Friday, July 31, 2009

going down -- third time

I announced romance over two months ago in midday at the oasis (my subtle homage to Maria Muldar).

Now, how did I word it?

I may have found a new romance. We are just getting to know one another, so, I do not want to jinx the relationship. But I may have a substitute love.

Some of you thought I was sending out a wedding invitation. I was merely writing about the above-ground pool at the Melaque house -- a substitute for my lost hot tub in Salem.

I have been expecting someone to ask me: If the weather is so hot down your way, why aren't you enjoying your swimming pool -- the new love of you life?

Well, there is a good reason, and you will find it at Matthew 7:26-27.

When the home owner set up the pool, she found a perfect place: on the sand in her back yard. It was easy to level the ground, and it was well-positioned for use.

That, of course, was during the dry season. Once the rainy season started, the pool started to list a bit. I attempted to shore it up. But I felt far more like Captain Smith trying to lock out the sea from the Titanic's last few dry compartments.

For those of you who have not experienced tropical rains, let me see if I can draw an adequate word picture.

The rain does not simply fall. It comes down as if Iguassu Falls had repositioned itself over wherever you are. And it comes. And comes. And comes.

It collects in the streets. It pools up on the ground. In the sand, it creates its own version of performance art. What was once flat now looks like a diorama of the Grand Canyon.

And that is what happened by the time of the second major rain. The photograph at the top of the post shows the problem. What was once a round pool has decided to do its own Dali impression -- just one step away from reenacting Noah and the Ark.

The writing was in the sand. Keeping the pool in operation would mean tearing it down each time it rained merely to keep the sand base level.

If I were running a stimulus program funded by a federal grant, I might consider undertaking the task. But Uncle Sam is not paying the bill, and I have better things to do with my time than playing Mr. Sandman. The Chordettes may have been seeking a dream. I would simply be brushing the sand out of my eyes.

For now, the pool is folded up and put away for a dryer time. If this weather keeps up, I may decide to pull her out and blow her up again.

But some relationships were simply not meant to last.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

simmering in the park with jorge


At one point on Wednesday, that was the heat index in the afternoon. I don't know how long it stayed that high, but it was hot all day. Hot all week. Hot all month.

I need to look at the weather records for the area, but the hearty expatriates, who stay during the Melaque summer, tell me that this summer has seemed hotter than the summers of memory. Sometimes, perception is everything.

Of course, in my memory, I was once tall, handsome, and witty. That is why I want to look at the records.

I am not a fan of heat. But even I have underestimated the impact that high temperatures and lack of sleep can have. I sat in my Spanish class today having no trouble translating from the page in front of me, but I could not interpret anything when I heard it.

Jiggs seems to be just as befuddled. We go on our walks, and he just stops at street corners as if making a decision is too much work. A herd of cats could run by, and he would pay them no heed.

"Oregon summers are perfect." That refrain bounces through my over-heated cranium now and then when I start wondering how I ended up in this heat. But even that is not true this week.

Salem has literally been sweltering with temperatures in excess of 100 degrees for several days now. Mercifully, the humidity is lower than here --I don't think they have managed to hit the 114 mark. But there would be no real relief if I were in Oregon this week, rather than in Villa Obregon.

There is one bright spot in this weather -- other than the sun.

For some reason, our beach is coming alive with local tourists. The buses have been hauling in fresh faces as if the World Cup finals were taking place in town.

There are feet on the beach. Hands in the shops. And bottoms in restaurant chairs.

The place had the feel of a main street in a ghost town just a month ago. Today it is alive -- despite the heat.

There may be another post nestled in that thought.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

hands helping themselves

She heard about the joys of the Mexican Pacific coast from her friends in Winnipeg.

Longing to escape the Canadian plains winters, she dreamed of warm beaches and hemmorhaging sunsets. While her job kept her captive in the howling winters of her discontent.

But she was free to travel in the summer. And travel she did.

She went online and rented an isolated beach house for a week. It cost more than she wanted to pay. But this was her dream vacation.

Because she knew nothing of the local area, she had read up on a local internet board about what she should do to enjoy her vacation. One handy suggestion: stop at a large store on your way in from the airport to buy groceries for the week.

On the appointed day, her flight arrived on time. She had no trouble renting her car, and she was on her way. She found the store and bought everything she needed.

When she came out of the store, four or five children surrounded her offering to help her with her cart. She was initially caught off guard. But she was charmed.

She directed them to her car and opened the trunk. The children vied with one another to be helpful. Little hands darting all over.

She was not naive -- at least, in knowing what the children expected: a tip. She opened her purse, pulled out her coin purse, and set her purse on the bumper of the car.

The little girl, who appeared to be directing the operation, caught her attention. As the woman looked in her coin purse, while watching what the little girl was doing, another little hand entered the woman's purse.

A man sitting in the parking lot had watched the entire drama from the point the children first contacted the woman. When the hand entered the purse, he jumped out of his truck and yelled in Spanish.

The children scattered. The woman went into defense mode -- having no idea what was happening. All she knew was an upset man was running toward her yelling in Spanish.

The man explained what he saw and asked her to talk to the store manager. He was convinced the group of children had been doing the same thing in the parking lot for some time.

But she was on a dream vacation that did not include chastising charming children.

This little tale did not happen in Rome or Bucharest or Denver -- even though it could have. Every city has its share of petty crime.

And children are too often used to commit those crimes. This tale occurred near the area I live. I have seen those children. They are at the store even during school hours.

And that is the tragedy. It is easy enough for people with money simply to be more careful with billfolds and purses. That is mere common sense.

What they cannot do is address the underlying issue. Without hope -- without an education -- these children will never be anything other than petty criminals.

There are plenty of young Mexicans who are headed to marvelous careers in a middle-class Mexico. It is sad that some will be left behind.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

saint francis of assistance

Walt Disney had a bird fetish.

I don't know what else you could call it.

Remember Snow White and Cinderella? When they were not talking to birds, the birds were assisting in their housecleaning chores.

My experience with birds is that they seldom are part of the solution when it comes to tidying up around the house.

But, Disney did something even more subversive than convince young viewers, if they just waited long enough, some bird would show up to make the bed. Disney also convinced children that animals are just like us.

The Philadelphia lawyer word for Disney's sin is anthropomorphism. He convinced us that animals share uniquely human attributes with us. Gratitude. Compassion. Empathy.

Even I am guilty. Just look back at what I have written about Jiggs over the past two years. You would think he had more human attributes than I do. (And that is far too easy a target for witty comments.)

Animal behaviorists tell us all we are merely projecting our own feelings on animals when we say that the crocodile had compassion on the kudu crossing its stream. Most animals do not even have a sense of self-awareness.

Sunday afternoon, Tim, a fellow Oregonian, stopped by to chat. We were sitting on the patio, doing our best to fend off the increasing humidity, when I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye.

We have had a lot of interesting visitors on the patio these days: a snake, a turtle, land crabs, cockroaches.

But the moment I saw it, I wish I had not allowed my eyes to wander from the conversation. It was a baby bird on the ground.

And I knew what type of bird. It had to have fallen out of one of the barn swallow nests.

Every moral choice involves a decision. I could have simply ignored the bird, continued the conversation, and let nature take its course. Or I could intervene to help.

Of course, I intervened.

Like any good medic, I started my triage. What were the chances it would survive?

That did not look good. Ants were already covering it -- either trying to speed its death or waiting for the inevitable. But the moment the bird saw my movement, its feed reflex went into play and its mouth opened.

Any bird with a life spirit that strong deserved a chance to live.

But it was not alone. I found a second bird -- far worse off.

So, I grabbed a ladder and started checking nests wnith Tim's help. We finally narrowed the choices down. An adult swallow was eyeing us when we got near the babies. The nearest nest to it was empty.

Into the nest went both birds.

The adult swallow swooped in several times, and then flew away. Again. And again. And again.

I thought we had chosen the wrong nest. But, eventually, the swallow returned with insects and started feeding at least one of the small birds.

As I was putting the ladder away, the adult swallow paused on a leaf of the banana "tree," and started a bit of swallow song.

Was it a hymn of gratitude? Did the swallow even understand what had occurred -- beyond restoring a paternal duty that appeared to be over?

I doubt it. The behaviorists are probably correct.

But, I know I felt a sense of gratitude that the swallows continue to share my life and that I was able to do a good turn for them.

Will they help me with the laundry? Nope. But, then, neither will Cinderella or Snow White.

Monday, July 27, 2009

arroz by any other name

On Saturday, I was puttering around the kitchen getting ready to fix one of my favorite dishes: arroz con pollo y verduras.

The recipe is my own. It started as a basic Mexican red rice recipe: sautéed rice cooked in chicken broth and a tomato-chili sauce.

For those of you up north, it is similar to the old-fashioned Spanish rice recipe that showed up in every other issue of Better Homes and Gardens -- except this dish actually tastes good.

But a dish that basic needs a little accessorizing. And there are plenty of vegetables that do the trick.

On Saturday, I had tomatoes, carrots, sweet peppers (yellow and red), Jalapeño peppers, onion, and baby zucchini. As well as the remnants of pollo asado from my dinner a few afternoons prior.

I had all of the ingredients laid out on the kitchen island -- ready for my impersonation of a human Veg-o-matic.

Marta stopped to see what I was doing. I told her.

She just shook her head and maternally repeated my name three times.

Remember when your mother used to do that? It was never followed with: "What a creative genius you are."

About a month ago, Marta saw me looking through Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday -- a retirement gift from my colleague, Jaye. Marta looked through it with me. I would translate the recipes as well as I could and she compared the pictures with my efforts.

She told me, in her opinion, the author knew nothing of true Mexican cooking. He had too many ingredients. Too many tastes. Mexican food is simple.

I got the same lecture on Saturday. If I was going to make Mexican red rice, fine. That would be rice boiled with some tomato sauce and a green chili pepper. Nothing else. All of my vegetables and chicken would simply get in the way.

I understand her point. Almost every Mexican meal I have eaten since I came down in April has been extremely simple: whether tacos or quesadillas or pollo asado, there are usually no more than two or three ingredients. Just about the way our mothers cooked in the 50s.

But that is why I learned to cook. I wanted to take basic recipes and experiment.

I do admit that some west coast fusion cuisines have turned almost neurotically rococo. But it is possible to have fun with food and still have a good eat.

And I did just that. My arroz con pollo y verduras turned out to be exactly what I wanted it to be: filling, as well as challenging on the tongue.

My sole concern is my ongoing battle of trying to eke out enough heat out from my propane-powered stove. But that is for another post.

Because I had so many ingredients, I now have eight servings of the dish that will hold me through the remainder of the week -- unless you want to stop by and share a bit of Mexican rice with an organic twist.

I doubt Marta would like it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

top -- and bottom --banana

For breakfast this morning, I am having cold cereal with a banana.

That is hardly a news flash. I have cold cereal with a banana almost every morning.

What makes today different is that I grew the banana. Or, more accurately, the banana grew on the property where I live.

On the west side of the house, in almost full shade, a banana tree has been growing as long as I have been here. When I arrived in April, it had already set its single stalk of bananas. And just like salmon, bananas get one shot at procreating.

And even then, scientists have played a trick on the poor banana tree because every banana tree is a sterile clone of her sister banana trees. Almost as if The X-Files had hired Chiquita Banana as a front.

So, my banana tree has been putting all she has into producing what she thought would be the next generation of bananas, but what will end up simply dressing up Special K each morning.

Marta took a look at the stalk and announced that the bananas were ready for harvest.

That surprised me because they are still green. But she gave me a piece to eat. And it was ripe. Maybe overly-ripe.

She started a mini-harvest. Several went upstairs for me. Even more went home with her.

I ate one yesterday afternoon.

I would like to say it was "the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful banana I've ever known in my life" -- or, at least, the best, freshest banana I have ever eaten.

But, it wasn't.

It was soft. Not very fragrant. Rather starchy. I could have bought the same Cavendish-cloned fruit at Safeway in Salem.

Maybe the fruit was on the stalk too long. Maybe the tree did not get enough sunlight. Maybe it is simply not a very tasty variety of banana.

But it does prove the old adage that just because it is home-grown does not mean that it is good.

Overall, it goes into the adventure category. I have never eaten a banana that I have had a hand in growing. I have now.

And as Chiquita Banana came to say: "Bananas have to ripen in a certain way."

Apparently, mine don't.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

dial m for murmur

Some days are filled with surprises.

Even if there is only one surprise. But a big surprise.

I drove down to Manzanillo today in hopes of finding my debit card in the mail. It was not there. Perhaps in another ten days or so.

But I did get thirteen magazines to add to my reading list. That should about bring me current with past editions.

I know that I am beginning to feel more comfortable with what Melaque offers as life support. When I first discovered Manzanillo's big box stores, I would go to Wal-Mart, Comercial, and Soriano's on each trip.

This trip? Nada. I am finding what I need in my local village.

That was not my surprise.

I did not get it until I got home.

In my Outlook inbox was a MagicJack message -- with no return telephone number.

Odd, that, I thought.

I hit the play button, and on came a chirpy young voice:

Hello, Steve. This is Allison. I'm calling from [garbled] Nursing Home. Your Mom wanted me to call and just let you know she is back in her room, and she's available for the call. All right. Thank you.

Disoriented would be the word.

Now, my name is Steve. The message was to my telephone number. And I have a Mom.

But my Mom should be at her desk in her real estate office, not returning to her room in a nursing home.

I called my brother to see if he was divvying up the loot before he notified me.

He was as shocked as I was. He had heard nothing.

Only one course left: call Mom's mobile number.

S: Hi, Mom.

M: Well, hi. It's good to hear from you. [At least, nothing like, "Glad you got my message."]

S: Um. Where are you right now? ["Who is president" would not have been very subtle.]

M: At my desk in the Clackamas office.

Relief. I felt relief.

I told her the story, and we had a good laugh. I called my brother, and we both had the same good laugh.

And, then, it occurred to me, would Mom have necessarily known where she was? Maybe I should have asked to speak to one of her colleagues.

These are the questions we start dealing with when we become a certain age.

My brother and I are probably blessed that our Mom has the Scottish genes of the Queen Mother. She will probably outlive us all.

And that would not be a surprise.

Friday, July 24, 2009

naked tales

There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This ... is one of them.

When I started writing speeches and essays, I was taught every good piece needs a hook -- something to catch the reader and reel her in.

It was a lesson I easily put to use in trial work. No attorney deserves to prevail on a case unless the reason his client should win can be stated in a simple sentence.

Yesterday was a recovery day. Somehow I have managed to contract another bout of lower intestine distress.

At the end of the day, Jiggs wanted to go for a walk along the beach. So, out the beach gate we went.

There was a young Mexican family sitting on the beach just outside the gate watching the night's sunset show: three adults and four children ranging from infant to maybe 5.

I grabbed Jiggs's collar. He loves children, and will run up to them to be petted. That has a tendency to horrify some Mexican parents.

In this case, the roles were reversed. Three of the children immediately mobbed him.

The adults then came over. And we started talking -- in Spanish. The young man was visiting Melaque with his wife and their infant, and his sister was along with her son and two daughters.

We had been talking for about three minutes when I realized we were actually communicating. We ranged from talking about the dog and his age, why e had surgery scars on his neck, whether he bites, whether he is a boy or girl. My usual beach conversation.

But we went past that to how long I had been in Melaque. How long I was going to be there. If I flew or drove. How many children I have. Where is the rest of my family. Am I lonely.

But I learned new Spanish words: neighbor, nephew, niece.

And I knew this was going to happen one day on my journey in Spanish. They wanted to know my name. I decided to be clever: I would write out the Spanish version of my name.

So, I grab a stick and started writing in the sand -- without one adulteress in sight. And then disaster struck: I realized I was not quite certain how to spell it. The sister did it for me.

If anyone says I am so stupid that I cannot write my name in the dirt with a stick, I can now say: "I have the proof."

It turns out the young man could speak a bit of English. He said he didn't try earlier because he was afraid he would make a mistake.

And there we have it. As long as we were all just trying to communicate, we were doing fine. The moment we got too concerned about impressing our listeners, we clam up.

I need to seek out more of these moments. This beach is beginning to fill up with people on vacation. Most of them are happy to talk with someone new.

Speaking Spanish is just like skiing: point the skis downhill and enjoy the ride.

There are hundreds of stories on this semi-naked beach. I just need to seek them out.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

chatting with the neighbors

I invited George and Martha for a movie last night.

Or, rather, I invited them to perform for me last night.

When I moved south, the only item I brought across the border that caused me any concern was my DVD collection. I was a prime target for major duty payments.

Even though we were red lighted, the customs agent waved us on after discovering that we were headed to Melaque for a long stay.

So, I have these 400-some DVDs, and I have not yet watched one after being here for three months.

Wednesday night, that changed.

I popped some very tasty Mexican popcorn (despite my misgivings in
popping memories).

I poured a glass of Coke Light with a full fresh lime.

And slipped Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf into the computer.

My computer speakers do not do justice to the film. But it was not recorded in THX -- so, I missed little. After all, Albee's words are the central point -- not sound effects.

There are few films that transcend the passage of time. We call those films -- classics.

And George and Martha -- as they struggle through eternity to find some meaning in their lives -- certainly address some of the basic issues we face as humans. Including, being mentors for Perfect Married Couple.

When I saw the film in 1966, I thought it was one of the best movies I had ever seen. I still do. It easily makes my list of top 10 films.

But, because I played hooky to watch a movie, that is my post for the day.

I need to check to see if George and Martha have gone home.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

we open in venice

During the early 1970s, I lived in Laredo, Texas. And I would, as Johnny Cash sang: "Walk out on the streets of Laredo."

The streets of cowboy lore did not differ much from those of the Nixonian era. Dust is dust. And they were dusty.

But no dustier than the street in front of my house in Melaque.

We have gone for weeks without a drop of rain. And this is the legendary tropical rain season.

Well, legends, like Disney dreams, do come true. And we had a visitation from a very angry rain goddess on Tuesday afternoon.

Actually, I think it was a battle of the immortals between Matlalcueitl and Thor -- with a guest cameo appearance by Calypso (not the Juan variety).

It was a ripper of a storm. The lightening forked several times right over the house. But the most spectacular were the strikes in the bay -- right off of the beach.

With the lightening that close, the thunder was immediate and loud. Destroyer shelling could not be louder.

I usually like storms, but this one touched some primordial fear. I suppose the brilliant flash of lightening through the full house might trigger some survival instinct in the amygdala. (Or, for you modernists, "the prefrontal cortex" -- but that sounds downright Kansas, doesn't it?)

And when the sturm und drang were done, you can see the result at the top of the post.

We have moved from the streets of Laredo to a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers. The Duke of Plaza-Toro (good name that) could easily have said: "I should have preferred to ride through the streets of Venice; but owing, I presume, to an unusually wet season, the streets are in such a condition that equestrian exercise is impracticable."

The Duke, of course, was merely aristocratically ignorant. But the result is the same. Our streets were wet.

Some of you have asked about Jiggs's health. He has recovered nicely from his tumor removal surgery. The stitches came out on Saturday.

But he did not handle today's storm very well.

As a young dog, he loved fireworks. If he heard them going off, he would pester me until we would go find where they were being displayed. After all, he is a gun dog.

Somewhere, age changed that. I suspect that as his hearing has failed, loud noises have become painful to his ears. Several years ago, I noticed he would almost wince when he heard loud noises.

But he has never been afraid of storms until we moved to Melaque. One difference, of course, is that we have a front row center street to the full production. He has never been exposed to lightening in any form -- and certainly not the Wagnerian percussive force of Mexican thunder.

He spent the entire storm looking for a sanctuary from the light and noise. Even my presence made no difference. I suspect he knew that I was no match for one of those thunderbolts.

When it was over, we went for a two hour walk around the neighborhood. He was Mr. Congeniality to everyone.

But when we returned to the gate, he refused to go back in the house. I had to pick him up. I suspect the place will never again seem the same to him. Perhaps, he has PSTD -- post-storm traumatic disorder.

I know it is a bit serious because he refused to eat his dinner tonight. Instead, he followed me from room to room.

I hope that by Wednesday morning, the storm will be as distant to him as Laredo is to me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

dorian gray in the tropics

We all know at least one.

The person who tells you breathlessly that the people at work -- or church -- or the club -- think she is younger than she is. "They all say: 'I don't look my age."

It is, of course, a transparent absurdity. We all look the age we are -- because that is how old we are.

I suspect that the "compliment" is not often offered in the tropics.

The combination of heat and humidity is death to man-made structures -- and to nature's bounty.

That thought hit me as I was returning from the local fruit seller earlier this week.

I had purchased a small hand of bananas.

I should pause right here. When I say "bananas," you should completely forget about the Cavendish bananas you will find at Safeway.

The Cavendish is the world-wide standard banana since the 1950s for its uniformity, size, and alleged disease-resistance. It turns out, though, it is not disease resistant, and will remain as the standard banana for probably no more than another decade or so.

The Cavendish also travels well with its thick skin -- not unlike the best type of tourist.

The down side of the Cavendish is that it is not very tasty. It is uniform, but bland. Like the worst type of tourist.

Mexico offers a large variety of bananas. Usually smaller than a Cavendish, but much sweeter, softer, and thin-skinned.

Back to that hand of bananas.

I picked bananas that still had a touch of green, but were solid and yellow. But by the time I got them back to the house, three of them had already gone bad in the heat. By that evening, you see what the remainder looked like at the top of this post.

I have quickly learned that almost anything I purchase here needs to be used within a day or two of getting it home. If I don't, it will simply go bad like an unruly teenager. That has been true with lunch meat, chicken breasts, mangoes, pineapple -- and now, bananas.

And I doubt anyone is going to tell one of my bananas: "You certainly don't look your age."

But for a little age humor, I found this Groucho Marx-Jack Benny clip. Enjoy:

Monday, July 20, 2009

put it on my card

"[His coach] incorporated beds, dining facilities and a library. Such [coaches] were designed not only to free the traveller from the discomfort of public transport but also to display wealth, status, technological superiority and, as John Ruskin put it, to achieve 'the abashing of plebian beholders.'"

When I read that portion of The Economist's book review of The Smell of the Continent: The British Discover Europe, I was positive the reviewer was discussing some latter-day motor homeowner. Caravans to Normandy -- and all that, what what.

But I was wrong.

The coach described is Lord Byron's. I find it somewhat amusing that even in the early nineteenth century, Byron would pack up his own peculiar vision of This Sceptred Isle while trundling off on The Grand Tour.

I chuckled imagining the author of The Destruction of Semnacherib, scratching out his iambic pentameter on the equivalent of a Winnebago captain's chair.

My middle brow tendencies are exacerbated by the mere mention of Lord Byron's name. It is hard to get Ogden Nash's Very Like a Whale rhymes out of your mind once they are ensconced. And, far as I know, Ogden Nash never sat in a Winnebago -- nineteenth or twentieth century versions.

All of this musing on motor homes, Byron, and Nash started on Sunday afternoon when I realized I am creating a project dilemma for myself -- and I see no way out of it.

I am starting to take my Spanish lessons more seriously. Merely going to class one hour a day, three days a week is not getting me where I need to be with the language.

The positive side is that I am having some conversations with Marta where we actually pass information. Our conversation about the king snake (la culebra) was fun and filled with malapropisms.

And I am wading around in nouns and verbs at the shallow end of the pool with the local merchants. Sometimes even getting my face in the water. That is something.

But the only way I am going to develop any proficiency is to start applying some of the suggestions I have picked up from Mexico Bob.

He suggested a thrifty (and effective) way to expand vocabulary. I modified it a bit by purchasing some 3x5 index cards and a recipe size box.

I then spent Saturday and a good part of Sunday writing Spanish words and phrases (in maroon) on one side of the card with the English translation (in blue) on the other side.

I learned in law school that if I hear something, write it down, and write it down again, I will retain it -- as long as I then put the information to use. Back then, it was case law. Now, it is Spanish case and tense.

Tedious? You bet. I can tell when I am losing my effectiveness: I start mixing up my colors for the two languages. That also mean I am not retaining the new words.

I wish I had started this method when I began my classes. But I was not certain what to expect from the in-class time.

Once I get caught up with the prior class notes this week, I can then reduce each new day's words to cards on the evening of the class itself.

On Monday we are going to start conjugating the verbs "to be" and "to say." That will give my analytical mind a target.

The dilemma is: until I get my cards created, I am not going to have time to get away from the house. (I will confess that I have been catching up on some of my magazines.)

And, after I get the cards done, I am going to need to devote more time to studying. But, I also know, I cannot make Spanish my sole occupation for the next few months.

The moment I try that, I will be jumping in Lord Byron'
s motor home and heading north across the border where culebra is just another word for nothing else to lose.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

minus the hare

Richard Burton mocks us in song.

"A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot."

Of course, Camelot was not located on the Mexico Pacific coast.

It is about midnight and the temperature in the bedroom is the first two digits of an emergency call in The States.

Now, some of my colleagues in the Yucatan will probably point out that 91 is a cold snap for them in July.

For Steve and the Professor this is hot.

And other life must find it hot, as well.

I had dried out the tarps that were once under the swimming pool (another post to come). A few mornings back, I decided to fold up the tarp after it was dry. It had remained undisturbed for a few days.

One thing I have learned in the tropics is that turning over anything can reveal some of the most interesting surprises -- from the tame (cockroaches and land crabs) to the more problematic (venomous centipedes and scorpions). At least, there have been no jumping vermin (other than that odd hopping spider) -- yet.

I slowly turned over the tarp. Several usual suspects scurried away, leaving behind something new: today's photograph post.

At first, I thought it was a tortoise. But as I look back on it, I think it may have been a turtle. About the size of my hand. But it was shy enough that I could not see its head or feet. I took a single photograph with its head partially exposed, but the photograph is so out of focus, I could have been photographing my left foot.

I notified fellow blogger Gary Denness of
The Mexile (and tutrle master extraordinaire) that I would be posting a turtle or tortoise photograph. I also noticed that his blog was no longer updating in my blog rol. That is now fixed. If Gary is in your roll, be certain to have his current address posted.

So, folks. I open the floor. With this limited photograph, any idea what this particular creature is -- living in my ever-growing wild kingdom in the back yard?

Ethel Merman is now belting out "We're Having a Heat Wave."

The Professor, the turtle, and I are willing to agree. Richard Burton is full of garbanzos.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

why mexico?

Strangers in paradise.

I am repeatedly amazed at how often I receive great advice from people I know through no other source than this blog.

It happened again last week.

A reader, who once lived in Melaque, was going to be in town on business. He wanted to know if I would be interested in sitting down to discuss Mexico -- and Melaque, in particular.

The evening was as typical as any July day on the Costa Alegre. Hot. Humid. Lazy.

We decided to eat at a restaurant we both enjoy: Señor Froy's (yes, with a "y"). He for the lasagna -- "second best in the world."

But the evening was not about eating; it was about living in Mexico.

He told me how he had been retired for several years and traveled the world before he settled on Mexico as a retirement site. Melaque was first. But the summers were too much -- reminded him of why he had left Indiana.

He eventually ended up in the mountains above Colima on the way to Guadalajara. After moving there, he married a Mexican national. (This seems to be a theme amongst single men in Mexico.) He seems to be genuinely happy.

I had been soaking in the information, when he fixed a serious eye on me, and asked: "So, why are you in Mexico?"

For a moment I felt like Ted Kennedy in 1980 when Mike Wallace asked him in a 60 Minutes interview: "Why do you want to be president?" Teddy blew the answer. From that moment on, his quest to topple President Carter was doomed.

And it was not a new question for me. Several people have asked the question of me -- just as pointedly.

My standard answer ("For the adventure.") left him unfazed.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

I am not certain I got to the core of some of my reasons for being here: archaeology, wildlife, learning from new people.

Friday I drove from Melaque to Cihuatlán -- essentially, our county seat -- to buy some goods. As I drove down the coast road, I came to a small rise: part of Isla de Navidad. At the crest of the hill, I saw something anew that I must see two or three times a week: another answer why I moved to Mexico.

Looking south, you see a large alluvial plain with miles and miles of nothing but coconut plantations. The verdant enormity has its own understated beauty. Like most wide vistas, it is difficult to capture in a small photograph, but my attempt is at the top of this post.

Those moments -- and meeting more strangers in this fallen paradise -- may be the best answer to why I am in Mexico.

Friday, July 17, 2009

home to roost

Her name was Susan.

She was small, but energetic.

A face half-way between café au lait and crème caramel -- with freckles.

Her almost-yellow eyes radiated far more interest than intelligence.

I was six and in love with her.

She was not my first pet, but she was one of my favorites. A bantam hen that I raised from a chick at my grandmother's.

Before I left Salem, one of my tasks was to repair a portion of fence around my yard. I told you about in
my ducks in a row.

The fence came down in a storm, and I made a MASH-like repair of chicken wire to fill the gap. The quick fix ended up lasting for almost two years.

Last March, I humorously noted that "my neighbors and friends had a vague fear that I was going to introduce a flock of Rhode Island Reds to our very proper urban block."

Little did I know that a chickens-in-the-urban-boundary battle was brewing even as I wrote those words. Some of my fellow Salemites were petitioning the City Council to allow residents to raise up to three hens.

I have been thinking about this post for about a week. But my friend, Al French, brought it to a head on Thursday when he sent me link to The Wall Street Journal. It appears that the chicken wars have come to a head in Salem.

For those of us in Mexico, the arguments on both sides sound almost silly. Chickens are loud, dirty, attractive nuisances for predators. Chickens are great pets, economical, and green.

I was returning from my Spanish lesson earlier this week and had one of those where-is-my camera moments. A hen came dashing out of a house on the corner, and dashed right back inside.

I am not an advocate of chickens in the living room. But after living here, I do not understand why Salem's residents cannot loosen up and stop worrying about what their neighbors are doing with their animals. The horse at the top of this blog lives on a residential lot two blocks from me in Villa Obregon.

Ten thousand people live in this little village. Few of the streets are paved, and they are filled with artillery shell size potholes. There are no traffic signals. The stop signs that do exist are treated as parental suggestions. With a mix of cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians, horses, and Twitter-addicted young women on scooters, no one seems to get hurt.

My former neighbors would not be able to navigate. I know that because it has taken me three months to start feeling comfortable driving through the equivalent of a mayhem video game.

I am a libertarian. I came to Mexico believing it was a proto-socialist state. It isn't. There are lots of rules, but very few people pay attention to them. As is true in most societies, custom trumps law.

This is not a libertarian paradise. But it is a place where people tend to follow their own drummers.

And what happened to Susan? Our Chihuahua-Manchester Terrier mix buried her alive.

It was a tragic end for her.

She would be pleased to know, though, that in my little village by the sea, the local dogs and chickens seem to get along just fine.

Not quite Isaiah's wolf and lamb. But it's a start.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

it's the photographs that got small

I met her on the airplane coming south from Los Angeles. July of last year.

She was from one of those cities in central Canada that always cause me to shiver when I hear the name.

Recently divorced, she had come to Mexico for a week to experience A New Life. She was almost giddy with the prospect of seeing the Magic of Mexico. You could almost hear the extraneous capitalization of nouns.

I ran into her on the streets of Melaque several times.

Everything was Perfect. The People were the Fiendliest People she had ever met. The weather, though hot and humid, had touched "The Center of My Soul."

The Little Fishing Village was filled with nothing but joy for her.

I was happy for her, but I was starting to worry that, like Billy Pilgrim, she was beginning to come unstuck in time.

The last time I saw her was on a street corner. She was looking dreamily into the middle distance. We began chatting. Suddenly, her eyes went wide. And she started looking frantically in her beach bag. If we had been in Detroit, I would have thought she was looking for a hand gun.

"Where IS it? Where IS it?"

I was beginning to think she had become unstuck from more than merely time.

I then glanced over my shoulder. An elderly Mexican woman with an umbrella was walking toward us.

Ms. New Life raised her camera just as the woman was about to walk past us.

But that did not deter her. In English, she said in her best Cecil B. DeMille voice: "Excuse me. Could you go back and walk toward us? I would like a Photograph."

The Woman With The Umbrella (as the photograph would be known) would never enter the world of art. The Mexican woman looked bewildered but continued on her way.

Ms. New Life looked at me, pure exasperation airbrushed on her face. "They are so friendly, but frustrating."

Every time I think about this story, I find it hard to believe that it happened in Melaque. This is the type of story that keeps San Miguel de Allende residents amused -- because they have seen it happen.

But how does it happen? I have been using cameras for almost 55 years. I cannot imagine going up to a stranger and asking her to repeat her walking pattern merely to satisfy my desire to control my enviroment. Melaque is not merely a sound stage put together for the benefit of people hunting for A New Life.

But I am a bad example, I find it difficult to take photographs of people. I have lots of human backs in my photography collection -- some of which you have seen.

Did she ever find her New Life? I don't know.

I certainly have not seen her around this year. Perhaps, she is chasing The Magic in another Village.

But I am listening for the echo of: "Are you ready for your Close-up?"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

s'wonderful, s'marvelous, s'sssssss

I live in a tropical jungle.

OK. So I live in a little town near a tropical jungle.

But we have all the jungley things one would expect.

Palm trees. Vines. Thick foliage. Green everything (until the rain stops).

We even have a guy who sells bottled water with a recorded Tarzan yell. What could be more jungley than to have Johnny Weissmuller shilling agua?

And wildlife. No lions. No tigers. But you know all about our iguanas (pictured above) and crocodiles.

Monday morning something new appeared.

Around 7 I heard the swallow colony in pure commotion. I walked out on the balcony and saw them swooping and chattering.

I was positive I knew the cause. Monday is Marta's day to work in the garden. I thought I would walk downstairs and find her in full battle mode with her garden hose and stick doing a full demolition of the remnant swallow condos.

So, downstairs I go. But no Marta.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. And not just any movement. A slithery, supple, subtle movement.

A large snake was making a hasty retreat into the neighbor's garden.

I should say: a very large snake. I estimated it to be just under 6 feet. But it was traveling at "get me out of here" speed, so I would swear to the length.

But I saw enough to identify it. The dark brown body with creamy stripes marked it as a common king snake.

Anyone who has ever had a pet snake knows that king snakes make the best pets. And they are among the best snakes to have in your own garden. Their favorite comida includes the types of varmints most of us would like to not have around: rodents and venomous snakes (including, coral snakes). They also have a certain fondness for birds, chicks, and eggs. That helps to explain the swallow panic.

The sad thing is that the snake will most likely come to an untimely end. Humans have very little regard for even the most beneficial of snakes -- especially, humans with well-sharpened machetes. And this fellow will not go unnoticed because of his size.

He could not possibly support his metabolism in these meager gardens along the beach. I am guessing that he is an inhabitant of the laguna, displaced or disoriented. If I could have caught him, I would have taken him back over there.

This was a pleasant encounter. I have seen only two other live snakes in this area: both in La Manzanilla, and both venomous. Interesting, but not pleasant.

But La Manzanilla is rural. It plays upstate New York to Melaque's Manhattan. You can see the carcasses of very long snakes on the road to La Manzanilla -- victims of herpetolgical road rage.

The king snake has most likely survived years of such dangers. I wish Godspeed to my Monday morning encounter.

But -- it is a jungle out there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

slicing the sacred cow


I am not certain when I first learned the word. In my not-to-be-trusted memory, it was in my high school German class.

But the concept is a bit too sophisticated for those post-adolescent years.

It is far more likely that I picked it up in those infamous 1968 Gore Vidal - Bill Buckley debates during the Democrat convention. The word -- and the concept -- certainly would fit their exchange.

Whatever its genesis in my writer tool bag, it is a great word.

A friend once asked me for a quick definition.

I offered the following:

Ivan and Nicholas were neighbor Russian peasants. Ivan's uncle died and left him a cow. Nicholas was jealous of Ivan's new prosperity, and confessed his sin to the priest, who told him he needed to pray to God. Nicholas prayed: "Dear God. Please kill Ivan's cow."

This week I had a similar experience.

I have previously written about my friend John (
a cup of good faith). The two of us are about as far apart on politics and religion as two people can be. But we have always managed to have interesting conversations without breaking a bit of crockery.

John is retired. Just like me. Every now and then, he wants to do Something Worthwhile. Just like me.

His most recent proposal was to put together a group to read Ronald Dworkin's new book: Is Democracy Possible Here?: Principles for a New Political Debate.

Dworkin starts with the assumption that a broad moral consensus exists in the United States in favor of two principles of human dignity: the intrinsic value of human life and the principle of personal responsibility.

HIs argument is that liberals and conservatives are merely talking past one another without realizing how much they have in common. If they start with the common principles, agreement will follow.

In his invitation, John said he would like the group to read the book and to then determine an action plan of how its principles might be implemented.

John informed me he did not receive a single rejection. What he received was mere silence.

I took no real joy in the fact that John's project was -- as he put it -- stillborn. But I understand the danger of wanting to Do Something in retirement.

In my case, I have been trying to control the urge. If I give it full rein, I will be back in Salem volunteering full time in my old community.

I want to, at least, enjoy a year of retirement before I start any new grand projects.

I would never pray that God should kill John's cow. And I do not want one of my own.

I intend to lie down in my green pastures.

Monday, July 13, 2009

horsing around

So, I am sitting on the balcony thinking about what might be a good topic for my Monday post, and nothing comes.


This is not writer's block.

It is life block.

Sunday was a lazy day. Jiggs and I slept in late. I went to church.

The rest of the day, I read -- taking a long time to read very little.

And I caught up on the blog. That must have been about four or five hours before I realized the day was gone.

It was a good retirement day. And I have nothing to complain about there.

But, then I saw him. I do not know his name nor do I know the name of his steed, but I could probably see him pass by on my beach every day. He is there; I am not.

Horses and beaches are not an unusual mix. There are tourists who ride horses on the beach here just as they do at Pacific City.

But this fellow is special. He is the real McSanchez.

He lives about three blocks from me. In fact, there are several horses and mules stabled in my little village.

But look at the lariats. The sombrero. The fact that he is one with his ride.

He is the very essence of being in the moment. Some of us strive our entire lives to avoid striving. And here is an example of how it happens naturally.

Every time I see him ride by, I revert to being eight.

When my parents moved the family to the suburbs of Portland, a number of our neighbors had horses. Darrel and I lobbied for a horse for a long time.

Mom made a deal. If we saved up enough money, we could buy a horse. She kept an envelope marked "Horse Money" that we attempted to fill with the sale of vegetables from our garden and other money from chores.

I have no idea how much money we saved, but we never did buy a horse. And our boyish fancies turned to other interests -- as our mother knew we would.

But, each time I see my neighbor ride by, I get to live a little bit of the past while I admire the moment that has been given to me -- simply living here by the sea.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

trimming the navidad tree

I was half way through slathering lime-accented mayonnaise on my ham sandwich around noon on Saturday when I looked out the kitchen door to see --

In Salem, I doubt I have ever seen a machete-wielding man climbing a coconut tree. Because we have a certain dearth of coconut trees there.

Here, the coconut trimmer is a common sight. His role is two-fold: to trim excess palm fronds and to harvest coconuts before they become head-bashing missiles. I have had several close calls with flying coconuts during my prior visits to Mexico.

But this is the first time I had a loge seat for the performance.

He climbs the tree using only his hands and feet. And then wields his machete with deadly precision. And, remember: I took the photograph from the second story. It is a healthy (or unhealthy, if unplanned) drop to the ground.

I wanted to take some more photographs. But he knew I was watching, and, once again, I felt awkward about taking photographs of people working. It still feels like an intrusion to me.

But I thought those of you up north may be interested in one of the daily sights that makes the tropics interesting.

When I started posting from Mexico in mid-April, one of our blogger colleagues requested that I not waste time by posting information that old hands in Mexico already know.

I have repeatedly violated that advice (this post being a prime example) -- for at least two reasons.

The first is obvious. I am going to have a tendency to write about things that interest me. And, if it is new to me, I will probably share it.

The second follows from the first. Even though I thoroughly enjoy reading the blogs of expatriate pioneers who have hewn an electronic trail through the wilderness, most of the people who read this blog will never have the joy of living in Mexico. And, I suspect, moments like this are every bit as interesting to them as an editorial on Mexican political parties. (A topic I still need to tackle.)

The coconut trimmer was a quick moment in my Mexican adventure. During the coming week, I want to share a few more of those moments and some thoughts about living in Mexico.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

a kiss is just un beso

"I have often speculated on why you don't return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with a senator's wife? I like to think you killed a man. It's the romantic in me."

It is one of the classic cinematic exchanges. Captain Renault's witty joust with Rick at Rick's Cafe. Anyone of a certain age can probably quote the entire exchange.

Tonight was my turn at Rick's place -- or, more accurately, Ricky's.

Ricky Campbell is a singer whose career spans from the 60s through the present day. He has done many fascinating things during those years. But, just like Richard Blaine, he would most likely say that his current business is "running a saloon" -- or bar-restaurant.

He also happens to be my Spanish teacher here in Melaque.

Friday night he invited us to the eponymous Ricky's for a special session. In addition to teaching Spanish, he also teaches English. He thought it would be a good idea to get the two classes together for a bit of symbiotic learning -- and not the type that Patty "Tania" Hearst received.

There were four of us: two learning Spanish, two learning English. Ricky would hand a card (or two) to a student and request a sentence in the language being learned. We did that for about one hour.

When the hour was over, I was sorry to stop our little game. I found it both educational and fun.

However, of the four, I was the least prepared -- or least informed. For some reason, basic words are simply not sticking in my head -- even the words I try using daily.

My Mexican neighbors are extremely patient with me. As I stumble through a sentence, they either offer assistance or just plain guess at what I am trying to say.

I was at Bodega Aurrera on Friday afternoon talking with the bagger, who must have been in his late teens. He asked me if I wanted the purchase in bags -- or I thought that is what he asked. When I tried repeating the question, he stopped me, and with perfect pronunciation said: "Maybe it would be easier for us both if we spoke English." He had lived in America for seven years.

Speaking Spanish (as little as I do) is a joy for me. It is also a necessity. Even though Jiggs's veterinarian can speak some English, we need to use Spanish quite often to make certain I understand directions.

Everybody has their own method of learning languages. I think of it as a mathematical problem. I have learned the basic arithmetical forms. I now need to move on to calculus by building my vocabulary and getting a better grasp of the verb charts.

Like anything else, I will improve only with practice, practice, practice.

I really wish it was as easy as filling out one of those letters of transit in Casablanca -- perhaps one of the flimsiest plot devices ever invented on film.

But, it is not that easy. This is going to be a lifetime investment.

Just like the film's closing line --

"I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Friday, July 10, 2009

luxury of la luz

Live in Mexico like a king for $20 a day.

OK. I made up the slogan, but the first articles I read about retiring in Mexico emphasized how inexpensive everything is.

I recall an article of a couple who rented a house outside of Cabo San Lucas with a maid, gardener, and swimming pool (if somehow all three were on the same level). They claimed their total monthly budget was something like $1500.

Now, you would have to be a grade A slack-jawed idiot not to realize that the couple were elbow deep in the real estate business. The same type of people who are still trying to bamboozle Americans and Canadians to invest money in Mexican tourist destinations to get in on the carcass-picking from the "stampede of Baby Boomers" headed south.

I eventually found some very good sources (mainly among our blogger colleagues) that added a dollop of reality to my cost expectations. From those sources, I concluded you can save money in Mexico. Maybe 10% to 20% overall if you want to live a life style similar to the one you left behind. You can save more by giving up some things.

One of the most complicated items is electricity. As a commodity it is very expensive in Mexico. But it depends what you are comparing it with. The Pacific Northwest is blessed with very low tax-subsidized electricity. The eastern seaboard pays a premium for its kilowatts.

But, even by New York standards, Mexico power can be breath-takingly expensive.

Of course, like all commodities, it depends how much you use. And that is where Mexican luz shines. I live in an area where no one heats -- with electricity or anything else. Cooking and hot water are propane-assisted.

For most people, electricity runs lights, refrigerators, water pumps, microwaves, and assorted small appliances. Those are the basics. And then there are the folks who add pool pumps and air conditioners.

I fall in the first category. This week I received my first electrical bill for the months of May and June -- $490 (MX). Or $245 (MX) a month. About $19 (US) a month. My June bill in Oregon last year was about $60.

So, there are some savings for electricity. Of course, if I start using the air conditioner in the bedroom (and I have now used it two nights), I will see my total rise.

The potential expense of electricity is one reason the owner of the house I am sitting is acting as a good steward with electricity. In the areas where lights are needed for navigation, she has reduced the wattage. A good idea for all of us to consider.

In fact, Calypso has been pushing
similar ideas for some time.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

a day in the 'hood

I have been in Melaque now for almost three months. Some of you have been asking: So, how does a regular day go?

The first answer is: There are no regular days. But, yesterday may be a good example of what does (and does not) happen around here.

In Salem, Jiggs would usually wake me up around 4:30 in the morning. And the day would start.

He is a more lenient task master in Mexico. He lets me sleep until 7:30. But there is almost always something of interest on the beach (passerby, horse, dog) that requires a good barking.

I take him for a walk that can range from 10 minutes to two hours -- depending on how he is feeling. The combination of his recent surgeries and our high temperatures has kept each of his walks short this past week.

I then have a leisurely breakfast on the balcony, where I watch the sea and simply enjoy one of the great pleasures of living where I can see water.

There are then dishes to do and straightening. And then I read until I head off to my Spanish class.

Spanish class is one hour a day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. There are two of us in the class -- along with our teacher, who was raised in Costa Rica.

The method is rather simple. Recently, our teacher has been giving us words, and he then requests us to make up sentences, changing the verb tense and the subject.

This Friday, we are meeting with his English class. We will be expected to carry on conversations in the languages we are attempting to learn. it should be an interesting experience.

One thing I knew, but I am rediscovering: I know a lot of Spanish vocabulary through my high school Latin. At least, I know the roots of the words. That has been very reassuring. My conversations with Marta, the maid, have been more successful, but they are still hit and miss -- on my part.

On Wednesday and Saturday, I try to get to the vegetable and fruit store -- their delivery days. I did not get there yesterday because my gate lock became the latest victim of living by the sea. It simply seized up.

I helped replace that, and took a nap. I have enjoyed my naps here. I have not had a full night's sleep since I arrived. The luxury of a nap in the hammock is a true joy.

And then I read. I have finished off all of my current batch of magazines. So, I am back to reading the books I brought along. And the reading is slow. There is something about watching the ocean that distracts me.

Around 7, I eat my lunch-supper meal. Lately that has been a ham sandwich or something light along with some fruit.

Yesterday, it was mainly water. My digestive system decided to go into purge mode, again. The track switch was set to Big D (maximum). I could set a watch by my semi-hourly trips to the bathroom.

That did not deter Jiggs from wanting his late night walk. Fortunately, for me, he was interested only in going to the corner and back. Had he decided to go further, he would have had his revenge for all those years I left him in the house and came home late.

One thing I miss at the house is the ability to read at night. The owner has taken the green step of lowering the light demand in the house. As a result, once the sun goes down, my books close.

The ideal place, of course, for reading would be a light on the balcony. But the light would attract the type of bugs that give the tropics a bad name for night activities. Even if I had a hot tub here. I could not use it for night time reading. I may as well choose to sit in the

And then I strart blogging around 10 or 11. And the cycle continues.

Wednesday night I discovered that Melaque is prone to brown outs. I was not certain I would get any of this saved between screen flashes.

But here it is. A rather normal Wednesday.

For those of you who think that sounds boring, you are not ready for retirement.

Frankly, I think there was too much activity. Those dishes, for instance -- cutting into my nap time.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

friends on the half shell

My house guests left on Tuesday morning.

That sentence sounds as if it was written by a hotel desk clerk.

In truth, two of my closest friends shared my life for three days here in Melaque, and have now returned to their home.

Jiggs bothered me for the rest of the day. I thought he wanted attention or to go for a walk -- or, more likely, both. But I think he simply sensed a change in the mood of the house -- two members of the pack were missing.

Tuesday morning there were hugs and handshakes and tears. What had once been a household filled with bustle was replaced with the melancholy detritus of visits.

In the background, Ella Fitzgerald was singing out her heart, telling us "Every time I say goodbye, I die a little." At times, I think George M. Cohan stages my life events.

But, I feel I am where I should be at this point in my life. Two months ago, I would have been incapacitated by Tuesday's heat and humidity. But there was a breeze that made the day pleasant merely to sit and think and read.

And to do the laundry. While the sheets and towels dried on the line, I did something I have not done in the two months I have lived here: I swam in the ocean behind the house. Or, rather, I did some heavy wading.

Showing my current home to my friends gave me another opportunity to find the rhythm of the house and this community.

But, to my friends, Roy and Nancy, I say thank you for sharing your lives with me. This is quite a journey.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

catching the wave

The ocean.

It drew me to Melaque, and I write about it -- a lot.

It is one reason I am living in this part of Mexico.

But having written of the sea, the sand, the surf for about three months now, you may have noticed that I have left out one little fact -- that I have done absolutely nothing in the water.

OK. So I indulged in the writer's prerogative of hyperbole. There were the mentions of wading in the water with Jiggs. But where is the swimming, the snorkeling, the body surfing? Does the ocean provide a mere spectator sport?

Until Monday, it did.

I have mentioned that I have house guests: my good friends Roy and Nancy. They were up early today and wanted to go for a swim. So, out the back gate we went to the beach outside my back door.

One of these days I want to write about the moods of the ocean. But, not today.

On Monday, the ocean was rather benevolent. But the waves on my beach are -- challenging. Challenging in the sense of doing a few rounds with Hulk Hogan.

We decided that we would drive downtown for lunch and then take a swim along the beach where the waves are a bit more tame. And we had a grand time.

I quickly learned to respect the power of the "tamer" waves. I turned my back on one and was sent tumbling head over heels. When I managed to regain my footing, the wave on the way out pulled me down just in time to be buried under another wave.

It was fantastic and frightening. Exactly what one expects of the sea.

When I got home, I discovered that all of my pockets were filled with sand. The danger of drowning was probably small. The danger of being buried in the snd was much higher.

We dressed for dinner.

We had seen a large palapa right on the beach. It looked like a great place for dinner -- despite the general rule: if it has a view, the food will be bad. A friend in town warned us against going.

We went, anyway. And two out of three of our meals were excellent. The view of Navidad Bay would have been worth eating mediocre food.

This visit from my friends has been a real tonic. I have shown off this part of the Mexican coast, and, in the process, I have learned just how much I like living here.

They will be gone tomorrow, but I will still be ready to show off my new home to anyone who stops by.

Monday, July 06, 2009

my own tin rin tin

Buddy Ebsen, as we all know, was originally cast to play the role of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. But, a little trouble with the makeup created one of those Eve Harrington moments, and we see Jack Haley's face through the silver makeup now.

If Victor Fleming had waited a mere seventy years, he could have had entertainment's ultimate Tin Man -- Professor Jiggs.

I drove down to Manzanillo on Sunday with Roy, one of my house guests. He wanted to see whether Manzanillo was a good site for a subsequent visit. He decided it was.

But the primary reason was to retrieve my golden boy. He had been at the veterinarian since Friday for a scheduled removal of several tumors on his neck.

I had doubts about the need for the surgery. Jiggs is old and the tumors did not seem to bother him. But the veterinarian was convinced that Jiggs would feel better without them.

We have all learned that Jiggs is resilient. And he bounced back easily from the general anesthetic.

But I am glad Roy went with me. The bill was substantial, and I was without cash -- as you may recall from yesterday's post.

Mel Brooks would have been impressed with the stitches on Jiggs's neck. But there was more to come.

I am supposed to apply a spray-on medication to his neck each day. When the deed is done, Jiggs looks as if he is the next Jack Haley -- or a budding Borg colonist.

I took the photograph above of Jiggs, not solely as an homage to
American Mommy in Mexico, but as the best way to show off his new-found celebrity.

Buddy Ebsen, of course, went on to become a larger cultural icon than the Tin Man. There is not a child of my generation who would not recognize Jed Clampett or his accidental shooting to the top of Hollywood Hills.

And Jiggs the Indomitable, though he looks like some form of scientific experiment gone wrong, was still able to charm all of us on last night's balcony.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

dependent on independence

Independence Day was yesterday.

At least, for Americans, it was.

And it got me to thinking: independent of what?

Well, independent of King George quartering his troops in our houses, and snooping through our private papers.

But we won that little dust up.

Certainly, it must be something more than that.

There is a line from a musical about Ben Franklin that goes something like this: "Will those Americans, for whom the name American will not be new, love liberty -- being given it outright in the crib, for nothing?"

Good question, Ben. Just how much do we love liberty -- and how much do we really have?

My friends, the Milers, arrived from The States yesterday. We spent the day watching the ocean and having a very nice lunch-dinner in Barra. To top off the evening, we were invited to the restaurant owned by my Spanish teacher, Ricky Campbell.

The celebrants consisted of Mexicans, Canadians, and Americans -- all there to celebrate Canada Day and Independence Day. The live entertainment was just plain fun. A multi-national group listening to music from at least four decades was a pretty good indicator that liberty is alive and well.

But I also discovered today that independence is sometimes an illusion. Our technology provides us with almost miraculous tools to live our lives in foreign lands. But those life lines can be rather fragile.

Somewhere today my wallet disappeared between noon and 5. There were several obvious places to look. We did. It is gone.

And, of course, it is never the wallet itself or the cash. It is all of those other things that keep us tied to institutions: driver's license, credit cards, bank cards.

So, I start the process of cancelling cards and getting replacements. If I were in Oregon, I would have the replacements in about 10 days. In Mexico, it will be -- well, let's just say it will be longer.

Independent. Yes, we are. But when the independence fades, we can see just how dependent we are.

I am extremely fortunate to have friends like the Millers. They are bending over backwards to help me.

There are times where we need to learn to rely on the kindness of people who care a lot about us.