plots for the poor to operate communally -- the ejido system that still haunts land titles in Mexico. 


The constitution also placed all religious institutions under the authority of the government, and prohibited religious leaders from any involvement in political activity.  Criticism of governmental authorities was specifically prohibited.


The problem with constitutions is they cannot alter the rules of economics any more than they can change the effects of gravity.  The ejidos were based on a humanitarian ideal.  Give a group of poor men control over a piece of property, and they will have pride and the ability to earn a subsistence living.  That was the theory.


If we have learned anything from the twentieth century, good intentions alone do not always lead to good results. 


The ejidos were the worst of two worlds.  They were too small to be economically viable.  As a result, they fell into disuse.  And without individual ownership interests, the "owners" of ejido land lost interest in it.  Before long, much of it was lying fallow, and ejidos starting looking around for new owners.  Even though selling the land was prohibited by the constitution.


The restrictions on the Catholic church turned out to be just as unenforceable.  In the 1920s, civil war broke out again.  This time between the anti-clerical government and Catholics who felt themselves persecuted. 


The Cristero War lasted only three years, but it had a permanent effect on Mexican society.  The government agreed to repeal most of its anti-clerical statutes, but the constitutional provisions would remain unchanged.  In effect, the church could remain a sociable institution (as if any government was going to turn Mexico non-Catholic), but it would always have the threat of governmental authority over its head.


And that brings us to today.  Land reform has generally turned out to be a failure.  The fact that the courts and the government are siding with a large landowner against he claims of poorer Mexicans in Tenacatita is simply another piece of evidence that land ownership is uncertain -- especially on Mexico's Pacific coast.


The controversy swirling around Archbishop Sandoval's attack on a political figure and the church's opposition to the mayor's party may strike many Americans and Canadians as a bit over the top.  After all, what about religious freedom?  Well, there is none.  At least, under the current constitution.


So, is all of this some sort of street theater conjured up by Mexico to let us all know what is being celebrated this year for the second centennial of Independence and the first centennial of living under the benefits of the great revolution?  I doubt it.


But it is proof that Mexico has not yet come to terms with two of the big issues that were not resolved with the Grito de Dolores of the warrior-priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, in 1810.


I suspect Mexico may not have another 100 years to straighten out these two issues.  Until it does, we will celebrate Independence Day in something less than a liberal democracy.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

friendly doors


The neighborhood was new to me.


I moved into the rental in San Patricio in mid-December.  Like many Mexican houses, it has a high wall separating my courtyard from the street. 


I lived on one side of the wall.  The rest of the world lived on the other.


I had not gone out of my way to meet my neighbors -- other than to nod a greeting when I scrambled in or out of my sanctuary, usually to the lady of the house who sat out front monitoring the slow pace of life on our street. 


All that changed the second week I was in the house.


That morning, I walked into Melaque to buy groceries.  After walking three miles in the heat, I was ready for only two things  putting my groceries away and taking a cold shower. 


As I walked down the street in front of the rental, I noticed the husband of the street monitor was working on his pickup.  The truck was precariously balanced on a jack that looked flimsy enough to have been designed for a Yugo. 


He was trying to remove the lug nuts from the left front wheel -- using a monkey wrench and a cheater bar.  The lug nuts appeared to be ahead on points.


He glanced up and smiled.   A bit sheepishly.  A bit frustrated.  One of those look of mixed emotions actors try to master in their Stanislavsky courses.


As I opened the door to my courtyard, he said: "Con permiso."  In Mexico, that phrase is larded with cultural nuggets.  It simply means "With your permission."  And often means nothing more than "let me slip by you, and if we touch it means absolutely nothing."


But, just as often, it is the overture to a major request.  "Could you bring three computers back from America next time?" 


He walked over to me, introduced himself, and asked if I had a tire iron he could borrow.  All in Spanish. 


As most of you know, my Spanish is, at best, spotty.  But I knew exactly what he wanted.  And why.


For some reason, I told him I did not have a tire iron.  It was a blatant lie.  And he must have known that.  I drive an SUV.  He had undoubtedly seen it.  The notion of a gringo driving a truck without a tire iron would have been unimaginable to him.


In The States, a neighbor would have called me on my bluff.  He didn't.  He merely smiled and thanked me.  And made a mental note -- I was not a good neighbor.


In my defense (and it is a terrible one), I was not certain my little tire iron would work on his lug nuts.   


The exchange was running through my mind while I put away the perishable groceries.  But I could not take it any more. 


I left the rest of the groceries on the counter, retrieved the tire iron from my Escape, and strode across the street -- looking more like Chuck Norris than the good Samaritan.


My neighbor was surprised to see me.  I asked if the tire iron would help.  He tried it for size.  Cinderella could not have been happier with the fit.


I offered to help him.  He said he could handle it from there.


When I moved to Mexico, an expatriate told me lending tools was a great way to know your neighbors -- especially, if you worked with them on their projects.  Guys building things is a cultural universal.


But, he added a caveat.  If you feel uncomfortable lending tools in The States, do not do it in Mexico.  If you care more about the tool than the people, you will not nurture good relationships.


I returned to pantry duty and then took my shower.  Just as I was getting out of the shower, I heard the gate bell.  I grabbed a pair of shorts and ran outside.


It was my neighbor, tire iron in hand.  Before he handed it over, though, he walked me over to his newly-installed wheel and tire.  We grunted approvingly.


I thought of that incident while once again leafing through Don Adams's Head for Mexico.  Near the end of the book, he recounts the types of complaints about Mexico he hears from expatriates.

Mosquitoes.  Barking dogs.  Dead animals in the road.  Trash in the street.  Wild critters roaming the night.  Creepy crawlies.  Dust.  Narrow roads.  Fireworks at all hours of the day and night.  Heat.  Torrential downpours.  Bad roads.  People who don't have the decency to learn to speak English.  Electrical failures.  Poor public services.  Bureaucracies.  Workers who agree to, but then never show up to do a job.  Undrinkable water.  Non-operating public telephones.  Septic tanks.  Loud music half the night long.  Stray dogs poopin' in the streets.  Horses poopin' in the streets.  Donkeys poopin' in the streets.  Chicken poopin' in the streets.  Live animals on the highways.  Dead animals on the highway.  High gas prices.

I laughed as I read it because I have heard the same complaints.  I may have uttered a few myself -- even though the list sounds like a description of my youth in rural Oregon.


The list is a reminder that Mexico is not a boring paradise.  It is a real place with problems, challenges, and aggravations. 


The trick is to keep life in perspective.  The aggravations are easily balanced out by the adventures of living in Mexico.  They are merely the equivalent of diminished sevenths in the concerto that is Mexico.


When I was on my crutches, my neighbors would always rush over to help me open my courtyard door.  And help inside with with whatever I had purchased that day.


I was capable of opening the door myself.  But their help added a new layer to our relationship.


And I am now starting to know my neighbors.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

our lady of guadalajara

She walks in beauty like the night.


Lord Byron's words, not mine.  But they certainly apply to Jimena Navarrete, Miss Universe 2010.



I started writing this post on Monday night -- when she was crowned.  After all, she meets the main criterion for inclusion in this blog.  Prior to winning, she was Miss Mexico.  Technically, I think she still is.


Beauty contested are a tricky topic.  They have accumulated enough social barnacles to impede reasonable conversations.


Objectification.  Being rewarded for looks rather than talents.  Sexual pandering.


And I will grant that some of the objections are close to the mark.  The fact that the contest was in Las Vegas does not lessen the howls of people who dislike seeing women as sex fantasies.


Of course, those arguments ignore the fact that the world is filled with beauty -- and some of that beauty is personified in women.


For some reason, a lot of those beautiful women are concentrated in Mexico.  And they are everywhere in Mexico.  There are cosmopolitan beauties in Guadalajara (Jimena Navarrete's home town).  And rural beauties in my small fishing village by the sea.


A major social event in my village is the annual Miss San Patricio contest.  Ours is a poor village.  But the young contestants pull out the stops to make themselves paragons of beauty.  There is no pretense that the contest is anything other than what it is -- a celebration of beautiful women.


Se
ñorita Navarrete's first pronouncement as Miss Universe was heartening -- for those of us whose hearts lie south of the Rio Bravo.  She plans to promote her home country of Mexico.  And it could use the help.  We expatriates in Mexico consistently bemoan the reputation Mexico has in The States and Canada -- mostly caused by media intent on magnifying the negative.


Even Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, enlisted her in restoring Mexico's battered reputation: "Her triumph is a source of pride and satisfaction for all Mexicans, who see in her the fruits of perseverance."  (One can only imagine what Bill Clinton would have said under similar circumstances.)


Beauty queens do not always fare well.  Relationships with drug lords and youthful indiscretions on film have pulled other winners from their tiaras.  I hope that will not happen here.


Mexico is a land of beauty.  It deserves an advocate who is just as beautiful.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

drug down


Last week I promised you I would have good news on Friday.  And then I told you nothing.


No, I have not reverted to my political mold.  No truth-bending here.  My announcement simply needed a little more conformation.


I saw my general practitioner doctor last week.  She told me my Coumadin sentence was drawing to a close.  She wanted me to keep my monitoring appointment on Friday, but after that I would be done.


On Friday, I tripped over to the hospital thinking I would be set free.  As so often happens when hopes are too high, mine were dashed.  Apparently, the note entered in my medical chart was too ambiguous for the clinic.  The nurses needed to talk with my doctor before they could terminate treatment -- and she was not in the office on that Friday.


So, I patiently (after all, that is my role in this drama) waited for news.  And took my pills religiously through the weekend. 


No news on Monday.  No news on Tuesday.  Until late in the afternoon.  Just as I was reaching to call the clinic, my telephone rang.


The nurse told me I was as liberated as Elsa on the savannah.  No more pills.


My doctor and the clinic at the hospital have been great through all of this.  Whether or not I was ever really in danger of suffering any damage from the blood clot, we will never know.  What we do know is the clot collapsed like the Soviet Union, and I survived.  For that, I can thank the medical professionals.


I am now down to one medication for my blood pressure.  And if I can strip off the pounds I have gained (and return to my regular food and exercise regimen in Mexico), I may be able to drop the last pill.


But, I am happy, for the moment, to be rid of the Coumadin.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

emergency spanish


Testimonies.


They work in church.  They work on the internet.


I am often slow to come to the party.  Too much of Florence King's "I would love to; I just don't want to," I suppose.


Several bloggers have already extolled the virtues of  Mexican Trailrunner's Emergency Medical Spanish.  It is such a good idea, I am surprised no one thought of it before now.


The marketing data is out there.  Expatriates are retiring to Mexico.  The number is unknown.  Even though we all know the real estate-engendered figure of one million expatriates in Mexico is no more accurate than a teenage boy's recounting of romantic conquests.  But there are quite a few of us.


And, to be less than delicate, we are old.  With all of the ailments that cloak the withering process.


For most of us, Spanish is not our first language.  And, for a large portion of us, we will, at best, gain a nodding acquaintance with it.  Being able to distinguish Spanish from, say, Mandarin Chinese at least half the time.


And there is the rub.  Old expatriates trying to explain medical problems in English to a care provider who speaks only their native tongue -- Spanish.


The solution, of course, is simple.  People living in Mexico need to learn Spanish.  For lots of reasons.  But, because the answer is simple and the learning is hard, it often does not happen.


Mexican Trailrunner offers help in bridging part of that gap.  A former emergency medical technician, she knows her medical terms.  But she also knows her Spanish.


She has compiled a list of phrases -- in Spanish and English -- to cover most of the medical circumstances a patient might encounter.  The same conversations that go on in hospitals and doctor's offices around the world.


I received my e-book copy this morning -- in PDF format.  I spent almost two decades litigating medical cases.  For that reason alone, this may be a good method for me to get back into the Spanish saddle and start re-learning what I have forgotten (and what has atrophied) on this trip north.


So, let me add my voice to my colleagues' chorus.  For $10, 
Emergency Medical Spanish is a bargain .  I could have used it five months ago as I lay on that gurney in Puerto Vallarta with a flopping right foot.


But I am certain I will have plenty of opportunities in the future to dive into the book.


Monday, August 23, 2010

wrestling with tolstoy


"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."


Or so says the opening line of Anna Karenina.


Tolstoy was half wrong.  He showed us how the Oblonsky and Karenin families were unhappy in their own way.  But happy families are not all alike.  At least, mine isn't.


I have just returned from one of those weekends.  The type where you wonder why they do not happen more often.


Almost two months ago, Felipe summarized his American family in No Brady Bunch.  And that was his conclusion.  North of the border he was not a Brady Bunch kind of guy.


That got me to thinking about my own family.  Like his, we are a small group.  My mother.  My brother and me.  He is married. And I have a niece and a nephew.  Nephew is married with a son.  And that is it.


My mother always wanted a large family, but nature does not always deliver what we would like.  Instead, she and my father raised two sons.  We could not even make it into the Fred MacMurray category.


This weekend was the first time I have been able to get together with all of them in Bend since I returned to Oregon in April.  That alone is a terrible indictment of how I have set my priorities.


I was thee for less than 48 hours.  We ate.  We laughed.  We reminisced.  We tried to outpun, outwit, and outhumor each other.


We watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune -- chuckling with and at the contestants.  Sometimes solving the problems first.  Other times laughing at our own foolish answers.


We are a people who do not take ourselves -- or life -- too seriously.


On Saturday evening, we watched The Ghost Writer.  A literate thriller starring Ewan McGregor, playing a writer hired to ghost a former British prime minister's memoirs.  One of those stories where we start volunteering where we think the story is going.


But sleep won out.  Mom left to go to her house.  My brother's wife wen to bed.  My brother followed.  That left my niece and me.  She made it through the entire movie -- except for five minutes.  They will convene again some night this week to watch the ending.


But the best part of the experience was not the movie.  It was the relationship we share.  No one knows you as well as your family.  And that is not always fun.  But it is certainly the most meaningful relationship possible.  (That observation, of course, is from a single man.)


And we can be corny.  My brother drove me back to Salem Sunday afternoon, and my niece rode along.  (We were all interested in making a side rip to Fry's Electronics -- the Mecca for Cottons.)


On the way, my eighteen-year old niece started playing the Alphabet Game -- where you look for letters of the alphabet on anything external from the car.  It sounds silly, but all three of us were letter-deep in it within minutes.  Once again, having fun competing with one another. 


When the game became too easy, we decided any lettering on a vehicle (usually the richest of letter lodes) would be excluded.  Then we started on Oregon towns.  (There is no "X.")


It was a simple weekend.  But we are simple people who enjoy one another more than things.


Are we perfect?  The Brady Bunch?


I considered that question the other day when a friend told me we were like a situation comedy family.  He meant it as a compliment.


But, I hope we re not that one-dimensional.  We can, at least, shoot for two.  We are simply too complex for television.


What I can say is we genuinely love another.  More than that, we actually like one another.


If I ever tire of Mexico, I have a ready-made setting for adventure in Bend.


Where we can prove happy families can be happy in their own way.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

what's good for the goose



I'm not in Mexico any more.


The rift between Mexico and The States could not be more evident than the tale my brother relayed to me at breakfast this morning.


I headed off to Bend on Friday afternoon.  A nice jaunt through the mountains.  But a trip I made as a passenger.  I could not cajole my mother to put her life into my hands -- or foot, I guess.


We had a leisurely breakfast of eggs benedict at a local eatery.  The D&D.  Once a notorious smoke-filled bar, it has been tarted up to pass as a family restaurant.  In about the same way Las Vegas has become family-friendly.  With a something-is-wrong-here uneasiness.


I always enjoy these outings with my family.  My mother, my brother, his wife, and I were having a great time.  Then the stories began.  And things got better.


My favorite was the gassing of the geese.


Bend, like the D&D, has a checkered past.  In the 1970s, it was still a logging and lumber town.  About as basic as a working American town can be.


Then the tourists found it.  Sunny days.  Snow in the winter.  Majestic purple mountains right out of a patriotic song -- for staring and skiing.  And when urban types discover the joy of quaintly country ambiance, something is going to change.


What changed was Bend.  The town's former a lumber mill is now the city's main shopping mall.  And the 81,000 people are an amalgam of what Bend once was and what it has become.


To attract additional tourists, the city developed a water-front park on the Deschutes River -- Drake Park.  The park is a wonder.  With water.  Trails.  Solitude.  And open-grass.


It attracted tourists.  And Canada Geese.  Geese are usually migratory.  But when they find a deal almost as good as a free Hilton, they put their wandering ways on hold.  Why fly all the way north to breed when you can do it in a park safe from hunters?


Move in, they did.  But geese are not toilet-trained.  Like all birds, they poop whenever and wherever they like.  And being big and flockish, the poop is big and there is lots of it.


I have seen what geese can do to parks.  It is not a pretty site.


The bureaucrats in the park district decided enough was enough.  But they could not execute any plan that would work. 


They tried capturing the geese and repatriating them to northern Canada.  Perhaps forgetting that geese are migratory and could get back to Bend almost as fast as their captors.


They tried oiling the goose eggs in the hope the embryos would die and the geese would not lay additional eggs.  The population did not decrease.


They tried birth control.  Nope.


Like a Hitchcock film, they kept moving in.


Out of frustration, the district devised what one resident, in a perfect application of Godwin's Law, called -- The Final Solution.  Park district employees captured 109 of the unfortunate geese.  Took them to a district shop.  And placed them, individually, into a trash can sized container filled with carbon dioxide until the goose stopped thrashing.


In old Bend, the only question would have been why the district did not simply shoot the geese.  But we live in kinder and gentler times.


New Bend reacted just as any politically correct group of people would do.  They were outraged.  And American outrace these days is best dramatized with a candlelight vigil. 


And vigil they did.  By the flames of little candles, they expressed their feelings.  Observed a moment of silence for "the surviving geese companions and families."  And discussed ideas of how to prevent the slaughter from happening again.


The only thing missing was a condemnation of the use of a greenhouse gas to kill the geese.  Uniting us all in this ecological nightmare.


I love animals.  Even geese.  They are doing only what thousands of years of breeding have taught them to do.  Being geese.


But this whole thing is a bit over the top.  And it symbolizes how neurotic American society is becoming.


The first mistake was creating a perfect goose habitat and then shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- that geese would take them up on the invitation.  Golf course and parks were not built for geese, but they provide exactly what geese think they need to be a true goose.


And geese do not mix well with people in those environments.  Too many Americans have bought the Disney view of animals.  "They are just like people."  Well, they aren't.  And you either accept that or you try to change the circumstances.


As for the "executions," these are geese.  We are not talking about rounding up children.  For what it is worth, the meat was donated to the local food banks.


I keep thinking what would have happened in Mexico.  If geese had started congregating in my village, my neighbors would have seen them as a gift from God -- to be harvested and enjoyed.  Candlelight vigils are for the victims of crime.  Not for birds.


And I think they would have it just about right.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

driving mr. lazy


P.J. O' Rourke loves cars.


So do I.


P.J.'s most recent book (Driving Like Crazy) is a love story -- between a boy and his standard transmission.  I highly recommend it.


Here is a taste:
Cars fulfilled the ideal of America's founding fathers.  Of all the truths we hold self-evident, of all the unalienable rights with which we are endowed, what's most important to the American dream?  It's right there in the Declaration of Independence: freedom to leave!  Founding fathers, can I have the keys?

With the exception of two short splint-handicapped jaunts in Melaque, I have not driven a vehicle since I drove north to Puerto Vallarta to zip across canyons -- and meet my medical destiny.  It was a nice four-hour farewell to driving.  Five months ago.


Since my return, I have been dependent upon the kindness of friends to cart my ever-increasing body from place to place.  To work.  To the doctor.  To physical therapy.  To shop.


But that may all be coming to an end.


As of yesterday, I am back in the driver's seat.


I borrowed a friend's car to drive to Safeway to fill a prescription.  I could have walked.  But I wanted to see if my ankle was ready for chauffeur duty.


It is.  At least, I had no trouble on that short drive.


Two concerns kept me out of the driver's seat: lack of motion in my ankle and discomfort with pressure.


I learned to drive an automatic transmission using only my right foot.  Moving between the accelerator and the brake pedal.  The problem was what might happen if I needed to use foot pressure with emergency braking.


So, I waited.


Yesterday I decided I was ready to fledge -- I thought.


On Friday, I am driving over to Bend with my mother to spend the weekend with my brother and his family.  I intend to use my best litigation skills to persuade her to let me drive.  (And that sentence shows an extreme lack of judgment.  As you know, my mother is a frequent reader and commenter of this blog.  Hi, Mom.)


If my next post is from the hospital, you will know just how it turned out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

my left foot


Have you ever been in the middle of telling a story and realized you forgot to tell an important fact at the start?


With jokes, it is death.  With essays, not so much.


But several of you caught me in a bit of missing narrative when I mentioned "Now, my recent injury to my left foot is restricting me" in
colossus bestriding two worlds.  The email began almost immediately.  What injury?


I thought I had told you, but I guess not.


The tale is nowhere near as exotic as breaking my right ankle while indulging my more adventurous side.  Not to ruin the tale, but I really do not know what happened.


Two weeks ago, I decided it was time for me to get a little exercise.  I had essentially been sedentary for five months.  My physical therapy was going well enough that I could put almost all of my increasing weight on my right foot.  I had very little dorsiflexion -- bending my foot back toward the shin.  But I could easily walk places as long as I did not encounter irregular terrain.


So, I decided it was time to walk to work.  The weather was perfect.  And the two-mile walk would help me to start shedding some of my extra pounds.


And it was a good idea.  On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I slowed down my pace enough to make my right foot feel comfortable.  It was working out well.  I was getting exercise.  Fresh air.  And camaraderie with my fellow morning walkers.  It felt great.


Then came Thursday morning.  I was about one-third of the way to work when my left foot began to hurt.  Just a little.  Out of the blue.  But with each step, it hurt more.  By the time I arrived at the office, it hurt enough I could barely put any weight on it.


The morning walks stopped.  Since then, I have minimized putting any weight on it.  When I descend stairs, I look as if I am auditioning for a role as Quasimodo.  No radiculopathy.  Just pain in the foot.


For two weeks I have let it rest.  Yesterday I decided enough was enough, and walked to work.  And made it with a minimum of pain.


I also saw my doctor that morning.  She had no diagnosis.  But she agreed with me it could be a stress fracture.  If it does not get better, I will see her before I leave for Mexico.


But she had a very good piece of news for me -- that I will tell you on Friday when it becomes official.  At least, I hope it becomes official.


For now, I will nurse both feet back to health.  After all, my small fishing village by the sea is a walking place.  And I will need two good feet.


Monday, August 16, 2010

roses in the morning


My backyard smells like my grandmother's closet.  Roses heavy in the morning air.


A truly Oregon smell.  Summer heat and roses.


I am sitting in the hot tub.  Finishing a book I started reading last weekend.  Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz


For about six months, I intended to track down a copy.  But I just did not get around to it.  When I mentioned it to my house sitter, he told me he had a copy.  A Christmas gift from his sister.


He lent it to me, and I started reading it about a week ago.


Now I am at peace with the day.  With the roses.  And the book.  An hour ago, I was not.


But a little background may help.  Last night I was watching a movie with a friend.  The Machinist.  One of the thrillers that lets you use your mind more than your adrenalin glands.


The plot had been rolling along with some rather nasty scenes.  At one point, our protagonist enters a house of horrors ride that appears customized for his paranoia.  Just as his date's little boy goes into an epileptic fit as a result of the ride, my friend switched off the movie and wanted to talk about something that caught his attention in the film.


I just stared at him as he started talking.  In my mind, I was still working on the plot and what the epileptic fit had to do with a character who appeared to be slipping into madness.


When he got no reaction, he asked: "What's wrong?"


I would like to say I had a rational conversation about his point and we went back to watching the movie.


That did not happen.  Instead, I stood up, declared "I am out of here,"  and left.  In a silent huff. 


I would also like to say I went to bed and slept the sleep if the self-satisfied innocent.  I didn't because I was not innocent.  But I was not going to apologize first.  After all, my pride was at stake.


I got up this morning.  Grabbed some leftover pizza.  And took the Miller book to the hot tub.


The book is about his path to spirituality.  Christian spirituality.  In a real sense, he is a political, social, and spiritual traveler with Anne Lamott.  If you know her writing, you know a lot about Don Miller.


When I opened the book, the essay hit me between the eyes.  He had earlier made the point that self-absorption is what keeps most of us from having satisfactory relationships with one another.  And, as a result, with God.  I have known that for some time.


The part of the book I started reading was his memory of living alone until he was 30. His pastor suggested that he move into a house with several other single guys in Portland -- a small community of faith. He was reluctant to do it.


And he soon found out why. He was so self-absorbed that he could not deal with other people. As he put it: "The audacity to come into my room, my sound stage, and interrupt the obvious flow of the story with questions about how I am."


He then related a story of driving to Salem to listen to Brennan Manning speak. Manning is a former Catholic priest who struggled with alcoholism and speaks frankly -- very frankly -- about matters of Christian spirituality. He summarized Manning's sermon -- Jesus' encounter with Zacchaeus. How Jesus dined with him and showed him that love -- not recrimination -- would heal his life. How the great danger of a harsh word, the power of unlove can deteriorate a person's heart and spirit. That our communication should be seasoned with love and compassion.


His summary pierced my heart. Beth (of Minto Dog) and I were at that same lecture -- that same night. The night that Don Miller listened to Brennan Manning. I recall how convicted I felt. I had shown the same lack of compassion for my fellow man. Daily. I said I was going to stop doing it.


I haven't. Last night was a perfect example.


I could have done a number of things other than getting angry.  We could have talked.  I could have repressed my self-absorption to talk about what my friend wanted to talk about.  I could have been a friend.  The type of person Jesus was.  And wants us to be.


Reading Miller's tale was enough to get me out of the hot tub and on the computer.  I sent an email to my friend -- basically saying what I have said here.  Apologizing for being so self-absorbed -- and wishing I had said the same things last night.


The exchange went well.  Because we are willing to forgive each other's foibles.  And to try not judging one another.


It is tough.  But it is the currency of friendship.


Perhaps that is the reason I wrote those essays last week about the nature of relationships.  I was supposed to be a bit more sensitive toward others -- and not so self-absorbed.


I do know one thing.  I feel at peace having had the apology conversation.  And maybe I will do better next time.  When it matters.


For now.  I sit.  I read. 


But I have stopped to smell the roses.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

with a song in my corazón



I cannot remember when I first heard it.  Probably in the mid-1960s.


But I know how I heard it.  On an album ordered from the much-maligned Columbia Record Club.


Anthems of the World -- with a belt of flags circling the globe in an orbit evocative of Telstar.


When it arrived, I began working my way through the Free World alphabet.  (If you lived behind the Iron Curtain, I guess you did not have the right to an anthem.)  Australia.  Austria.  Belgium.  Canada.


Some were interesting.  Some pedestrian.  The French had me marching down the Champs-Élysées.  The Dutch reminded me of oranges at Christmas.


In that one album, I learned what made a good national anthem.  A march.  With brass.  And an upbeat motif to open the glands.  The left side of the brain need not apply for work in this band.  La Marseillaise is what every national anthem wants to be when it grows up..


And then I heard it.  The first time was without lyrics.  Merely the tune.  But the Mexican national anthem stirred me.  I mean really stirred me.  I wanted to stand up and wave a flag.


Mexico's anthem is not a reason I moved to Mexico.  (Even though I must admit I have always wanted to visit Kyrgyzstan based solely on its flag and anthem.)  But it is one of the interesting side benefits.


I often get to hear the anthem performed in the early morning during the opening ceremonies of each primary school day.  I still react to it.


Just as the Mexican flag has its own mythology, so does the Mexican national anthem.


Before 1853, Mexico did not have an anthem.  But that political survivor, President Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón (better known as Santa Anna), decided Mexico needed a snappy tune to rebuild it national esteem (and his sagging political career) following his humiliating defeat (and surrender of a third of Mexican territory to the United States) in the Mexican-American War (or, invasión estadounidense de México, as the Mexicans call it.)


Upon his return from exile in Cuba, he declared a contest for the best lyrics and the best music for a new national anthem.  A Mexican "re-set," if you will.


Here comes the myths.  Francisco González Bocanegra was a poet.  A poet of love poetry.  Like most poets, competitions were not at the top of his list.  After all, he was a sensitive soul -- not a football hooligan. 


But his
fiancée, Guadalupe González del Pino, was not as sensitive.  The tale usually runs along these lines: "Under false pretense, she lured him to a secluded bedroom in her parents' house."


Now, every good Catholic boy knows what happens next.  His mother or father warned him at a young age.  Jezebels like this are to be avoided.


But a nice Catholic boy would be wrong because the aptly-named Guadalupe was a nice Catholic girl.  And far more familiar with the Inquisition than with telenovelas.


She locked him in the bedroom -- alone.  And would not release him until he produced lyrics.  She knew the room would inspire him because it was filled with pictures of various Mexican historical events.


In four hours, he had slipped ten stanzas of poetry  (with a nice little chorus) under the bedroom door.  She freed him after she and her father approved the work.


The lyrics are filled with the usual nationalist jingoism of the nineteenth century.  Lots of roaring cannon.  Trembling earth.  War without quarter.  Perhaps a bit embarrassing if you think about Mexico's military history too long.


But it is far less martial than La Mareillaise with its bloody banner, blood watering furrows, and enemy soldiers slitting the throats of sons and wives.


The competition panel voted unanimously to award him the prize.  That was 1854.


The composer's tale is far less dramatic.  And probably more soundly based in fact.  The original winner, Juan Bottesini, lost his prize.  Not through unpublished photographs like a fallen beauty queen, but because the music lacked aesthetic appeal.


An otherwise unknown military band leader, Jaime Nunó Roca, came to the rescue.  And he was an odd choice.  Even though he was a Spanish citizen, he composed the winning music to accompany González's lyrics.  The fact that he had befriended the president during Santa Anna's exile in Cuba may have had some influence on the judges.


Whether or not that is true, the music did not sound like it came from the pen of a political hack.  It was good then.  It is good now.


On Independence Day (September 16) 1854, Mexico had a new anthem -- Himno Nacional Mexicano with its famous opening line: "
Mexicanos, al grito de guerra" ("Mexicans, at the cry of war").  (Even though it was not officially adopted as the national anthem until 1943.)  Ironically, Santa Anna, who returned from exile in 1853 to serve a president, was booted out in less than two years.  Never again to sit as president.


But he left a great anthem as a legacy.
  It was not all mere theater.  


Any post on a national anthem without a sound clip is not worth its blog salt.  YouTube is filled with a load of indifference recordings.  Here is one that does a bit of justice to one of my favorite anthems.


            

Friday, August 13, 2010

colossus bestriding two worlds


One of my fellow bloggers occasionally chides me about having one foot in Mexico and one foot in Oregon.  He is one of those true believers.  You cannot be luke warm about your home.  Otherwise, you end up like a crazy uncle in the attic.


I thought about his friendly warning yesterday while I was surveying my house in Salem.  Houses are living organisms.  They need as much care and tending as children.  Abandon them, and they will pay you back in the currency of sorrow.


I have not had an opportunity to do much maintenance around the house.  My right ankle limited what I could do outside for the first three months.  Now, my recent injury to my left foot is restricting me.


But enough was enough.  As some school of Greek philosophers must have said.  (I think they said: "moderation in everything."  But I prefer my paraphrase.)  There were several tasks that needed to be done.


A friend picks me up each morning for the quick drive to work.  Even when I was on crutches, while I waited for her arrival, I would pull the random weed.  Almost like some nervous habit.  But, over the past few months, I have slowly reduced the weed invasion on my southern border.


But the weeds were not the largest problem.  I have Boston ivy on my chimney.  Bricks and ivy sound as if they go together.  After all, what would Harvard be without its ivy-covered walls?  The problem is ivy and mortar do not mix well.  The mortar always suffers.


Over the years, I have considered pulling up the entire plant.  I haven't solely for one reason: the ivy gives the house a cottage look.  But only if I keep the ivy under control.


Yesterday, I finally noticed it was definitely not under control.  It has not only covered the second story bedroom windows on the south side of the house.  It has now crept to the east side of the house.


The nice thing about Boston ivy is that is is easy to pull down.  So, when I got home Thursday evening, I decided to prune as much of it as I could with my bare hands.


Without changing out of my Bob Fosse work clothes, I climbed onto a lawn chair and started tugging on the ivy.  Without incident.  What I could reach, I pulled down.  I even avoided the temptation of pulling the ladder out of the garage.  I knew that was a recipe for challenging Newton's theory of gravity.


Because that went so well, I started pulling tendrils of ivy off of the fence.  That stopped real fast.


On the second pull, I looked down at my hand.  My bare right hand.  There was a large (queen-size -- literally) yellow jacket in the process of pumping venom into the back of my hand.


I flipped her off.  But she was not done with me.  I avoided an additional sting by waving her off.


It is moments like this that cause you to start thinking about barn-sized wasp nests in Alabama.


I am not allergic to bee stings.  Or, at least, I don't think I am.  I had a bad reaction to a bee sting on my first night in Melaque last year.  But that appeared to be a combination of being tired and watching far too many transvestites.


Even so, I knew I needed to take care of the sting.  My last episode with a yellow jacket has left one of my fingernails a bit deformed.


Ice is always the first step.  That was easy.  I keep plenty of ice on hand for my lime and Diet Coke concoctions.


Then I started listing the usual home remedies.


Baking soda.  None in the cupboard.  Not even an old box in the refrigerator.  Only baking powder.  And I learned long ago (in a baking accident), they are not the same thing.


Ammonia.  Nope.


Epsom salts.  Fresh out.


Items I would usually have on hand simply were not there.  After all, the place is no longer my primary residence.


And then, I remembered meat tenderizer.  There was a bottle of Adolph's in the back of the cupboard.  Probably over twenty years old.  But it was effective enough to take away the pain.


Yellow jackets are the one thing that make Oregon summers less than perfect.  Well, yellow jackets and mosquitoes.  And the little black and yellow buggers are another difference between Oregon and Melaque.


I do not think I have seen a yellow jacket that far south.  And that is another reason for living in Melaque.  But I suppose, when I have lived there as long as I have lived in Oregon, I will have the equivalent number of scorpion and centipede stings.


It helps remind us that serpents thrive in every paradise.


Even with one foot planted in two worlds.  Both of them are injured.

 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

bandera de méxico


Flags are the standards of national myth.

Take a look at the flag pictured at the top of the post. What can we tell about the nation it represents?

Obviously, a monarchy. The crown is a dead give-away.

And the national creed is not subtle. Right in your face.  Religion.  Union.  Independence.  All in a romance language.

It would be understandable if a reader thought he was looking at an early version of a flag from the Kingdom of Italy. But it's not. It is the personal banner of the first ruler of post-independence Mexico: Emperor Agustín de Iturbide.
But it was never the official flag of Mexico. That honor goes to this beauty:


That flag looks far more familiar to us.  With a few design changes, it is the same flag we see in front of every government building in Mexico.  And it is replete with additional myths.

The colors are a good place to start.  Many of the leaders of the Mexican independence movement admired the French revolution.  Choosing a tricolor design was easy.  Just substitute Mexican green for French blue, and you have the basic flag.

Being romantics, they ascribed qualities to the colors.  Green for independence.  White for religion -- Roman Catholic, of course.  (The anti-clericalism of the Mexican elite did not attain dominance until the revolution almost a century later).  And red for the union between Mexico's people.

But the coat of arms in the center embodies the mysticism of Mexican myth.  The story goes, sometime in the early 1300s, the Mexica people (one of the component parts of what would one day be the Aztec Empire) were on the move searching for a permanent home.  They believed their god, Huitzilopochtli, would provide a homesteading sign: an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus while eating a snake.

Mexico has eagles, snakes, and cactus galore.  So, the housing options seemed open-ended.  But, Huitzilopochtli must have had a good sense of humor.  Instead of an eagle showing up in the rolling hills of central Mexico, the designated eagle landed on a cactus on a small, swampy island in the middle of a lake.  An island that would be the root of a vast Aztec empire -- until the Spanish showed up and decided the spot would be a far better site for the capital city of their new colonial empire.

Thus was born the eagle myth.  Along with a national coat of arms and matching flag decoration.

The first eagle wore a crown.  Just like the emperor.  But the crown and the emperor were not to last for long.  Both were sent packing in 1823.

The crownless republican eagle ruled until the French decided Mexico needed an Austrian prince to be the next emperor of Mexico.  The Aztec eagle turned into a Roman finial, accompanied by imperial eagles sprinkled on the tricolor in a style only a Napoleon could love.



The only retained Mexican influence was the tricolor itself.

There were other reasons, but no self-respecting Mexican was going to allow his country to be represented by what looked like a tea towel purchased at a shop outside Neuschwanstein Castle.  Out it went in 1867 along with Maximilian's bullet-riddled body.

The crownless-eagle returned for another 26 years, until the eagle got tired of facing to the right.  For 23 years, he faced to the left.

When the revolution toppled Porfirio Diaz, Mexico decided it needed a new flag to represent its revolutionary fervor.  Instead of the eagle's head being in profile, the whole bird would be in profile with a more natural look.  Heroic.  Audubon as social realism.



That was 1916.  With a slight change in 1934, it was the national flag until 1968.  The flag I knew when I made my first trip to Mexico.

And then the Olympic games came to Mexico in 1968.  Mexico spiffed and buffed.  Making Mexico City shine.  (With the exception of some students who bothered to get in the way of a government born of revolution, who knew how to tend to protests.)

Mexico got a lot of new buildings for the games.  But it also got a new flag -- the flag we see today.



All of the myths and symbols have been retained since independence -- even though the colors have new meanings: green for hope; white for union; red for the blood of heroes.

Like most nations, Mexico thinks very highly of its symbols.  The flag is the embodiment of the nation.  Every morning at schools across Mexico, children parade it, salute it, and pledging their sacred honor to it.

Even this post could be subject to Mexican law because images of the flag are protected under the law.

Anyone who broadcasts an image of the flag is required to
have a permit.  Some of us remember the dust-up caused when MTV Mexico canceled an episode of South Park because the program featured a Mexican flag -- and the government had not issued a permit.

You will not see protesters burning Mexican flags in Mexico -- and getting away with it.  I suspect that Austrian-inspired table cloth could be burned.  But I am not even certain about that.

To postmodern eyes, a lot of that seems odd.  But, Mexicans love their flag because they love their country.

Later this week, we will discuss Mexico's interesting national anthem.  A tune fraught with as many myths as the Bandera de México.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

flowers in the mud


Mexico tugs on me.


Not as the moon tugs the tides. More like yanking on my sleeve.


The latest agent is my land lady. She sent me an email about the summer weather in Melaque. "Warm and beautiful" were his words. Even though she admits the temperature and humidity combined have been the equivalent of 118 degrees.


To be fair, she said it had been "as high as 118." But, after spending a summer in Melaque, words will not convince me that summers in Melaque are preferable to my current Oregon summer.


Not that the thermometer matters that much. I did not move to Mexico for weather.


However, her next piece of information really piqued my interest. She informed me that she, a mutual friend, and my maid have recently spent a good deal of time clearing the laguna outside my back gate.


You may recall that prior to my ankle break, I joined them in trying to pull out some of the water hyacinth choking the laguna. Mother nature (or her more fecund servants) abhor man-made order. Where water hyacinth once reigned, water lilies started growing. You can see the early rangers in the photograph at the top of this post.


Having spent a lot of effort taking on the hyacinths, my three intrepid friends were not going to allow the water lilies to get out of control. It turns out the hyacinths were easier to harvest. They float on the surface. The lilies are rooted. When they set up housekeeping, they will yield only if yanked up.


I described the three as intrepid for a good reason. To remove the lilies, they need to be in the water up to their waists.


You may recall the laguna is home not only to weed-pulling humans and birds. We have crocodiles. In particular, there is a young fellow who hangs out on the bank of the cleared area. And a tale resides there, as well.


A crocodile tale.



Let me relay the story as it was told to me:
Last week we were in and I saw the small croc swimming our way, but it was okay as a thrown rock scared him away. We are staying more alert now, as it appears he is becoming familiar with us and is not so scared now.

I ask you. Would you dare play poker with the three of them?


Just reading her story made me want to be back in Mexico. Standing waist-deep in the mud in my best Johhny Weismuller stance -- defying the crocodile in his own element.


It was adventure that drew me to Mexico. And, apparently, it is waiting for me just outside my gate.


But isn't that true for all of us?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

tears on the sand



"Don't invest any more money in coastal Mexican property than you can afford to lose."


That was one of the first pieces of advice I received from a Mexican real estate agent when I began my quest for a place to retire in Mexico.  And good advice it was.


Every expatriate knows the story from 2000.  Punta Banda.  85 American families evicted from their Mexican beach homes.  Charges of fraud.  Ignorance.


And we all know the subsequent web posts -- mainly from the soothing voices of real estate agents.  Nothing like that can happen again.  The law is our friend.


The attitude is -- .  Well not anachronistic.  That merely refers to people of a certain time applying their own experience to past (or future, I suppose) eras.  This is something else.  Attempting to transplant social seedlings in a new land.  I guess ethnocentric is what I am looking for.


Because similar things can still happen.  And one did this past week in a little village -- Tenacatita -- just north of my village.


I will not bore you with the details -- because I do not know them.  Like most local events, the subtext is always more interesting than the text, but text is all we usually see.  If you want the newspaper version, you can find it here.


But let me summarize.  Tenacatita is a Small village on the north side of Tenacatita Bay.  One of the best spots for snorkeling in the area.  A beautiful beach.  Rows of palapa restaurants with simple seafood dishes.  What a lot of people picture when they dream of living in Pacific Mexico.


That picture took on a different look on 4 August when a group of 180 state police in riot gear evicted about 800 people who lived or worked in the village.  Bulldozers and fires soon followed.  Fiddler on the Roof enacted on the beach.


But there is always more.  The eviction was the result of litigation that has gone on for two decades.  A Guadalajara businessman claims ownership of the property.  He has been trying to evict the current residents sine 1991 when he bought 42 hectares from the wife of a former governor of Jalisco.


The local ejido claims to own the land.  And, just as indignantly, claims to have papers to prove it.


It all sounds a bit like the Balliol-Bruce dispute for the Scottish crown.  And there is no Edward I lurking in the wings.


Property ownership in Mexico, like so many other things, is molded by its history.


Prior to the arrival of Hernán Cortés, the local Indians were little concerned with property ownership.  The major Indian empires were hierarchical, with the population working for the aristocracy and the community.


But land was abundant -- to be conquered, not to be titled.


The Spanish had a different notion.  The land belonged to the Spanish crown -- to be doled out as large feudal estates to the king's favorites.  When the colonists in Mexico finally succeeded in getting rid of the Spanish king, they kept most of the Spanish social institutions -- including large landholdings by a new aristocracy.


At several points in its history, Mexico toyed with land reform.  But the power players remained the small group of land owners.  Several times during the 1800s, the tension between the landowners and the reformers broke out in open warfare.


Until Porfirio Díaz came to power.  For almost 35 years, he ruled Mexico, essentially as a dictator.  The country had political stability (at the price of political freedom).  He recognized that Mexico could not be a world power unless it industrialized. 


And industrialize he did.  He brought in foreign investors to assist in building the capital structure.  It worked.  Mexico's economy thrived.


But some of the investors -- Spanish, French, British, American -- represented the very thing that offended many Mexicans.


The dictator overplayed his political hand.  The forces who had effectively been fighting with one another since Mexican independence banded together and ousted the dictator.  Once he was gone, they were free to fight one another with abandon for almost a decade.


What came out of that civil war was the Constitution of 1917 -- still the supreme law in Mexico.  Many of the revolutionaries were Marxists and found comfort in the Russian communist revolution.  But the constitution would not go that far.  It remained true to its Spanish roots where all property rights were derived from the crown.


Article 27 unsubtly stated: "Ownership of the lands and waters within the boundaries of the national territory is vested originally in the Nation, which has had, and has, the right to transmit title thereof to private persons, thereby constituting private property."  The message is clear.  Private property rights exist at the whim of the national government.


The same article divided up the large landholdings and created ejidos to manage tracts of communal land.  In addition, foreigners were greatly restricted in their businesses in Mexico.


And to prevent another foreign invasion, Article 27 provided: "Under no circumstances may foreigners acquire direct ownership of lands or waters within a zone of one hundred kilometers along the frontiers and of fifty kilometers along the shores of the country."


For 75 years, foreigners were prohibited from owning land in the Trekkie-monikered "forbidden zone."  We all know people who tried to get around the law by buying property in the name of a Mexican national -- the infamous presta nombre system.


In 1992 the Mexican government approved a bank trust system where foreigners could buy an interest in forbidden zone property -- for 50 years, renewable for an additional 50 years -- if the property was held in a bank trust.


And that is why some real estate developers keep repeating the mantra that buying property in Mexico is safe.  With an eye toward marketing and a back toward history.


Most of the residents in Tenacatita are Mexican.  Their tale is not one of bank trusts.  It is the uncertainty of ownership that surrounds most land in Mexico.


The government owns the land.  It allowed ejidos to manage some of it.  Ejidos, in turn, can regularize land (through a system that would make most health care reform plans look simple), and sell title as if it had not been ejido land. 
(I will not even touch on the problem of land being sold while families are fighting over it -- often for decades).


The Tenacatita evictions did not surprise me.  What did surprise me is a "call to arms" I received in my email box this morning from an American expatriate in Mexico.


He wrote: 
Please write the Governor through the Gov't de Jalisco website.  Ask him why the people were forcibly moved without their belongings.  Ask him if it's true that the Jalisco State Police are looting stores and homes and drinking someone else's beer.  Ask him if 40 people were beaten in custody of his forces and, if so, why?  Ask him about the shootings and ask him how many years the Governor of Chiapas spent in prison in the 90's for his culpability in the massacre of 30 some woman and children of the Zapatista movement.  Tell him how much time you spend here, what you own here, etc.


I understand his concern.  And his heart may be in the right place.  But he is setting up himself (and other expatriates) for the possibility of immediate deportation.


Article 33 of the constitution provides: "Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country."  Under the same article, the president has the authority to deport any foreigner -- without recourse to legal action.


It is not an idle threat, as a group of college students from Washington discovered when they marched in a Labor day parade opposing the construction of an airport.


Today's lesson?  Be a renter.  If you want to buy, spend only what you can afford to lose.  And, no matter your property status, steer clear of politics in Mexico.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

mexico courage


Mexico is starting to talk about being part of the solution to the current drug policy car wreck.


On Tuesday, President Calderón announced that he would consider opening a discussion with his government about legalizing drugs in Mexico.


That was an amazingly brave statement for a man who is known for his cautious conservatism. 


He made his statement while announcing that over 28,000 Mexican citizens have died as a result of the program he launched in 2006 to break the back of the Mexican drug cartels. 




Anyone who remembers the body counts of the Vietnam War will recognize the rest of the statistics announced on the same day. 84,000 weapons confiscated.  $411 million (USD) cash seizures.  $330 million (Mx) cash seizures.


The only thing missing was General Westmoreland spotting the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.


The president made his announcement at the urging of business and civic groups, who are worried that the current drug war will continue to threaten Mexican society with little success of eliminating the cartels. 
 



Mexico is not alone in discussing reformation of drug policies.  Three former presidents — César Gaviria of Colombia, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Fernando Cardoso of Brazil — have promoted the legalization of marijuana in Latin America.  Their goal is the same as we have discussed on this blog several times: to collapse the price of marijuana and undermine a major source of income for cartels.


The Mexican congress discussed a similar idea when it voted to legalize personal use of drugs last year.  A move that was called radical, but merely shifted drug policy to the level of prohibition in the United States during the 1920s. 


Even though that might be a good start, President Calderón is not interested in half measures.  He wants the discussion to be about the legalization of all drugs.  And he wants the public to hear all of the arguments on both sides of the issue.  In other words, to have a logical discussion, not a bumper sticker war.


Kudos to him.  As a conservative, he knows a failed government policy when he sees it.  Mexico is getting tired of spilling blood because of American drug users.


And he is merely talking about a discussion.  He is not proposing anything.  Yet.  But it is a start.


If Mexico legalizes drugs, the cartels will not go away.  The chief business of the cartels is shipping drugs north to the United States and Canada.  And shipping dollars south.  That will not change.  In fact, the drug flow north will increase because the cost of doing business will decrease.


This may be one of those rare moments in history where politicians north of the border have an opportunity to do the right thing -- and stop wasting money on a policy that did not work in the 1920s and will not be successful now.


I am not optimistic it will occur.  But we can always hope that one of these days politicians will act on behalf of sane public policy.