Monday, October 03, 2022

well, we didn't go

There are very few circumstances that can interrupt my morning walk routine. But this is one of them.

Even though tropical storm/hurricane Orlene did not even give us a buss on the cheek with its whirling dervish system, it pulled in other weather systems over us that have given us the weather equivalent of an NBA makeup call. This has been a relatively dry wet season. Not now.

Orlene passed us by far out at sea, but it has sucked in plenty of rain clouds that were more than happy to make up our deficit. And then some.

As I write, Orelene is poised to make landfall in Mazatlan like a stir-crazy tourist careering off of seven straight days of seas days on a cruise ship. I wish them well.

Even tough it is that far north, the rains here continue. The photograph is the street in front of my house. Whenever we get heavy rains, there is only so much water that the parched sand can absorb. The rest seeks the closest way back to the ocean. And my street is a convenient conduit. If I need to go anywhere, I will ford the stream in my car.  

Rains like this are not infrequent in the summer. But the stream in front of my house always reminds me of the old spiritual "Peace Like a River." I am certain you know it. "I've got peace like a river/Peace like a river/Peace like a river in my soul."

My religious tradition is based on upbeat, joyful songs like that. I suspect that is the reason I am a bit turned off by some of the depressing downbeat minor key hymns that are so popular in certain churches. Not only are they not part of my tradition; they simply do not convey the spirit of my faith. As the third verse of that song says: "I've got joy like a river in my soul."

You may have already guessed that my Alaska flight on Saturday (here we go again -- or not) did not attempt to fly through the barrier of the hurricane that stood between Manzanillo and Los Angeles. The flight has been postponed until 8 PM today. I suspect the late time is to ensure that Orlene has hit shore and started to break up.

So, I will be on my way to Los Angeles this evening -- if, as they say, "the creek don't rise."

If all goes well, and there is a break in the weather, I may have time to catch up on my lost morning steps. 

Because some things should flow like a river.

Friday, September 30, 2022

here we go again -- or not

Turn your back for a moment -- and look what nature does.

While the world was justifiably transfixed with the path of Atlantic Hurricane Ian, his eastern Pacific cousin Orlene has gone almost unremarked.

There may be good reason for that. Orlene does not have the potential headline appeal of Ian. It is only a tropical storm at the moment. But that is about to change. Some time this evening, it will graduate to hurricane strength.

At the moment, unless you are captaining a ship in the Pacific off of the Mexican coast, that information may not be very interesting. But Orlene is not going to remain at sea forever. As you can see by the National Hurricane Center predictive map, between Sunday and Tuesday, Orelene will be having an impact on Mexico from about Puerto Vallarta to Mazatlan.

Even if it remains at category one strength, we learned here last year from Nora that even small hurricanes that present their right side to shore as they proceed up the coast can cause plenty of damage.

The prediction from Windy is that we will be spared the worst aspects of the storm. As it passes by us tomorrow, it will be well out to sea. What we will get is some thunderstorms, rain, and a few gusts.

My concern with Orlene is a bit more personal. I am supposed to board the Saturday afternoon Alaska flight to Los Angeles. Based on the predicted path, Orlene will be positioning itself between Manzanillo and Los Angeles just about the time the flight is supposed to arrive from Los Angeles -- and then leave.

Airlines are very reluctant to put their capital investment in danger by even getting in the proximity of winds that destructive. Twice last year, the flight was canceled on the day of departure because of hurricanes. Each time, they left the next day.

There is no way of predicting what is going to happen. Look at the odd path Ian took -- or Patricia in 2015.

The bright side is that if the flight is cancelled and we get sufficient rain here, I will discover if last week's earthquakes created any new cracks in the house.

It just goes to prove that when God closes a door, he often opens a water gate.

Monday, September 05, 2022

the torch passes

My mother, Marilyn Cotton died at noon today in a hospice facility.

Darrel, my brother, informed me of her death while I was waiting in Seattle for a flight to Redmond. It was not unexpected, but startling nonetheless. 

I am in Prineville now. Starting tomorrow, we will execute her burial wishes -- to be buried in Powers in a plot next to her first-born son, Craig.

But, for now, I wanted her friends and family to know that her soul has moved on into the presence of The Messiah, around whom she built her life.

When matters calm down, I will write more about her.

For now, we note her death.


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

a winner -- hands down

The question is not a new one.

People new to the area are often flummoxed at some Mexican custom or other. Noise for example. This question showed up on our local community Facebook page yesterday.

"Does anyone know why cannons are going off in Barra?"*

Of course, there are no cannons. The last cannons fired here involved pirates in the late 1500s. (The pirates won in a double-header.) What they are are the usual cohetes (the skyrockets that carry an M-80 wham). And the answer is always the same. A religious feast day is being celebrated.

This week's celebration is very special for Barra de Navidad because it celebrates divine intervention that saved the village from destruction. I am certain most of you know the story, but it is one that deserves re-telling.

The year was 1971. The night of 31 August-1 September to be exact.

A hurricane by the name of Lily was headed straight for Barra de Navidad. It was obvious the storm would demolish a good portion of the town if it maintained its projected path.

And Lily did maintain her path. She came ashore near Barra de Navidad with winds of up to 85 miles an hour.

With disaster on their doorstep, the residents of Barra did what came natural to people of faith, and for people who have suddenly discovered a faith they did not know they possessed. They congregated in the church -- and prayed. As the winds battered the walls, they sought deliverance from the storm. The sailors on Jonah's ship could not have prayed more fervently.

And then it happened. A miracle. A standard crucifix of Jesus on the cross stood above the altar. For no apparent reason, each of Christ's arms fell to his sides. And the storm abated.

It was like something out of the gospels. Mark 4:39 to be exact. "He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm."

Ever since then, the congregants celebrate Jesus of the Cyclone (el Cristo del Ciclón) this time of year -- as a day of deliverance and remembrance.

As Ben Franklin once said in recounting a story about a fly reviving in a fifty-year old cask of Madeira, "Now, I do not know how scientific that tale is ... ." But it is an article of faith in these parts.

The story goes that the parishioners wanted to repair Jesus' miraculous shrug, but the priest informed them that God had caused the arms to drop and only God could restore them. The crucifix still stands in the church in its hands-down splendor.

This evening, the week's daily procession formed up on the main road into town. The guest of honor was carried ceremoniously to the church for evening mass.

A side note. After sparing Barra de Navidad, Hurricane Lily rumbled north like Attila the Hun to lay waste to Puerto Vallarta in the worst hurricane it had suffered in 20 years. Favors apparently have a limited jurisdiction.

So, that is why the non-cannons are sounding. To celebrate a miracle.

I talked to talk with Sara, a local realtor, who helps organize these affairs. She told me that Saturday will be a very special day -- involving the remnants of the cross that once stood in the shipyard that built the ships that left Barra e Navidad for The Philippines in 1564. As you might imagine, their is quite a tradition that has barnacled that small piece of wood.

Unfortunately, I will be flying north to Oregon on Saturday for my monthly check-in.

For those of you who are in town, I have been promised that this year's celebration will be something special.

Disfruta la fiesta. And look out for flying cannon balls.

* -- A friend from Alberta who lives here part-time refers to these questions as Canadrama -- closely related to their cousins Mexidrama and Ameridrama.

Monday, August 29, 2022

little orphan annie eyes

It had been some time since I played video poker on the Banamex ATM.

I usually get my pesos during work hours from the Intercam teller. But I recently found myself short of pesos on a Saturday night. The only option was to saunter down the street to Banamex and try my luck with one of its ATMs.

Too often, my card will not work or the machine does not have cash or it will charge my account and leave me as noteless as when I started my transaction.

I started with the machine on the left. It would not read my card. The next machine read my card, but was out of cash. Fortunately, the third machine turned out to be the Goldilocks option. It was just right.

Then it was my turn to be reduced to a cultural stereotype. I took a look at the notes the ATM had disgorged -- and my eyes rolled back so far there was nothing left but Little Orphan Annie whites.

You can see why for yourself.

Like most ATMs in the area, the Banamex machines regularly disgorge wads off 500-peso notes. There is nothing wrong with the notes -- other than the practical consideration. Merchants here have historically not been able to handle purchases with 500-peso notes. They do not keep that much change on hand. Often, it feels as if a wad off 500-peso notes is like having no money at all.

But what I received was even more daunting. 4000 pesos of my withdrawal were in an even more problematic denomination. 1000-peso notes.

This version of the 1000-peso note was issued in November 2020. I did not see the first one locally until almost a full year later, and I thought they would be as rare as ivory-billed woodpecker sightings in Manhattan.

I was wrong. They are now common issue from the Banamex ATM. I have no idea if the other ATMs in town are trying to save space by filling the bin with portraits of President Madero.

The appearance of the notes are a harbinger of another not-so-welcome phenomenon sweeping the country. Inflation.

For the past year, the cost-of-living has risen precipitously -- just as it has in other countries. At least, we in Mexico are not suffering as badly as the Turks or the Lebanese or the poor Venezuelans with their current 1198% rate. Compared with them, Mexico's official inflation rate of 8.15% is almost anemic.

But official rates do not always tell the real story. Food is a prime example. I have seen lists recently from local stores with incomes totting up 20% to 40% increases. Grocers verify those ranges. As do restaurant owners who have been forced to increase the price of their menu items. I seldom leave a local grocery store without leaving a full 1000-peso (or two) behind.

My neighbors tell me tales of despair of trying to stretch pay to cover increasing food costs. Because just like everywhere else, pay is not keeping up with the price increases.

I was talking with Antonio, the guy who keeps the sparkle in my pool, about the cost of food. As part of the conversation, he told me the chemicals that he supplies as part of his cleaning contract with me have shot higher than a cohete. Until he mentioned it, I had not even thought about how supply chain problems and cost increases had cut into his profit -- not to mention the cost of gasoline for his car.

The same goes for Dora, the magician who helps me clean my house. Both of them are feeling the pinch of local economics.

Wages here are a bit difficult for me. I come from a culture where workers will ask for a raise when they need one or feel that they deserve one. That is not the Mexican culture. Neither Dora nor Antonio have ever asked me to increase their wages. Over the years, I usually increase their rate of pay around the New Year. 

I decided not to wait. I cannot control inflation (and the Mexican government does not appear to have a comprehensive plan to do so nationally), but I do control the purse strings of the microeconomy of The House With No Name.

So, I have increased the wages of Dora and Antonio in an attempt to help them meet current cost-of-living challenges.

Sometimes, every little bit helps.

And it gives me somewhere wortwhile to spend those 1000-peso notes.  

Monday, July 18, 2022

it takes a pillage

The scene is inevitable.

In every murder mystery, the detective will assemble the cast -- usually in the parlor -- to reveal the who in the whodunit. Or, even more cleverly, as in The Last of Sheila, arranging them by name.

And, so it has been this season. The suspects blew in alphabetically: Agatha, Blas, Celia, Bonnie, Darby, Estelle.

Of course, those names are not the cast in a local Agatha Christie Revival. They are the string of hurricanes (and one tropical storm) that have slipped past Barra de Navidad this season.

From June to October, there seems to be at least one new storm being born in the Pacific off the coast of Central America. Most do not amount to much. They burn out in the formation stage. Even those that make it to hurricane or tropical storm status stay far enough out in the Pacific that we see only their tertiary effects. High waves. Some rain. Usually, not more than that.

However, if the pressure areas along the cyclone's path are just so (as Rudyard Kipling would say), we do get to feel one of Nature's shows of strength at its rawest. Last year's Hurricane Nora is a perfect example. A mere category one hurricane that, because of its path, caused a surprising amount of damage.

At the start of hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts whether each region's hurricane season will be below or above average. The Atlantic received the bad news of an "above-normal" season. The Eastern Pacific (our region) the seemingly-better label of "below-normal:" 10-17 named storms, 4-8 hurricanes, 0-3 major hurricanes.

Mother Nature has an impish sense of humor. The bytes in the NOAA press release were still damp when something unusual happened in the Eastern Pacific. Hurricane Agatha struck. And she was unfashionably early. Not waiting for the season to begin in June, Agatha arrived in May -- earning herself the title as "the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in May in the eastern Pacific."

For added novelty, the cyclone had formed in the Pacific and then crossed over into the Caribbean.

This may be the season for trans-storms. First there was Agatha. You may have noticed in the alphabetical list of hurricanes and storms that have already paraded past us, there seems to be a mistake. 
Agatha, Blas, Celia, Bonnie, Darby, Estelle. What is that extra "B" doing in the mix?

Bonnie was another exchange storm. But, she started in the Caribbean and then slipped across the isthmus into the Pacific before waltzing harmlessly past us completely oblivious to the fact that she was out-of-step with the other chorines and chorus boys. 

It is an odd year. I do not know what to make of NOAA's low-count prediction. The estimate was for 4 to 8 hurricanes. We have already had five (counting runaway Bonnie), and we are only six weeks into the hurricane season.

Fortunately, for our area, the effects have been minimal. Except for the fishers. The wave activity has played havoc with the local industry.

I enjoy the summers here. The heat. The humidity. Nature's power in storms -- especially, the thunder and the lightning. Surviving summers here is a reminder of how survival itself can be an adrenalin rush.

But weather is always a topic that draws me back to the keyboard -- when I can find a break in my walking routine. I will let you judge whether that is a good thing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

sleeping with the fishes?

That, among other queries, has come my way the past two months. Wondering about my unprecedented (and unexplained absence) from these pages.

It is a fair question. My last post was on 21 May when I pondered the mysterious lizard that had taken up residence in my kitchen. Since then, Mexpatriate has ceased to echo the pace of my life. 

But the fish have jolted me out of my reverie.

This afternoon I started a quick walk to the local Oxxo when I paused to pick up the trash and detritus that daily accumulates in the street in front of my house. Most of it is refuse that the guys on the garbage truck drop while toting off the neighborhood rubbish.

Amongst the styrofoam cups, potato chip wrappers, and dirty diapers was a small fish. It could not have been there long because it showed no signs of rot in the sun. Why, I asked myself, would one small fish be in the middle of the street on a Tuesday afternoon? Apparently, I had no answer because I didn't.

Well, it was not one. I soon saw another. Then three more. And five. Between my house and the house next door, there were thirty-one lost piscine souls resting eternally.

I have a friend who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1940s who believes that every odd thing discovered in a neighborhood is a message from the Mafia. I know exactly what he would have thought of the fish in the street. Fair warning. Of what? Well, something. And it could not be good.

Having turned in my aluminum foil hats some time ago, I tend to default to the analysis that Sigmund Freud famously did not say: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." I sleep a lot better that way.

Who knows why the fish are there? Most likely a fisher had caught them at the beach, stuffed them in a bag, and, while walking or riding down my street,the bag decided to do its impression of Hansel in the forest.

But they were excuse enough for me to break into my walking schedule to write you a brief note to say the world goes on.

And, should I find another open period, I will probably share a bit more of what has been happening during the past five months.

For now, I am going to enjoy something the unschooled fish no longer can -- I am going to relish the gift of another day.