Saturday, April 10, 2021

spicing up my life

Good morning. My name is Steve, and I am an Amazon-holic.

Like most users, I did not see it coming. But one morning I woke up in a pile of empty shipping boxes. I knew something had changed.

I have long been a fan of Amazon. When I first moved to Mexico, ordering through Amazon was a bit difficult. Packages crossing the border seemed to be problematic. Then things changed.

Just about the time I bought the house with no name in Barra de Navidad, Amazon premiered a new platform -- Amazon.Mx. I thought I might have to open a new account, but I was wrong.

My Amazon Prime account gave me access to everything on Amazon.Mx. Better yet, I could also buy almost anything in the Amazon inventory through Amazon.Mx. (For some reason, several of Amazon's subcontractors do not ship to Mexico.)

Initially, the new platform did not make a big difference in my life. I can find almost everything I need here in town. If not, Manzanillo, with its big-box stores, is less than an hour away.

Every now and then, though, I need something that Amazon can provide. That has especially been true this past year when I have tried staying close to home.

I am not certain what started my latest Amazon splurge. Maybe it was a replacement Eagle Crest duffle with a drop shoe tray. Or swabs to clean my camera's sensor. Or Billy Collins's latest collection.

Whatever it was, it started something of a shipping avalanche. A new Kindle. Lots of DVDs. A set of baker quality silicon baker mitts. Samsung earphones. A travel brush. Replacement wrist bands for my wrist step counter. Books. And several gifts.

Somewhere the list morphed from necessities to nice-to-haves. 

And there was a handy scapegoat. The virus. Being confined was driving me to the edge of casa fever. I had to have some outlet. 

At least, I was not as bad as the young woman I read about in The Oregonian who deals with the loneliness and isolation by bingeing on television. She confessed to the reporter that she runs The Crown all day -- claiming that it makes her feel as if the Windsors are the family she can no longer visit. I suspect she has now gone into mourning over the death of her cranky Uncle Phil.

I took a different neurotic path. I started buying things. When Fernando would show up in his DHL van (as he has three times this week) with his upbeat shout outside my door ("Estiv. I have something for you."), my day is brightened. Probably more by Fernando's greeting than whatever he is delivering.

I usually know when he is going to arrive. DHL has a marvelous tracking feed that updates my order on Amazon. But I did not expect his greeting on Wednesday afternoon.

When I opened the door, I had no idea what could be in the large box he handed over to me. My confusion lasted for only about one minute. I finally realized what was inside even though it arrived a week early.

About two weeks ago, I was searching through YouTube videos to learn some new cooking techniques. I cannot remember the topic of the video I was watching (probably something to do with lamb sauces), but that was not what makes the video relevant to today's tale.

The cook came to the stage where herbs had to be added to the mixture. Instead of pulling them out of a cabinet somewhere else in the kitchen, he opened a drawer under his preparation table to reveal what looked like a glimpse of heaven.

All of his herbs and spices were in round jars with the name of the contents on top. And they were in alphabetical order. Anal retentive folk all over the world gasped. At least, this one did.

I immediately switched my telephone from the YouTube app to the Amazon app. I had to have something like that. And I found just what I wanted on Amazon.Mx. Mini-Mason jars with pre-printed and customizable labels.

When I opened the big box, sure enough, there were two orders of 24 jars each. I thought 48 jars would suffice.

So, I started filling them. As I worked my way down the alphabet, it became obvious that somewhere between "thyme" and "white pepper," I was going to run out of jars. And I did. Just seven short of my target.

And you know exactly what I did next. I am predictable. Without moving from my transfer station, I opened my Amazon.Mx app and ordered 24 more jars. I can use the rest for other storage. If all goes well, Fernando will deliver my jars on 19 April. Or earlier.

I have noticed now that I have started traveling to Manzanillo that I have transitioned from bingeing on Amazon to simply being a social buyer.

Even so, it feels good to know that Amazon is always there for the things that are difficult for me to find elsewhere. And I want to be certain that Fernando has a job. 


Friday, April 09, 2021

moving to mexico -- banks part 2

Let me repeat the most important factor in my recent tale of woe dealing with Banamex -- it is my fault I am now going through a learning experience about the Mexican banking system.

When I moved to Mexico, I initially solved the problem of how to turn dollars into pesos by transferring money from my BanamexUSA account to my Banamex Mexico account. That gave me two potential sources to pay my bills: 1) withdrawals from my Banamex account, and 2) withdrawals from the few local ATMS using a northern debit card. When BanamexUSA closed down, I was in the same position as most northerners. I had to rely solely on ATMs.

It was a risky life. The ATMs in our area are often out of service. Even when they are in service, they will regularly refuse to recognize northern debit cards.

When BanamexUSA closed, I kept my Banamex Mexico account active. I would regularly withdraw extra pesos from the ATMs in times of abundance -- when the ATMs were working -- to deposit in my bank account. When the inevitable ATM famine set in, I could withdraw pesos from the bank. I called it the Joseph Project.

Following the advice of several readers, I opened an account at Intercam six years ago when it expanded its banking services. That account quickly became my prime source of dollars to pesos. But I kept the Banamex account for emergencies.

Apparently, I have not had any financial emergencies, because Banamex has now frozen my account for three years of inactivity. I told you about my hours-long visit to the bank two weeks ago to get the account unfrozen (moving to mexico -- banks).

Sergio, the Banamex customer service representative, told me to return this week. My understanding was that I could then deposit money in my account as if nothing had happened.

I went to Banamex on Wednesday. Either I misunderstood (which is very likely) or something went amiss because I spent another couple of hours in the bank waiting for or talking with Sergio about the account. Apparently, my visit two weeks ago was just the prelude to reactivating my relationship with Banamex.

Once again, Sergio made copies of my bank card, my permanent resident card, and my passport, and attached the copies to documents that would then be forwarded to Banamex headquarters. Headquarters will then determine whether I can reactivate my account.

Sergio said he will call me to come back to the bank in four or five days to let me know the results of our request. Even the answer is "yes," there will be more paperwork to complete.

While Sergio was reviewing my account on his computer screen, I asked him a question. Even though I should have thought of it last month when I was at the bank, a reader on Facebook, Patti McCoy, reminded me of a similar program in Oregon for inactive bank accounts. Unclaimed money eventually ends up in the hands of the state by being sent to the Department of Lands -- or the Department of Loot and Booty as I would have it.

With a bit of trepidation, I asked Sergio how much money was in my account. There should have been about 60,000 pesos. He responded that the computer showed a balance of zero pesos -- but, he quickly added, that does not mean the money is not still in my account. It merely means that no money is available for withdrawal because the account is frozen.

The answer did not surprise or bother me. As I said at the start of the essay, I am where I am because I failed to use the account for three years.

So, now I will wait for the telephone call from the bank (just as I am waiting for the telephone call telling me when and where to get my second vaccination jab). When it comes, it will come.

For some reason, I suspect there may be another chapter of this tale that will underscore my ongoing mea culpa

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

the worth of madero

"I have something to show you."

The text messages begin with that hook designed to whet my curiosity. I receive one every month or two. When I ask for more information, the "something to show you" always turns out to be something one of my local acquaintances wants to sell me.

Cameras. Computers. Televisions. Pistols. Drawings. A bag of German coins. A screen door.

I am not certain why they persist in asking because my answer is always no. Whatever is on offer is something I either already own or that I do not need.

But a text from a friend yesterday actually piqued my interest.

"I have a thousand peso note special edition

"Or shall I say collector s edition Id like to sell you??? 

"Would you like to buy it 4m me?"

I am not certain which part of the message caught my attention. We seldom see 1000-peso notes here. In the 12 years I have lived in this area of Mexico, I have encountered only one in the wild. I have seen far more around San Miguel de Allende on my periodic visits to the highlands. But it is difficult to pass one in the local economy because no can change them.

The only one I have held was from a Canadian tourist who tried using it to buy his breakfast at Rooster's. One of the waiters asked me to change it. I then used it as a prop in my History of Mexico lectures.

But there was that additional barb that caught me through the lip -- "collector's edition."

Periodically, Mexico produces commemorative editions of its bank notes for special events. In 2009 the Bank issued a 100-peso note to commemorate the centennial of the Mexican Revolution and a 200-peso note to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of Mexican Independence. In 2017 the Bank issued the most-recent commemorative bill -- a 100-peso note honoring the centennial of the Mexican Constitution of 2017.

But I was not aware of a 1000-peso commemorative having been printed in recent history in Mexico. My friend attempted to bring the sale home with: "Be worth 10 or 20 times more in the future[.]"

When he showed me the note, I knew immediately what it was.

In August 2018, the Bank of Mexico started issuing a new series of its bank notes (goodbye and hello to our favorite nun). This was the 1000-note for that series.

The notes are in historical chronological order from the Pre-Hispanic foundation of Tenochtitlan on the 50-peso note to contemporary Mexico of Octavio Paz and Rosario Castellanos on the 2000-peso note. (The 20-peso note is currently -- and slowly -- being withdrawn from circulation.)

The 1000-peso note honors the Mexican Revolution. It is grayish-blue with portraits of Francisco I. Madero, Hermila Galindo, and Carmen Serdán on the front, and a jaguar on the reverse. And similar to the other smaller-denomination notes that increase in size with each denomination, it is just a bit longer than the 500-peso note.

Unlike the American banknotes that I grew up with that are all the same color and size, I have come to appreciate the ease of immediately identifying a Mexican note's denomination by both its color and physical size. That is why it will be nice when we see the back of the 20-peso note. It is still too easy to confuse one of them with the new 500-peso note. They are both blue and feature portraits of Benito Juarez.

I am afraid I greatly disappointed my Mexican friend. He was hoping to sell me the 1000-peso note for more than his face value. By the time he had arrived at my house, I had been to the bank where I purchased the two 1000-peso notes that the bank had in its teller drawers. (It is that rare here.)

When I told him the story behind the new series of notes and that the 1000-peso note he held was issued November of last year and was no more valuable than the millions that the Bank of Mexico will print for this series, he was disappointed. 

Disappointed, but not defeated. He told me he was going to keep the note for several years and he would then sell it for its increased collectible value.

I knew when I was defeated. Nothing good would come of extinguishing that modicum of hope that circumstances in the future can only improve -- despite all historical experience.

I am also practical enough to know that daily exigencies here will most likely conspire to put that note back into the stream of commerce before too long. And that will also be good.

But, if you would like to get in on the ground floor of purchasing a commemorative 1000-peso note that I have heard will increase in value ten or twenty times, I know who you should talk to.

Me. Remember, though, supplies are limited. I only have two.


Tuesday, April 06, 2021

taking the shot

Our local Facebook pages here on the coast are starting to heat up about the virus.

That sentence sounds nonsensical. Facebook pages populated by northerners have been virus-obsessive for over a year now. But a new wave has started with vaccinations.

In mid-February, I drove over to Cihuatlán to gather information for an essay about the first round of virus vaccinations in our area. I had no intention of getting a jab. But, after standing in line to interview the vaccination team, I decided that I had invested enough time that I would accept the vaccination (a tale of two lines).

When I was discharged, a young man on the team gave me a sheet of paper showing the date and type of my first vaccination. Near the bottom was a statement that my booster would be administered on 15 April. He then annotated my sheet that the date was approximate and that I would receive a telephone call letting me know when and where I would actually receive my booster (the dearly departing).

Since then, several events have occurred that gave life to that "approximate" warning. The European Union has started indulging in a rather odd bout of vaccine nationalism by threatening to cut off the export of AstraZenca vaccines to the rest of the world.

India, which has been the biggest producer of AstraZeneca vaccine has taken a similar course. On 24 March, it announced it would freeze all exports of the vaccine and use the supply for its own citizens. The freeze is anticipated to remain in effect through May.

The news from India is bad for Mexico. Mexico anticipated receiving millions of doses from India through COVAX. That is not going to happen. At least, not for two more months.

According to The Economist, when new studies of the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine showed that the first jab has a 76% efficacy rate and a second jab adds only 6% more efficacy, the Mexican government considered limiting AstraZeneca vaccinations to one jab. That was based on the goal of vaccinating as many people in Mexico as possible. The reasoning made sense when doses were limited.

That concern was lessened on 29 March when Mexico received the loan of 1.5 million does of a promised 2.7 million doses of AstraZeneca from The States. The States has an undisclosed quantity of the vaccine stockpiled -- vaguely described as "tens of millions. The Americans cannot currently use those doses because the vaccine has not yet been approved. Thus the loan to Mexico. 1.3 million doses were also loaned to Canada.

That means the AstraZeneca stockpile has been partially replenished. There has been no word on whether those doses will be used for boosters or whether they will be given to people who have not yet been vaccinated.

Mexico has approved and is administering five different vaccines: Pfizer, AstraZeneca
/Oxford University, Sputnik V, Ad5-nCoV, and CoronaVac. The last two are Chinese vaccines. That gives Mexico multiple paths for its ongoing vaccination program that is behind its original schedule.

Since the primary goal is to create herd immunity, and not to provide individual immunity, it would make sense to use all current doses to vaccinate as many as people as possible. But that is not my call, and I have no idea what the people who make that decision are now thinking with the arrival of the American AstraZeneca doses.

By coincidence, I was in Villa 
Obregón on Sunday and talked with the woman who had been standing next to me through the entire vaccination process in February. I asked her if she had heard anything about our booster. She said she had not given it much thought because she had received the same notification I had received -- that the date was only approximate.

She then asked me why we Canadians worry so much about time. I did not bother correcting her about the nationality error because her comment applies to most northerners. We are obsessed with time -- actually, we are obsessed with anything that can be quantified.

Her Mexican attitude was that it would happen when it happens. If it happens.

I have never been anxious about getting the vaccine. In fact, I was surprisingly pleased to be able to boost my immunity with the shot I received.

As for the second, we shall see.

Because I do not have full Mexican patrience, I will probably drive over to Cihuatl
án on 15 April to see if anything is happening at the IMSS clinic.

Even if nothing is, it will make for a good story -- about learning patience in this land that still provides a positive life for me. 

Monday, April 05, 2021

floating my day

In 1994, The Oregonian, Oregon's primary daily newspaper, conducted what can only be labeled as a populist sting.

The newspaper sent a reporter to Mexico to interview retirees from the Oregon Public Employee Retirement (PERS) system. If I remember correctly. most of them were retired school teachers who had moved to Mexico to stretch out their retirement dollars.

But that was not the story that The Oregonian told. According to the reporter, the teachers were living the high life off of the back of Oregon taxpayers -- taxpayers who were only just coming out of a recession. The front page of The Oregonian featured a photograph of the teachers sitting in front of a swimming pool while raising glasses of what appeared to be margaritas.

What bothered me was there was no need to demonize the retirees. PERS, like public retirement systems throughout The States, had been under-funded for decades. From the 1980s, the legislature granted ever-higher retirement benefits instead of funding salary increase. And, because the state could not afford the salary increases, neither could it afford to invest funds for future retirement benefits. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

When the legislature enacted some minor reforms, the Oregon Supreme Court stepped in to stop most of the law from going into effect. Even though I was not a state employee, I was a member of PERS.

But, more importantly, I was a taxpayer. And, it was as a taxpayer that I supported most of the PERS reforms even though their enactment would have reduced my retirement benefits. Unfunded deficits do not go away on their own.

My thoughts today turned to those retired teachers in Mexico smiling contently at the newspaper readers. I found myself floating this morning in my pool with that same look on my face.

When I bought the house with no name, I used the pool almost daily. It was my refuge for reading and dining. Somewhere along my journey, I must have acclimated to our weather because I stopped using the pool in the winter. That was last year. The same was true of this year. It was simply too cool. I have been in the pool twice (and then only briefly). Until today.

We have had a pleasantly cool winter here on the coast. Days in the 70s (occasionally into the lower 80s) and refreshing nights in the 60s. Unfortunately, those temperatures do not warm my pool.

This is probably my favorite time of year. The days are warm enough for all outside activities and the nights provide perfect sleeping weather. I simply open my bedroom doors to the patio, and there is no need for a fan. If the temperature arc continues at its current rate, I will not need to use my bedroom ceiling fan until the first week in May.

Late last week, the day temperatures increased slightly. My patio wavered around 84 this weekend. That slight increase in temperature was enough to raise the temperature of the pool to, coincidentally, 84 degrees.

That was warm enough for me to pull out the pool hammock and spend three hours floating across the surface of my pool as if I were Sir Francis Drake in pursuit of Spanish gold. More prosaically, I tried to catch up on my reading.

As I was enjoying this little piece of Mexico where I have chosen to live, I thought of those unfortunate teachers who naively trusted their life stories to that reporter. I hope that even after the story ran, they continued enjoying their choice to move to Mexico.

The true irony is that after all the press, all the political battles, amd all of the court cases, PERS still has an unfunded deficit of $24 billion -- even more than when the reform movement began.

Should I hear a reporter from The Oregonian knocking on my door asking about how I enjoy my life in Mexico, I am not going to talk with him. You cannot fool this boy twice.

I spend enough time demonizing myself on these pages without requiring the services of a reporter.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

behold the lamb

I found a role for my lamb. 

A week ago, I discovered a butterflied leg of lamb at La Comer in Manzanillo (mary had a little --). For me, it was a great culinary discovery. There may be some meat that I like more than lamb. If there is, it is not coming readily to mind.

I suppose I was overly-excited about finding it because lamb is a rare commodity here. Good lamb even rarer. So, I needed to find the right platform to let the meat shine.

The liturgical calendar provided an easy solution. This is Easter weekend and the metaphorical and culinary connections between today and lamb are numerous.

During the year I was stationed in Greece, I celebrated Easter on an Hellenic Air Force Base in 1974. It was my introduction to Greek Easter customs. Dances. Egg-bashing. And, of course, the food. Greeks know how to prepare their lamb. Tender and simple.

The one course of that Easter dinner that I remember the most was a starter. I thought I had been served a baked acorn squash that had been stuffed with various meats. At least, that was what my rather naive Oregon mind was telling me.

It wasn't a baked stuffed acorn squash. It was baked, but it was not stuffed. And it was not an acorn squash. It was a halved lamb's head.

The thought of eating it did not bother me. I just had no idea where to start. A Greek Air Force captain, who I had befriended, told me: "Just eat the tongue. It is good. The rest is not."

Well, I did not have a lamb head to bake today, but I did have that leg of lamb, and I decided to cook it as I learned in Greece. A day-long marinade in lemon, olive oil, oregano, garlic, and lemon juice -- and then a quick grill leaving the lamb just between blue and rare.

Not every lamb can be cooked that lightly. But there is no better test for the quality of lamb than to eat it rare. It should be tender with none of that vaguely-gamey taste that lambs acquire when they are on the verge of muttoning out.

This leg was not the best that I have eaten. Its texture was a little tough; I suspect because it may have been a bit older than quality lamb. Even so, the taste was perfect.

I picked up as many Greek-oriented food items that I could find at Hawaii to create a true Greek Easter feast. Pita bread. Tzatziki. Greek salad. Mint peas. Crete wedding rice. The only thing that was missing was a hall of Greek military families. I could have been at Araxos in 1974. Minus the lamb heads.

One of the greatest dangers in life is trying to recreate a favorite moment in the past. A happy get-together with friends. That day that the sunlight at St. Peter's spotlighted The Pieta. A perfect meal at Enoteca Pinchiorri.

Those moments were special because they perfectly fit the time in which they occurred. And once time passed by, so did the moment. Any attempt to recreate it would be as futile as an opium addict's chase of the dragon.

Today's meal was good because it was new. I had to substitute a number of items that simply do not exist here. And that was fine. Because, instead of wasting my time on a long-gone moment, I created a new memory.

Maybe next Easter I will find something entirely different. I suspect it will not be a lamb's head.

I trust you all had a blessed Easter.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

giving away time

Here we go again.

If you live in Mexico, tonight is the night most of us will set our clocks one hour forward. (Or, if you are the type of person who mourns the death of the subjunctive, you can move that hour hand forward at the official time of 2:00 AM. I will personally be doing something far more productive.) Daylight saving time is once again upon us.

I say "most of us" because two of Mexico's states (Sonora and Quintana Roo) do not participate in this annual hokey-pokey in honor of Chronos. Sonora does not play because its economic partner Arizona doesn't. That is the usual justification. I suspect they do not play because the last thing desert states need is a saving of daylight. Ranchers are practical folk.

But the rest of us are stuck with the game. Fortunately, almost everything in my house will not need my guiding touch to jump an hour ahead. My telephone, computer, exercise watch, and television will simply execute a command embedded in them long ago.

The only clock I will need to change is the one on the kitchen oven. Oh, yes, and the clock in my car. Ironically, the object I own that contains more computer chips than the rest of my devices combined is not smart enough to change its own clock.

What the computer programmers cannot do is adjust our circadian clocks -- that marvelous device in our heads that lets us know the natural cycles of time. For some of us, the world will exist in a haze for several days until we adjust to the New Reality imposed on us by Authorities Who Simply Cannot Help Themselves In Making Us Better People.

For the first time in my life, I will be springing forward twice this year. I just happened to be in The States for its switch over to daylight saving time. Canada and The States jump on the saving bandwagon three weeks before Mexico. Somewhere between Los Angeles and Manzanillo, I gained that hour back when I returned to standard time in Mexico. All good things end. I must now give it back.

In the past, I have spent too much time ranting about the silliness of this entire exercise. But that was just a lot of wasted typing. Time in Mexico means very little to me. Because I am retired, I go to bed when I feel like it. I get up when there is no more reason for being abed. I dine at my leisure. I watch movies on my own schedule.

The only regular appointment I have on my calendar is 10 AM for church each Sunday morning. And that is exactly what I will do tomorrow.

By coincidence, the time switch is on Easter Sunday morning. There is a message there somewhere, but I will let you ferret it out.

In its stead, I will simply wish you a blessed Easter.