Monday, October 31, 2016

morelia, i'm back


I just realized this is my first trip away from Barra de Navidad in nine months. And it feels great to be on the road, again.

Admittedly, it is a tour bus trip. But, driving my car through Morelia and
Pátzcuaro (especially, Pátzcuaro) at this time of year would simply be a bad idea. I am happy to leave the motoring to our bus driver.

Today was a travel day -- from San Patricio to Morelia. About eight hours of sitting time. And with the usual stop at the base of the smoking Colima volcano. But we are now ensconced in our hotel after an adequate dinner.

I have accompanied Mex-Eco tour guides through Morelia three previous times. And I have written about them extensively. So, there is no need to bother you with facts and photographs concerning Morelia's cathedral and other fascinating colonial buildings.

That does not mean that I am not going to slip in at least two symbolic photographs.

We usually start our tour at the Baroque building that once was a Jesuit church and is now the library for the University of Michoacán de San Nicolás de Hidalgo. What the church has built, the state can seize.

It looks like a classical European library. Two floors of books encased behind glass. Even though some of the tomes look ancient, their titles belie their modern provenance.



Morelia is filled with reminders of its history as a colonial capital of the state. The churches, the government buildings, and the private homes from that era have an exquisite detail to them -- as any UNESCO-listed city should have. Take this door panel from the Las Rosas church, as an example.


But I am in Morelia as a jumping off point for our day-long visit tomorrow in Pátzcuaro to witness the Night of the Dead ceremonies. We didn't have to wait for Pátzcuaro to see Mexican tradition in action.

Morelia has its own take on this season. Most hotel lobbies display altars in one form or another. From the very modest to the grand offerings of luxury hotels. What looks like a rug is actually colored sawdust formed into patterns.


Even the government gets in on the action. The courtyard of the Department of Justice has a multiple altar affair built around an artificial lake.


What can be done inside is also reflected outside. The streets are strung with Day of the Dead banners and objects -- and young women in colonial dress stroll everywhere.


Just before we arrived in town, a rain storm dumped a good deal of rain. That would not be worth noting, other than the fact that the rain stymied the students who were constructing Day of the Dead booths, similar to last Friday's booths in San Patricio, but far more sophisticated. Dusk was setting in, and the booths were still in their conceptual stages.


 Last week in day of the living peso, I discussed the tension that has developed between the Day of the Dead traditionalists and the Halloween infiltrators. This evening, I learned a lesson -- the two holidays can co-exist peacefully. And did.

While the traditional Day of the Dead festivities swirled around us, several costumed children approached our group at dinner asking for a treat -- usually in the form of money.

This little boy started it off. When I asked his mother for her permission to photograph him, he immediately gave me this guy pose.


When I was done shooting, to his mother's embarrassment, he asked me for money. I asked, "How much?" Ten pesos was his response. I decided it was fair. He then cleverly hit us up again at dinner. After all, he is the devil.

Even though this brother and sister team were not trick or treating, I thought they summed up the odd combination of the two holidays. Her in her wide-eyed Catrina outfit. Him in his cool dude duds.


But all of this is prelude. The main event will be tomorrow.

Our visit to the cemeteries will keep us out late. The last time I did this, we got back to the hotel around 2 AM.

If I do not post tomorrow, you will know why.
 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

night of the dead --the prequel


Our villages do not celebrate day and night of the dead with the same ritual solemnity practiced in certain parts of Mexico's highlands.
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That does not mean we do not celebrate it here. When it is honored, it is usually in a far more subtle style. Whether at home or during brief visits to the cemetery.

While walking the streets of Manzanillo yesterday, my oft-straying thoughts meandered off into customs for honoring the dead. Americans have (or had) a tradition as solemn and ritualistic as any Purépecha sitting shiva in a dark graveyard.




We called it Decoration Day (or more modernly, Memorial Day). Families would gather at local cemeteries to honor the dead by placing flowers on the graves. Stories of the deceased would then often be shared as part of an oral tradition to remember why we were there.

In our family, my mother was the organizer of our trips to honor the dead. Most often, we let her go on our own. When she dies, a part of our past will die with her. I know very few people who take the time out of their busy-ness to remember the giants on whose shoulders we stand.

I thought of Mom as I wandered through the square in San Patricio on Friday afternoon and evening. The students of the local technical school (el colegio de estudios científicos y tecnológicos de estado de Jalisco -- or the almost as unpronounceable acronym -- CECYTEJ) annually erect night of the dead altars as part of their education program.  Just as the government ordained in the 1960s.




I try not to miss it. The results always have a hey-kids-let's-put-on-a-show feel. And that is fine. Like most school projects where a group of kids are forced to do something, one or two students do all the work while the others loll in the shade combing their hair, texting on their cell phones, or just plain gossiping about their colleagues who are doing all of the work.



This year, the results were quite well done. Each booth is graded on the use of the required elements and creativity. Unlike the last few years, vampires in coffins and roaming werewolves were not part of the show.



Instead, the altars honored grandmothers, a baby, a policeman, a businessman with connections, and young friends.  And, of course, Catrina after Catrina -- a role that seemed to be reserved for the prettiest girls in the class.



What it was not was solemn. The viewers could have been looking at prize bulls at the county fair. And the participants were having fun. Why not?  They are young. They could easily have been sitting in the back of a green Mercury on the way to the Powers cemetery.



As for me, I will be sitting in the back of the Mex-Eco Tours bus on our way to Morelia on Monday morning. If all goes well with this new computer (which would be a big change in circumstances compared to the past two days), I should have some photographs from an area of Mexico where both the day and the night of the dead is an embedded tradition.

I will see you on the other side.




Saturday, October 29, 2016

quiet on the home front

My lapse into silence portends nothing -- other than a dead computer.

It appears my hard drive decided to vacation in a small Croatian village where there are no telephones. Not even the voodoo chicken would revive it.

I drove to Manzanillo today and picked up something to tide me over until I can buy a computer I really want. But I needed a computer quickly. I am heading off to Pátzcuaro on Monday, and I wanted to have the ability to share my trip with you.

I had intended to publish some photographs of Friday's Day of the Dead booths constructed by local high school students. Maybe tomorrow.

For now, though, I will do my public service by reminding you Mexico drops out of the daylight saving time racket early Sunday morning. We get back the hour that was ripped from our slumber in the Spring. And that is all I have to say about that.

I hope to put up some interesting shots tomorrow -- if I can figure out how to upload them on my new system.

If not, see you in Pátzcuaro.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

no laundry day


If you cannot deal with change, Mexico is not your country. My sleepy little burg is no exception.

For the past several years (long enough for me to forget just how long), I have used the same laundress in Villa Obregón to clean my sheets, towels, and undies. Trini did such a good job, I continued using her services when I moved to Barra de Navidad.

Every Wednesday, I would drive three miles to drop off two pillow cases filled with soiled clothing. The same afternoon, I would pick it up cleaned, folded, and smelling as if it had spent a week at a spa specializing in harvesting lavender.

But, no more. Trini told me three weeks ago, she would be shuttering her business. Permanently. She had suffered a series of washing machine failures, and was down to one operating machine. When the flocks of northern tourists started arriving, she was going to close her doors.


I had hoped to eke out one last load of clean clothes this week. But that did not happen. Her doors are down.

Running a small business anywhere is tough. But, in our villages, where tourist pesos and dollars oil the commercial machinery, the revenue stream is either a trickle or a flood. Most of the time, it is a trickle.

Revenue tends to turn solely into income without any investment in capitalization -- a certain recipe for a shortened business life. When machines die, there is seldom a means to repair them.

That is one reason buildings here are adorned for services that have not been available since the Salinas administration.

I suspect Trini will enjoy the respite. The laundry business has not been a good partner for her recent health.

And me? I need to find a good laundress who knows how to make sweat socks smell as if they just walked in from Provence.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

in the shadow of the tower


The communication tower that looms in my backyard brings me daily joy.

Its best gift is a respectable internet speed. Most of the internet service in the area is glacial. When I lived in Villa Obregón, I could not watch Netflix. There simply was not enough juice in the pipe. Moving to the house with no name was like moving to Oregon. Relatively.

And then there is the romance. After all, who can claim to have their own personal Eiffel Tower in the back yard?


But life is not all croissants and bad French coffee. Into life a little rain must fall. Or, in this case, metal shavings. Small shards of metal that would be more at home on a battlefield than in a courtyard.

For about a week, workmen have been busy maintaining the tower. I usually do not notice them, even though they have a bird's eye view of my activities in the patio -- both clothed and unclothed.

Barco used to be my snitch. He would bark frantically whenever he saw or heard them. I suspect he always wanted to join them because their work looked more fun than whatever the two of us were doing.

But this week I did not need him to alert me to their presence. They are drilling. It appears new lines are being attached to the numerous dishes and antennae arrayed on the tower.

On noral maintenance days, the workers are a source of litter. They drop all types of detritis. Plastic stays. Tape. Plastic bags. And all of it drifts into the neighbors' yards. Including mine. It is just one of the prices for convenience and romance.

The garbage this week has been a bit more irritating. Those metal shards at the top of the essay. They may look like a Picasso paper sculpture, but they are quite sharp. And what the eye cannot detect, the feet will. Antonio, the guy who maintains my pool, was here yesterday. He took a handful of the stuff out of the bottom of the pool.

Mexico is a self-help country. So, I will police the courtyard and the upper terrace for these weapons of mild destruction.

Having cleared the minefield for now, I am going to sit back with a steaming plate of huevos a la mexicana and enjoy the start of my day. May you be so fortunate.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

running away with the circus


I love circuses.

But you already know that, if you have been loitering in these parts for very long. I have even related the tale that when I was in the sixth grade, I was positive I would now be a circus owner (another opening; another show).

I'm not. But I am a circus enthusiast. Especially, Mexican circuses -- circuses that have a character of their own.

In the eight years I have lived here, I have tried to see every circus that comes to town. I missed a few. But I have seen enough of them to know they are worth every peso for admission. Just as long as you are not expecting Barnum and Bailey or Cirque du Soleil.



It has been almost a year since the last circus was in town. There is a good reason for that. Last July Mexico enacted a law banning the use of exotic animals in circuses. No more elephants, tigers, zebras, lions, llamas, or the usual menagerie one expects to see in the center ring. There was some concern that the era of Mexican circuses was dead.

This is not the place to debate the wisdom of that law. It is now the law under which circuses operate. One direct result, though, was one of the worst photographs I have ever seen of a gully outside of Mexico City filled with the carcasses of lions and tigers that had been shot because they were too expensive to maintain without bringing in revenue. An unintended consequence of what was purportedly a humane treatment law.

The Atayde circus has been in the area for over a week with its last performance in Melaque last night. They will pull up stakes and be on their peripatetic way to Puerto Vallarta.

After dinner at Magnolia's, Ed, Roxane, and I decided to top off our evening with front row seats. I had seen the same circus here two years ago (another circus post), and thought it would be interesting to see it without its animal acts -- which were outstanding.



The best adjective for the new show is "pared down." What had once been a large cast is now a group of five performers -- with a few walk-ons and technicians. But smaller, in this case, was not bad.

There were the usual acts: tight rope walker, clowns, foot juggler, strong man acrobat, lady on a hoop, a child dressed as a cartoon character whose sole talent was to shake hands with the children in the audience, and (my favorite) the silk flyer.*

The five main cast members carried the show in various roles. The tight rope walker-silk flyer was also a clown -- and sold cotton candy during the intermission of the two hour show.



I missed the animals. I know all of the arguments that the animals were not treated as if they were pampered soccer players. Instead, they lived in conditions almost equivalent to those experienced by incarcerated humans.

That does not change the fact that I have always been impressed with their performances. In Mexico, we will have to be satisfied with the paintings on the circus entry way.

The only animal exception in this show was an anaconda. (My neice Kaitlyn would have loved seeing it.) The silk flyer adopted the theme of Tarzan in his act-- a rather clever, if not very original, adaptation.



After he had finished swooping over our heads in his underwear, he brought out a large anaconda with the help of his three Tarzan girls. Members of the audience then volunteered to hold Tarzan's snake.

That was the act. Hefting a reptile. It almost made me nostalgic for a poodle in a tutu.

With the exception of the heat and humidity captured in the big top, the night was a success. After all, the three of us have seen far more funky circuses in town.

What I did learn is that Mexican circuses should be able to survive the big cat massacre. Kids of all ages come to the circus to enter a world of magic. Where things unimaginable can be admired.

Cirque du Soleil was a pioneer of the "no animal" model. And last night's performers have slipped into it without losing the spark of why they are entertainers.

I will keep attending the circuses as long as they gypsy their way through our villages. Feeling like a kid again is reward enough for me.

And then there is that anaconda.



* -- I wish I had more photographs to share. At the beginning of the show, the Big Voice announced photography was prohibited. So, I stowed my camera -- forgetting what country I was in. Throughout the first half of the show a large portion of the audience had their camera phones out flashing and clicking away.


 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

i shall survive


So, there I was in my kitchen constructing a healthy Greek salad* when the Earth moved.

Not one of those figurative in-love-with-my-head-in-the-clouds type of movement. But the real thing. As if the freight train from Inception had taken a wrong turn and had left everything shaking in its wake.

It was an earthquake. And a rather healthy jolt. 5.1 on the Richter scale.

I have sat through many a tremor here on the Pacific coast. And that is what I usually do -- sit. But this once had an immediacy about it that caught my attention.

The first was that distinctive locomotive sound. And then a few seconds of rocking. realized there were several tons of concrete above me that could pancake me into a pastrami sandwich (to mix my delicious food metaphors). I abandoned the Greeks to their own fate and stepped out into the courtyard.

Like almost all tales of this sort, that was it. It came. And, like Omar's Moving Finger, moved on.

There is a good reason why this tremor was unlike any other I have felt here: it was just a few miles down the road. The epicenter was 9.2 miles south of
Cihuatlán. You can see where Barra de Navidad is in relationship to Cihuatlán. The yellow marker is the epicenter. Just off our coast. Almost in my back yard.

I know someone is going to ask whether there was a danger of a tsunami. There always is. That is why the state of Jalisco has a tsunami warning system along the coast -- with marked evacuation routes to assist those who believe they can outrun death's carriage.

Because I saw no water running underneath my front door, I jumped in the car and took my salad to one of my favorite beach restaurants. After all, why sit in the back row if there is going to be a big ocean show?  But there was nothing -- other than a great salad.

Living in the Pacific Northwest for most of my life, I am accustomed to low grade tremors. I have experienced the train only once before in the 1990s in Oregon. That earthquake was enough to inflict some major damage in some towns in the foothills of the Cascades.

As far as I know, there was no damage from this quake. Of course, with concrete houses, who knows? Stress fractures could show up in the future as leaks during the rainy season.

I have already received one message asking me if I am going to move because of the earthquake. Of course not.

Unlike many expatriates, I did not move here for the weather or the food or the culture. I moved here because I wanted to wake up each morning having no idea how I was going to make it through the day.

Having survived today's adventure, I am ready to take what tomorrow may bring. Until that carriage catches up with me.


* - Even though my exercise program is on hold as a result of an infection in my right foot, I am still trying to eat healthy.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

day of the living peso


Where did October go?

Day of the Dead is almost upon us and I have not yet bought my Day of the Dead tree or wrapped my Day of the Dead presents or sent out my Day of the Dead cards.

Before you think I am handling a sacred Mexican holiday with far too much sarcasm, take a look at that photograph. I could have shot it at any discount store in Canada or The States. But it was in the bustling burg of Manzanillo.

Witch hats. Princess costumes. Plastic jack-o-lanterns with handles to assist little goblins in making a fast get-away on their trick-or-treat rounds.

Every year when photographs (or the real thing) show up in these parts, the usual suspects will don ashes, pull their hair, and bemoan the passing of another Mexican tradition. By that, I suspect they mean Day of the Dead.

Well, all of you pearl clutchers, I have a piece of news. Day of the Dead is a regional Mexican tradition. In some regions (such as Michoacán) it is very big. In a week or so, the highways around Pátzcuaro will be filled with pickups and trucks filled to overflowing with marigolds to dress up graves and archways.

Around here (as well as in northern Mexico) you will be lucky to see much other than local schools competing to build altars -- often adorned with vampires and werewolves. They look a lot like a science fair in the school gym gone wrong.

Some Mexican Indian tribes have a long tradition of setting aside a day to commune with their dead. The tradition survived in its home regions after The Conquest.

In an attempt to build greater national pride, one of the Mexican presidents in the 1960s (I do not recall his name, but undoubtedly one of you will), decided it would be a great idea to have another national tradition. His Education minister opted for Day of the Dead. Children throughout the country would be taught the tradition, and another thread would be woven into the national myth.

And like most things in this world that are imposed from above, everyone went on living their lives as if nothing had changed. Residents of Tzintzuntzán decorated their cemeteries and their homes drawing tourists like vultures to a carcass. While, in Monterrey, a tourist would be hard pressed to find a marigold. Ghosts and devils? You betcha. Marigolds? Not as likely.

I am not certain who buys all that Halloween paraphernalia. I do not see many trick or treaters in our small villages. That may be because I am usually out that evening (just as I was in Oregon and Nevada). But I have seen them in the smaller village of La Manzanilla -- just up the road. I susect wherever northerners congregate, the little baggers will follow.

I am not surprised Halloween has started to catch on around here. What kid could avoid a night where all you have to do is ask for candy, and you then get as much as you want?

Mexico is a cultural sponge. Even though the vast majority of the population is Mestizo, the culture has a velcro tendency for foreign cultural bits it likes.

Some remnants of the pre-Conquest culture survive. There are also lots of Spansh and French affectations that crept across the Atlantic voluntarily and involuntarily. The art nouveau and art deco buildings of Mexico City are examples.

And, of course, the cultural giant on the other side of the Rio Bravo has bequeathed as much to Mexico as it has to the rest of the world. Santa Claus. Levis. KFC. Home Depot.

Now, Halloween.

Here at the house with no name, we celebrate neither Day of the Dead or Halloween. But, we will celebrate Revolution Day next month.

Just don't expect any candy. And call first.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

knocking on heaven's door


The fenders on my Escape have taken a lickin', but they go on tickin'.  At least, the Escape does.

When I lived in Villa Obregón, the gates on my courtyard were narrow enough that I dinged up both rear and front fenders more than once. I swore when I bought a new house, I would ensure the garage doors were a bit wider.

Well, I bought a new house, and the garage doors are even narrower. Early last year, I dinged up another fender backing out of my house (filling the well). Two readers suggested I install an automatic door opener. I have been at both of their houses and have used theirs. They made a good point.

But, it took me a bit of time to finally purchase one. And I probably would not have got around to it if one of my neighbors had not put me in touch with an installer.

This is actually old news. The garage door opener was installed in May. But this story has hunkered at the bottom of my in basket. Starting as a news article, morphing into an information piece, and finally settling into the status every writer dislikes -- the dreaded "human interest" story.

I had two major qualms about installing an automatic opener -- one aesthetic, the other practical.

The aesthetic problem was based on my experience with garage door openers up north. You know the type I mean. You buy it at Sears and spend the afternoon getting whacked in the head by loose mechanical connections because "I do not need to waste money paying someone to do what I can do myself." And the result was redolent with DIY. Not what you would like your friends to see regularly.
 

Above the Rio Bravo, that would not be a problem. Garages are more private than bedrooms.

But not in the house with no name. The garage shares the same stark lines as the rest of the house. And a Home Depot opener bought on sale would merely clutter up the ceiling in the area where I park the car.

That turned out not to be a problem. Mexican craftsmanship often amazes me. The pistons that individually open each door are about as subtle as engineering can make them. I am not certain what I expected to receive, but the result is entirely unobtrusive.



The second problem was security. Once inside an American home, it is usually very easy for a burglar to open the garage door to assist in transforming what were once your goods into his goods. There is usually a push button just inside the entry from the garage to the house. If not, there is a safety rope that will release the door and allow it to be opened.

As you have already figured out, there is no such problem with my opening system. There is no internal button. The doors open only with the remote control.

And, if the power should fail (as it often does in these parts), a key will disengage each of the pistons. The doors can then be opened manually. Once again giving me the opportunity to run my car into one of the doors.

I have not written earlier about the doors because we spent a few months correcting a small problem. The first door would close properly. But the second would close with such force that it would start the opening process again.



The technician came out twice. The solution turned out to be quite simple. But I was amazed at his patience in getting the doors to operate just so. They now close with a varying tempo that is almost symphonic.

There have been other adventures with doors. The most famous you already know with Barco's midnight escape when he found the remote unattended (a remote possibility). He did that twice. I know dogs do not understand cause and effect as we do. But I swear he would intently watch me whenever I pressed the button to open the doors.

Otherwise, my life with my new automatic doors has been rather mundane. I can now drive into the garage with no new dents -- and I never have to get out of my car until I am inside.

To Felipe and Jennifer, thanks for the suggestion. Life in Mexico is filled with a lot of good things. But having friends with good advice is a treasure no matter where I live.

Monday, October 17, 2016

walk on by


I knew it was going to happen.

But knowing a fact and accepting it with gracious contentment are two completely different things.

When I was in the Air Force (both on active duty and in the reserves), I had a roller coaster relationship with my weight. The scale would warn me when I was nudging too close to my maximum, and I would get serious about dropping a few pounds.

I quickly learned that increasing my exercise regimen and cutting back on food portions would let me lose about a pound a day. Up to a point. The first 15 to 20 pounds burned off like lard in a campfire. And then, it would level off for days with no more pounds dropped.

Back then, those 15 to 20 pounds were good enough to keep me in compliance with the weight standards. We were constantly reminded by the promotion boards that complying with the standards was not good enough. We needed to have The Look of an officer. That always struck me as a bit fascist.

Earlier this month, I slipped into another of my weight loss modes. After looking at several books and listening to a long line of friends and acquaintances, who were absolutely certain they knew The Perfect Way to lose weight, I fell back on what has worked for me in the past: exercise and calorie control.

I did shut the gate on several foods I liked, but that I can live without. Otherwise, I am eating the same food, but less of it. I have even cut back on my social life in restaurants -- for now.

The exercise portion has been easy. I like walking. In fact, I had a regular routine before Barco arrived. The day I took him to the clinic earlier this month, I started my walking routine, again. Partly to stop worrying about his condition.

My routine was to walk 4 miles in the morning and to walk as many places during the day that was practical. Eventually, that stretched into 5 miles in the morning and 3 miles at night. With my incidental walking, I am averaging about 11 miles a day.

For the first five days, I lost a pound a day. It was enough that people commented my face looked thinner.

But, then, the weight loss stopped. I have been stuck at the same weight for over a week now. (By the way, this is one reason Weight Watchers warns its participants not to weigh themselves daily. Despair is not on its diet.)

And I know exactly what is happening. My body has sensed that I am putting a double demand on it -- fewer calories and more exercise. Being a finely-honed machine, it is being more efficient with the calories it receives. Before it will burn off any more of its hard-earned surplus, it will eke out of my lettuce wraps enough mileage to make a Prius owner even greener with envy.

That is the reason I looked at using the Rotation Diet. Its calorie regulation is based on the notion of manipulating the body to ignore its natural metabolism cycle. I did not use it, however, because its menu consists of foods that are very difficult to obtain here.

This morning, I ramped up my walk to 6 miles. That is about as much as I can handle in our heat -- and with the inevitable blisters that pop up after walking 4 miles or so. That will keep my metabolism stoking the energy furnace.

As far as food goes, I have cut my portions down to the point where I am constantly hungry. That is not bad. Theoretically, that will convince my body to start burning up some of those triglycerides it has hoarded in my liver.

One lesson I have learned from past weight loss efforts is that I need to be patient. At some point, my body will recognize it is not a bank. It can use its reserves without fear of federal bank inspectors.

The good news is, other than feeling constantly starved and suffering from blistered feet, I feel great. Barco has given me a great gift. And I intend to put it to good use.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

the green fountain pen is stuck in the roasted chicken


The chicken marinated all night in the kumquat mixture.

It sounds like the password from a very bad movie script. But it is actually the fixings for a potluck I attended this afternoon.

For a year or so, I have received invitations to join a group of expatriates for a Sunday afternoon potluck. The group picks a theme, and everyone builds dinner around it. I have never attended, but the photographs of the food certainly tempted me.

With Barco's death, I have decided to honor the freedom he has given me by getting out and socializing a bit more. I have mentioned it before: I am not social, but I am passably sociable.

So, I decided this would be my potluck debut in Barra de Navidad. The theme was foods including fruit. And I knew exactly what I wanted to make. A stir fry with kumquats.

My friend Gary, the owner of Rooster's and Papa Gallo's, grows kumquats in his garden. The only place in Mexico I have ever seen kumquats is in his hand. And I have missed them. The kumquats, that is. Up north, they were a staple in my kitchen.

Gary and I have swapped kumquat stories over the years. He says the first time he ever heard the word was when Pat Buttram told Jack Paar he was settling down on a kumquat orchard. The first time I heard it was in a song from The Fantasticks -- "This Plum is Too Ripe." But I was not to taste my first kumquat until decades later.

The harvest from Gary's trees is rather limited. He had brought a handful into the restaurants to make a kumquat chutney. But he gladly donated them to the potluck cause.

For the past two weeks, I have been trying to lose weight -- through exercise and cutting back severely on my food portions. So, a potluck was not a bad choice. I could simply monitor what I ate.

My contribution was a kumquat ginger chicken stir fry -- with lots of habanero and jalapeño peppers. I marinated the cubed chicken and quartered kumquats in a soy-hoison sauce marinade overnight. Just before I left for the potluck, I stir fried the chili peppers in sesame seed oil along with ginger, garlic, onion, and red bell along with the chicken-kumquat mixture.




It was fantastic. If I do say so myself, it is one of the best meals I have cooked in a month or two. The flavors were properly layered and the dish was spicy enough to remove the skin in my mouth. Fortunately, I had enough left for a couple of controlled-size meals.



The potluck itself was a great success. I had not met about half of the people at the table, but we knew of each other through Facebook. Barco was an appropriately brief topic, but most of the conversation was the type of banter and trivia you would hear in any group of people who were comfortable with one another.

And I was comfortable enough to think about attending at least one more -- next week.



Friday, October 14, 2016

moving in mexico -- bathrooms

Someone should have told us these things.

Probably, our mothers. But they get blamed for everything.

Today's topic is going to the bathroom in Mexico. And I am not talking about the "put-the-used-toilet-paper-in-the-trash" lecture that causes northerners to stare in disbelief -- as if they are waiting for the punchline.

The dirty little secret I want to discuss applies only to the residents of tropical Mexico. You haughty highlanders can talk amongst yourselves.

For the rest of us, we will talk about "how do you get your underwear back up when you use a toilet that requires the sitting position?" For women, that is almost every time. For guys, not quite as often; but it does happen.

So, there you are. You need to take care of nature's call. (There will be a prize for the person who spots the most euphemisms.)

Off you go to the bathroom. Push down the clothes that need pushing (including your underwear), and then do what needs to be done.

You are now ready to leave once you get your clothes back into the position they once were. But the first thing that will not budge is your underwear. What was once a finely tailored piece of cloth has morphed into a tourniquet. No matter how you pull, it remains sweated to your thighs.

And if you can manage to roll it up your legs, once it gets to where it belongs, it is still a wad of cloth. You can pull and tug, but the best you can do is to get out most of the lumps. Until you put on a new pair, you will be stuck with what look like tumors on your behind.

A woman friend and I talked about this problem earlier in the week. She commented: "I bet you thought I never used public bathrooms for sanitary reasons. That doesn't bother me. I simply cannot get my underwear back on. In desperation, I will take them off and stuff them in my purse just to get back home."

So, there you have it. If you visit (or move to) tropical Mexico, be prepared to come up with your own creative method to fight the underwear roll.

Maybe your mother told you these things. If mine did, I must have been asleep on the toilet.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

punching for pesos


Getting pesos around here can be an adventure in itself.

A handful of my fellow expatriates have divested themselves of any northern banking connections. But, most of us, and probably all northern tourists, keep their money in non-Mexican banks. That makes discussions about ATMs a hot topic in these parts.

For eight years, I have been using ATMs in Melaque to perform the alchemy of turning dollars in my American bank into pesos in my hand. It is a marvelous convention. All of the nonsense of keeping a stack of Franklins under my mattress or struggling with traveler's checks is just a bad memory.

But even our digital age has its frustrations. Let's set aside the inconvenience of expiring debit cards and ATMs that simply refuse to read cards for a moment.

Earlier this summer, our big bank in town, Banamex, imposed a withdrawal limit of $6,000 (Mx). At the current exchange rate, the $500 (US) limit on my debit card should allow me to shake down the machine for about $9,400 (Mx).

Now, that is hardly a drastic restriction. After all, $6,000 (Mx) will pay quite a few days worth of expenses. It just means I need to return to the ATM more often. (This is the point where the local anti-bank rant usually begins. Not from me. I am happy to have the service we have, and I think I know the reason for the restriction. It is far more rational than nefarious.)

Yesterday I took a trip to Manzanillo to have my Escape serviced and my dental implant tightened. To kill the extra time, I walked about 10 miles around town. One of my stops was La Comer (formerly Comercial Mexicana, now owned by a former rival). Because I was on foot, I was simply perusing what was on offer.

Knowing I would need a wad of pesos to woo the Ford mechanics to release my Escape, I experimented with the HSBC ATM. One of my pleasures in Manzanillo is having options -- shopping, banking, entertainment. And I was not going to let this opportunity pass.

In went my card. I completed all the necessary punches. Up came the screen: "How much do you want to withdraw?" If I entered anything above $6,000 in Melaque, my card would be kicked back.

I checked the exchange application on my smartphone. For $500 (US), the machine should give me more that $9,400. I entered "$9,300." And, out came my money. Minus a very small transaction fee and the usual Mexican "sales" tax.

My trips to Manzanillo are not as frequent as when I first moved here. But, Barco has now given me a marvelous gift -- the freedom to travel.

Even if that travel is just far enough to get more pesos out of an ATM.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

barco's door


Yesterday, I started writing an essay about Barco. The sky was dark. Real dark. Like a sky from the set of Die Walküre. And then it started to rain.

Considering my topic (Barco's death), my natural impulse was to fall back on kleptomania and steal from The Bard: "
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;/ The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head."

But I could not write anything further. And I now know why this morning. I was still wallowing in self-pity about not having Barco in my life. In your comments, several of you reminded me I should be focusing on what he gave me. And there I was weeping over a corpse when I could have been celebrating who Barco really was.

I owned Barco for nine months. Of course, "owning" was my perspective. As far as he was concerned, he was the prince of the palace, and I was, at best, his majordomo.

I tried to train him. He learned his lessons quickly, but he also learned that not obeying them was far more enjoyable. His intransigence always trumped my insistence.

In his time here, I quickly learned he was teaching me some very important lessons -- far more important than "come," "stay," "eat." Here are a few.

1. Being cute with a beguiling smile will get anything (almost) from anyone (almost).

 
OK. This is one of those lessons we learned from each other. There is a good reason I like golden retrievers; they are every bit as manipulative in personal relationship as am I.

2. Everyone you meet is a friend.

Barco was the Will Rogers of dogs. You know: all that "a stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet" nonsense. But he lived by that creed. No matter how intimidating the dog or how standoffish the person, he insisted they were about to be his best friend.

Especially children. Most Mexican adults were wary of him because of his size. But children could see he was one of them. They all commented on the softness of his ears. He just smiled and wiggled his way into their hearts.


3. Friends trump everything.

Barco never fully outgrew his puppy stage. Puppies, by nature, are narcissists. The world revolve around them.

As far as Barco was concerned, everyone who came to the house (Dora, the pool guy, the air conditioner installers) were greeted as if they were the best things in life. And he usually led them around with their hand in his mouth to be shown all of his wonders.


The dogs that belong to my neighbors live primarily on the street. And they all have their territory that they defend.

Barco never caught on to those rules. He was friends with all of the dogs -- no matter their gang colors. He would run with one group of friends into the territory of another group.

I would like to say, he taught them all to be friends. That didn't happen. Instead, there were some pretty nasty fights. And he never seemed to understand why.


4. No matter how many times you have done something, it is always new.

Some people call this "living in the moment." For dogs, it is something quite else. For Barco, it was universal optimism. Each crab was the best crab he had ever chased. Each lizard the best he had ever tasted. Every walk was an adventure -- even if we had just been there three hours before.

I insist on variety in my life. Barco found the variety in the moment. Of course, that may be a lot easier when you experience the world primarily through your nose.


5. Circumstances may change, but presence makes the difference.


I first learned that line in a sermon decades ago. But Barco taught me how true it is.

Barco and I shared a lot of good and bad experiences during our time together. We both had our moods. But we were always there for one another when we needed the other. And we knew we were always pals despite what was affecting us that day. 


6. The persistent conquer.

Barco led a good life. Let's be honest: he was spoiled. He was never very good at waiting for what he wanted.

In the morning, after I gave him his breakfast, I would start picking up the leaves and flowers that had fallen in the courtyard. I would never have the task done by the time Barco finished eating.

He had the same routine, he would walk over and nudge my hand with his nose -- letting me know he was ready for his walk. If I didn't get the hint, and I often didn't, he would grab his leash and press it against my hand. If that didn't work, he would walk to the front door and start hitting it with the leash. I gave in at that point.

He was just as persistent when it came to anything chewable -- plastic, coins, peso notes. I would put them as far out of the way as I could. But, as he grew, he found ways to counter my defenses.


7. Grudges are for cats.

As spoiled as he was, Barco did not always get his way. If he had been recalcitrant on our walks, I would occasionally withhold a treat.

He always looked hurt. But, within minutes, he had for gotten about it. And he was living in that moment rather than plotting some form of feline revenge.


8. Life is not a chore; it is a joy. 

That is my first memory of Barco. When I brought him home, he immediately adopted the place as his own.

And, from that day on, my courtyard was a place of wonder -- for Barco and me. His favorite game was to chase the shadows of the flying creatures that inhabited our little garden. He could run almost endlessly in attempting to chase down the most ethereal of prey.


9. Love is not earned; it is a gift.

Dogs crave our attention. I suspect that is because they are so full of unconditional love, they know how it feels when being given and being received.

Barco was just getting out of his puppy stage and was starting to be more of a love giver. Time prevented him from perfecting the art. But I will cherish those moments when he would stare into my eyes as if saying: "Thank you for loving me. I love you just as much."

10. Closed doors always open.


When I bought my house in Barra, the first thing I said was I could not have a dog here. It is all concrete courtyard and tiled terraces. There is no grass. No garden.

But I was wrong. Barco adapted to the place with no trouble.

To a degree. He still hated the doors that divided him from all of his goat, dog, and human friends on the other side of the wall.

He bided his time until one of us would leave the door ajar. He would be gone in a flash -- usually returning in a short time. Often with dog friends in tow. Once with a chicken in his mouth.

He knew that every obstacle was an opportunity just waiting to happen. And he had the patience to wait.

And twice, he took matters int his own mouth by stealing the automatic garage door opener. He chewed on it until the door opened. And then he was gone.

Of course, I learned and shared many more lessons with him. Even though he was with me for only a brief time, he was a puppy. Everything was concentrated. Immediate. For that reason alone, I have no right to feel any self-pity. I am much richer for having known him.

While Barco was in the clinic, I pulled out a CD I had not listened to in a year or so. Jason Robert Brown's Parade.

One song struck me with its poignancy. A young man is describing his memories of a murdered girl he knew.

Did you ever hear her laugh?
When she laughed, you swore you'd never cry again.
Did you ever see her smile?
Her smile was like a glass of lemonade.
The words certainly do not apply to Barco. But their underlying meaning do. My little guy brought a lot into my life -- layering it with his peculiar wisdom.

Seven years ago, I wrote a similar remembrance of Professor Jiggs
(my best friend). It was not until I looked at the dates of Jiggs's life that I realized Barco was born on the same day Jiggs died -- just six years later.

The numbers mean little. But they are symbolic of how these amazing creatures cycle in and out of my life.

Today, I can only thank Barco for what he meant to me -- and to tell him I will miss him.



Barco Rubio
14 September 2015 - 9 October 2016


Monday, October 10, 2016

barcupdate #3

This will be the last update on Barco.

My pal, Barco Rubio, dog extraordinaire, died just before midnight in Cihuatlán -- having just passed his first birthday.

The veterinarian contacted me to let me know Barco had taken a severe downturn today and that he was near death. I drove over to spend a last few moments with him tonight -- even though it was apparent he was not aware of my presence.

There are two rules about being a dog owner:

Rule #1 -- all dogs die.
Rule #2 -- dog owners cannot change Rule #1.

I will write more about him in the future. But, right now, I am going to go for a long walk, and then I am going to bed.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

walking on the wild side


While Barco is in the dog hospital, I am taking advantage of the new freedom.

For a couple of weeks now I have discussed trying to lose some weight. I even re-cycled one of my most effective weight loss programs from the 1980s.

But all of that sat there in The Good Idea pile. You probably have one. Some people call them bucket lists. Write a symphony. Cure cancer. Repair the wobble in the Earth's rotation. Nice things that we never get around to doing.

Four days ago, I decided to take the plunge. The first step was many steps. I started my morning four-mile walks again. It is true that I spend almost four hours a day walking Barco. But the ground we covered would not even have been a healthy dividend in Liechtenstein.

So, I start every morning with a brisk four-mile walk, just as my friend Leo, who visited here last year, suggested. It sounds like a long distance, but once I get going, it is a simple task. About an hour out of my day.

Well, it should be an hour. The pace I could maintain at the end of last year let me walk a mile in 15 minutes or less. 4 miles an hour.

I have not been quite that swift this year. Instead, my pace has hovered around 7 minutes per mile. About a 20% slow down.

There are reasons. It has been a year since I have done the daily walk. (Walks with Barco simply do not count.) As a result, I have been suffering from aching leg muscles -- what the exercise freaks call delayed onset muscle soreness, with its own acronym: DOMS.

And, of course, I am a year older. The body simply does not snap to attention as it once did.

Because I know exercise alone will not suffice, I have also cut back on the second half of the weight reduction formula: calory intake. I have learned enough with my intimate contact with Weight Watchers and the Rotation Diet that a variety of foods need to be on my plate, but the portions must be smaller. That I have done.

Now, when I get a bit peckish in the evening, I head off for a 3-mile walk in the dark. Between the two major daily walks and my incidental walking, I am logging over 18,000 steps a day. In distance, that was over 9 miles yesterday.

Our village is filled with personalities. One of the most noticeable was a northern woman, dressed in a black leather walking outfit that resembled a bikini, who I would often see on the highway. She was always walking. At quite a good clip.

I wondered about her story. In a small town like this, there are always rumors. Few of them complimentary. People are basically mean about such things.

One day, I saw her in a restaurant ordering food (to go, of course). I struck up a conversation with her.

Her name was Julie. (It is funny how eccentricities seem to disappear once a name is applied to a person.) She told me she walked because she was deathly afraid of the negative health effects of being overweight. (I could tell she thought I regularly sat on a couch eating pork rinds with Marlon Brando.)

Even though she seemed to have almost 0% fat on her well-tanned frame, she felt the need to keep on moving. Maybe it was more than a need; it was an obsession.

I doubt I will ever turn into a Julie. Lots of obsessions lurk just beneath the surface of my personality, but exercise is not going to be one of them. I know myself too well.

What my walking regime has done, though, is strip off 4 pounds in 4 days. It is not much, but I am headed in the correct direction. And I am actually enjoying starting my day with that walk.

When Barco returns, we will need to negotiate a new walking schedule. The early morning and late evening will be solely mine. Because of his bloat condition, there are big changes coming for him with his feeding and walking times.

Professor Jiggs, Barco's golden retriever predecessor, was a big dog. I told him I was going to buy a dog cart for him. He thought it was a good idea. I should have known he thought I was going to pull him around in it.

Barco may be the beneficiary of Professor Jiggs's error. If I buy a black leather speedo, you will know it is time for an intervention.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

barcdate #2


When I posted the last update on Barco's condition (barcdate #1), I thought it would be the only one until I announced Barco's reunion with me in the house with no name. No such luck.

I had considered driving to Cihuatlán today to see how Barco was doing in his recovery wire cage. My idea was to take him one of his favorite stuffed animals as a scent reminder that his home still existed.

Before I drove over there, I stopped to discuss the idea with his vet, Andres. I am glad I did.

He told me Barco would be better off to not be disturbed right now. His recovery has been very slow. The incision is healing, but his bronchitis is worse.

He cannot eat solid foods. But he is retaining the liquid food introduced by syringe. A stuffed toy would just be in the way.

So, I will put off seeing him.  In person.

For the past two days, I have been seeing him in his usual haunts around the house. When I am in the pool, I have grabbed for bottle tops to keep him from stealing them. When I turn around after writing on the computer, I am prepared to scold him for getting up on the bed.

I hear him. I see him. I sense his presence.

Of course, it is all in my head -- just like the rest of my life.

I have had the same experience with people. My friend Bud died before I moved to Mexico. I still have an urge to call him to get together at one of our favorite lunch spots. Patti died just this last year. But I cannot hear the word "chess" without laughing and then starting to call her.

Our minds do odd things. They refuse to allow the spirit of loved ones to leave us. And that is a blessing. Maybe it was that spirit that made them special to us in the first place.

It may take longer than expected for Barco to return home. Until then, I need to be content with his essence.


Friday, October 07, 2016

i'm gonna sit right down and cast myself a ballot


When two of my favorite things in life -- politics and receiving mail -- combine together in one event, you would think I would be a happy Mexpatriate.

I am a legal resident of Nevada. Earlier in the summer, I filled out a paper absentee ballot request form, signed it, put it in an envelope affixed with a colorful Mexican stamp, and mailed it to the Washoe County clerk.

Yes, it was old school (if anyone still says that). Nevada likes to have some idea that the person to whom they are mailing a ballot is actually a state citizen and not some college kid in Chicago just waiting to stuff a ballot box.

Even though I have supported strengthened ballot identification since 1968, the process was a bit cumbersome to me. But it is exactly the same one I used to receive an overseas absentee ballot from Oregon back in the 1970s.

A couple of bloggers have written about casting their ballots from darkest parts of Mexico. I was a bit envious. I had not yet received my ballot. So, I sent an email to the clerk asking about my ballot. She responded the next day: the ballots had been mailed earlier in the week.

Yesterday a letter from the Washoe County Registrar of Voters (a title that bids the appearance of Gilbert and Sullivan allusions) showed up in my postal box. It reminded me of those rather tense days of law school applications to Yale and Harvard. A thick letter was an acceptance. A thin letter was a rejection. This was a thin letter.

I thought my Cinderella nightmare had landed on stage with the grace of a sack of cobblestones. Sure, my mother's family crossed the border from Canada to Minnesota in the 1920s, and no one has ever provided any documentation that the move was legal. (Maybe they were refugees escaping the terrors of the English Empire. After all, we are Scots.)

But the letter was not a "now-we've-got-you,-Jock" accusation. Instead, it was a very personal and professional letter from the sainted Sara Warr of Washoe County informing me my application had been accepted and had been mailed. She then helpfully informed me five referenda would be on the ballot, and I could read all about them on the county's website.

That was nice of her. But I did wonder why the letter? After all, the arrival of my ballot would have contained the same information.

Or perhaps this was another security test. Between the lines, Sara may have been saying: "Dear Voter -- if that is your real name." Had the letter been returned to the county, the posse would be out looking for my nefarious hide. After all, it is Nevada.

I should be excited about the arrival of my ballot. But, I am not -- entirely. There is a very interesting Senate race where I have a favored candidate to replace Harry Reid. But that is about it.

As far as the presidential election goes, I am still undecided. During the past week, I have changed my plans three times. I will not bore you with my reasoning. I would say I have bought into the notion that voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil.

But that is exactly what has bothered me about this election. That word. Evil.

Both candidates have equally dipped into the insult well to call the other evil. One is just better than the other at using the art form. The other, though, has gone so far as to call the supporters of the opponent evil. The voters.

Bismarck was absolutely correct when he called politics "the art of the possible." Hubert Humphrey loved quoting him. And he knew how to put the aphorism to good use.

There is very little of that in American politics these days. Anyone who has ever been involved in labor-management negotiations can immediately see what is wrong with our current political impasse. (By the way, we libertarians do not consider political impasses to be a bad thing. Anything that stays the hand of government has virtues that may not be immediately apparent.)

Both sides are wedded to their positions. And none of them take time to look where their interests intersect.

They simply are not about to do that -- because it is the voters who are far more divided than the political leaders. There are people who claim the country is as divided as it has been since the civil war.

I am not one of them. After all, I am having trouble parking my "art of the possible" bus with one of the presidential candidates. The division cannot be that clear.

According to Ms. Warr, my ballot should soon be here. If it isn't, I am not going to need to worry about which candidate I am going to vote against.

I wonder if that makes me "irredeemable?"

Thursday, October 06, 2016

barcdate #1


There is good news and bad news in today's medical update on Barco.

The good news is he came through surgery with little complication. When Andres, his vet, opened his abdomen, he conformed the stomach was turned. Even though there were some necrotic spots on several areas of the stomach (where blood had been denied due to the twisting of blood vessels), none of the other organs had been damaged by the bloated stomach.

Even though Barco's chronic bronchitis was a danger factor during his anesthetization, he did not suffer any unusual problems during the surgery. After he recovered from the anesthesia, he threw up some digestive liquid. That was expected, and it evidences the recovery of the stomach.

The bad news concerns the bronchitis. Barco's lungs are spotted with inflamed bronchi. That is what caused him to be short of breath yesterday -- the immediate cause for admitting him to the clinic. It will take some time for him to fight it.

For the next week, Barco will stay at the clinic. He is on oxygen to assist his breathing process. And he needs time for his incision to heal.

I have not driven over to Cihuatlán to see him. Andres told me I could, but I know Barco. If he sees me, he will think it is time to come home. I will let him rest for a couple of days before I put him through the stress of a visit.

It will also give me time to accomplish a few tasks I have left undone.

Unless anything newsworthy happens, this will be the only bulletin until I bring him home.

Thank you for your prayers and your concern.