Tuesday, March 31, 2015

pulling for the dates


I am past my pull date.

If not not me, then my Kleenex box.  Maybe.

I was sitting by the pool having a spirited conversation my my Mexican friend Ozzy when I glanced at the end of a Kleenex box that was meant for my bathroom, but ended up on the patio table.  Another piece of evidence that the aging mind tends to ramble.
And there it was.  Just as Ayn Rand teasingly told us in Atlas Shrugged: Our days are numbered.

At least, this box was.  It came from a stack of 24 or so.  Probably purchased from Costco or Sam's Club -- after I bought the house.  I appear to have used up two boxes.  There are still enough Kleenex in the house for a couple more years.

Or so I thought.  But look at that pull date on the end of the box.  16/08/14.

First of all, what is the date?  There is no longer a standardized dating system -- even with products from the same company.

I am willing to bet the pull date either was 16 August 2014 or it will be 14 August 2016.  No other combination works -- unless you happen to be Romulan.  If it is the latter, I have a lot of tissuing to do.

If it is the former, I guess I need to start tossing them -- if I find any credence in pull dates.

Several years ago, the soda companies were pressured into slapping pull dates on their products -- even though there was no evidence of product problems based solely on time.  The newspaper article that announced the change quoted a company spokesman -- Coca-Cola, if memory serves -- that the dates would go on solely because surveys had indicated consumers wanted them.

And there you have it.  Another piece of data that pops up recurringly in our lives, but may serve no objective purpose.

Milk?  Certainly.  It has a short shelf life.  Failing to use milk by its stamped date will almost certainly give you a head start on making cottage cheese.

There is a local merchant who has a habit of sticking ingredient labels in Spanish over the expiration date on imported goods.  Some are fully a year past the pull date. 

I have yet to have a bad digestive experience from any of his past-due products.  Of course, this is from the man who regularly ate ten-year-old cans of soup rather than throwing them out.

Here is my take on these silly pull dates.  My life experience tells me to use some foods -- like milk as soon as possible.  Other things, such as, cheese need less monitoring.

And some things need a pull date like I need a reminder that April follows March.

The Kleenex?  Each time I blow my nose on a tissue during the next two years, I will consider it to be a political statement.


Monday, March 30, 2015

pooling my memories


When I was stationed in central California at Castle Air Force Base in the early 1970s, I had a friend from South Dakota.  He had great fun calling his younger brother in Huron to taunt him with the news that he had just returned from swimming with a group of friends at my apartment pool.  In March.

Of course, his brother did not believe him.  After all, in March, there was still snow on he ground in South Dakota.

Well, it is March here in Barra de Navidad, and I have been having great fun using the pool at my house.  It is not only an architectural gem, it is very functional.

Today I slipped into it and spent a couple of hours reading Erik Larson's most recent release on my Kindle.  Dead Wake.  A re-telling of the sinking of the Lusitania almost exactly 100 years ago.

Some of Larson's recent book have been rather uneven and indifferent.  Not so this book.

I thought I knew a lot about the Lusitania, its sinking, and the propaganda machine that it provided the British to suck America into a war where America had no interests at stake.  But, I was wrong. 

Larson has a knack for personalizing his tales.  As we get to know his characters better, we start feeling like an observer in a story that we know will not end well.  And we care about them.  Even when the events are a century old.

This is Larson's World War One book.  I suspect he may have others in him.  By slicing out a cross-section of a short time period in that conflict, he has provided a valuable assessment for his readers to re-think some of our assumptions about one of the silliest and most horrific wars of the last century.

Almost all of us know how the deaths on the Titanic caused safety standards to change on cruise ships.  But three years later, the life boats on the Lusitania proved that hope and change are often hollow dreams.  Twenty-two boats -- of which six were launched before the ship sank.

I am not certain the book was a wise choice for me.  In just over three weeks, I will be boarding a cruise ship in Red China.  Threats from German U-boats and rogue icebergs are improbable. 

But it does not mean that cruise ships do not have deadly incidents.  The 2012 sinking of the Costa Concordia with its 32 deaths is a reminder that what man can float, nature can sink.

The nice thing is that an incident on this particular cruise is about as likely as me writing in Putin's name on my 2016 presidential ballot.

Read the Larson book.  Go swimming.  Take a cruise.

Life is too short to not build up some good memories for those lonely days in the nursing home.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

not so shocking news


Being a homeowner in Mexico has changed my relationship with the country.

For my first six years here, I developed the transferable skills of a renter.  The only thing I needed to know was how to pay my monthly rental and how to deal with Telmex -- Mexico's land line telephone company (and my internet provider).

That telephone skill has proved helpful.  But it did not prepare me for the art of gamesmanship required in dealing with the electric company (CFE), the propane company, and the governmental agencies that tend my water, garbage, and sewer.

They were part of the rent payment I handed over to my landlady each month.  No more.

I am now the landlord.  And all of those other services are my responsibility.

Last November in luz lights up my life, I wrote about my initial contact with CFE.  When my first bill arrived, I was shocked.

My bill for two months of electricity was approximately $227 (US).  I know that does not make some of you even blink.  What was a bit worrisome was no one had been living in the house for most of that period -- and I had been there for only about three weeks.

Extrapolating is a tricky fiscal business.  But if the $227 was only for about three weeks of service, I could anticipate my two-month bill in the future to be around $605 (US).  And that is without any air conditioning.

Rather than panic, I listened to the wise voice that lives in my head (not the hysterical one that was asking if I had lost my mind by buying this house) that was telling me to wait for another billing period to see what the cost would actually be.

Unfortunately, that billing period ended while I was in southern Mexico on tour with my cousin in January.  To avoid having the electricity shut off in my absence, I paid a large advance deposit -- based on that first bill, as a worst case scenario.

Last week, my CFE bills arrived (both by email and in hard copy under the garage door) for this period.  As you can see there is no money owing.  I am still living off of the good graces of my December deposit.

Admittedly, I was gone for a good portion of the 13 January-12 March billing period.  But, as you can see by the usage graph, I could easily live with that reasonable range.

You might remember that I have two meters.  Together, the bill for the past two months was approximately $46 (US).  $23(US) a month.

Eventually, my deposit will be depleted.  Well, it may take a bit more time.  Because I will be gone during the next billing period, I added enough additional pesos on each account to cover two more billing periods.  I think.

That means I have two pieces of good news to report.

First, my electricity bill is nowhere near as expensive as I thought in November.  My fear of buying a white elephant has now been gray-washed.

Second, once I get back to a regular billing cycle for payment of my electricity, I will have some more grist for a future essay or two.  I may even talk about that 16% IVA (a value added tax) that appears on each of my bills.

For now, though, I can rest in the pleasure of being a Mexican property owner.  I suspect my schooling is far from complete.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

going to pot


Tomatoes were not the only thing around here to feel the wrath of our recent rains.

Those are potholes.  The day before it rained, they were not there.  They are now. 

The one-mile stretch of road that connects Barra de Navidad with Highway 200 -- the main north-south highway on Mexico's Pacific coast -- now looks worse than the teeth of a 19th century British sweets clerk.  I could have taken that shot almost anywhere along the road.

Road repair here is a hit and miss proposition.  Last November, the town was filled with dignitaries celebrating the 450th anniversary of the Spanish expedition to the Philippines that established Mexico as a central figure in the Spanish empire's globalization experiment.

Big wigs must be appalled at the sight of potholes.  I can assume that because the local road crews were busy putting sand into the holes and covering them with a thin layer of tar before any of the sensitive-eyed dignitaries arrived.  The equivalent of a temporary dental filling. 

But out of sight here is often out of mind.  When the rains hit, the holes evacuated the sand, and the water flow opened new caries.

I have been having a series of conversations recently with Mexicans and expatriates about several issues Barra de Navidad is facing.  Almost all of the problems keep coming back to the topic of money. 

Local government pleads poverty whenever something needs to be fixed.  Like pothole-ridden roads.

It turns out there is a back story to most of these issues.  With the roads, it is a rather sad one. 

During the past few years, Barra de Navidad has constructed a running and bike path that parallels the road out to the highway.  It is wide, two-laned (coming and going), constructed of brick. 



Down the center of the lanes runs a line of street lamps that would shame most airport landing strips.  At night, it looks as if 747s could perform touch and gos.

T
he money for the path came from the state of Jalisco.  And, like most grant money, it came with conditions.  It would be built only if our local government would pay for the maintenance.

Done and done said the local folk.  After all, it has proven to be a very popular spot for tourists and nationals alike.  And politicians are always pleased to see potential voters happy with their pet projects.

It turned out it was done and done because the local government merely moved the road maintenance budget to the running and bike path budget.  The result is apparent.  For some reason, filling potholes with good wishes does not keep the wheels aligned.

I have been told that the federal government has passed legislation requiring local governments to maintain separate accounts for dedicated funds.  I think it applies only to federal funds.  But the theory is better accounting will cure these budget moves.

I will believe that when I see it in operation.

Government in Mexico suffers from layers of problems.  One law is not going to fix it.

I do know that the rain will keep reminding us that the emperor is not wearing any clothes; he may not even own any.


Friday, March 27, 2015

chasing the tomato


Our recent rainstorm has had one effect that I did not predict.

Tomatoes have been an ongoing topic for my essays.  And I have not been alone in my lamentations.

For some reason, I thought I would find tasty tomatoes at every turn in Mexico.  After all, this is the country where the original was developed by the Indians as a food item.  Back then, it was probably yellow and about the size of a cherry tomato.

With that pedigree, I was under the impression that I would be in tomato heaven in Melaque.

It was not to be.  Our local soil is rife with tobacco mosaic disease and 'mater-chomping insects.  As a result, all tomatoes here are regularly doused with chemicals of every brew.

And the tomato varieties grown here are exactly what you would find in your local Safeway -- Romas and a rather tasteless round variety.  Don Cuevas informed us in You say "Tomato," she says "Tomahto," I say "Criollo" he discovered another variety on his travels to Oaxaca. 

I also noticed the Criollos in the markets in Oaxaca when we were there in January.  They appeared to be a variety similar to the tomatoes I enjoyed in Barcelona.

But we have none here.  The best we can get are cherry tomatoes.  They are an adequate substitute for my Greek salad.

What I was not prepared to see were the piles of green-yellow-red blotched tomatoes that are currently in almost all of our local grocery stores.  They started showing up a few days ago.

I asked Alex at Hawaii what had happened.  "The rain," he responded.  The heavy rains earlier in the month caused the plants to collapse.  The tomatoes are refugees of disaster.  The Syrians amongst us.

Southerners could turn this into a culinary opportunity by pulling out their fried green tomato recipes.  Me?  I am going to wait until the shelves are cleared before I start cooking any tomato-based dishes.

But I may indulge in one of my favorite Mexican dishes -- chicken.  I prefer mine char-grilled.  However, this street advertisement may convince me to take a turn with a rotisserie chicken.



I cannot quite figure out if the chicken is still wearing its bathing suit -- or if those are merely tan lines.  Either way, it was creepy enough to catch my eye.

Imagine the reaction if that sign appeared on a street in Chicago?  Or imagine the comments if a blogger posted it online in Mexico?

But I have stirred enough pots this week.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

jarring discovery


When I started visiting Mexico -- in my cross-border jaunts from pilot training in Laredo -- in the 1970s, visitors to Mexico could not find much on the shelves of Mexican grocery stores.  Even finding a Coke back then was a major discovery.

In the six years I have lived in the Melaque area, I have seen a marked change in what is available from our local grocers.

Between 1970 and 2009, of course, Mexico went through a drastic economic change.  Much of that was fueled by Gulf oil.  But the combination of oil wealth, NAFTA, and an expanding manufacturing base turned Mexico into the 12th largest world economy.

With the wealth came an expanded middle class.  And that middle class wanted a different mix of groceries on the table than what they had experienced in their less flush days.  That effect was magnified by the number of Mexicans who returned from the north with new tastes in mind.

My current trips to Walmart or Soriana or Comercial Mexicana could make me believe I was in almost any middle class store in Omaha.  There is no mistaking that the stores are appealing to Mexican shoppers.  But you can find almost anything imaginable there.

When I first moved down, I would regularly bring down some of my favorite food stuffs in my suit cases -- or I would do without.  I can now find almost anything here.

And if I cannot find it at Soriana, I can find it at Super Hawaii in San Patricio.

Alex, the owner, has created a store that is a merchandising dream.  His suppliers can get him almost anything a northerner could desire during the winter, and everything that a middle class Mexican shopper could need in the summer.

I like to surf the shelves for new products.  I told you about the best pasta I have tasted in some time in pasta and phil.  It came from Hawaii.

While browsing the jugged salsa shelf, I noticed something that looked out of place.  Tomato paste.  Not in the usual Kirkland tins, but in a rather fancy jar.

The first thing I noticed was the Arabic script.  Now, Mexico is not known for its contacts with the Arab world -- other than what it inherited through Spain from the Moors.  There are fewer than 4000 followers of Islam in Mexico.

I thought the script odd.  I was even more surprised when I saw the jar and its contents were from Jordan.



Jordan has always had a soft spot in my heart.  Petra is the obvious connection.  But the late King Hussein was always one of my Arab heroes.  And they are few and far between in the Middle East.

So, I grabbed the jar.  It was $62 (MX) (or $4.25 (US)) for 24 ounces.  A little less than buying the same amount of paste in those annoying tiny tins.

Tomato paste is a rarity here.  Alex says his Mexican customers do not generally use it.

That is too bad because this Jordanian tomato paste is some of the best I have used.  I created a decidedly non-Italian Bolognese sauce with it.  (If it had truly been Bolognese, the meat would have been veal and the tomato base would have been cream.)

The taste of the paste was excellent.  It retained the sweetness and acidity of its parent tomatoes, but it also had a subtle citric flavor.  Almost like a sour orange.

I have not tasted tomato paste that good since my last visit to Italy.

As testament, I purchased two additional jars.  I may end up buying Alex's entire stock, if only to have tomato paste on hand.

The purchase caused me to wonder just how much trade passes between Mexico and Jordan.  It turns out -- not much.

Recent statistics show
Jordan imported $41 million in products from Mexico, and Mexico imported $17 million in products from Jordan.  Those are not big trade figures considering the size of Mexico's economy.

But Jordan and Mexico have big plans.  They are currently negotiating a free trade agreement.  When it is complete, Jordan will be the only Arab country to have free trade agreements with each of the NAFTA nations.

Now, I will have another reason to keep Jordan on my personal most favored nation list.

Combined with my boutique pasta, my sauce was better than any spaghetti I could get in town.  Once again proving the best food comes out of your own kitchen.


¡Buen provecho!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

moving to mexico -- the food

I belong to a Yahoo forum where new members are asked: "What do you like best about Mexico?"

The answers vary.  But there is always the holy trinity.  The People.  The Culture (which seems a bit redundant to me).  And, of course, The Food.

I would love to cross-examine the people who give those answers.  What do they actually mean when they throw out those broad categories?  But, it is the internet, and actual human interchanges are limited.

It is that last one that sticks in my craw.  What do people mean when they say they like the food in Mexico?  I am going to assume that they mean Mexican food -- that it is so much better here than in Mexican restaurants up north.  Or wherever they came from.

I have had several real conversations with visitors on this topic.  They usually do not get past "I didn't know tacos could taste this good."

And there is the rub.  The Mexican food whipped up around these parts is really simple stuff.  The list of ingredients includes a handful of choices.  "Would you like your pork wrapped loosely or tightly in a tortilla -- and would you like some salsa on it?"   Same ingredients, but we will call it three or four different things.

I am going to raise my hand right now.  It is very likely that this has more to do with my personality than with the food.

When it comes to food, I love experimentation.  The same with music.  If I have heard a piece of music three times, I don't need to hear it again.  The chances of finding anything new to analyze decreases with repetition -- unless the piece is one of those rare masterpieces of music.

Food?  Same thing.  I am constantly looking for new things to pique my interest.

The cook in one of my favorite Villa Obregon eateries prepared salsas with unexpected ingredients.  Like mango, habanero, and jicama soaked in lime over chicken. 

Some worked.  Some didn't.  But it was always a joy to see what her imagination put on the plate.

She stopped her little project when northern tourists complained that it was not the food they expected.  Fair enough.  They are paying the fare.  But it was fun while it lasted.

Another restaurant here on the coast caters to my particular eccentricity.  I consider a menu to be a list of ingredients to be combined at my whim.  During the past two years, I have enjoyed a series of experimental foods.

The constant is my
sauté: made up of  jalapeño peppers, bacon, and onion.  I have combined it in pancakes; as the filler for a chimichanga along with the topping for chili dogs; and as an addition to oatmeal.  Not all of them work.  But there is always something else right around the corner.

When I was younger (and I could afford the luxury of applying filters to dates), I had a rule to determine if a second date would be forthcoming.  If my date, while ordering dinner in a restaurant, started telling the waiter all the things she could not eat and how she needed to take a lot of ingredients out of menu dishes, the date was over.  I was not looking for high-maintenance relationships.

Several years ago, a group of us were having dinner at Le Cirque, when it was still located in the Mayfair Hotel.  The beautiful young woman, in her mid-20s, sitting next to me glanced at the menu and told the waiter: "I will have the veal chop with the orange-sage sauce from the duck confit, and a bit of your fresh arugula."  He smiled, and responded: "A very nice combination."

She was a fellow experimenter.  I would have married her on the spot if she had not been young enough to be my daughter.

That is one reason I bought a house with adequate kitchen facilities.  There is no need for me to grump about the lack of variety in restaurant food -- here or anywhere else.  I can purchase my own ingredients and experiment away.

What do I like about Mexico?  The Food.  Because I can make almost anything I want whenever I want it -- at home.

 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

speaking of my house


Well, I was speaking of -- or, rather, writing about -- my house yesterday.  How am I starting to develop a living cycle in the place.

But there has been one glaring flaw in the diamond.  That garage door.

I have written about it recently -- filling the well.  The opening of my garage door is narrow enough that I do not always successfully clear it when I back out.  And my new Escape has the scars to show for it.

When I wrote the last essay, several of you came up with some great suggestions.  The best was to install a garage door opener to prevent the wind from prematurely shutting them onto my Escape.

Yesterday morning an idea hit me -- just after the garage door did.  My garage doors are bi-sectional -- they swing both ways.  I have been swinging them out into the street.  The down side of that approach is two-fold: they create a great sail to catch the wind, and they extend my exit tunnel, increasing the odds of a bit of auto decorating.

When my brother was here in November, we looked at the possibility of swinging the doors in: to avoid both problems.  It was a great idea -- except for one thing.  The garage is not long enough to fully accommodate the Escape and to then allow the doors to close.

That is not exactly true.  I can pull the Escape in far enough to barely let the doors clear my rear bumper -- if I pull forward to the edge of the pool, which also puts a concrete post against the driver's door.  There is about a 6 inch window where I can avoid all three.



I experimented with that solution yesterday.  And I think I will give it a try.  With summer winds on their way before too long, swinging the doors in is a far better idea.

Those of you who are already planning on reading the almost-inevitable essay of "How do I get my Escape out of the Pool?, " are simply being far more pessimistic than prescient.

I hope.


Monday, March 23, 2015

fixing my cycle


Several months ago, when I purchased the house with no name, I announced to one and all that I was finally settling down.  No more to roam.

I did add I would be on the road for a few trips.  But then I was tossing out the anchor to enjoy the sybaritic life of Mexico.

My trips would fill my calendar from November through early March.  My brother and sister-in-law came for a visit; I traveled through southern Mexico for a month with my cousin and his wife; I went north for a few weeks to attend to ministerial functions; and I traveled a bit locally with my Air Force chum the first week of March.  Since then, I have been acting as squire of the manor.

For six years, I lived on the other side of the bay.  Even though I did not have true routines over there, I did have networks of people where I could regularly slip in and out of their lives.  I have nothing similar in Barra de Navidad.

But I am getting there.  When I lived in Salem, a lot of my free time revolved around my hot tub.  I read in it.  I had meals in it.  I chatted with neighbors from its womb-like comfort.

I have discovered a good substitute at the house.  My pool.

I have not spent much time in it during the past four months after the heat of our late summer disappeared.  But that was because I simply was not around to enjoy it.

Yesterday, that changed.  I grabbed a bottle of water and my Kindle, and slipped into the cool embrace of what will soon be my primary living space in the house. 

There are few things more pleasant than being surrounded by water while reading.  (Maybe that is why the classic question is "what books would you take to a desert isle?")  Yesterday afternoon, it was The Economist, National Review, and a couple of chapters in Eugene Rogan's The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East.

This house has plenty of space for all sorts of activities.  For dinner, I sat on the upper terrace watching the light shift on the walls as the sun went down.

I have some ideas on how to decorate the terrace upstairs.  Before I buy any formal furniture, though, I am going to buy a small table and a folding chair.  I want to set it up in different places at different times of day to determine just where I should define my living space.

A sitting area with a separate formal dining area will fit perfectly up there.  The question is where.  I can then start the dreaded search for furniture.

But, for now, I will be happy to play Stanley to the ever-elusive Livingston.  Perhaps, he will be down by the watering hole.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

old times there are long forgotten


My Quicken software reminded this week that some things in Mexico continue to improve.

The reminder?  "Pay visa fee to Immigration."  It was my annual reminder that my visa to live in Mexico was up for renewal.

But it was as outdated as a February 2017 memo to President Obama will be to check for crashed Secret Service cars in the White House driveway.  The notices convey information we will not need.

The immigration reminder was once very important for me.  Each year, I had to gather copies of my financial and related documents to prove I was eligible to remain in the country where I have chosen to live.  I would then cart the load to an office in Manzanillo where I would begin the process of gaining permission to stay in Mexico for at least one more year.

All of that changed two years ago when I became eligible for a permanent resident visa.  It sounded almost too good to be true.  By taking out permanent residency, I could avoid the annual cha-cha-cha of renewing my visa.*

When the immigration official informed me in 2013 I could renew my temporary resident visa for one year or I could obtain a permanent resident visa, I immediately grabbed the long-term option.  By then, I knew that I wanted to eventually apply for Mexican citizenship.  The permanent resident visa would get me rolling down the appropriate chute.

If Quicken had not reminded me of what I no longer need to face, semana santa  would have.  My visa renewal always came at an inopportune time.

March and April are traditional travel months for me.  But that is when my visa came due.  It was always a close run thing to submit the paperwork and get my new document in a timely manner.  On one trip, I had to pick it up at the airport while I was flying off to New Orleans.

The connection with semana santa is that it almost always fell in the middle of the processing time for my renewal.  That meant a full week was often eaten up because the immigration office was closed.

But all of that is now history.  I took great pleasure in deleting the reminder from Quicken yesterday.

And I suspect the president will be similarly relieved in less than two years.  Time gives us all different options.



* -- Mexico also offers temporary resident visas in multi-year denominations.  But that is not part of this story.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

uncircling the wagons


I write a lot about the cycles of my community.

We are entering another one.  Most of the northerners have already packed up and headed north.  Mainly Canadians in these parts.

I ran into a group of them today.  They were wrestling their motor homes and fifth-wheelers into position to return to the Land of the Red Maple Leaf.  They reminded me less of visitors to Mexico than transportation extras from an old television series.  I could almost hear a modern day Ward Bond call out: "Wagons ho!  Eh?"

This is a shoulder week.  Our town was filled for last week-end's three-day holiday with visitors reveling in the bacchanal that is St. Patrick's Day.  Unfortunately, our unseasonal rains kept them off the beaches.

The photograph is of Friday night's beach.  The weather was great.  But the crowds are gone.

Not for long.  By the end of the month the Mexican tourists will be back on the beach in full force for semana santa -- Easter holy week. 

Our streets, our beaches, our stores, our hotels, our restaurants, our grocery stores -- all will be filled with people from the interior of Mexico who equate Easter with a time for the full family to gather and fill their swimsuits with grit and brine.  It is one of my favorite times of the year.

Until the crowds re-emerge, I am going to enjoy the bucolic pleasures of the calm before the storm.

And I hope that mentioning "storm" will not wake up the rain god who seems to believe we need more moisture.  We don't.

If you want to enjoy the warm pleasures of the beach, you have about ten days to do it.


Friday, March 20, 2015

the answer, my friend --

 
"Kites rise highest against the wind - not with it."

It must be Winston Churchill week here at Mexpatriate.  Yesterday, he was talking about shots and exhilaration.  Today, he holds forth on the wind.

I suspect Winston, like all politicians who speak of going against the wind, was trying to turn an unpopular move into a profile in courage.  But I am not interested about wind allegories.  Let's talk about the real thing.

Over the weekend we had quite a storm pass through our portion of the Pacific coast.  I told you about the rain.  But I mentioned the wind only in passing.  It turns out the wind left a mark on my house that will last longer than the floods that have already receded.

The walls of my upper terrace are lined with paintings.  More accurately, they were lined with paintings.


When Ed and Roxanne assisted me in mounting the paintings, we initially hung each on a single screw installed into a plastic wall anchor.  None of the paintings are very heavy.  Between the concrete wall and the screw, we thought all would be well.

When several of the paintings were blown off the wall by small breezes, Ed returned to hang all of the paintings with wire.  The idea was to give some flexibility in the wind.

Our last windstorm proved to be the undoing of that idea.  As a former sailor, I should have seen the potential problem.

During windstorms, the canvas essentially finds its basic nature as a sail.  Without rigging, it would fly off wherever the wind took it.  And that is what the wire and screws are.  Rigging.  Just like on a sailboat.

But that is the problem.  The house is not a boat.  When the canvas of a sail catches the energy of the wind, the energy is transferred and propels the boat across the water.

My paintings have no hope of propelling my house anywhere.  The trapped wind energy then has two options: tear the canvas or undo the rigging.  Fortunately, the rigging tore away -- along with bits of the concrete wall -- before the canvas did.
 
 
Each of the eight screw installations has been either bent or pulled from the wall.

That means I need an alternative method of displaying the art.  The easiest would be to reinstall the same system and take down the paintings whenever wind threatens.

But the better alternative would be a steadier mounting system that would concurrently protect the paintings from damage.  I am going to talk with some friends in construction.  They may have some ideas.

And I bet another group of people will be every bit as helpful.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

wearin' of the orange


With all this chatter about rain, water, and sewer, I almost missed one of my favorite times of the year -- Saint Patrick's Day.  Or, as we know him in these parts, San Patricio.

It was eight years ago when I first stuck my head into the church and met the Romano-British missionary who would go on to become Ireland's patron saint.  And the patron saint of San Patricio -- one of the three villages that makes up what we know as Melaque.

There was no mistaking him.  The green and gold cloak and mitre.  The Celtic crosier.  And the tell-tale shamrocks.

I was surprised to see him there on that first visit.  What connection could there be between an Irish saint and a little fishing village on Mexico's Pacific coast?

If I had known a bit more about Catholicism and had given the matter more thought, I would have realized the question is rather silly.  After all, numerous Mexican towns and villages are named for non-Mexican saints.  Just think of the villages whose patron saint is Italian. 

This year, his effigy in the church has been spiffed up.  A nice new paint job has spruced up his duds.  What struck me first was the Grecian formula treatment of his once-gray beard and hair -- making his older benevolent face look as if he is now picking a fight with Our Lady.



But new paint was not the only new addition to this year's festival. 

I was surprised to see a series of flags flying in the jardin: the Irish national flag and the green and gold Erin go Bragh flag of the San Patricio Battalion.  Apparently, someone involved with decorating tried to create an historical association that the evidence does not support.



I have told the story of the San Patricio Battalion most recently in mexi-irish rose -- part ii.  During the Mexican-American War, a group of mainly Irish immigrants, who had volunteered to fight for the American Army, deserted and joined the Mexican side. 

The reasons for the desertions were many.  But the primary reason was religion.  The deserters saw little difference between how the American Army treated Mexican Catholics and the way the British treated the Irish.

Most of them deserted for idealistic reasons.  But the Mexicans also offered enticements -- officer commissions and land.

There has long been a local myth that the area around San Patricio was settled by survivors of the battalion.  A plaque placed in the village gazebo in the 1990s, by students from a Washington state college, makes reference to the connection.

But there are no land deeds or other documents to support the story.  That did not stop the jardin decorators from stoking the fires of the myth.

Even though the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe draws crowds around here, my experience is that the San Patricio Festival trumps Our Lady when it comes to numbers and fun.  The village is filled with carnival rides that would rival most northern county fairs.



Amazingly enough, no one's feelings seemed to be hurt by this amusement ride that would have elicited protestors up north.  That is one of Mexico's glories.

Along with foodstuffs that are well-suited for fair days.



But, the best is always late in the evening: the castillos -- the towering structures made of spinning fireworks that shoot large bottle rockets into the crowd.  Along with the freelance explosions provided by teenage boys tossing firecrackers.

Mexico can be a sexist place.  We are all aware of what comes hurtling off of the fireworks, but we still get as close as possible as we can.  Guys that is.



I was surrounded by young men in their teens and twenties, who would jump and whoop when the spinning rockets would fire through the crowd.

My attitude toward the fireworks is somewhat Churchillian.  "There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at with no result."

I have a strategy.  Because I am usually shooting with my camera, I do not have the option to hop around.  I am also 66.  That puts a bit of a crimp in both whooping and hopping.

So, I stood my ground in my Irish orange -- and took three direct hits.  No.  That is not accurate.  I took two direct hits.  One in the left leg; one in the chest.  The third was merely a glancing blow that went down my left arm -- doing little more than singeing off the hair and leaving a black streak where a skin layer once resided.



Each year I wonder why I attend the fireworks.  But once they start firing off, it all comes back.  The adrenalin rush is worth it all.

Winston was correct,  It is exhilarating.

And I can hardly wait to break Lent next year with my neighbors.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

into the sewers


Once upon a time, there was a perfect little village on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

All of its inhabitants regularly paid their water and property taxes, and their wastes were carried away to the woods, where fairies, dragons, and witches turned their sewage into recyclable, carbon-free stones out of which they could build their magic cottages filled with quaint music and other cultural delights to amuse visitors from afar.

Nothing ever went wrong.  And they all lived the lives they richly deserved.

Well, that is not the village where I have been living for the past six years.  I have long known of the sewer and water problems of Pueblo Nuevo in Barra de Navidad.  And I thought I was quite smug when I bought a house in the barrio -- to avoid those specific problems.

What I did not know was that the barrio had its own sewage issue.  There was a period of about three or four months where the pump at the lift station was not operating.  When that happens the sewage is allowed to drain freely from a relief pipe.  (I do love some of these terms.) 

It has happened before.  It will happen again.

But our wider area has a bigger sewage problem than that.

Last Wednesday I attended a Rotary meeting.  The guest speaker was Dr. Roberto Pimienta Woo, a local doctor, who has been bitten by the political bug.

He is offering his services to the voters in his goal of becoming president of our local municipality (roughly the equivalent of being chairman of a county commission up north) on the MORENA ticket (a party often labelled as left wing nationalist).

One of his concerns is the lack of sewage treatment in our area.  (And I am going to avoid the cheap shot of a politician promoting sewage treatment.  That would simply be too easy.)

Several years ago, the federal government built a sewage treatment plant just north of Melaque at great expense.  The plant looks like something you would see in any western country.  Treatment tanks.  Settling ponds.  Nifty little office. 

It was one of 266 similar plants the government built for local districts.  Of those plants, only 55 are now working.

One of the limitations of local government in Mexico is the three-year turnover of elected officials.  Because there is no benefit in spending money on a previous administration's pet projects, many of them die on the vine.

That is what happened to the plant.  When pumps failed to operate or thieves stole parts, the facility sat idle.  For four years, it has not been treating anything.  The plant is now estimated to cost $20,000,000 (Mx) to put back in operation.

I find that figure to be -- well, incredible.  But that is what the good doctor says.

He claims it would be a waste of money because that type of plant is prone to breakdowns and it will never be able to keep up with the load piped to it.

To no one's surprise, he had a better idea.  On a trip to northern China, he was shown a wetland settling pond for sewage.  Being a bright guy, he saw how that idea could be transferred to our coastal plain.

With 4 hectares, the local government could build a wetland settling pond.  The pond would require extensive excavation, lining materials, and related costs to put it into operation.  He hopes to find federal funding for that portion of his idea.  Apparently, other localities are experimenting with similar systems.

The catch is the 4 hectares which he estimates to cost $40,000 (US).  Even though he did not make a direct pitch to Rotary, the subtext was clear: if you would like to prevent your sewage from eventually flowing out to your lovely swimming beaches, money must be raised.

There is enough irony in this to provide material for me for a full year.  But I will cop out by saying that Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution provides me a get-out-of-this-conversaion free card: "Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country."

So, I will bide my time -- until I get my Mexican citizenship.  Color me skeptical, but I doubt I will ever see sewage from my neighborhood being properly treated in my lifetime.

I can wait.  I am a patient man.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

bubbling streets


When I started looking at property in Mexico back in 2007, I was attracted to areas that had a vague familiarity with what I knew of houses up north.

I knew I did not want to live in a gated community.  But I was interested in a development with straight streets and orderly rows of houses in bright color.

I blush at that idea now that I have a few years of living here under my belt.  But it did reflect my thoughts back then.

There is a neighborhood in Barra de Navidad that met all of the criteria.  Several decades ago, a developer purchased and took control of a large tract of land previously occupied by Mexican families.  The families were moved north into the neighborhood where I now live, and the new neighborhood was platted and developed.  Part of the development, of course, was sewer and water.

The plan was that the developer would establish a homeowners association and fees for garbage, water, and sewer (an amount far below what the Mexican neighbors were paying) would be paid to the association until the development had enough homeowners that the full project could be turned over to our local county -- Cihuatlán.  That was in the 1980s.

When enough lots were sold, the developer entered into negotiations with the authorities in
Cihuatlán to accept responsibility for the neighborhood.  An agreement was finally signed in the 1990s.  But it was never implemented.

In the interim, the homeowners association fell into disuse, a decreasing share of homeowners paid their annual assessments, and the developer continued to pay for the garbage, sewage, and water systems.  The developer also kept pressing
Cihuatlán to implement the agreement.
The situation came to a head at the start of last year. 
The developer threatened to shut off the electricity that runs the pumps for the water and sewer systems, and to cease any further maintenance on either system.

Nothing gets people's attention as much as threatening them with toilet failure.

A group of volunteers started working on repairing the pumps for the water system.  But that was not going to keep the electricity on.  So, the homeowners started meeting to set out an action plan.

The president of
Cihuatlán and representatives of the developer met with the homeowners.  As a result of that meeting, Cihuatlán started providing garbage service.  And the developer continued to pay the electricity bill.

But the underlying problem remained unresolved.  The power could be shut off to the pumps at any time.

What seems to be holding up the agreement is that
Cihuatlán will not accept its responsibilities under the agreement unless the developer hands over the wells that currently provide water to the neighborhood.

That appears to be mere posturing.  The wells belong to the developer.  And they are not for sale.  The county has no personnel to run the wells.  Due to the local political system, there is no expertise to operate these deep wells.  But, if that issue is kept alive, it gets
Cihuatlán off of the political hook.

While all of this has been going on, a group of homeowner volunteers has requested voluntary assessments from the other homeowners to keep the sewage and water flowing.  That has included purchasing replacement parts, re-designing a portion of the sewer system, and hiring a pumper truck to clear clogged sewer lines.

When the system fails to work properly, no water goes to homes, and sewer seeps out into the laguna.

Now that the immediate crisis is over, many of the homeowners have allowed their attention to wander elsewhere.  But the problem is not going to go away.  The volunteers can keep the system running for a limited period, but there needs to be another solution -- or solutions.

The homeowners have already concluded a homeowner association will not work.  That seems to be a wise conclusion.  Under Mexican law, there is little enforcement power invested in such associations.

A lot of people seem to believe, as a municipality,
Cihuatlán bears the responsibility to provide the services.  That, most likely, is not going to happen.  After twenty years of arguing, nothing has really changed.
Cihuatlán's recalcitrance may offer the neighborhood an opportunity to be creative.  How about forming a private corporation to provide services?  Water could be purchased from the developer.  Payment might be an issue.  But it is a detail compared to the pending problem.

The sewer system could be operated by a completely separate system.  This is frontier Mexico.  Ideas do not need to be government-centric.

But that is only part of the problem.  What happens with the sewer when it enters the system?  How is it treated?

I purposely chose to live outside of the developed neighborhood because of these ongoing problems.  It turns out I may have my own issues.

Later this week, I will discuss some thoughts about sewer treatment.

See what happens when I end up with water on the brain -- and in the streets?

 

Monday, March 16, 2015

awash in the day


Never say Mexpatriate does not bring you breaking news.

At least, not today.  Save that dart for later in the week.

Last night our tame rain showers turned into a full-blown lightning, thunder, wind, and rain extravaganza.  The type of weather that makes you appreciate the next minute of life -- because it was the type of weather that could just as easily kill you as thrill you.  A perfect description of one of my former girl friends.

Last week Ed the Artist came over to string wire for each of my paintings.  They have each been hanging on single screw since their original installation.  We thought that would give them a far more stable presence on the wall.

Last night's wind did not concur.  Several of the canvases decided they would feel far more utilitarian by seeking their inner nature as sails.  I gathered them up and stored them safely away from the ever-rising water.

Speaking of water, it was not merely rising in my courtyard.  The photograph of the drain I took yesterday was just a preview of what was coming.

The photograph at the top of this update is what I saw when I opened my front door.  What looks like a small pond is actually a stream.  If you were to look to your right, this is what you would see.



It may not look very deep, but the roadbed has been washed away enough that the water level comes up to my Escape door.

So, off I went, in your service as an intrepid photojournalist, to see what the rain had wrought.

The village of San Patricio is in full fiesta swing this week celebrating the feast day of San Patricio.  Or, as the Celts amongst us know him: Saint Patrick. 

There is a carnival in town along with a small troupe of vendors.  All conspiring to lift as many pesos as possible from the crowds in exchange for a bit of sheer enjoyment.  And each evening we top off the day with a castillo -- a firework structure.

But not tonight.  This is a corner of our jardin where the festivities should be taking place. 

I was surprised to see that the water had not risen very high.  Usually, this corner becomes impassible in high rains.



Some corners still are.


That is not a canal.  It is a street.  A main street between a school and an empty lot that was once a school before it was damaged too many times by high water.  Like this.

Even though the white truck is speeding right along, the dark SUV is not going anywhere until Noah's dove fails to return.

When I encountered similar weather in Oregon and England, I indulged in a practice I decided to resurrect this afternoon.  I brewed a pot of Constant Comment, put two Milano orange cookies on a plate, put some Christmas music in the CD player, and pulled out a book (on my Kindle).

Excuse me.  I need to go sit in on a cabinet meeting chaired by
Abdülhamid II.

gutter talk


Usually, we residents of the Mexican Pacific coast look forward to rain -- for two reasons.

The first is primarily for comfort.  Our rainy season usually arrives in the summer along with high temperatures and even higher humidity.  The rains drive down both -- and bring us relief from our energy-sapping hot months.

The second is both utilitarian and aesthetic.  The rains come in the summer to bring life back to our winter-parched fields.  Without them, our farmers would be plowing dust rather than the rich loam of our alluvial soils.

And that is where the aesthetics come in.  What was brown turns green.  We then live in a jungle.

That is what usually happens.  But this is not a usual weather year.

There has been enough water running across our local fields to confuse them with the Everglades.  They are plenty green -- and too wet to even plant.  We have been through an entire planting season where a good portion of our fields remain uncultivated.

The fact that June is still three months away has not discouraged Chac from bringing us some early rain.  And there is no heat to suppress.  In fact, our evenings are still quite cool.

The best that can be said for our current downpour is that we simply do not need it.

But I do.  I have been working on as essay concerning our local water and sewer issues.  The rain has induced me to sit down and share it with you.

And I will -- during the coming week.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

give me some credit

Using credit cards on the internet in Mexico is dangerous.

But not for the reasons you may suspect.

I have mentioned in passing that I am heading to Red China at the end of next month.  I am not as certain that I mentioned I will be boarding a ship in Shanghai to cross the Pacific to Canada.  Along the way, we will stop in Korea (not the red one), Japan, and Russia.

My traveling companion and I agreed to buy two shore excursions in Japan, arranged by a fellow passenger from Australia.  The woman from Australia told me we were on the tours; I just needed to call an international number to finalize payment.

And that is where matters stood for three days.  I know from past experience that making payment by credit card is no longer a simple procedure.  Especially, with all the nations involved in this transaction.

I am in Mexico.  My credit card is issued by an American bank.  The concertmaster in this transaction is Australian.  The tour company is headquartered in Britain.

The easy part was the telephone call to London to make my payment.  The only difficult part was the nearly 45 minutes on international hold.

And then the fun started.  First, I received an email from the tour company.  My bank had declined the payment.  Of course, it had.  Because that is what my bank seems to do with every transaction out of the borders of The States -- and, often, within.

I have tried calling in advance to tell whoever answers the telephone at the bank that I am about to make a multi-national transaction that will trigger a fraud alert.  Each time I do that, some very polite young person tells me there should be no problem.

There almost always is.  Within a minute of getting the "no payment" notice from the tour company, I received the dreaded "Security Alert" from my bank that "unusual credit card activity had been detected," and that "certain limitations" had been placed on my card.

So, I steeled myself and called my bank.  After almost a half hour on hold, I told another very polite young person that "Yes, I just made a multi-digit transaction with a tour company in England."  "Yes, I know my telephone number."  "Yes, that is my address."  "No, I have never lived in North Carolina with someone named Neal Chamintingalinthan."

The very polite young person then reminded me that this was all for my benefit, and that I bore no potential financial responsibility.  I let the non sequitur pass.

I was back on the telephone to London to make my payment -- after another lengthy spell on hold.  We had a good laugh about how the internet has made everything so easy.  English sarcasm is even better than its weaker-strength American version.

I sent copies of my receipt of payment to the woman in Australia and my traveling companion.  I thought I had got off easy this time.

Not so.  I must have ignored the second "Security Alert" in my inbox.  When I tried to use the credit card online for a purchase from Amazon the next day, I was informed my credit card was not valid.

Odd.  The very nice young person from the bank had promised all was well.

So, back on the telephone I went.  After an hour and a half on hold, the annoying hold music and not-so-truthful frequent reminders that someone would be right with me stopped.  Just stopped.  I guess I reached the bank's time limit.

After four more attempts two days later, I finally was able to talk with very nice young person number three.  I told him my tale of woe and wondered if someone had managed to lift my card since my last conversation with the bank.

Nope, he said.  The only alert was on the tour tickets that clearly showed the freeze had been lifted on my card.  But, for some reason, it had not.

He then tried to console me with the litany I had ignored the first time.  All of this was all for my benefit, and that I bore no potential financial responsibility.

I stopped him right there and asked: "Which of those two sentences is a lie?  Both cannot be true.  They are contradictory.  Either this system is not for my benefit or I actually do have some financial liability.

"I suspect the first one is the lie.  This system is solely to protect the bank, not me as an individual.  That would be the true reading, wouldn't it?"

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  I know.  I was being very unfair to very polite young person number three.  He was simply reading a script.  He didn't write his lines.

But I gave him great credit for originality.  Instead of staying on script, he merely said: "You were wise enough to choose us as your bank.  And you have just shown the same wisdom.  Some calls, of course, are recorded for training purposes."

We had a good laugh.  I thanked him.  And my credit card is currently working.

That is, until I try to use it once again.  I calculate, I spent about four hours simply to buy two sets of excursion tickets.  The tours better be outstanding.

And, if you see me roll my eyes when you tell me I can use the simple method of paying online with a credit card, you now know why.

 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

can you play me a memory?


“San Miguel de Allende and Chapala will have nothing on us.”

I have heard the refrain before.  This time, a piano player from San Miguel de Allende was coming to our little town for a concert.  For some reason, as starved for high culture as we are, we tend to create hurdles for ourselves we cannot possibly cross. 

I call it pianist envy.

My interlocutor was discussing the appearance of Antonio Cabrero, maestro with the San Miguel de Allende Orchestra, who was going to regale, as the poster said, "Tourists, Expats, and Residents."  Through various sources, I knew the evening was going to be classical, Gershwin, and popular piano pieces.

I would normally pass on that program.  Even though our area has some very talented bar musicians, concert pianists are few and far between.  I took the risk.  And, overall, I was glad I did.

The program turned out to be exactly what I anticipated -- pieces that everybody in the audience had heard numerous times before.  It is the type of music people would listen to while completing a shopping list.

The classical section included excerpts your niece in Omaha would have played at her high school recital: Saint-Saëns's "The Swan;" Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" theme; and an excerpt from Rachmaninoff's "Second Piano Concerto."  Essentially, the musical equivalent of Highlights from Hamlet.

The Gershwin selections were primarily from Porgy and Bess: "Bess, You is My Woman, Now;" "It Ain't Necessarily So;" "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin';"  and "Summertime," along with "Foggy Day."

Followed by a list of northern favorites: "Satin Doll," "Embraceable You," and "As Time Goes By."  And those old Mexican stand-bys: "Maria Bonita" and "Granada."

And for the finale?  "New York, New York."  Bet you didn't see that coming.

If you are saying, "Wait a minute, Steve; you are asking the maestro to perform a program he did not choose," you are absolutely correct.  It is a fair cop.

Some very talented musicians have taken banal material and breathed new interpretations into it as their own.  So, how did Maestro Cabrero perform the program he chose to perform?

I am not certain.  Probably for reasons of mobility, he performed on an electric piano -- in a concert hotel conference room.  I could not tell if the lack of dynamic, missing pedal points, and unscored dissonances were the result of his technique or of the limitations of his instrument and the room. 

The audience appeared to give him the benefit of doubt, but the glissando and finger rolls in the Gershwin piece came across as merely muddled.

Having said that.  It was live music.  A lot of sins can be covered by that simple fact.  And my fellow audience members appeared to be quite taken with the performance.

There is a reason we get excited when musicians offer us new fare.  There are a group of us here who are starved for music that will challenge us -- that will force us to listen at Aaron Copland's third level of listening: the sheer musical plane, where we listen to the music as an abstract art form; or, in Copland's words: "the notes themselves and of their manipulation."

Can Antonio Cabrero provide that?  I hope so.  In fact, I hope he comes back.  But this time with some music to challenge our listening abilities.  Maybe something by Guillaume Connesson -- or something similar.

And when he returns, could someone please supply this man a grand piano -- rather than the equivalent of a moog synthesizer?


The local Rotary who helped make this event possible deserve a lot of credit for what they were able to accomplish.  I just hope they can do it again.


Friday, March 13, 2015

killing the bird

Meet Riggan Thomson.

A faltering Hollywood star, who was once immensely popular for his role as Birdman, a caped comic book character, in the 90s,and who is now searching for something out of life by adapting a Raymond Carver story and then directing and starring in it for his Broadway debut.

If part of that sounds vaguely like Michael Keaton's career, it should.  After abandoning Tim Burton's Batman franchise, Keaton has been in search of a role that shows his true talent.  He may have found it in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

The plot line is deceptively simple.  Riggan has gambled all of his wealth and the vestige of his prestige on bringing a play to Broadway that will re-establish his credibility as an actor -- in the Valhalla of the legitimate theater.

In the process, he faces a series of personal challenges: his ego openly battling with his id in the person of Mike, a young charismatic actor (Edward Norton); his personal life clashing with his current actress girl friend (Andrea Riseborough), a leading lady whose neuroses would energize a Woody Allen production (Naomi Watts), an ex-wife who shows up now and then to remind us of the downward trajectory of Reggin's life (Amy Ryan), a daughter (Emma Stone) just released from drug rehabilitation who acts as the sole voice of reason, and his friend and lawyer, surprisingly superbly played by Zach Galifianakis; and, my favorite, Reggin's nemesis drama critic nemesis (Lindsay Duncan).

But that is just the story.  This is not the typical story of vacuous showmanship.  Instead, it is a tale of life as vacuous showmanship.  It is a morality play of redemption and validation.  And why it does not happen.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican director, who co-produced and co-wrote the film, had a brilliant idea about the movie's structure.  Because this is a movie of lives trapped in the confines of a Broadway theater, why not shoot the whole piece with steady-cams using a single continuous shot -- or, at least the appearance of a single shot?  The effect is to make each scene as real as a live play because the full take is dependent on everybody in a long sequence getting everything correct.

The result is a beautiful film filled with several of life's most basic questions.  Such as: "Does my life even matter?"

And that is where the acting comes in.  Each of the actors puts in a stellar performance -- almost as if they had been an ensemble company for years.  I suspect some of them have even done their finest work here.

Two scenes sum up the movie's core for me.

The first is between Reggin and his estranged daughter, Sam.  She has recently been released from drug rehabilitation, and her father has hired her as his personal assistant.  It is a role that could have easily sunk to Hollywood cliché.  But González Iñárritu gives his actors the space and time to let their characters become breathing entities.

In this scene, Sam nails her father's career as an actor while the subtext strips through to the rift that has isolated him from her.  The strength of the scene is not the stream of bile, but the odd mixture of tenderness, sadness, and regret that briefly passes over her face as she turns from an angry woman in her 20s into a young daughter that is still looking for answers from her father.

[WARNING: This movie is rated R for its abuse of English.  The pity is that the script could have been just as powerful without the profanity.]




The second scene is between Reggin and the drama critic for The New York Times.  This is another of those films that contributes to the myth that a single New York critic controls the keys to Broadway.  If that were true, how do we explain the ongoing lives of Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King?

The story line establishes that without a good review from her, the play will close and Reggin will lose his investment -- along with any chance of pulling his acting career out of the professional purgatory that is comic book movies.

She tells him, even though she has not read his play, she has a very distinct plan for it  -- because he is a celebrity, not an actor.

That's true.  I haven't read a word of it, or even seen a preview, but after the opening tomorrow, I'm going to turn in the worst review anyone has ever read.  And I'm going to close your play.  Would you like to know why?

Because I hate you.  And everyone you represent.  Entitled.  Spoiled.  Selfish.  Children.  Blissfully untrained, unversed, and unprepared to even attempt real art.  Handing each other awards for cartoons and pornography.  Measuring your worth in weekends.

Well, this is the theater, and you don't get to come in here and pretend you can write, direct, and act in your own propaganda piece without going through me first.

So, break a leg.
That is a brilliantly-written scene.  As a send-up, it should become a standard piece of the power-obsessed world of the New York theater elite.  What is beautiful about the scene is that it is equally effective in letting the air out of the Hollywood ego blimp.

Even more than that though, it is a warning to us all.  We often seek redemption in all the wrong places.  In that sense, Reggin is an Everyman electing to find meaning in his life by playing a sucker's game.

There has been a lot of debate concerning the ending of the movie.  An ending that is intentionally ambiguous -- and will elicit contradictory answers based on the prejudices the viewer brings to the movie.  For that reason, they are all correct.

If Reggin failed to find redemption in his quest, Michael Keaton certainly has.  With Birdman, his Batman will be just a memory.


---------------------------------------


While writing this essay, the dispute over the movie's ending caused me to start thinking about the central number that was cut from the film version of Into the Woods -- "No More."  Because the questions raised by the song echo many of the questions in Birdman, I offer the stage version -- should you choose to listen.
 


Thursday, March 12, 2015

my inner mexican


"I don't like making plans for the day because then the word 'premeditated' gets thrown around in the courtroom."

I should have those words carved over my front door.  For 60 years, my life was all about timeliness, planning, organization, meetings, projects.

When I moved to Mexico, I did my best to kill those annoying personality traits.  And my neighbors had the cure.  Appointed times are merely suggestions.  Volunteering to do a project is merely a polite way of saying: "I will get around to it when I can."  Numbers are merely abstractions.

Pretending I am Mexican does not always work out.  For instance, I am terrible at relationships.  And I am no better at them here than I was in my cold climate culture in Oregon.  Being alone is my highest goal -- and my Darwinian plateau.

My new persona works well with my Mexican neighbors.  Not so much with the northerners (expatriates and tourists) who make up a remnant of my social life.  They still tend to get quite anal when I show up late -- and have not done my homework.  I don't take it personally.

My new attitude also gets me into trouble with Mexpatriate.  Let me give you an example.

I recently read two news stories that had essay-material written all over them.  The first was about a new Mexican political party forming in Mexico.  At least, that is how I remembered the story.  But I forgot to clip the article for future use.

I just spent over an hour searching through back issues of The Economist -- and I found nothing.  I found nothing because there was no such story.

What my faulty memory had misfiled was a story about the Free Brazil Movement -- a free market organization of young people who have sponsored teach-ins in
São Paulo to counter socialist protests for free bus tickets.  Imagine Milton Friedman with an edge.

The bottom line of the article was that classic liberalism was making inroads amongst Latin American youth -- as a way to counter years of failed let-the-other-guy-pay policies.

The article did not mention Mexico.  Apparently, my mind tried to wish my own dreams into reality.

Mexico does not have a classical liberal party.  If you look at the descriptions that follow the names of Mexico's parties, you will find: "right of center," "establishment," "left of center," "laborist," "environmentalist," "social democratic," "unionist," "left-wing nationalist," "humanist," and "centrist."

Where a classic liberal hangs his hat, I have no idea.  Each party on the list is essentially statist, in the sense that it sees the government (and usually the central government) as the source of solving problems and dispersing goodies (to its supporters, of course).

I had hoped to write an essay about the prospects of this imaginary party in the next local elections.  The germ of that idea was another article showing the high negatives of the four leading parties.

A recent poll showed that each of the four larger parties is burdened with a negative image -- up to 40%.  The article speculated that voters might be in the market for one of the minor parties to register their discontent.

I can see the article.  It had an incredibly helpful and full-color graph (I initially mis-typed that as "graft;" calling Dr. Freud) listing the parties with their comparative negatives.

But, can I now find it?  Nope.

Had I stored copies of each article, this essay would have taken a far different tack.  It might even have contained some useful information.

For me, it is a reminder.  If I see something that might be of interest to you, I will clip it.

On the other hand, forgetting to plan gives me an opportunity to ramble on with you on things that I may as well have made up on the spot.  I am not certain which is better.

That reminds me, I watched Birdman on Tuesday night.  I was going to pass on my initial thoughts.  But I want to watch it once again.

I'll be right back.  You can plan on that.