Saturday, June 19, 2021

putting the adventure in flying

Tropical storms and airplanes are not a good mix.

And I may be dealing with both this afternoon.

For the past few days we have been watching a weather disturbance develop in the Pacific off of the coast of Central America. Most of these patterns never develop into anything. But this one did.

Dolores is now a tropical storm and she is heading right at us with 65 mph winds. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) drawing, that looks a bit like a sixth-grader's view of a Venn diagram, shows what we may face. This afternoon the storm should make landfall just south of where I live.

The NHC is predicting Dolores will continue to gain strength until it is near-hurricane force. Once it hits land, the winds should start waning.

But that is one of the bad aspects of living right on the coast. We are the landfall. The good thing about Dolores is that it will only be a category 1 hurricane -- if it even makes it to that status.

I discovered during Patricia (a category 4 hurricane when it came ashore) that my house is built to withstand the rigors of hurricanes. Because I live in a concrete bowl, loose items like lawn furniture are safe in the patio, but they are wind-fodder if left on the upper terrace. Before I leave for the airport today, I will retrieve the plastic chair and table that I use as my Faulkner nest and bring them downstairs.

Ah, yes. The Airport. The second half of our volatile weather mix.

I am scheduled to fly out of Manzanillo airport at 4:20 PM on my way north for another week-long family project. That is just about the time that the storm will be visiting our area.

The aircraft I will board is scheduled to leave Los Angeles for Manzanillo in about two hours (at 9:55 AM PDT). The question is whether Alaska Airlines is going to fly its plane directly into an airport that is about to face tropical-storm winds. According to the flight status report, the flight is listed as "on time." If that holds up for another hour, I may be leaving Mexico on a jet plane this afternoon.

We will just have to wait and see. In the past, when Alaska has been forced to change its flight schedules due to weather, the flight down and back has been moved to the next day -- Sunday, in this case.

But I will just wait and see. 

We are beginning to experience the edge of the storm right now. Light rain started during the night and is continuing this morning. The rain will undoubtedly increase before we feel the edge of the wind storm.

As most of you know, I am not fond of the ritual "be safe" greeting that usually accompanies such events as we are experiencing today. If my flight takes off today, it should be an adventure.

And that is something I can look forward to.   

Friday, June 18, 2021

working on the land

Back in the early 1990s, Henri, a French friend, visited me in Salem.

The one thing I remember most about his visit was his amazement at the number of "For Sale" signs in front of houses. He asked me if there had been some terrible financial collapse. Back home in Paris, seeing a house for sale was a rarity. The French are (or, at least, were) a people of place. Where else could Martin Guerre's obsession with land make sense?*

Not so, Americans. They move an average of 11.7 times during their lifetime. Almost 10% of the population moves each year. When my French friend was in Salem, almost 20% of Americans moved each year.

I do not know how many times an average Mexican pulls up stakes and moves. I do know that there are plenty of "For Sale" signs in the area where I live, though. And some of them are quite creative.

There is a house in San Patricio on the closest street that parallels the beach. It is surrounded primarily by hotels and restaurants. I suspect it is the beach house for a family who does not live locally. People are occasionally there, but not often. 
Yesterday, I noticed a "For Sale" sign on the fence. And it is not your run-of-the-mill sign.

A lot of businesses here print up signs on canvas that are filled with colorful images. They probably come from the same printer who publishes the maps and charts for my History of Mexico lecture series.

The sign on the fence is particularly imaginative. It contains the usual information of lot size. 25 meters by 25 meters, in this case. But it also includes someone's dream of how the property might be used -- as a four-story hotel complete with an Oxxo on the ground level. That seems a bit ambitious for a 25 X 25 lot.

But the lot next door may also be available. Until recently, the house on that lot was the home of Dora -- the woman who helps me clean my house. I knew that she had been forced to move to allow the lot owners to bulldoze the house and scrape the property clean.

I have not heard what may be placed on that property. But, because it is next door to the Oxxo-in-my-dreams lot, someone may have grand plans for both.

Maybe I should contact Henri to see if he wants to set down his French roots by owning a Mexican hotel?

* -- Working on the land that we're born to live for
Loving for the land, it is where we're blessed
Dying for the land, it is where we rest
Land to last, as it's passed, man to son
When it's done as planned, then we'll pray it will stay as good Catholic land

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

getting gassed

Owning a house is like volunteering for the job of city manager -- especially, in this part of Mexico.

I am responsible for keeping the water flowing from my well. For generating electricity from the solar array. And, perhaps most importantly, for ensuring that my propane does not run out -- or I would be bereft of my two grills and my countertop cooker.

Up north, I was a natural gas user. For heating water and heating the house. I never had to think about it because it was piped into the house from lines running under the streets in Salem. It was always there.

When I moved to Mexico, I quickly discovered I was no longer in Salem. I had to learn the art of wrestling with propane cylinders. They usually came in pairs. When the stove lacked a flame, I would switch out the cylinders. More than once, I was shocked to discover that the reserve cylinder had a leak and that I would soon be without propane.

That was not a big problem. Propane trucks selling their blue cylinders regularly drove through town playing either a jaunty jig-like tune or an annoying honk. All I needed to do was to flag down one of the trucks, load up the empty cylinders, and attach them to the regulator.

I went through that exercise for six years at two different rentals in Villa Obregón. When I bought my house in Barra de Navidad, the first thing I did was to replace the cylinders with an 18 kg. pig with a handy gauge that shows how full it is. That was seven years ago. The price for filling it then was $1,341 (Mx) -- just under $66 (US). 

I waffled about the size of the tank, but opted for a relatively large residential one. That was a good decision. That 2014 filling lasted me until January 2017. I did not need another until May 2019. On Monday, I had my fourth top-off. Four tankfuls in seven years. That does not strike me as onerous. I almost forget that it is possible to run the tank so low I will not get any propane out of it.

I have noticed, though, that the wholesale price of a unit of propane in Mexico has been rather sporadic with a general increase in price, even though the consumer price has shown a steady increase.

Unlike liquid petroleum, Mexico does not produce most of its own natural gas. The country needs to import 80% of what it needs -- 90% of that from the United States.

I usually put off ordering a tank re-fill until I absolutely need to. That is not wise planning.

Two years ago, during a propane shortage, it was unusual for anyone to answer the telephone at the order desk. And trying to find an available truck when hurricanes or tropical storms are barreling down on us is almost impossible.

My bad planning is closely akin to my faltering Spanish. I dislike talking on the telephone in English. When the conversation is in Spanish, I lose far too many words when I cannot watch the speaker's mouth.

But I have put all of that behind me with a little acting trick. Most telephone calls in Spanish are easy to reduce to predictable story arcs. If I want to order a tankful of propane, all I have to do is memorize a few lines. My name. My address. What I want. It is that simple. And all of it is on the crib sheet of the last propane receipt in my expenses file. In a way, it is like arguing briefs before the Supreme Court. The flow is almost always anticipated.

And it was this time. My call lasted less than 30 seconds. In two hours (an hour before the promised time), Chuy showed up, just as he did two years and filled my tank. I gave 1500 pesos. That should hold the Commonwealth of No Name for another two years.

If every city manager job was this easy, there would be more competition for the position. I am keeping mine. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

pacing the peso

If bad news travels fast, good news must travel slow.

Or, at least, it seems to be true for Mexican-peso notes.

Early last November, the Bank of Mexico issued  another in its series G banknotes. The Bank's goal is to have its notes reflect the history of Mexico in chronological order from pre-Hispanic to contemporary Mexico. November's new issue was a brilliantly-colored 100-peso note feature the familiar face of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who graced the previous 200-peso note that is now being withdrawn from circulation (goodbye and hello to our favorite nun).

That was over seven months ago. In that interim, I had yet to receive one in change from a store or the bank. I had not even seen one in another person's hand. I have now.

At dinner last night, one of my dining companions left a tip for the waiters on the table. My first impression was that she had left two Canadian bills. The colors were foreign to me. But I was wrong. They were two of the new 100-peso notes.

Because I am always at your service, I scooped up one of them and slipped an older Nezahualcóyotl 100-peso note onto the table in its place as if it were a foundling. My hostage bill is pictured at the top of this essay.

The three earlier issues of new bills ($200, $500, $1,000) made their way to the streets of the Costalegre quicker than this particular issue. Within a couple months highland tourists had brought the new bills with them to spend in local stores.

I would think that the 100-peso note would have floated its way through the currency stream to our streets earlier than this. After all, the 100-peso note is one of the currency's mainstays. Omar tells me I am simply late to the party. He has seen the new note around town for at least three or four months.

One more new note has yet to be issued -- the 50-peso note celebrating pre-Hispanic Mexico. Its scheduled release is not until next year. It will be interesting to see how quickly it shows up here. With the complete withdrawal of the 20-peso note, the 50-peso note will now become the workhorse of small change.

It is possible that the 50-peso note will be the penultimate note rather than the last. The Bank of Mexico is still trying to determine if the economy needs a 2000-peso note (slated to represent contemporary Mexico featuring Octavio Paz, one of my favorite Mexican writers, and Rosario Castellanos). If the Bank issues the note, it will be a certain sign that it has abandoned its prior policy to move Mexico to a cashless society. It will also send a problematic message about inflation of the money supply.

So, we may have two more opportunities to stay alert for the first appearance (for me) of new notes.

I am not certain why I get this excited about spotting a new issue. It may be the bird watcher in me. After all, the new notes disappear from my wallet as quickly as the old notes.

But that is why they are there. To represent the value of our work and to exchange that value for goods we need.

My university Economics professor was correct. It is a handy system.

Monday, June 14, 2021

cleopatra's pool

This morning, I swam with a queen.

For the past few weeks, we have been lusting for rain. This area of Mexico officially entered drought stage earlier this year. Our dun-colored hills bear witness to that. If John Ford was still with us, he would have a ready-made set for his next oater starring Jimmie Stewart -- if he was still with us.

Last night the weather genie finally delivered. Our first real rain was accompanied by the usual supporting cast of thunder and lightning -- a supporting cast that always upstages the rain.

I don't know how many inches fell. Whenever it rains heavily, leaves and flowers from my vines are pelted heavily enough that they soon block the patio's six drains. When I stepped out of my bedroom into the patio, the water was up to my ankles. By this afternoon, the once-grayish hills have started to green up.

When I first moved to this area, the first drop of rain would cut the electricity supply. Often, it would take a day for CFE (the local power supplier) to get everybody up and running.

After several major infrastructure upgrades, those days are gone. For most people. When it started raining last night, most people in the area experienced a brief outage. But, within seconds, the power was back. My neighborhood was not so lucky.

Our power went out and came back on. Almost immediately, I heard a loud bang near my house. The sound was far too familiar. A transformer had sacrificed itself to the rain god.

All night I kept hoping that the system would right itself. It didn't. It is now 1:30 in the afternoon, and I have been forced to trudge over to Rooster's to use the internet there.

Oddly, my Telcel telephone did not work this morning, either -- for calls or for internet. In the past, when the power went out, I could still post using the internet connection on my telephone. But not this time. I can now use the telephone for calls, but the internet is still not available.

But that is what we expect in the summer. Electricity. The internet. Telephone coverage. They can all mysteriously disappear with a bit of moisture falling out of the sky. Considering our usual relative humidity, I am surprised that it takes rain to get that result.

With the rain comes another sign of summer. Ants. We are blessed with a huge diversity in ants in this part of Mexico. I knew we were about to receive rain because late yesterday afternoon a colony of "loco" ants decided to up stakes and move house -- to what they thought would be a drier abode.

But it is not full colonies that are out following the rains. Those first drops signal newly-minted ant queens to take flight, find a willing mate, and then fall to the earth to start a new brood.

That was why my Esther Williams partner was in the pool. She had not completed her breeding mission before she was cast as a third-class passenger on the Titanic.

In her case, it means that one colony of leaf-cutter ants will not be established in Barra de Navidad this summer. But there will be plenty more.

When I was protecting my garden from formicine invasions, the sight of a queen in search of a kingdom would have seen me breaking out the heavy artillery. But the leaf-cutters do not seem to be interested in any of my current landscaping. So, I am happy to simply let nature take its course with this unhappy queen.

There will be more queens -- of various subspecies -- decorating the surface of my pool after what we hope will be regular storms. A series of rainfalls like last night may pull us out of our desperate need for water.

And then I can turn my attention to keeping my electricity and internet in working order. A trip to look at Elke's generator and how it weathered the power failure may be in order.

Until then, I will enjoy my time swimming with the passing queen.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

goldilocks days

Our enjoyment of life is subjective.

Mine certainly is.

Whenever I start planning for a trip to some land I have not visited, I rely on the advice of others who have been there. Unfortunately, that advice too often is filtered through so many personal filters that it is not very helpful.

Several years ago, I asked a friend, who had spent a good deal of time in Croatia, if I should pack a coat for a visit in late March. Her response was: "Yes! It is freezing that time of year."

I should have inquired further. I took her advice and packed a light jacket in my suitcase -- where it remained for the entire trip. I failed to tell her my ideal day is 55 degrees and overcast with a light drizzle. Jackets are not required until the temperature drops below 40. And the weather during my visit never dipped below 58 degrees.

I recalled that conversation last evening at dinner. Gary, Joyce, Nicole, and I were talking about how pleasant the last month here has been. The temperatures have been warm (in the 80s), but not hot, and the humidity (hovering in the 70%s, though climbing) has been tamed by breezes off of the ocean. They are what I call Goldilocks Days -- just right. And they show up from about mid-May to mid-June. And then we shift into our summer wet season.

Best of all, the pool has reached its "just right" temperature of 90 degrees. I can now walk around in the water's embrace for as long as it takes me to finish my Spanish lesson. And I often extend the lesson simply because the walk is so pleasant.

The bad thing about "just right" days is that they pass quickly. (Or, that may be the best thing about them --that way we learn to treasure them.) By the time we get to the end of the month, the temperature and humidity will begin spiking until they reach their maximum impact in September.

The days of air-conditioning are a month or two in the future. Instead, we can now sleep through the nights with the accompaniment of the rest-inducing thrum of ceiling fans. Hoping that we are not going to be awakened with a cry of --

"Someone's been sleeping in my bed and she's still there!"

Thursday, June 10, 2021

squeaking by

If you have been reading the local Facebook pages, as well as following Mexpatriate, you know that Mexico held much-anticipated elections on Sunday.

This was not a presidential election year. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) still has three years left in his term. But most commentators saw the election as a barometer of how the Mexican public viewed his policies. And the answer was a resounding -- mehhh. His party's majority was reduced in the House of Deputies, but he retains a working majority with at least one eccentrically unreliable coalition partner.

But most of us who watched the election as observers were far more interested in the local races -- especially for president of Cihuatlán. For the past two months the streets here have been filled with exuberant supporters attempting to prove popular support of their candidate (ballots are in the air).

We have been fortunate. The excitement was primarily positive. That was not true elsewhere in Mexico. This was one of the most violent election cycles in recent memory. From September to election day, 89 politicians were murdered. This area, fortunately, dodged that bullet.

On Wednesday, the official election count was released. There were eight official candidates for the Cihuatlán presidency. Last April, my very unscientific soundings indicated that the race would be between Movimaiento Ciudadano, The Citizens’ Movement (MC), the incumbent party, and a new reformist party, Hagamos (roughly translated as "Let's do it").

During the campaign, I started to doubt the wisdom of that prediction. The MC demonstrations were markedly larger than those of Hagamos. But I should have stuck with my initial impressions. The two parties almost tied.

Of the 14,362 votes accepted as valid, the MC candidate received 2,877 votes (20.03%) to 2,852 votes (19.85%) for the Hagamos candidate -- a mere spread of 25 votes. Somewhere, Lyndon Johnson is smiling. And he may be smiling at something more than his "landslide" nickname. 

There are a lot of fascinating back stories on the other six candidates (like the shockingly-low result for the once-mighty PRI), but they will keep for another day. Today, I want to touch on one other facet of the election.

Whenever elections are this close, there are almost always some allegations of misconduct. And this election is no exception.

The complaints revolve around one voting station where the local police, rather than the national guard, were called in to secure ballot boxes. But the complaint goes further. There are allegations that the box contained 200 more ballots than voters that were recorded as voting.

It is important to remember these are allegations. And they only arose yesterday, so there has certainly not been an official investigation. That will happen. And there are a lot of ways for the dispute to be peacefully resolved. This is Mexico.

I pass this along as I was briefed -- unvarnished without any spin. There is a good reason for that. Even though I do have an opinion about all this, I am not going to share it for the same reason the Queen does not reveal her political opinions. The British constitution constrains her; Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 constrains me ("Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country"). And I do not want to be deported over something as trivial as politics.

So, as a hobby journalist, I will follow the dispute and report back on any developments. Politics may touch on our lives only lightly, but it is nice to know what is going on in the community I call home.