Monday, November 20, 2017

i love a parade


I really do.

For me, nothing captures the spirit of a small town as well as how people choose to celebrate important dates. And parades are perfect cultural mirrors.

I have now been in the local area long enough to witness a bushel of parades. Independence Day. The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The feast of San Antonio de Padua. The Feast of San Patricio.

Today was Mexican Revolution day. Depending on which historian you prefer to believe, the revolution lasted either ten years or nineteen years. But everyone agrees, it all started on 20 November 1910. And, there is a story associated with that date.


President Porfirio Diaz had served almost thirty years as president of Mexico by the time the 1910 elections rolled around. Even though he came to power as an opponent of allowing Benito Juarez to be re-elected president, he soon became convinced that no one could rule Mexico as well as he could.

Under his presidency, the economy boomed, agriculture became far more efficient, and there was peace after almost seventy years of Mexicans fighting one another following Mexico's independence from Spain. But Porfirio Diaz was also a very nasty piece of work. There was no political liberty. New leaders were frozen out of the system.

A northerner, Francisco Madero, decided in 1910 enough was enough. He would run against Porfirio Diaz for the presidency. Madero was no revolutionary. He was a true Liberal in the Mexican sense of that term, and the scion of a very wealthy family.



In his campaign through the country, he preached the gospel of liberty and the evil of re-election. Porfirio Diaz's re-election in particular. But also the danger of re-election to any political office in Mexico. He would have been a fan of Cyril Northcote Parkinson -- had he lived that long.
Instead of letting Madero's campaign run its course, Porfirio Diaz jailed Madero. While in prison, Porfirio Diaz was re-elected in a rigged process.


Madero's father exercised his influence to get permission for his son to ride daily outside the prison walls -- accompanied by four guards on horseback. In an early precedent for El Chapo, the guards just let Madero ride off.

Like all good revolutionaries, he fled his country to organize what would be the Mexican Revolution from his refuge in San Antonio, Texas. He had a plan -- the Plan de San Luis.

That plan called for all Mexicans en masse to rise up against The Dictator at 6:00 PM on 20 November 1910. (Madero was a bit obsessive about such matters.) Fully expecting he would be met by hundreds of armed men on the Mexican side of the border, Madero crossed over the Rio Bravo with ten men and 100 rifles at the appointed time.

And there he found only another 10 men. Twenty men do not a revolution make. He returned to Texas hoping for a reset.




Eventually, the Revolution gained strength. Six months later Porfirio Diaz was no longer president, having fled to exile in Spain -- dying in Paris in 1915 during another great war.


So, that is what my neighbors were celebrating today. Not the belated start of the revolution, but the overthrow of the dictator and all he stood for. It was the "all he stood for" part of the revolution that would lead to the death of a million Mexicans during the subsequent years of warfare when various Revolutionary leaders would die at the hands of other Revolutionary leaders.

Even though the vendors who sell Revolution paraphernalia never showed up in our town, this was one of the most lively parades I have ever witnessed here. And I am not certain why.

All of the usual elements were there.

Enough cute children to peg a diabetic's glucose meter.





Lots of pretty girls and handsome boys from the local schools looking as if they could be rooting for their favorite high school football team in Texas. And you know which type of football that would be. Not the one with the round ball.





While the girls cheered them on, the boys would create some of the most improbable human pyramids.




Sometimes, walking the whole route is not the best option when a pickup is available.



  
And, of course, there have to be women with their traditional Jalisco butterfly dresses. This group has just drenched the audience with beer.



There was also an historical anomaly in the parade. I will let you guess.  Here's a hint. The parade honored the Mexican revolution. 
But it is rather obvious. (Even though the three Mexican friends I asked did not see it.)

 
What was different this year may have been me. I positioned myself away from the crowd to get the most unobstructed shots possible. Most of the groups just marched past me. But then one school's team stopped marching and clustered together yelling: "Foto. Foto."


Then another.




Then another.




And another.



There were more. But you get my point. And each time we went through this exercise, I had an opportunity to chat in my tortuous Spanish and the participants practiced their English.

One other factor was at play. Because of Barco, and my recent quest to practice my Spanish in the immersion program of my neighborhood, I knew several of the parade participants.

And that made all the difference. It almost made me feel as if I was in a place where I belong.

On that, I agree with myself.




Sunday, November 19, 2017

meet the meat


One of the regular dinners served up by bloggers in Mexico is the recurring theme of the availability of merchandise that was once impossible to find south of Laredo.

I lived in Laredo in the early 1970s when I first ventured across the Rio Bravo. Those were the days when automobile clubs advised drivers to carry plenty of spare parts. That now sounds quaint since Mexico is one of the world's major manufacturer of parts automotive.

Crossing the border in the 1970s was like entering the foreign country that Mexico was. Decades of protectionist legislation on both sides of the border made finding familiar brands in Mexico almost impossible.

Major changes came in the form of NAFTA in the 1990s. Lists of protective tariffs on both sides of the border were eliminated in transitional stages. When I returned to Mexico in 2007, it was a far different place than my introduction through the winshield of my 1967 red Olds Cutlass Supreme convertible.

Megastores in Manzanillo carried food and clothing that I could have purchased in my hometown of Salem. And, when I moved in 2009, the changes kept rolling in.

Back in the 1970s, I had to find a suitable substitute or learn how to do without. Usually, the latter. By the 2000s, substitutes were readily available.

And now? Thanks to one of our very clever entrepreneurs (Alex Corona, the owner of Super Hawaii), I can buy almost any food I can imagine. Alex trucks supplies from Costco to his store in San Patricio. And he has additional suppliers who can pull rabbits out of their top hats.

Wheat Thins! His suppliers can get Wheat Thins for him.

All of that comes at a price premium, of course. Specialty goods in small quantities are expensive. And a strong US dollar against the peso makes those luxuries even more expensive.

For me, the indulgences are worth the price.

When I was in Puerto Vallarta earlier in the month, I stopped at Costco. One meat I have missed in Mexico is ham. Thick ham. For soups or sandwiches or breakfast meals.

With all of the good pork in Mexico, I am surprised that no one seems to prepare hams -- other than as lunch meat. I have tried smoked pork chops, but the consistency of the meat is just not correct.

At one time, Costco sold ham steaks -- two steaks to a package. For whatever reason, the company stopped selling them a couple of years ago.

That is why I thought I was in hog heaven when I discovered a new product. Ham ends packaged in just the right size for a single guy.

I test drove the package I bought this morning. I prepared an egg and vegetable dish -- onion, garlic, red and yellow bell peppers, serrano and habanero peppers, cherry tomatoes. Ham seemed to be a perfect complement. And it was. The ham was tender and perfectly salted.

What is even better is that Alex saw the same hams and has stocked them at Hawaii. It appears ham is back on the list of ingredients for my meals.

And the availability of food should continue just as long as Donald Trump does not foul up NAFTA. Of course, Mexican voters could throw a spanner into the free trade works by electing the Trump-like populist who now leads the presidential polls in Mexico.

Ham may be the least of my worries then.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

the dog that didn't bark


Someone has stolen the Mexican Revolution.

Yeah, I know. Every Mexican politician makes the same complaint. But, that is not what is missing around here.

Revolution day is on Monday. 20 November. It is 117 years since forces rose in northern Mexico to overthrow the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. In a mere three days (by local reckoning), our little village will be celebrating the event that defined how Mexicans think about themselves, their country, and the strangers who live outside their borders.

In the past, stands and carts filled with Mexican flags, fake moustaches, and very loud fireworks would have spontaneously sprouted throughout town. The market is certainly there. The village is filled with tourists who have been disgorged from convoys of first class tour buses to enjoy the three-day weekend.

But not a stand is to be found. I had noticed the dearth of revolutionary merchandise on my walks and drives during the past two days. Just in case I missed something, I drove around the village and found empty space where stands are usually erected.

While I was scouting, I ran into my friend Jorge, one of my best sources of local news. He was just as surprised as I was that the stands are missing. Maybe tomorrow, he said.

That is a possibility. I have served on several projects with my Mexican neighbors. My northern neuroses kick in during the planning stage that nothing seems to happen until the last minute. But when it does happen, everything falls into place. It is a great patience tool for me.

So, maybe tomorrow there will be plenty of places to bedeck oneself as a Pancho Villa wannabe or a Emiliano Zapata doppelganger. And I always know where I can buy fireworks that will make the Battle of the Somme seem like an ambassador's tea.

Even if there is no patriotic paraphernalia to purchase, I know the local schools are ready for the parade in Barra de Navidad on Monday. On my Thursday walk, I saw one school taking a break from classes to rehearse their marching. As a Mexican teacher friend told me, marching always outranks arithmetic.

I missed the local Independence day parade when I was up north indulging in my 50th high school reunion. Covering the Revolution day parade for you will help me make my cute kids quota for the year.

At least, that will not go missing.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

having lived a life of good


There are two types of people who grease the wheels that drive communities.

One publicly pulls all the levels of power and sounds the whistle of accomplishments. You read about them in the newspaper, on their facebook pages, in social service agendas, on church calendars. And, yes, on their blogs.

Then there is the other type. They work quietly getting done what needs to be done. With absolutely no attention called to themselves.

Ronald Reagan used to say: "There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit."

Lee Yoast was that type of guy. I first met Lee just over three years ago when I was drafting an essay on the continuing drama of water and sewer responsibilities in a large portion of Barra de Navidad. It turned out to be a far more complex issue than I had thought.

Lee sent me an email and volunteered to give me a full briefing at his home. And "full briefing" was exactly the word for it.

He had schematics of the entire sewer and water systems in our little community. Where the pumps were located, which pumps were working, and which sewer lines were blocked. All color coded.

Because of his detailed knowledge, I was not the least bit surprised when he told me he had been a custom home builder in Portland, Oregon. The blueprints were a dead giveaway.

But, he did not stop there. For him, a problem defined was merely the first step to a solution. We started going through the possible ways to repair the system. He had been working with the public service employees responsible for the maintenance of the sewer and water. That gave him a lot of insight that I had not heard from other people I had interviewed on the topic.

He firmly believed that the best way to improve the infrastructure was to do what he would have done up north -- get to know the people with the political power to resolve the issue, and then work with them on the solution.

I was impressed. Here was a guy, who could have easily sat back in retirement and let other people deal with an almost intractable issue. Instead, he was willing to offer his expertise in a culturally-sensitive way.

All through our conversation, I thought I had seen him before. But he told me we had not met.

Two days later, it hit me. Lee was the guy who maintained the median strips leading into our town. I had seen him on his riding lawnmower tidying up our common home. Lee and his wife Christine had also erected a sign at the entrance of our village to welcome visitors.

When I approached him about writing an essay about his volunteer work, he emphatically said no. He was not doing the work for praise. He was doing it because it needed to be done.

Last Friday, I returned home and noticed that several flower arrangements were set in front of the welcome sign. It had the look of a memorial, rather than a beautification project.




It was a memorial. For Lee. On Thursday, he was riding his motorcycle north on the main highway when he suffered a fatal crash.

In the few days since his death, I have discovered several other important projects Lee was involved in. All of them important to the community. All of them conducted with silent dignity. And all of them reflecting his love of Barra and the people who live here.

When we are forced to face some of the harder facts of life, we can intellectually accept the irreversibility of time, but the emotional side of our logic seeks answers that simply cannot be provided.

Why? What if? I wish I had. What does it all mean?

Plato tried to make sense of our otherwise-unexamined lives by counselling: "Embrace your losses as fair payment for the surplus of being alive."

That is how Lee lived his life. Nothing could be done about the past, but he could quietly take hold of today and do his best, in some small way, to make life better for his family and those around him. It is a lesson we could all tuck into our lives.

Those of us who got to know you, Lee, are the better for it. And there are plenty of people who live here who will never know what you have done to make theirs a better life. And, I know you would like it that way.

As for me, Lee, I am going to miss you. And think about you everytime I see that sign welcoming visitors to our little town. 


Sunday, November 12, 2017

krafting the memories


"How can you afford to retire to Mexico? When my husband and I were there last year, it cost us $400 a night."

She worked in the computer division of our company. The year was 2009. I had just told her that I had finally finalized my plans to move to Mexico.

I thought of her comment last week when I headed north to Puerto Vallarta to spend the day with a friend and his wife. They were staying at Sunset Plaza, one of Puerto Vallarta's all-inclusive resorts. I had stayed there almost exactly two years ago with a friend (killing me softly).


Even though it did not cost $400 a night, it was what my fellow employee had in mind when she thought about the cost of living in Mexico.

Of course, I live here for far less than $400 a day. That is because I live in my own private resort in Barra de Navidad, not in an all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta.

Wayne Kraft and his wife Arlene were in Puerto Vallarta about this time last year. I wanted to drive up and see them, but I was in the throes of dealing with Barco's death. When they told me they were going to be in Puerto Vallarta just after I returned from Europe, I decided I was not going to miss an opportunity to see them.




Wayne is one of my lawyer friends from my private practice days when I was a criminal defense attorney. I first met him when he was a bailiff for one of my favorite circuit court judges. He then became a deputy district attorney, and we crossed swords occasionally.

Criminal law is a bit like warfare. And criminal lawyers -- both prosecutors and defense attorneys -- often build the same type of strong personal bonds that are found amongst combat soldiers. And between some clients and their attorneys.

Poor Arlene had to sit through a full day of lawyer war stories. Lawyers can put any fighter pilot to shame when it comes to relating a battle tale.

Meeting up with Wayne was a bit coincidental. When he was still a bailiff, he told me that my client, who was about to be sentenced, was a favorite of the judge. He was one of mine, as well. I did my best to help Brad find a better path in life. During my brief stay in Reno last week, I met with him and discovered that life was going well for him.

Wayne and Arlene are quite pleased with the Sunset Plaza and its all-inclusive services. So much so that they intend to return next year.

I started to write that all-inclusive resorts feel a bit odd to me. But, I do not know why. After all, they are not unlike cruise ships -- whose praises I sing. And reading my post from two years ago, I found that stay to be very recuperative.

I am not very fond of Puerto Vallarta. It topped my list of prospective retirement spots in Mexico -- only because I knew it best. I soon discovered that it had all of the problems of a big city without offering the cultural offsets that big cities should. And each trip there simply confirms that my decision was wise beyond its years.

But I will return to see Wayne and Arlene. In fact, I may decide to spend a short  vacation at the Sunset Plaza before then -- if I can find someone who wants to enjoy the pleasures of $400-a-night Mexico.
 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

a day to remember


On the eleventh day on the eleventh month at 11 AM (or so the legend goes) in 1918, an armistice was called bringing to a close the first act of the bloodiest war Europe had ever seen.

More than 18 million people lost their lives. But there was a greater casualty --  the promise that liberal progressivism offered Europe bled to death on the fields of Flanders. In its place, arose a Communist tide in Russia and a cynical socialism in western Europe that would soon do battle with an even more cynical Fascism in mere years from the signing of the armistice.

But all of that was to come. At the appointed hour on 11 November 1918, the guns fell silent. And, if there was not joy, there was relief from four long years of despair.

Initially, no one was interested in celebrating what had been one tragedy built on the next. But, the British, always willing to turn anything into a ceremony, were the first to honor the fallen dead. Starting in 1919.

The tradition spread through Europe and the Commonwealth nations. And even to The States where it fit in well with a growing sense of isolationism. A reminder that never again would American boys die on foreign soil.

Of course, American boys were soon to die in foreign countries. Lot of them. And still are. As are soldiers from all of the countries who honor Armistice Day. Or Remembrance Day. Or Veterans' Day.

This is the day that Americans honor veterans in general. (Memorial Day is for those who have fallen.)

But I am not in The States today. I am in Mexico.

Not surprisingly, Mexico does not celebrate on this day. It was not a party to World War One. It was still fighting its own revolution. But the Germans did their best to enlist Mexico in the war against the United States -- as a political diversion. Mexico did not take the bait.

However, the Canadians and Americans who are here in our part of Mexico joined today at 11 AM at Rooster's for a moment of silence, a reading of John McCrae's In Flanders Fields, and a singing of the national anthems of The United States, Canada and Mexico (even though, as I just mentioned, Mexico had no involvement in the war, and Mexican law prohibits the singing of foreign national anthems without the permission of the Secretary of Interior).

The program has become an annual tradition. And I always take part. Usually, as the poem reader. After all, I am a veteran.

It is the least we can do to remember the men and women who have sacrificed a portion of their lives (and often, their full lives) to the service of their country.

To all of you who have served, I say thank you. May your honorable acts be worthy of how we operate our civil society.


Monday, November 06, 2017

freezing alaska's tail


We apologize for the inconvenience. Our programming has been interrupted by inclement weather.

Or so Alaska Airlines would have us believe.

When we last talked, I was still in Reno waiting for my return flight to Manzanillo. Because I am trying to upgrade my frequent flyer status with Alaska, I had bocked a rather circuitous route -- Reno to Boise to Portland to Los Angeles, and then on to Manzanillo. That would give me just enough miles to earn MVP gold status.

I was originally scheduled to leave Reno around 3 in the afternoon. I then received a notice that the Boise flight was delayed just long enough to not allow me to catch the flight to Portland.

So I called the MVP concierge. I knew something was wrong because I was on hold for almost a full hour. But I was able to get on a flight directly to Portland with a departure time around 5 in the afternoon.

Roy took me to the airport. When I checked in, I discovered the flight had been decayed until 10. That time kept creeping later. The official word was that ice in Seattle earlier in the day had thrown off the entire Friday flight schedule.

I have seen these rolling delays many times. Inevitably they roll along to the point where the airline has no air crew hours left. The flight is then cancelled.

That would be disastrous for me. If I did not get to Portland for the 5 AM flight, I would miss my connection in Los Angeles, forcing me to wait for another week. Or so I thought.

II was lucky this time. The flight did not leave until around 11. That put me in my bed in the Portland hotel after 1 AM. Just enough time to nap for two hours before I had to get to the airport for my 5 AM flight to Los Angeles.

I have long envied people who can sleep on airplanes. I am not one of those people. The cabin is inevitably too hot and I simply cannot sleep sitting up.

As a result, even though I have been in Barra de Navidad since Saturday afternoon, I have been playing Rip Van Winkle for the past three days. My naps have turned into full day affairs.

But I am rested up and ready to jump back into my life in Mexico. That is, as soon as I receive my last piece of luggage.

My duffel bag decided it needed a vacation from traveling. The good people at Alaska discovered it tagless in Los Angeles. Fortunately, this week our once-a-week summer flights will be extended to two. That means I will have my dirty laundry on Wednesday, rather than on Saturday.

It also means, I will be able to drive up to Puerto Vallarta on Thursday to see a friend I have not seen in years. I will leave it at that.

After all, I have had enough surprises on my last trip. I should save one for you. 


Friday, November 03, 2017

mashing wits


It's one of my favorite MASH jokes.

Season Five. While Colonel Potter is away, his horse gets sick. B.J. offers to call his father-in-law for help.

B.J.: Hey! My father-in-law has been in Oklahoma for 50 years.

Hawkeye: Once you're in a road company, it's very hard to get back to Broadway.

It is pure Larry Gelbart. But it is true. And I have family to prove it.

On Wednesday, I received a message from my putative daughter, Laura. You met them as guest stars in my little situation comedy I call life this past winter. She was touring The States and Mexico on a motorcycle with her husband, Josh, their son, Jeremiah, and their two dogs, Eddy and Culprit (moving to mexico -- driving the demons). By sheer coincidence, their travels had brought them an hour away from Reno.

She wanted to know if I was interested in lunch or dinner. Of course, I was. I would not miss an opportunity to see them again -- and to pull them on stage for another guest star turn.

We met for lunch yesterday afternoon. They had seen a little Peruvian restaurant on their drive into town. Just a short walk away. So, we did. Walk.

Then we sat. And ate. And talked. And laughed. Just as any good situation comedy family should. Probably more Simpsons than Donna Reed.

There is something about spending a leisurely meal with family. Especially, with Josh's sense of irony. Our thrusts and ripostes would have felt at home at the Algonquin Round Table. I know I did.

And then it was over. They mounted their motorcycle and headed off into the afternoon.

I suspect this will not be the last we see of our intrepid on-the-road band.

After all, once you're in a road company --- .


Wednesday, November 01, 2017

where the sky is bigger than the town


It certainly is not the Miami skyline. Not with all of that asphalt and the noticeable lack of water.

But Reno has a scenic attraction of its own. Like Katisha from The Mikado  whose left elbow people came miles to see.

I am accustomed to the look. Neither Bend nor Salem are good-looking towns. From the air, they appear almost unfinished. But it is their surroundings that people remember.

For Salem, it is the Willamette Valley and the surrounding mountains. For Bend, it is the in-your-face grandeur of the Cascades.

Reno is a bit different. Sure, there are the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. But the local attraction is its horizon-defying desert and the nearby hidden (at least from Reno) treasure of Lake Tahoe.

Nevada is now my legal residence in The States. I guess it makes me a tax exile, but it is what passes for home these days. Without one, drivers' licenses are impossible to obtain, voting is difficult, and having an American credit card would be a chimera. That is why I traded the Western Meadowlark for the Mountain Bluebird.

And I will be trading the bluebird for the golden eagle on Friday afternoon when I start my trek south in a rather convoluted path. From Reno to Boise to Portland to Los Angeles to Manzanillo.

Where the skyline of Barra de Navidad will be a welcome sight.