Thursday, November 25, 2021

feliz día de acción de gracias

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.

I am not in the United States, but a pale imitation of the day has taken root in the foreign community here on the Costalegre. And I will be participating by attending a dinner served at Papa Gallo's on the beach in San Patricio.

Let me make a rather shocking confession first. I do not care for turkey. I never have. I know that some people consider The Big Bird to be the very apex of holiday cuisine. Not me. It is not that I dislike turkey; I simply find it to be rather boring. Like mashed potatoes.

But this day would not be Thanksgiving without slabs of turkey being slapped onto the china that gets an outing twice a year -- only to be hidden away until November and December arrive.

What makes turkey interesting to me is not its place on holiday plates, but its relationship with my new homeland. Mexico's relationship with turkeys is a circular one. 

A lot of our modern foods were first developed by the pre-Columbian tribes in Mexico. They were the first to develop the big three -- corn, tomatoes, and long chilies. Turkeys were also one of their accomplishments.

When the Spanish tribe arrived, they stole and took home a lot of silver and gold. But they also took boatloads of what they deemed to be exotic foods to Europe. It took time for corn and tomatoes to catch on, but turkeys were an immediate hit -- probably because the Europeans were already familiar with eating game birds.

From the early 1500s, the Spanish king decreed that a minimum number of turkeys would be required for import in each ship that sailed from Mexico to the Old World, and with the help of the imperial Portuguese, turkeys, chilies, and tomatoes soon became common on each of the world's continents.

Mexican tribes had been domesticating and eating the two species of wild turkeys indigenous to Mexico since at least 800 BC. Most consumed what is commonly known as the North American wild turkey. But the Maya domesticated the far more colorful ocellated turkey found only in the areas that were once part of their city-state "empire:" the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, and Guatemala.

Both the Aztec and the Maya prized turkeys, not only for their meat, but for their feathers. When the Spanish saw toms in full strut, they named the turkey for the only other bird that had a similar look: the peacock. Pavo is still the most common word used for the bird -- even though it is not uncommon to hear Mexicans refer to the birds as guajolote, the Spanish transliteration of the Nahuatl word used by the Aztec.

Those imported turkeys quickly made their way to England where they became common enough that a flock of them were thrown into the hold of the Mayflower in 1620 on its voyage to Massachusetts -- only 100 years after the first turkey set shank in Spain. Not only had the pilgrims ended up in a land where they had not intended to land, they also had not planned well on their choice of fowl provisions. 

In comparison with the flocks of hefty wild turkeys that were there for the shooting, the European breed was a rather weedy lot. But the domesticated turkeys were retained just in case things went south. And, as we know from the history of the colony, south things went. Quickly.

Some of the turkeys the Pilgrims brought from England were the forbearers of the domesticated turkeys that eventually became common as celebratory birds on American holiday tables in the 19th century.

The descendants of those domesticated turkeys that made the round-trip to and from Europe can also be seen in some Mexican farm yards. But they are not a common sight on Mexican dinner tables. That has always seemed to be odd to me because a large portion of the sandwich meat sold here is turkey ham.

Mexican friends have offered me several theories -- the most compelling being that turkeys are too expensive for most families. That is consistent with the other theory that Mexicans are not accustomed to eating large portions of poultry meat.

I have no idea if either of those theories are true. But I do know that the turkey I will eat tonight has a bit of DNA that once moved from Mexico to Europe and back to Mexico. Could there be a better symbol of successful globalism?

Well, for me, there would be. How about a plate of Thanksgiving prime beef or lamb? I suspect that is what my brother's family will be eating today.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

death on the terrace

It is not always necessary to leave the house to encounter natural wonders (happy trails to me).

My blogger pal Jennifer Rose says whenever I post an essay about bugs or flowers, she knows I am getting bored. Whether or not that is true, I do like my nature encounters. And one of the best spots to get up close and personal with the bug set is on my upper terrace at night.

I no longer head out to the streets on my nightly miles-long walks. Whenever I feel tempted to do that, my chin, ribs, and scarred knees remind me that avoiding tripping hazards in the dark is next to impossible for me.

Instead, I flip on the lights on the terrace. And I walk.

But I am never alone. I live in the tropics. Those lights attract every seasonal and nonseasonal flying insects in the vicinity. If I had kept that insect collection I started when I was in high school, I could easily fill it out with new candidates. Some nights I almost need an eye shield to navigate the cloud of flying bugs. It is not smoke getting in my eyes (as The Platters would have it), but gnats clogging my nose.

Last night I was in mid-walk, commiserating with my insect pals, when I heard the distinct whine of the vector control truck making its way down my street. There are two distinct national reactions to the sprayer. Some people run inside and close their doors and windows against the sprayed insecticide. Others fling open their doors and windows while their children play in the streets.

I tend to be in the latter group (except for the children part) as a matter of practicality. I have no windows in my house to close and the sliding glass doors that open onto my patio are permanently open. And, as I told you, I was in mid-walk last night when the angel of death passed by. If I do not stop to chat while walking, I am not going to break stride for some insecticide.

I do not know what the chemical is that is frequently sprayed here to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito. That pesky mosquito that is most famous for spreading yellow fever in other parts of the world. Here, it principally spreads the viruses for zika, dengue, and chikungunya -- all of them quite nasty diseases. And periodically all are prevalent here.

Does it work? I am not certain. The 
Aedes aegypti clan does not visit my terrace often while I am walking. At least, I do not see them. They primarily bother me in the patio. But I do know the insecticide, whatever it is, is quite effective against a lot of my visitors.

The cloud barely settles in before the flyers start tumbling to the floor. Moths. Butterflies. True bugs. Oddly, the cockroaches and beetles do not seem to be affected.

One death last night struck me as a true loss. I do not see a lot of mantises here. I know they are around because I occasionally see one in the landscaping or flying past the lights of the terrace at night, looking like troopers for Galaxyquest's 
Roth'h'ar Sarris. They almost never land.

The one at the top of the essay did. To her cost. The struggle was short. No more than a minute. What had once been an animated killing machine quickly transformed into ant food.

And that is exactly what happened. In the morning, a trove of tiny ants had pulled her carcass to the drain where they had set up their home.

The carcass would not fit through the grate, so they methodically carved her up as efficiently as Kiowa dressing a bison. Within minutes, the last vestige of the mantis had disappeared. It was as if she had never been there.

Last week at dinner, Gary and I were discussing a recurring theme. Over the past decade, a series of what could only be called local characters have died. While alive, almost everyone knew who they were. Usually, by their message board handles: Dryhouse, Wichita. Sparks.

And now, they are like that poor benighted mantis. Pulled down by the vagaries of life. Even though ants did not dispose of their bodies, the memory of who they were has faded to the point that when we mention them to other people, it is as if they had never been amongst us.

That, of course, is the same theme my mother told me when we were discussing her health on a recent visit. "We are born. We live. We die." My Mom can out-philosophize Sartre. Of course, she has the advantage of still being alive.

At least, the death of the mantis has been remarked upon before she completely slips into oblivion.      

Monday, November 22, 2021

happy trails to me

Change is good. At least, 99.44% of the time.

Just like Ivory soap.

Due to two recent injury-inducing nighttime falls while walking the streets of Barra de Navidad, I have restricted my walking regime to the upper terrace in my house. It is a great walking track, but for all of its advantages, it means that I need to make 600 laps to fit in a daily 20-mile walk.

Some people may enjoy going around in circles. I don't -- even though there are certainly those who would argue otherwise concerning my opinions about music. On Saturday morning, I decided the circle needed to be squared. I would head off to an area of Barra I have not visited recently.

One of the early plans to develop Barra was to connect the two sides of the laguna with a causeway. It was never completed. But the portion that was is still there. It acts as a utility conduit to get water and electricity to the grand hotel on the other side of the water from Barra.

The peninsula has turned into a multi-use area -- when the gate is unlocked. Even though there was once a road wide enough for a car and a motorcycle to pass one another, years of restricting the road to pedestrians (and motorcycles) has reduced the road to a footpath. And that footpath is perfect for a peaceful walk.

When the pathway opens up, there are sweeping views of the laguna, the marina, and the big hotel. But its biggest attraction for me is its wildlife. There are always plenty of birds. And lizards. And, now and then, a commuting crocodile.

During October and November, the nature display shifts to feature wildflowers. Admittedly, they are nowhere near as showy as the fields of wildflowers in the highlands of Mexico. But, in their subtle way, they are just as interesting. And diverse.

In the past, readers have identified the names of the flowers. Unfortunately, I do not remember them. They have slipped away to visit the names of my grade school teachers. If you are so inclined, feel free to slap an appellation on each of these. Preferably, its scientific name.

Especially, this one. I always look forward to these orchid-like blooms coming on. They remind me of individual lupines.

I am not very fond of red flowers, but these tiny ones are little gems. Both in their intricate detail and color.

The brightest of the lot are the few yellow flowers that show up accessorizing the rest of the weeds. And weeds they are. That is the nature of wildflowers. Of course, someone will undoubtedly point out that one person's weed is another person's political hero.

For numbers, these purple flowers outnumber all of the others. At least, on the peninsula. They could easily serve as a groundcover. In fact, I think I have seen them used for that purpose. Along beaches. To root dunes in place.

I know that some gardeners do not share my fascination with wildflowers. They are more prone to find cultivated specimens (like the one below) far more to their taste. Those captured and pampered blooms strike me as being just a bit too prissy. Not that I dislike them. They simply are not as spontaneously attractive as their wild cousins.

For some reason A.E. Housman's poem came to mind while I was hiking the peninsula trail. You know the one. We all had to memorize it in grade school:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

By Housman's reckoning (and that of Psalm 90:10), I am operating on borrowed time -- now being almost three years past my pull date. Maybe that is why I take to heart the spirit of his writing.

No matter how much time I have to wander the woodlands, it is always good to know there are "things in bloom." And they are not on a circular track.


Saturday, November 20, 2021

correcting documents in mexico

My papers are still not in order. My vaccination papers, that is.

Last week, I told you I was shocked -- shocked -- that gambling was going on in here.

Wait. That is the wrong line for this play. Even though I can do a dead-on Claude Rains impression.

No, what shocked me last week was the discovery the vaccination documents that I had received certifying both of my doses was not adequate proof that the Shroud of Turin now covered me from the wiles of The Virus (are your papers in order?). At least, as far as the milk monitors at transportation hubs are concerned. I am going to need proof of vaccination to board a cruise out of Puerto Rico in January and to board an airplane to Argentina in February.

Even though the official regulations refer to confirmable and non-confirmable vaccination records (the difference being that a confirmable record contains one of those QR codes that make the folks crazy who have rather eccentric interpretations of the Book of Revelations), the good folks at airline ticket counters who have the additional duty of checking the ever-growing list of documents that allow travel will only accept the those with the QR code. With a bit of help from another full-time resident, I eventually was able to print off my official coded "Certificado de Vacunación Contra La Covid-19."

According to the websites, I was ready to travel. Then, I noticed a potential problem. The certificate includes the dates and type of vaccine for each of my two doses. But the dates are incorrect. Both of them. The effect is that it appears the two doses were administered with only a 15-day gap.

The travel websites put only one time restriction on the "fully vaccinated" requirement. Travel can commence no earlier than 14 days after the second dose. For me, that would be late April of this year -- or mid-May according to my official certificate. So, even with the incorrect dates, I should be able to travel on the certificate.

An acquaintance in Melaque is not so certain. He points out that the World Health Organization (WHO?) recommends an interval of 8 to 12 weeks between the AstraZeneca doses we have both received. His concern is that some overly-officious immigration officer will deny him entry to Canada because the dates on his certificate are similar to mine -- too close together.

Even though Canada is on my travel agenda (in September), I do not share his concern. That may be because I have not had to deal with Canadian officialdom during the Virus's various runs and re-runs.

When I posted my first essay on Facebook, Joey Merrifield (who I do not believe I have yet met) provided a very helpful link to the Mexican government's website that would allow me to request a correction of my certificate.*

Even though I am happy with my certificate, I used the site to submit a correction in the dates on my current record. The site is incredibly easy to use -- unlike the certificate request page. All of the required information that needs to be keyed in is on my certificate. The only thing I needed to add was a copy of my original vaccination record. When I submitted my request, the site chirpily responded that my request would be acted upon momentarily.

Well, moments have passed, a full week of them, and I have heard nothing more from the Great Administrators in The Cloud. No message. No email. No change on my certificate.

If I were a betting man, I would be placing all of my roulette chips on "00" because that is about the odds of obtaining a corrected certificate. That is, if my anecdotal sources are correct. I know or know of over a dozen people who have submitted their requests for a corrected certificate (the rumors are that over half of the official certificates contain incorrect information) long before I did. The number of  those who have received a corrected certificate is zero. Those who are still waiting number over a dozen. (Finally, that double-entry accounting course I took at university has had some life application.)

I suspect I will remain in the unanswered crowd. But that is not going to stop me from setting off on my 2022 journeys. The prospect of traveling on what amounts to forged documents simply adds a bit of excitement to my upcoming trips.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote "Letter from Birmingham Jail." For some reason "Missive from Travel Holding Cell" does not quite have the same moral weight.


* -- For those of you who are interested in that site, it is:

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

mexican food prices are up

If you are already here in Mexico, you have most likely encountered the phenomenon -- either in restaurants or at the grocery. If you are not yet here, but intend to be, you probably have heard the chatter on Facebook.

And it is true. Food prices in Mexico have increased noticeably. On almost everything. The increases are not small. The government claims food prices have increased by only 4%. But government spokesmen are obviously not housewives.

Margaret Thatcher would often ask her cabinet ministers if they knew the prices of specific grocery items. She always did. Because she took pride in her connection with British housewives.

You may notice that I have avoided the use of the word "inflation." Politicians and journalists (as well as certain popular encyclopedias) lazily use the term to describe the increase in the cost of living -- food, being a very visible essential, is usually a common target.

Economists use the term differently. When the cost of food increases, it is a price increase, and it is often amalgamated with other costs to determine a "cost of living index."

"Inflation" is a different, but related, phenomenon. To a economist (or as I was taught in high school while the earth's crust was still cooling), inflation is the decline of purchasing power of a given currency over time. The cause of inflation is one of those topics that economists love to debate, but most agree that inflation (and its nasty twin deflation) are caused by an increase (or decrease respectively) in a nation's money supply.

Rising food prices are, thus, an effect of infection of inflation, not the cause. That is why politicians who talk about price contriols are essentially saying that boiling water can be described as cold if you use a broken thermometer.

No one will dispute, though, that buying a bag of groceries this year on the Costalegre will cost far more than it did last year. Certainly more than 4%. I talked with two grocers who have increased their prices up to 40% on some items -- especially those that are imported.

A perfect example is the chicken dinner in the photograph. One of my favorite meals in Mexico is grilled chicken -- with all of the trimmings imaginable.

When I moved here in 2009, the price of a full chicken meal could be had for 100 pesos. Over the years, the price has edged up as Mexico experienced moderate price increases.

I have a special order at my favorite chicken place. The woman who runs it sees me coming and starts bagging up my full (rather than cut-up) bird. And because I stop by often, on my last visit, I had my pesos in hand for the dinner -- along with a healthy tip.

For some reason, I asked her the price. I hope I did not look too shocked as I quickly dug in my pocket for another peso note simply to pay for the chicken. This week's price was 180 pesos. It is still a great deal, but the increase reflects the price increases I have seen at the butcher shops.

Some of the increases have been caused by the international supply-chain problems. But even locally-grown products are just as expensive. Because that is how the market system works. Prices are set by supply and demand. Unfortunately, once prices ratchet up, they seldom ratchet back down.

Now and then, I run into people who claim the prime reason they moved to Mexico was to save money. I do not quite understand the argument, but I have no reason to dishonor another person's reason for living here. After all, most people did move here in the hopes of encountering nearly-insurmountable problems each day. That is my narrative. 

Are the price increases onerous? To my neighbors they are. Stretching the budget was difficult for most of the Mexican families I know before this recent round of price increases. And there will be some tourists who will feel a similar budget crunch.

If you have come to Mexico to save money, I am willing to bet it will still be a relative bargain compared to your homeland. The current inflation rate and price increases in Canada and America are not comforting.

But Schadenfreude is not the most likeable character trait.

No matter how much it costs.

Monday, November 15, 2021

hercule poirot meets inspector lastrade

Last week, we talked about the pounds I have taken off with my revised diet and exercise regime. Or, at least, I was writing about it (exercising my rights). 

But I will not take off any more pounds if I backslide into the ways of sin as I did just after I wrote that essay.

While shopping at Hawaii, I saw a can of Pringles. I have never been fond of the snack. They taste as if someone had used powdered mashed potatoes to craft a marginally-interesting nibble.

It was the color, not the name, that caught my attention. Fluorescent pink. An odd marketing choice for Pringles.

Then, I saw why. The color was designed to complement the flavor -- prawn cocktail.

As some of you may recall, I have a taste-treat relationship with prawn-flavored snacks that verges on the dysfunctional. You need only ask my English friend Hillary Bagnall. Even though they are forbidden carbohydrates, I bought a can.

Tasting three of them was sufficient for me. They were an original taste, with that prawn-like tang that some mad scientist devised in a Moldavan laboratory from the scales of a Chernobyl-glow fish. 

While walking to the garbage can, I noticed the writing on the can "Perfect Flavour." It was not the misrepresentation that caught my attention; it was the British spelling with that extraneous "u."

I love a mystery. The can provided several clues. Had it been imported from Britain? Alex does sell a number of English-made food products. Or maybe Canada. That seemed far more likely.

But my deduction was far more Inspector Lestrade than Sherlock Holmes. Or, to be more accurate, Hercule Poirot. Because the answer was on the back of the can -- along with the Minister of Health's inevitable chiding that the product contained "excess calories."

The place of manufacture? Bélgica. Belgium. One of the last places I would have guessed -- if ever.

But there is a moral in that label. When I moved here, I would have been hard-pressed to find any imports from Britain on the Mexican coast. Now, I am breaking my fast with Pringles from Belgium.

I guess that is some kind of progress. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

feliz día de la revolución

You may think that I, like Billy Pilgrim, have come unstuck in time.

That I am five days early with my revolutionary greeting. But I have the Mexican holiday calendar on my side.

Last night, I had had dinner at Papa Gallo's on the beach in San Patricio Melaque. (A fine bowl of lobster bisque if you must ask.) I knew some big event must be afoot in town.

Several of the side streets were packed with tour buses and the main street in front of the restaurant had nary a parking space. I had to park three blocks away from the restaurant. It has been a long time since I have seen that many cars in town for a weekend.

When I saw the beach, I knew where the occupants from all of those buses and cars had gone. The beach was not completely full, but there were more people than I had seen probably for the entire year.

The reason was clear. This is a Mexican three-day weekend.

Despite its reputation for "every day is a fiesta day," Mexico has only three three-day holidays: Constitution day on the first Monday in February, Benito Juarez's birthday on the third Monday in March, and Revolution day on the third Monday of November. Even though the day honoring the start of the Revolution is on 20 November, Mexicans will get Monday off to celebrate the most important event in the defining of Mexican culture.

Mexico's current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (or as he is commonly-known, AMLO) is not happy with the notion that those three very important days have been disassociated from the true day of their occurence.  In February of last year, he declared that the three-day weekends would be discontinued, and celebrations would return to their original days: "I know that it will create controversy, but those who don’t know where they come from don’t know where they’re going." 

Before he sent the required legislation to Congress, he wanted to consult with educators. Well, that did not happen because of The Virus outbreak. Mexico's attention was diverted from switching dates on the calendar to trying to avoid hospital beds being filled with dying patients. I have heard nothing further on the change.

That is why we are all celebrating Revolution Day on Monday instead of on Saturday. Usually there would be merchants on the streets selling Revolution Day paraphernalia: flags, Emiliano Zapata moustaches, Pancho Villa ponchos. Last year the usual street parades of children dressed up as Heroes of the Revolution Who Would Soon Be Assassinated did not happen. I am not certain if they will on this Saturday.

When it comes to patriotic holidays, I am something of a traditionalist. I like celebrating the birthdays of George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. on the days they were actually born. Not on some random third Monday. And, yes, you are correct, all that is from a guy whose family once celebrated Christmas in July with hot dogs and potato salad.

I am not certain that Revolution Day is the hill AMLO should choose to die on, however. Mexico has chosen to date the start of its Revolution on 20 November 1910. But the events of that day are not quite as propitious as the storming of the Bastille or the Potemkin mutiny.

When President Porfirio Diaz announced in 1910 that he would not seek re-election after being president for almost 30 years, reformers thought they there would be a peaceful transfer of power to Mexicans who wanted to improve their country's social system. Francisco Madero, the son of wealthy northern landowners, announced his intention to run for President.

Porfirio Diaz changed his mind and ran for another term against Madero, and stole the election. For good measure, Porfirio Diaz locked up Madero, who, like all good revolutionaries, escaped imprisonment and 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 to rise up against The Dictator en masse 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 the Rio Bravo with ten men and 100 rifles at the appointed time.  To find only another 10 men on the other side. 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.

Historians had to pick a date for the start, and 20 November 1910 seemed to be as good as any. The fact that it can now migrate to the third Monday of November does not strike me as being heretical. The date chosen seems to be inherently elastic.

But, that is the reason why so many people are in town -- celebrating the exploits of Francisco Madero, first president of The Revolution and his revolutionary cohorts.

And having three fun-filled days on the beach.