Saturday, September 19, 2009

a permanent good-bye and a temporary farewell

The protagonist purposefully turns and walks toward the aircraft.

He pauses. Looks over his shoulder with a bittersweet smile.

He climbs the ramp to the aircraft. The door closes.

Scene fades to black. Music swells. Credits roll.

If this last week had been a film, that is how it would be ending today.

I am on my way to Oregon to get a new driver's license and to join my colleagues in celebrating the grand opening of the Salem Salvation Army Kroc Recreational Center. My friends have booked my full stay with various activities. I will not be burdened with too many choices.

But before I board what will not be My Last Flight to Lisbon, I have a bit of unfinished business.

I want to thank each of you who left comments on this blog, message boards, and FaceBook, in addition to the people who left telephone messages and sent me e-mail.

According to the statistics, the post announcing Jiggs's death had over 500 hits -- by far, a record day. And that post had a record number of comments.

What struck me most about each of the comments is how much Jiggs had come to mean to each of you. Several people who had never left a comment felt compelled to let me know how much Jiggs's tales meant to them.

Just as aside, for the past five months I have been working on a better title for this blog. "Jiggs's Tales" was quickly becoming a favorite. At some point, I may begin another blog simply to tell more stories about my friend.

Each of your comments brought tears to my eyes. Not because I will miss Jiggs, even tough I will. But because each of you thought enough to share your love of him.

I did leave one tale untold. When I closed out my tribute to Jiggs on Monday, I did not know what I was going to do with his body.

I considered digging a hole deep enough in the beach -- because he loved lying on the sand watching all of the activity, as if he were admiring his pride. He acted as if his mane had never been shorn. But the wet sand made digging too difficult.

Instead, I decided to drive his body to his veterinarian's office in Manzanillo.

His veterinarian was shocked at the news, but not surprised.

He asked me if I wanted Jiggs cremated. Apparently, that could be done in Colima -- another hour's drive away. I thought about that, but rejected it.

I asked him to dispose of Jiggs's body as if Jiggs had died there -- and not to tell me what that meant. Even though I thought I could guess.

He then conferred with his wife-assistant. And, as I knew he would, because he had always managed to do it for Jiggs, he came up with a perfect solution.

He asked if I would mind if he buried Jiggs behind his house with the rest of his favorite pets.

There are moments in my life that I will remember until I die -- and that is one of them. It was one of the most generous gestures I have ever received.

But I knew the reason why. Jiggs loved his veterinarian; and his veterinarian loved him. It was a very fitting place -- a noble place -- to be buried. The canine equivalent of Arlington Cemetery.

This chapter (my life with Jiggs) is almost complete. That does not mean that it never occurred. Only that I have more life to live -- starting with this visit to Oregon.

I will do my best to post as often as I can from the Pacific Northwest.

Because it is almost time for the aircraft door to close behind me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

why did the brit cross the strait?

I had been in the restaurant before. My friend Purkey recommended the lasagna as the "second best in the world." Lasagna -- in a Mexican restaurant.

When I sat down, there was only one other patron. I had seen him before. Jogging. Walking around Melaque. Sitting in the same restaurant -- almost every evening. At his computer -- a very complex-looking instrument.

And always with an obvious intensity.

The guy had a presence -- a presence that did not invite intruders.

But I am not one to be stopped by obvious social cues.

So, I attempted to strike up a conversation. The responses were polite. Terse. Factual. With a British accent.

His bearing, conversation, and appearance spoke of a recent military past.

Words like "expedition" and "Russia" added their own exotic possibilities. I eliminated the more exotic simply because those people do not openly use such terms.

I then let the matter drop. And attacked my lasagna.

Then it hit me. I seemed to remember reading a blog about a Brit who was walking his way around the world. Due to bureaucratic issues, his trip had stalled in Russia -- and he was now in Melaque.

Sure enough.

His name is Karl Bushby -- and he is the first
Wikipedia entry I have met since coming to Mexico.

His full story is on his
web site. Including an answer to the interesting question: Why Melaque?

And that story is fascinating. Walking around the world is not just a physical feat. It is a political feat.

He has already walked from the tip of South America, through North America, over the Bering Strait, and well into Russia. Current Russian visa requirements create barriers to making progress through Siberia.

When the dinner began, I thought I might have my own Graham Greene or Dashiell Hammett tale to tell.

But mine is better. I feel as if I had dinner with an Edwardian hero (such as T.E. Lawrence or Henry Morton Stanley) in a post-modern age.

And he is all the more remarkable for it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

living proof

For those of you who believe that I never left Salem, I finally have documentary proof that I live in Mexico.

I offer as Exhibit A a snapshot taken by Vanya at last night's Independence Day celebration in San Patricio.

Yes. That is me. Acting like the poised American that I am. I was using my red handkerchief to lure the fireworks-firing toro in our direction.

Who says I am not culturally sensitive?

a horse, a bull, and a corona go into a bar

In the first act of The Gondoliers, the Duke of Plaza Toro, having been accorded the honor of a mere drum roll, sighs and says: "It is at such moments as these that one feels how necessary it is to travel with a full band."

I thought the same thing several times today. Not that I need a full band.

I needed a camera.

The Independence Day celebrations continued throughout the day, and I have not a byte to show what I saw.

Event number one was the vaunted horse races -- rumored to be fueled by tequila. I know this will shock some of you. But rumors are sometimes filled with non-factual information.

You would think I had learned my "time is irrelevant" lesson. But I am a creature of habit.

The official word was that the races would begin at 4. I was talking with a friend and glanced at my watch. It was almost 4:30. I excused myself, took about 15 minutes to shut up this miniature version of Fort Knox, and headed off to the jardin in Villa Obregon.

When I arrived, it as close to 5:00. There was not a horse to be seen. And very few people. I thought I had been given a bum steed. But there were tables selling agua fresca and enchiladas. So, I knew I was in the right place.

I staked out a seat in the shade. And right behind the crowd control device -- a piece of thin twine. That was what stood between human flesh and human-trampling hooves.

And then I waited. Around 5:30 two horses showed up. And there was some preparation. Then two more horses. The preparation at this point was more like animated milling.

Finally around 6:00 two horses were ridden to the end of the street. The crowd started cheering. And someone jumped out waving a hat to stop the race because a pickup with the sound system had just shown up.

The audience helped unload the system. And everyone waited for it to be put together. For no discernible reason because no one used it to announce anything.

And then the first two horses were off. Young men riding bareback with horses racing at full speed. Because it was so fascinating, young boys pushed the twine further and further into the street until they were inches away from the horses as they thundered by.

There was a great cheer for the winner.

And then we all waited. For about another half hour.

I had taken my Economist with me. I am glad I did.

But what I should have done was a bit of random socializing. The problem was I was surrounded by young children. If I had given it some thought, though, that was probably the target audience for my Spanish.

I headed over to the house to get some dinner before the next big event of the evening: fireworks in the San Patricio jardin.

I had no idea when the fireworks were to begin. I waited about a half hour after sunset and walked the mile or so downtown.

There were people everywhere. A band was playing in the gazebo. The castillo was in place filled with fireworks.

I thought I was going to have a long wait on my own. And then the evening came together. I ran into some readers of this blog. They were just sitting down to dinner at a cafe, and invited me to join them.

I am glad I did. We talked and laughed about our experiences in Mexico. This was exactly one of the reasons I came to this country -- to share these moments.

Just as they were finishing up their dinner, the fireworks display started.

If you have never seen a Mexican castillo, it is a work of pyrotechnic art. There are rockets and wheels and flags and photographs. All put together on a tall platform.

But the crowning glory is when the very top portion -- a flaming corona --starts spinning faster and faster until it flies some 100 meters or so into the air, as if seeking a starring role in a Erich von Däniken production.

But Isaac Newton would remind us -- and the corona is happy to comply -- that what goes up is going to come down -- in the middle of a fire-addled group of spectators.

On Wednesday, those who had not yet been singed by Prometheus's little theft project, had another opportunity to get one of those nifty (and nasty) scars that will amaze their grandchildren.

One of the pyrotechnicians did what every 8-year old boy thinks is the coolest thing on earth. He grabbed a firework-covered papier-mâché bull, and rand and spun into the crowd -- shooting rockets in every direction. Young men did their best to get near the bull without getting set on fire. Or to at least get a nice burn without losing an arm.

It is not Pamploma, but I suspect there may be more scars produced in San Patricio than in the gentrified streets of the colonial power.

Eventually, there was enough gunpowder smoke in the air to cause us to retreat to a bar with windows overlooking the jardin. A perfect spot for photographs. For those with cameras.

But the camera was not the issue. It was the company. Had I run into my friends at the horse races, I would have stayed.

As it was, we all got to enjoy a great evening -- including a sighting of the new Miss San Patricio -- without her circus costume, and already looking a bit forlorn. So young to learn: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Probably wondering what that first runner up is plotting.

It was my first Independence Day celebration. In a certain sense, celebrating my independence to now travel Mexico.

¡Viva, Mexico! Indeed!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

time immemorial

Time. I used to think it moved slower in Mexico -- especially, in the little fishing village where I live.

I was wrong. Time is simply irrelevant.

I am slowly learning that my northern European chronometer -- the one that has controlled every second of my sixty-some years -- is as useless in Melaque as a book to an American teenager.

I have felt it when we talk about wages being 100 years behind the United States. Of social structures being stuck in the Fifties. Of craftsmanship that is simultaneously ancient in its style and modern in its tendency to fall apart tomorrow.

Two examples from yesterday will suffice.

The first is a tradition almost two hundred years old: Independence Day.

If you are a poster child for post-modern anti-symbolism, you are going to hate Mexican Independence Day. Every Mexican turns into a thorough nationalist -- making the commander of the Des Moines VFW look like a goth hedonist.

This was my first chance in five months to take my time looking around the jardin in San Patricio. It was all decked out for the evening's fiesta.

On the north end, the tourist police had rigged up the balcony of their office to look like a set from an Evita road show. And for one purpose --for the local dignitaries to honor the heroes of Independence Day and to extol each Mexican's passion for his country.

And let me stop right here. I talked with a friend yesterday on the telephone. He was surprised to hear that I was going to an Independence Day celebration. I suspect anyone who has lived in or visited Mexico will get his response half right: "I thought that was Cinco de Mayo -- when Mexico got its freedom from the United States."

OK, class. Altogether now. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla over the French and their Mexican royalist allies. (I suspect that a Mexican royalist is now about as rare as a selfless politician.) But where he came up with the notion of independence from the United States, I have no idea.

As we discussed yesterday, Independence Day commemorates Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla's call to arms against the colonial overlords of Spain. Last night, all over Mexico, the president or governor or municipality president or local poobah of some sort stood on a balcony above a mass of flag-waving citizens -- all ages, men, women, children -- and, with Latin fervor, shouted out El Grito de Dolores -- the modern reconstruction of Hidalgo's call to arms. After each patriot's name, the crowd would yell: ¡Viva, Mexico! And yell, they did. Even the moody teenagers.

We do not know exactly what Hidalgo said 199 years ago, but we do know he ended his call to arms with: "Death to bad government and death to the Spaniards!"

Bad government and the Spaniards were given a pass last night. The former for the obvious reason that politicians (and not moralists) shout el Grito. The latter because Mexico cannot afford turning Spanish tourists into the centerpiece of an Mayan sacrifice.

I do not like political rallies. Something about people getting all worked up about national issues strikes me as just a bit too reminiscent of hammers and sickles and swastikas. But I will confess that I was shouting out ¡Viva Mexico! as loud as my neighbors.

But nationalism was just one stop on this time trip.

On the south side of the jardin, a large stage was waiting for the next act: a beauty pageant -- a natural mix for a political rally. (Do not discount the connection. This summer the party that purports to represent the values of the Catholic church sponsored a political rally in the same jardin. The main attraction was a troupe of belly dancers, clad in little more than gossamer and a promise of a better tomorrow -- simply by voting correctly.)

I know very little about beauty pageants. I worked with two women who had been contestants and organizers of pageants in The States. That experience taught me that a Byzantium courtier would be caught short of talent on one of those runways. The claws are sharp, and the tongues cut deep.

Last night's production was a bit dodgy. Cues were missed. The emcee was a little over the top. But, hey: it was a local production, and everybody was there to have a good time -- including the middle-aged woman in her red see-through evening gown, with a cigarette dangling from her lower lip and a can of beer in her right hand. I suspect she was reliving some long-lost glory.

Mexican beauty pageants are not a post-feminist phenomenon. There is no pretense that the girls are there to earn a scholarship. Like most events in Mexico, this one was raw. The girls were selling sensuality.

And they laid it on with a trowel. Most young Mexican women are quite attractive. The ten contestants were stunning, if a bit homogeneous. But most women can strike a pose with an expensive coif and gown. Not to mention that most of them were model thin.

The nationalist passion on display earlier in the evening gave way to a more ancient passion. There were no pastels. These young women came decked out in primary colors -- and most had the poise of a Mexico City socialite. There were exceptions. Two had a tendency to walk as if they were truck drivers. But that simply made the rest appear that much more exotic.

It was a long process -- with plenty of pauses. Not unlike the local rodeo. But the ten were winnowed to five, and from the five, came a winner. Dressed in a canary gown that made her look like an escapee from a Cirque de Soleil production, she accepted a crown tall enough to make any drag queen's heart flutter.

I must admit that I felt a bit sorry for the contestants. I could almost hear Mama Rose calling from back stage: "Take off a glove." But I had a great time. As did the audience.

Today the Independence Day celebrations continue. There will be horse races in Villa Obregon this afternoon (complete with drunken cowboys) and a huge fireworks display in San Patricio tonight. It is not a good time to be without a camera.

Even when I have become unstuck in time.

three cheers for the red, white, and green

Mexican Independence Day begins at midnight -- the bridging hour between 15 and 16 September.

This week will be the 199th anniversary of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla's declaration of war on the colonial overlords of Spain -- and his call for the people to rise.

The original conspirators envisioned an orderly uprising of all The Right People. When that plan was outed, Hidalgo urged all Mexicans to rise in revolt. And they did. The Right People were appalled at the ensuing bloodshed. Apparently, in the omelet process, many eggs contain more than yolks.

Today, Mexicans do not round up the Spanish and Criollos living in Guanajuato and massacre them in honor of the 1810 massacres.

One thing they do is eat. And the traditional food for Independence Day is Chiles en Nogada --poblano chiles filled with chopped meat, fruits, and spices, and topped with a walnut-based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds.

The color combination sets a patriotic motif based on the Mexican flag: the green chili, the white nut sauce, and the red pomegranate seeds. Though, my WASPy eyes catch glimpses of Saint Nick.

I had never tried this dish. Because it is difficult to make, it shows up seasonally. And this is the season.

When I received an invitation to attend an early Independence Day party in La Manzanilla on Monday night, I grabbed it.

Mind you, it would mean violating the first rule of driving in Mexico: Don't drive at night. Plus two corollaries: Do not drive when tired; do not drive through hills in a lightning storm.

Laura runs an eating establishment on the beach called Lora Loka. When I first visited La Manzanilla in 2007, I had my first dinner in her place. I have been a regular since.

But tonight was about as hometown as you could wish. There were about 16 diners -- who chose either the chiles or a shrimp dish. The highlight of the evening was Laura singing some folk tunes accompanied with her dancing.

My chile was delicious.

And because I survived my tired drive through the lightning-sparked night, I was wondering if I could convince Laura that the dish looks enough like Christmas to slip in another one in three months' time.

Monday, September 14, 2009

my best friend

Professor Jiggs
Dunkirk Lord Bothel
1 January 1996 - 14 September 2009

He loved the beach. Everything about it.

Playing in the surf. The birds. The smells.

I had thought of moving to the Oregon coast years ago -- just for him. But we lived an hour away, and we could go whenever we had the time and it suited our fancy.

I should say, if it suited my fancy.

Jiggs was a dog. He did whatever I wanted to do. What he did not know is that I often chose to do things for his sake -- knowing he would enjoy them.

And enjoy he did. He was one of the most wilful of dogs. But that is what made him such a good friend.

It started early. I brought him home when he was three months old. One of his favorite haunts was the Oregon Archives Park.

On one outing when he was no more than four months old, he grabbed the retriever toy I was using to teach him how to -- retrieve. With it firmly gripped in his teeth, he turned around and headed for home at a slow walk. I started to run after him. He ran. Between the park and our house is a very busy road. And it was busy that day.

But drivers saw what was happening. They stopped. While the little golden dog, with the charmed life, kept right on going. When I covered the two blocks home, I found him sitting at the back gate -- as proud as any dog could be.

It was just the start. But every test of wills ended in a greater bond between the two of us.

Readers of this blog know that I struggled with the idea of bringing him to Mexico. I did not believe that he would live long enough to make the trip.

But he came through a series of serious incidents -- each one accompanied by the soft thrum of death's wings.

I came home in December of 2007 to discover that he was having trouble walking on his left rear leg. It was the start of a process that eventually involved both legs. And, eventually, his ability to breathe.

On Sunday, I spent most of the day driving around Melaque and Barra to provide air conditioning for him. It was not enough.

He died lying next to me on my bed this morning around 2:30.

When I retired in April, a colleague gave me a farewell couplet: lyrics from a song. They sum up much of what I feel about my best friend, Professor Jiggs, and how I remember him:

Take wing
Fly to glory
Dance, sing
Tell your story
You bring such joy to those you've known
Take flight, take wing

We're going to miss you, Jiggs.

dog days of summer

One member of this blog duo -- the more interesting one, the one with four legs -- is under the weather. As a result, today's blog will be rather brief -- because there is not much to report.

As we have learned from the past, the good Professor Jiggs could put most cats to shame with his life recoveries.

First thing tomorrow morning, Jiggs and I are hopping in the little red truck to visit his veterinarian in Manzanillo. He was already scheduled to go there on F
riday to start his extended stay while I am in Oregon.

He simply may start that stay a little bit early. That is my optimistic assessment. I'm not a doctor, but I play one in the courtroom.

If there is anything more to report in this area, I will let you know later today.

For now, I am going to try to sleep. I am exhausted.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

love amongst the palms

I can't get her out of my mind.

She was my first love in Mexico. I knew I loved here even before I came here.

I met her on the internet. The home of electronic Xanadus and Rosebuds.

Her photographs were stunning. How could beauty like that be real?

And the prose was crafted from gossamer wings.

So, I flew to Mexico. Everything was almost as expected.

But reality has a way of fading our dreams. And this one ended as all fervent romances do -- with cooling coals.

Today, Jiggs and I drove over to see her again.

My first true Mexican love: La Manzanilla.

You can read about that first trip in
a travel log in search of an editor.

The house that drew me to La Manzanilla is still on the market. It sits high on a hill with a view of Tenacatita Bay -- one of the loveliest spots on the face of the earth.

And it is listed at a price that would only get you three good Hondas. As I sat in the truck with Jiggs, all of those feelings I felt back in 2009 came welling up. It was just like seeing an old love. Because I was seeing an old love.

And it was the dilemma we have all faced in our lives: your mind says, it will not work; your heart says this is your dream.

You all know of my saga in Melaque. This summer of heat and bugs has taught me a lot about myself, and I have certainly had an opportunity to exercise my humor.

Add that to the other problems that exist in La Manzanilla: jungle growth, ejido land, lots and lots of steps, water issues, and infrastructure limitations.

This is the beautiful woman with twelve children, personal debts, five prior marriages (none resulting in legal divorces), who has several outstanding arrest warrants. But she assures you, with love you can work it all out.

The relationship where your friends start collecting money for deprogramming sessions.

The head should be a clear winner on this one. But, as I drove back to the house, my head and heart were having a WWF slam down.

My head won. It is hard to live a dream when the only thing keeping the bugs away from you is a river of sweat.

La Manzanilla and I have an understanding. We can't be just friends.

We will be ex-lovers.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

all the old familiar faces

Holga lens.

If someone had asked me what it was last year, I most likely would have responded: Wasn't that what the space shuttle Endeavor repaired in 1994?

I now know better. Because I am a faithful reader of

Billie blogs on many topics. But photography is her passion. And she knows her stuff.

I now know that a Holga camera has a simple lens that can add unusual clarity or distortions to an exposure. Many photographers, with an artistic bent, adore the results.

As you know, my camera is dead. It is not a Holga. But Holga images are dancing in my head for two reasons.

First, Billie returned to Mexico after a four-month sojourn in Houston. We are pleased to see her (and Ned) back.

Second, I discovered I do have a camera. With a Holgaish lens.

Before my brother left in May, he insisted that I use one of his sophisticated cellular telephones. My mobiles have always been very vanilla. Looking through the manual the other day, I discovered it also has a camera.

After several false starts, I got this shot of Jiggs, who had snuck away to be left on his own. You can see that he is pleased to see neither me nor the camera.

But I rather like the look of this lens. It is almost as if Matthew Brady showed up in our era -- and was not quite certain how to use the technology.

This may end up being my emergency camera until I can buy the Panasonic.

It seems that everything works out in Mexico -- given enough time and patience.

Friday, September 11, 2009

i forget -- what is "amnesia?"

I miss my camera. Any camera.

Each day since I broke my old Nikon, I have seen some great shots. A rustic fence framing a contemporary home. Children at the beach. And, Thursday night, a glorious sunset filtered through soft rain.

The photograph at the top of this post is one of the last I took with that camera. It was a great sunset camera. But the sunsets here are almost no-miss subjects. A third grader with a Brownie could get a good shot of these summer beaches.

I have found no one in town willing to tackle trying to fix my unique camera. A trip to Manzanillo may be the only option.

I do know one thing, There is too much going on around here at the moment to be without a camera. Either I get mine fixed -- or I will buy something inexpensive simply to catch moments before they fade.

And I need photographs. Some people can look through albums and have memories triggered. For me, the photograph is the full memory.

Either I get a camera or I am going to suffer the equivalent of two weeks of amnesia.

I would rather not forget sunsets like this.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

making a list -- checking it twice

In just over a week, I will be heading north to replace my long-lost Oregon driver's license, and to participate in the grand opening of a Salvation Army facility in Salem.

During the two weeks I will be in Oregon, I hope to catch up on lost socializing time. Most of my time for the two weeks I will be there is already booked.

But one thing I need to do is to put together a list of items to bring back to Mexico.

This is one of those perennial blog topics. What do you miss most in Mexico? After being here for only five months, I will have the luxury of schlepping some of my favorite things back to Mexico.

I am not yet done with it, but this is my first draft.

  • sandals -- my good pair literally disintegrated in the heat and humidity (something from Rockport, I think -- and not like the photograph above)

  • deck shoes -- my faithful pair are so torn that they collect sand and biting insects

  • casual shirts -- I brought a large stack; every shirt is now torn or spotted with bleach, oil, or grime; Mexico is not kind to clothing

  • head lamp -- not for the truck, for me; one of those hiker-style lights to let me read at night

  • camera and associated paraphernalia -- something with a big zoom, probably a Panasonic FZ38

  • Samuel Adams: A Life -- by Ira Stoll

  • The Rogue's March: John Riley and the Saint Patrick's Battalion, 1846-48 -- by Peter F. Stevens (as part of my research on how the neighboring village, San Patricio, got its name)

  • Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the war in the West, 1941-1945 -- by Andrew Roberts

  • Eat This Book: A Conversation in Spiritual Reading -- by Eugene H. Peterson

  • Driving Like Crazy -- by P.J. O'Rourke (there is no way I will miss reading another O'Rourke book -- especially after it gets an outstanding review from Florence King)

  • DEET in travel size containers

  • battery charger (my wireless keyboard -- thanks to the briny air -- is eating two AA batteries every 6 or 7 days)

  • AA batteries (I still need them when I travel)

  • FrontLine (for Jiggs -- tick and flea medicine)

  • shampoo (a bow to vanity and marketing)

It is a short list. Some things I can get in Mexico -- at increased costs. The camera is an example. I can buy it here for almost 75% more than I will pay in The States. For some reason, my Polo shirts are extremely expensive, as well.

I will not find the deck shoes or sandals I want in Mexico. Simply not here. That surprises me. But I had some problem with deck shoes in Salem, as well. That is why they have not yet been replaced.

And I suspect the list is not going to grow much. I have been able to find substitutes for almost everything I need. Other wants, I have merely jettisoned.

I am taking a small carry-on north -- enough for my laptop and a change of clothes. I have a large suitcase I can bring south to carry my booty.

In October I will return with my new driver's license, and it will be as if I had never been parted from my wallet.

Even better. I will have more O'Rourke to read.

And, Jennifer. If you lived on the beach, I could lend it to you.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

tuesday on the beach with jiggs

"You have a sculptor's eye for painting."

A friend told me that several years ago when looking at one of my artistic attempts. It was not meant as a compliment.

I thought of that comment on Tuesday evening. Jiggs and I were sitting on the stoop of the gate leading to the beach behind the house.

The evening was gray. Not emotionally. In fact, it was a joyous evening.

Small familiy groups swimming in the sea. Boardshorted boys skimming along the beach and launching themselves over the crest of waves. Counter-balanced by young women walking the beach, looking as if they were spending the week at a Nazarene church camp.

And dogs. Chasing sticks. Sniffing. Running.

Like a George C. Cohan production -- all of that joy played out against a somber sea and sky constructed of a hundred shades of gray. The combination was a perfect blend of serenity.

When Georges Seraut decided to paint bourgeois Parisians enjoying a Sunday afternoon on à l'Île de la Grande Jatte, he concentrated on how to bring order to the whole -- through design, composition, tension, balance, light, and harmony. And he made it work.

If I had an artistic hand, I could have produced something that would have Incorporated the principles. But even without my sculptor's eye, I could not have done justice to the scene.

Instead, I put down my Lincoln biography and simply watched what I would never capture on canvas play itself out in grays and joys.

It truly was a practically perfect evening.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

going down one more time

The sea was calm that night.

Even so, the lookouts saw the iceberg in the water. But enough mistakes came together that Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are now the Gable and Leigh of their day.

Well, it would not have happened in my bedroom on Sunday night. Titanic faced almost freezing weather. If she had sailed through the weather in my bedroom, no one would have the slightest idea who Edward John Smith was.

Our hot weather continues unabated.

My only defense has been a small portable air conditioner. After trying several methods to make the unit work in the master bedroom, I decided it simply was not designed to cool that much space.

The main guest room is about one-third the size of the master bedroom-bathroom. I decided to try an experiment.

I want you to be kind at this point. I was trained to be a trial advocate, not an engineer.

But here is what faced me. The air conditioner vents hot air through a hose. The unit is well-designed for double-hung windows. Lift the sash, install the adapter. Done.

The problem is the windows in the bedroom are not double-hung. They are designed to ventilate. By turning a crank, individual slats of glass open or close.

The solution seemed obvious. Take out two slats of glass and put the adapter in the window.

It worked. Sort of.

To do that I had to remove the screen that keeps insects out (cue warning music). And the adapter did not quite fill the space.

But I decided to give it a test. In 30 minutes I could feel the room start to cool.

So, Jiggs and I moved into the guest room for the night.

I could feel the cool air coming out of the unit. I turned out the light and tried to get some sleep. But I felt the strangest sensation. Almost as if a very large mammal was breathing on me.

Cool air. Hot air. Cool air. Hot air. The rhythm of a predator.

And I could see the temperature gauge varying between 86 and 88.

A little investigation indicated that el chupacabras was not stalking me.

The house was well-designed to deal with Mexican weather. For obvious reasons, it is not air-tight. It is supposed to allow air to flow through -- to cool.

And that is exactly what was happening. Air was passing through the French doors and through the spaces between the glass slats in both windows. The house was working as designed. As fast as the air conditioner could produce cold air, the house was allowing fresh air to replace it.

Not entirely. I got up in the middle of the night to carry Jiggs down stairs. The air conditioning unit may be inefficient, but it does some conditioning. When I walked out of the bedroom, I felt as if I had been hit in the face with a hamper of wet towels.

So, here ends the tale of the air conditioner. I have done what I can. I will use it for Jiggs's sake. And just wait for September to pass.

The locals assure me that October will bring cooler weather and small flocks of Canadians (and a few Americans mixed in).

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio can go get their own room.

Monday, September 07, 2009

i could have lanced all night

On my first day in Villa Obregon this year, I took Jiggs for a walk on the street where I live. (As far as I know, neither Lerner nor Lowe were there.)

Everything was new. And seemed a bit exotic to me.

But I still remember this bougainvillea bush -- just four doors down from my house.

It was hardly the biggest bougainvillea that I have seen. Nor were the colors unusual.

But there was something about the way it had been trained to arch over the sidewalk and the three different color of flowers that perfectly complemented one another. Someone had given a good deal of love to this bush.

For almost five months I have meant to post something about it.

And today is the day. As Jiggs and I were walking along, each a bit dazed by the heat, I failed to pay attention to one important fact.

Though I will never be picked first in the selection of basketball teams, I must be a bit taller than the people who usually walk under this flowering arch. Because I was suddenly reminded of a simple botanical fact.

The bougainvillea has beautiful flowers. But like many things of beauty, it comes armed. In this case with nasty long thorns.

If I had been walking a bit faster, I could have completed the first step in successful brain surgery. As it was, I simply got a nice little gash.

And it was a fair exchange. Where else in life can you get five months of unalloyed pleasure for a brief pang?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

the drums stopped

Somewhere. Someone. Was drumming.

Probably further down the bay in Melaque proper. Sound can play strange tricks over water.

And it travels. Just like people and their dreams.

It sounded as if Maynard G. Krebs had taken his bongo to drug and bugle corps practice. But there were no bugles.

Just drums.

It made an interesting backdrop to the close of a hot and sunny Saturday. Jiggs and I sat out on the deck. He was watching doggy theater as skim boarders, joggers, dogs, horses, and fishers put on a show -- just for him.

I was going to try to finish up a news magazine I had been reading off and on for two days. It will now be three days -- at least. Because the evening was too beautiful to read.

As much as I do not like the heat and humidity of tropical Mexico, I love the sea.

Tonight it was almost flat. As the sun started to set, some cumulus clouds started their poppin' fresh march across the ocean's horizon from the south. They were benevolence personified.

But as often happens in tales of this sort, something started to change them. I doubt it was a wizard. But it was just as startling.

Within a half hour they must have quadrupled their height -- and, in the process, started generating their own special effects. Thunder. Lightning. Rain.

And not a bit of that drama on land. It was as if Norma Desmond had wandered into camera range and was not to going to move one step out of focus.

We could have used the rain. On Friday, we had a bit. But August was almost a bust.

The entire country is suffering from its driest spell in 70 years. Some cities are rationing water usage. Reservoirs are running dry. Farmers are losing livestock and crops.

And this area is no expection. A regular poster on one of the local message boards keeps track of our weather. For August, the rainfall was 3.57 inches, the lowest amount since she has been keeping records. Remember, August is the height of the rainy season.

She offered some past years for comparison:

2004: 4.72"

2005: 13.16" (unusual, annual total was only 25.40")

2006: 7.74"

2007: 8.99"

2008: 7.75"

Jiggs and I tend to see those numbers from a selfish standpoint. Each missing inch means a day that was hotter than it could have been.

The drums eventually stopped. The rains never came.

It was a fine Saturday. But one that could have been a bit damper.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

come again any day

Friday was a great day. Too great to let it pass without recording it.

I have mentioned several times that Jiggs's back legs seem to degenerate day by day.

Last week, his veterinarian decided to try an injected steroid treatment. One shot Friday a week ago. One shot yesterday.

Shot one did not seem to do much. But Jiggs was markedly better today.

We went for a walk in the afternoon. Most of his recent walks have been rather brief.

Today was a marathon. We walked along a good portion of the Melaque beach, and he insisted on walking in the surf.

The day we arrived in Melaque, we took the same walk. When he tried his first walk in the surf, it pulled his legs from under him and almost sucked him back into the next wave. He has generally avoided the surf line since then.

Not today. He headed straight for the surf edge, and walked the entire beach that way. Almost as if he needed to let everyone on the beach know he was back -- and he was ready. Not a dog or person escaped at least an attempt by Jiggs the Beach Greeter to say hello.

Was it the injection? Maybe.

But going and coming from Manzanillo, I had the air conditioner running. We also took an hour driving around Barra de Navidad looking at potential houses for rent.

In addition to his car-cooling, when we arrive home, the weather changed from clear to sprinkles. Whenever we get rain, the temperature seems to drop.

Whatever it was, he was in top form. Top form enough that he insisted on a late night walk.

Jiggs and I seem to have the same experience with weather in Melaque. This tropical heat is tough. My cousin, Danny, who has lived most of his adult life in tropical regions, warned me that heat can affect both body and mind.

And he is correct. I have been amazed how the heat almost makes me feel -- depressed is not the correct word -- maybe, oppressed. I wake up every morning feeling as if someone has been sitting on my chest.

But the moment the sky clouds over and the rain starts, I return to my usual bright and chipper personality -- where I am prosaically perfect in every way in this best of all possible worlds.

This sojourn by the sea has taught me one very important lesson about myself. I cannot adapt to every situation. But it has also taught me that I can change the circumstances.

As soon as I find a house for my winter stay in Melaque, I need to start looking where Jiggs and I are going to live in the highlands -- as we continue the adventure.

Friday, September 04, 2009

through a glass darkly

Paul may have first used the phrase. At least, that is where I would have first heard it.

In church or Sunday school.

But I also know it from the Ingmar Bergman film. And, of course, George Patton's poem.

It is true that we have an imperfect perception of reality.

And it even gets more imperfect when you become a man of a certain age. Deviating from routines can be a bad thing.

Six months ago, I could not imagine myself writing a sentence like that. I was the poster child for postmodernism. Routines were for geezers.

Now, I am quickly become a warning for AARP members.

On Thursday night, I downloaded some photographs from my camera. I was going to tell you how my house rental search was going.

My usual routine is to put the camera in my back pack after I am done downloading. Instead, I put it on the bed on top of my walking shorts. A little voice said: "Don't do that." I ignored it -- as I do most of the voices I hear these days.

I sat down to do some work on the computer. By that time of night, Jiggs is usually settled down. He stopped taking his midnight walks when midnight was no cooler than the late afternoon.

But on Thursday, he was restless. He barked that he wanted to go out. By that point the house was locked up. Getting out of Alcatraz must have been easier.

So, I grabbed my shorts to pull out the keys.

Just as I did it, the little voice said: "See?" Because the camera was now in full flight heading away from me, but not on its way to Capistrano.

We have all had that feeling. You know what is happening -- what is going to happen. And it is all flashing by in slow motion frame by frame.

When the camera hit the tile floor, no plastic pieces flew off. There was no sound of a breaking lens. The battery did not spark off a flash.

But there was that thud. Sometimes you just know by the sound that the result is not going to be good.

Because I often have to prove that I am foolish, I tried to take a photograph. It powered up. The screen worked. I could feel the lens zoom inside its chamber. Hope was actually bubbling through reality.

I tried a flash shot. No result.

Well, there was a result. You can see it at the top of the post.

In just over two weeks, I will be in Oregon. I had planned on buying a new camera while I am there.

But that means until I return, there will be no new photographs. And, of course, between now and then:

  • There will be new hatchings of iguana in the back yard.
  • The presidents of Latin America will meet at the bungalows across the street.
  • The circus will parade its lions and tigers and bears (and unicorns) on my beach.
  • The world's best sunsets will occur.

And I will have no camera.

I have a library of photographs I have been meaning to share. This may be the opportunity to do that.

And, if any of you have some suggestions on a good digital point and shoot with a high-powered zoom (at least x15 optical), I would appreciate hearing your suggestions. I would purchase a digital SLR, but this weather is brutal on lenses.

It was a good camera. I will give it a decent burial. Because even the images on Plato's walls are a stranger to it now.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

son of the witch

[This photograph is the property of Howard Platt.
Used with his permission.]

"Everything is ruined by repetition -- even Paris."

I'm not certain who first said it, but it is true, and bears repeating. Of course, it would then be ruined.

It is one reason I have a general blog rule of no follow-up posts. Today is going to be an exception.

Yesterday I introduced you to my mysterious mothly visitor.

Last month Kim noted that he liked reading my blog because the people who leave comments are witty, interesting, and erudite. Well, they have proven that once again.

The little electrons were still warm from posting when Chrissy correctly identified it as a Black Witch Moth. My friend Howard Platt then dug into his silver mine of local knowledge and provided us with some background on this interesting moth.

(Besides being well-informed, Howard is a fantastic photographer. He took the photograph at the top of this post and gave me permission to use it.)

As an homage to Mexico Bob, who loves all things creepy and crawly, let me tell you what I have learned about this piece of fauna in my new home.

The Black Witch moth, or as it is known to its more scientific friends, Ascalapha odorata, is the largest moth in North America, with up to a 6 inch wingspan. For those of you who thought I was turning a pussy cat into a werewolf, it really is a big moth.

Size matters, but its black color is even more striking. (As you can see in Howard's picture, it is quite colorful under a flash light.)

Anything that big and black has to have a legend to go long with it. The name (Black Witch Moth) is good for starters. But try on the Mexican name: mariposa de la muerte (butterfly of death) -- a name it has borne since pre-Colombian days. (But not in Spanish -- you, of course, already knew that.)

I showed a Mexican neighbor the photograph. She repeated "muerte" several times. Then asked: "¿Donde?" I responded: "Aquí." I guess that was the wrong answer from the look on her face.

And here is why:

  • When there is sickness in a house and the moth enters, the sick person dies.
  • If the moth flies over a man's head, he will lose his hair.
  • If the moth lands and stays over a doorway, the resident will win the lottery.
  • If the moth rests in the carport, bloggers can talk about it for at least two days.
Those of you who are readers of suspense novels may know quite a bit about this moth. In Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris wrote that the serial killer, Buffalo Bill, put the pupae of the Black Witch Moth in the mouth of each victim. Thinking that was not creepy enough the movie did a one-shriek casting upgrade, fired the Black Witch Moth, and replaced it with a Death Head's Moth.

Legends accompany many "sinister" animals. In the movies, they become stars. In real life, they usually end up dead smashed with a shoe. I imagine that these black beauties must live very peril-filled lives toting around all of their superstitious baggage.

Thanks to bloggers who took the time to share, we all know something we did not know yesterday.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

children of the night

Monday night I wished that I still had a job.

I do not regret retirement. I do not regret living in Mexico. Remember, I am a charter member of the Edith Piaf non, je ne regrette rien club.

What bothered me Monday night is that I simply could not sleep. And whatever it was, Jiggs was just as restless.

Maybe my body was feeling that two nights of sound sleep was enough.

Instead of sleeping, I drafted email, read my Lincoln biography, and wandered around the house as if I were waiting for my vampire wife to fly in from a busy night on the arterial.

I thought Jiggs would want a short walk on Tuesday evening. Simply because he would be tired. I knew I was.

Instead, he wanted to go to the beach. And not just any beach. We had to stop at the portion of the beach with the skim boarders and their canine groupies.

And an eventful evening it was. A young rottweiler wanted him to play. Jiggs did his best -- without falling over.

Then a yellow lab mix beach dog invited him to share chasing a bottle in the surf. Jiggs declined.

But Jiggs settled down into the sand just above the surf line. Watching each boarder run across the sand and skim over a wave. And keeping an eye on that dog as he worried his captive bottle.

There is always danger of imposing human emotions on our pets. But I could easily see in his eyes that his enjoyment of that moment on the beach had a melancholy subtext. The visual stimulation was what he needed, but he would have liked to have truly been a bigger part of the action.

Pulling him away from the beach was like trying to get a kid out of a swimming pool. But he finally tottered along behind me.

As I started to open the gate at the house, I thought I saw a swallow fly into the carport. It was too slow for a bat, and it was a little small for a swallow. Perhaps a juvenile returning to the nest late.

But when it approached one of the nests, a swallow batted it away. Instead, it landed on the bat's roost. Flat, not hanging.

You see the result. It is some form of moth wider than the span of my hand. The colors are subtle, but they would certainly fit a young vampiress on her night on the townies.

I am going to spend more time in that carport when night settles in.

Who knows: Maybe I will meet Bela Lugosi.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

learning my abzzzzzzzzz

Felipe calls her "an old Mexican school marm hidden behind the mountains" -- the regulator of Mexico's rainy season.

Four months on. Eight months off. As if the rain guys belonged to a very good fireman's union.

If he is correct, that school marm should be investigated for dipping into the bucket -- Mexico simply is not getting the rain it should these days. This summer is leaving man and beast panting for one last drop of water before we shuffle off to that Sahara in the sky.

If it were not for the humidity in my little fishing village, I would suspect that David Lean had slipped into town while everyone was busy sweating and had started a remake of Lawrence of Arabia.

I am doing as well as I thought I would in the heat (and that translates to "not very"), but Jiggs has been having a far more difficult time. Nights are worst for him. I think that is true because our bedroom is very hot -- and the ocean breezes stop when the sun starts setting. Regulated, I suspected, by the same school marm who controls the rain. She may even run the teachers' union.

I have mentioned that the woman who owns the house purchased a portable air conditioner for the bedroom. I have tried not to use it most nights because I knew how expensive electricity is in Mexico. I was also reluctant to use it because it does not reduce the temperature in the room by any more than a couple of degrees -- running all night.

But, for Jiggs's sake, I have turned it on to create a bit of cool breeze for him whenever the bedroom temperature gets over 90 degrees.

Over the weekend the electric bill arrived. For our extravagant occasional use of electricity, we were charged the equivalent of $100 for the past two months.

To me, that initially seemed high. This house usually has an electric bill of about $10 a month.

But air conditioning is expensive everywhere. My house in Salem had an electric bill this month of over $100 -- and Oregon has relatively inexpensive electrical rates (thanks to subsidies from the generous American taxpayer).

I played with the idea of cutting back on using the air conditioner. That lasted just long enough for me to watch Jiggs's pleading eyes.

But Felipe's school marm intervened. Maybe the federales were closing in on her, but she decided to give us a nice soft rain for two days. The furious hurricane that is building in the Pacific probably had something to do with the rain, along with an extremely brisk wind and some amazing wave activity.

The greatest gift, though, was two nights with temperatures in the 70s. I actually turned off the fans in the bedroom. Both of us had the first full night of sleep since we arrived in April. By "full," I mean that we did not roll out of our respective sleeping arrangements until 8:45.

Maybe Hypnos gave the school marm a micky. However it happened, two full nights of sleep has put both of us in high spirits.