Saturday, October 31, 2009

elementary, my dear watson

I now have a better idea why the turkey vultures are vacationing at the beach. It appears to be Carrion Fisher week.

While walking along the shore, I have found the usual array of dead puffer fish along with assorted bait fish.

But last night, I found the treasure at the top of the post.

It was about the length of my arm. But I have no idea what it is.

My first guess was a new-born dolphin. The head has that distinctive look, even though the teeth do not seem correct.

And if it is a dolphin, it is one with severe birth defects. There are no flippers and the tail is not correct.

The tail is what makes me think this is a deep sea fish of some sort. All of the propulsion and motion stabilization appears to be in the tail with very limited fin structure.

The cause of death does not require Sherlock Holmes to give us an answer, though. If you look closely you can see a large fish caught in the creature's (such an Edwardian word) mouth. And without available arms on fellow fishes, the Heimlich maneuver is always out of the question.

Anyone want to toss your line into the fish-naming pool? I have run out of ideas.

Friday, October 30, 2009

amana mañana

During my recent search for a house, I had several requirements for a place to live.

The first was access to high-speed internet. It is my window to the outside world.

But the second was almost as important: a good kitchen. I like to cook. And I like to eat what I cook. So much so that the retirement gift I requested from my employer was a set of good-quality cookware. I certainly could not find it here.

Most Mexican kitchens are Spartan, but utilitarian. They get the job done.

But I discovered early on that many of the homes in my part of tropical Mexico do not have kitchens. The cooking takes place outside over a charcoal-powered flame. Only a bit more sophisticated than my Boy Scout camping days.

Some homes have a "stove" -- based around a frame that holds both the pot and the charcoal off the ground. The photograph at the top of this post is an example.

Outside cookery has its advantages. The cooking smells are not trapped in the house. There are days when I infuse peppers into my cooking oil that I wish I was cooking outside. The kitchen ends up smelling like a Roman square following a police-dispersed political riot.

It is also economical. Buying charcoal is cheaper than dealing with the cost and inconvenience of propane. The trade off is that charcoal affords next to no heat control.

If the setup sounds a bit primitive, you do not have to go too far back in American history to find houses where the kitchen was in a separate building from the main house -- usually for fire prevention.

I may have a small kitchen in the new house, but it is inside.
And it will be near a high-speed internet connection.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

the greatest show on earth

I do not do this very often.

Video is not the best component for blogs. It devours far too much bandwidth.

However, an artist friend directed me to this short film. 20 minutes.

I almost did not watch it. And that would have been a mistake. Fortunately, my "stop saying no" rule kicked in.

And I am glad I did. It was 20 minutes well invested.

I like the music. I like the cinematography. But, most of all, I like the simple tale that this award-winning short film tells.

It is called: The Butterfly Circus.

[Some browsers appear to be having trouble loading the film from the embedded viewer. You can see the film at:]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

i'm not dead -- yet

The shadow blocked out the sun -- just for a moment. The type of shadow that causes rabbits and iguanas to freeze.

And then a swoop and a shape. As if Bruce Wayne's alter ego was about to alight in my back yard.

My first reaction was that it was one of the eagles I see occasionally -- out searching for a bit of breakfast. But I had never seen one flying at balcony level.

It pulled up, stalled, and alit in the neighbor's coconut palm.

When I pulled out my binoculars. I was surprised to be looking directly into the eye of a Turkey Vulture -- what we country folk in Powers would call a "buzzard." (If you click on the photograph, you can enlarge it to see the distinctive head -- the turkey portion of the name.)

Within a minute three others joined him in the same tree.

Now, I don't know how you were raised. But where I come from, buzzards are not considered to be a pleasant sign -- nor a subtle one.

I had to do a bit of research to discover the cultural impact of the Black Witch moth (
son of the witch). I didn't need research to know why the vultures were around.

Or I thought not.

My first reaction was that there must be something dead on the beach -- and they were simply waiting for the coast to clear. But they perched there all morning. I looked for myself to be certain that some poor soul was not dragging himself across the sand in search of water. Nada.

Eliminating the obvious, I started wondering if the vultures could sense my recent spike in blood pressure. But they obviously had no interest in me as I stood on the balcony snapping photographs. They wouldn't even close up like good tourists for their group beach shot.

But I came to the conclusion that is what they were: tourists. They had come to enjoy the pleasures of a sunny day at the beach. And they did.

After sunning themselves for about three hours, they simply disappeared -- as quickly and quietly as they came.

Several business owners in town have told me the tourist trade has been dead the past few weeks.

I think I now have proof that they are correct.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

warm up this slice

Thirty-five years ago we worked on projects of mutual interest in Greece.

The Frenchman and the American. Doing the work of the Free World.

At least, that is what we told ourselves,.

The last time I saw him was in August 1974 in Athens at a seaside restaurant. I would leave Greece in just a few days, and America would have a new president.

The world moved on at its own pace.

It turns out, though, that it was not the last time I saw him. I ran into him again in 2007. In Mexico. At a seaside restaurant.

By the Gallic pallor on his face when he saw me, he thought I had come to settle a four-decade old grudge over French perfidy.

Instead of settling imagined scores, we caught up on our lives. To the extent that the gracious editor of selective story-telling allowed.

He told me that I needed to meet his greatest accomplishment: his son.

It took me almost two years, but I finally met him last week for dinner.

I was not surprised to find him to be a younger version of his father. Handsome. Witty. A great conversationalist. At 24, he had the social graces of a far-older man.

We had stopped by my place and were chatting about fears. I mentioned that my greatest fear is having my head underwater. He jumped up, and told me to follow him.

We went down to the beach. Even though it was well past midnight, he had me diving under the smashing waves that add a perpetual percussion in the house.

I was pummeled more often than I was successful. But I finally had a semblance of how to do it. And I thanked him.

But he is a perfect example of what can happen to bright young people in Mexico. He went to school to become an archaeologist. And not a Meso-American archaeologist. As a result, he cannot find a job in the area of his professional passion.

Instead, he works as a waiter at a resort about an hour south of my house. At least, he puts his fluency in three languages to use. But a passion it is not. At best, he is playing the role of a waiter in a never-ending production.

Fortunately, he has a fallback position. He wants to be an actor. I do have a few contacts in Mexico that I thought might be able to help. And I was happy to make calls. Whether it makes any difference, we shall see.

I made the calls as a favor to his father. But, I think I would have done the same thing if I had never met his father.

There is something refreshing about people who are willing to live their dreams and to escape the manacles of their own past.

And that is my second piece of Meat Loaf. The same album that contains the song from yesterday's post also contains"Objects in the Rear View Mirror may Appear Closer than They Are" -- one of my favorite Steinman songs.
The skies were pure and the fields were green
And the sun was brighter than its ever been
When I grew up with my best friend Kenny
We were close as any brothers than you ever knew
It was always summer and the future called
We were ready for adventures and we wanted them all
And there was so much left to dream and so much time to make it real

I guess that is what these two essays have been about. Trying to find the sense of maintaining the feeling that it is always summer and our futures are still calling to us.

So, Steve. Where does that leave you? You came to Mexico to experience a new life -- not to create Salem in a tropical setting.

And is a fair criticism.

I guess the answer is that I need to get with the program -- or I need to start looking elsewhere for my adventure.

I told myself last week that I am going to stop saying "no." When people offer new adventures, I am going to try them. Like my friend's son, I am going to take advantage of the situations when they happen.

I have dived under a crashing wave at midnight. And I survived.

What could touch me now?

Monday, October 26, 2009

two slices of meat loaf

The Kiwi accent was unmistakable.

But I could not place the voice on the telephone. And the computer-generated call was not coughing up any additional information.

He solved my dilemma: "It's Ken. -- The pianist."

And so it was.

I met him on one of my birthday cruises to Mexico -- almost a decade ago.

My usual routine on cruises is to spend a portion of the first day scouting out the live music venues.

On that cruise, a pianist was playing in the central atrium. Something lyrical, but vaguely mundane. Obviously another Lloyd Webber piece. The killing field of mass market piano music.

But the tune was one I did not recognize immediately.

I had become bored enough with Lord L-W's music that I was experimenting with a trial musical separation.

Then it hit me. I knew the tune : "A Kiss is a Terrible Thing to Waste." It was a featured cut from Meat Loaf's most recent album. (The song was from Lord Lloyd-Webber's Whistle Down the Wind. Jim Steinman, Meat Loaf's regular songwriter, wrote the lyrics for the show. Thus, the odd Meat Loaf-Lloyd Webber combination.)

The song is not very good. But the pianist was. I was a bit surprised that a lounge entertainer would run the risk of playing something the general public would not immediately recognize.

When he finished, I applauded and remarked: "I see Meat Loaf is on the menu."

He looked at me quizzically, nodded -- and started laughing.

People who laugh at my feeble humor are given a pass to move to the head of my popularity queue.

The next day I ran into him while we were both running around the ship's jogging track. He told me he was a composer in addition to being a performer. His big dream was to finish a musical he was composing and to have it produced on Broadway. Truly, a Big Dream.

I asked if I could take a look at his draft. It was not great, but it was a solid piece with potential. I made some notes and suggested concept revisions, and returned the full package to him.

When I returned it, he said: "Thanks. You are the first person who has not rolled his eyes when I talk about getting to Broadway."

Near the end of our telephone call last week, I asked him about the musical project.

"Oh." He said. "I gave up on that. We all have to grow up sometime."

He didn't sound sad. Merely resigned. In a very adult way.

But it was sad. Hearing that a dreamer has murdered his own dream is always a bit too Medea for me.

When I hung up, I realized that Steinman's lyrics to the song I first heard Ken playing summed up part of my uneasiness:

The loneliest word you'll ever know:
If only, if only, it were so.
The emptiest words that there'll ever be:
It could've been me; it could've been me.

Ken's call caused me to think about the very fragile nature of dreams. And where we end up when there the future holds only dead dreams.

This is the point where essays are supposed to wrap the theme in a clever summary. But I am not ready for that summary yet.

Because there is one more slice of Meat Loaf to serve up.

Mañana -- perhaps.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

just a reminder

For those parts of Mexico that went on summer time this year, the experience is about to end.

Today (Sunday) at 2 AM, we will set our clocks back one hour. (Or you can do it right now. Who is going to be the wiser?)

Canada and The States do not play this little game of appointment roulette until next Sunday (prepare to fall back).

I am currently finishing up the second part of our prayer series for church tomorrow morning. I have been through enough of these time changes that I would probably be wise to show up an hour early to make certain the non-changers stick around for the service.

But, for now, I am back to preparing my notes.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

there be dragons

One bit of commonly-shared wisdom is that all ancient marine maps were marked at the edge: "There be dragons."

The very phrase conjures up primordial fears of what lies below the literally unfathomable depths. Sailors will tell you that nothing seems more mysterious than the sea when the last bit of land disappears.

But, like almost everything we all know, this one is simply not true.

One sixteenth century globe contains the phrase: "HC SVNT DRACONES." But that's it.

But I know where I can find a dragon. This one doesn't visit me in my dreams -- though that is where many live. He visits me in my back yard.

That is him at the top of the post. Not particularly big.

But he is definitely green.

And a regular visitor now that there is no large dog to reduce him to a tastes-like-chicken salad sandwich.

He lives next door. But he has an Eve-complex about the hibiscus in my yard. Loves those blooms.

When he climbs up into the shrub, you can see why some biologists believe that reptiles and birds are related. He looks as if he could make a lumbering takeoff. Of course, it would be an Wilbur Wright flight.

So, I will content myself with the dragon I do have -- not the ones that were off of the map.

If you are interested in some of the "there be dragons" tales, take at look at this web page.

Friday, October 23, 2009

100 K -- and mounting

Last May, this blog hit the 50 k point -- 50,000 hits since April of 2008.

Some time on Wednesday, the odometer rolled over to 100,000 hits since April of 2008.

If the blog was a car, I would be looking for a good trade-in value right now.

In May, I pointed out that unlike FaceBook -- where people you have never met in your life are called "friends" -- the new number does not mean that I now have 100,000 friends. It simply means that over the past eighteen months, 100,000 mouse clicks brought people to this blog -- if only for one brief shining moment.

The caveats I mentioned in May are still true. We bloggers know that the "hits" are not what they seem. But there are some facts:
  • 93.7% of the "hits" are the result of Google searches ferreting out that post where I sprinkled the words "naked truth," "youthful indiscretion," and chicken breast" in the hopes of improving my statistics. (For any literalists in the crowd, I made up that number. It very well could be higher. And there is no such post. Don't bother looking. Literary license does not require renewal.)

  • Most "hits" are simply fortuitous. Someone looks for a poem by Billie Collins. I like his poetry, and I have blogged about his work three or four times. But the searcher is looking for something academic, not necessarily the meanderings of a retired Oregonian in Mexico. But if they stayed a little longer, they could have heard about my mother's birthday party. Certainly, a poetic occasion.

  • And, as some readers have commented, anyone who comes back to visit several times during the day (as at least one commenter confessed, perhaps in a fit of Calvinistic guilt) will leave another "hit" on the counter.

But I do know the numbers mean one thing. More people are visiting and more people are leaving comments.

My spurious election on where to move (
a moving experience) is a good example. Fifty-two comments, and all of them well-spoken and full of wisdom. (I am certain that all is forgiven for those of you who wanted me to adopt a more obvious cultural footprint in my little fishing village -- not to mention the possibility of being my own headline in the local newspaper.)

The one hundred thousand number is a compliment to all of you, who take the time to share a bit of my life on the Mexican coast.

But it also makes me feel like the old guy who sits at the end of the bar in the local tavern. I am just happy to have people stop by and chat.

So, keep on visiting and commenting. Because I continue to love this adventure.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

it was a dark and stormy night

-- and day.

Two weeks ago, in 2 1/2 inches, I wrote that our drought had been broken by a series of thunderstorms. And the rain was a welcome relief.

For the farmers.

For those of us who needed a break in the weather from the summer heat.

Since then, we have been getting our share of rain -- and more.

During the past twenty-four hours we have had enough rain that the ground does not know what to do with it. The streets look like the aquatic version of semana santa. Too many guests, not enough rooms.

The photograph of Melaque's main steet at the top of this post illustrates two points.

The first is that the other end of the street has standing water deep enough that cars cannot pass. The city has barricaded the street. (However, if you enlarge the photograph, you will see that 12-year old boys on bicycles have no trouble getting through the water.)

The second point is the nature of the barricade. Knowing that locals are not likely to obey a mere sign, the city used a bus to barricade the street. The same type of serious business that a SWAT team would use to hold back onlookers.

It worked.

I know that some of you in the Yucatan are scoffing at labeling the water as deep.

But the memory of the flood of September 2007 runs deep in this community. That flood put enough water in downtown Melaque that vans were almost inundated. In some areas, there was ten feet of standing water.

On Wednesday, the schools declared a rain day, and closed down. The result was knots of children taking off their shoes, rolling up their pants, and running through the nearest deep pool of water. Proving once again that the best age in life is 12.

I am not 12. So, I had to find my pleasures elsewhere.

I topped my day off with a pleasant evening of dinner and conversation with friends. Two of them are leaving at the end of the month to audition the exotic attractions of Guanajuato. I intend to stay in contact with them because that may be my next destination this coming May.

Until then, I will enjoy this weather. This gift of rain.

And so our season begins to change from the Hades to Valhalla. At least for six more months.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

prepare to fall back

Get ready to be confused if you live in Mexico and have a telephone conference in the United States or Canada in the same time zone. From 28 October to 1 November, you will not be on the same time.

Here's why.

Mexico will switch from daylight saving time to standard time at 2:00 AM on Sunday, 25 October. Canada and the United States will make the same change at 2:00 AM on the next Sunday, 1 November.

That means when I change my clock to 1 AM on 25 October (because I am such a rule-follower), my friends in Huron, South Dakota will do nothing.

The result for one week is we Mexican residents will be one hour behind our friends directly north of the border.

So, why does this happen? Because sovereign nations need to meet the needs of their own citizens.

That is the best answer I can give. It appears to make little business sense for one-third of the NAFTA trio to be out of synch with the other two on an elemental issue like time. Almost as if Siamese twins book flights at separate times.

But, if you think that is bad, look at this
table. Some countries started switching to standard time in August.

One week of confusion is nothing. There is a 23-day difference between Israel and the West Bank-Gaza Strip. Of course a one-hour difference is the least of their problems.

So, Olsons. If I am an hour late in calling you, it is not because I am on "Mexican time."

It is because I am on -- er, Mexican time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

we have a winner

The polls are closed. The ballots are counted. And we have a winner for Steve's new adventure home until April.

Based on my special vote counting skills, the poll results are:

David Niven's Villa: 0
Ozzie Moves to Melaque: 0
Garden Apartment: 1

Several of you pointed out that only one vote counts -- mine. And some of you noted that I probably had not included all the information necessary to make a decision.

Correct on both counts.

But I should at least give some reasoning for my decision, and a few additional facts.

When I came to Mexico, I fully intended to use Melaque as a base camp for my adventures in Mexico. Due to Jiggs's health, I was not able to do that. But I am now free to travel.

What I do not need is a large house that would tie me down with all of the tasks that go along with home stewardship.

I need only enough space to sleep, to read, to cook, and to occasionally welcome guests. (I should point out that I now have three separate groups of guests coming to Mexico between now and April.)

Of the three houses, all were within about $70 of each other for monthly rent. Cost really was not a factor.

The presence of landlords was an issue. Two of the houses relied on an agent. The third has an owner in town. I chose to opt for dealing directly with the owner.

But the deciding factor was high-speed internet. The only place that guaranteed assistance in getting high-speed internet was the garden apartment. That alone would have led me to live there.

The garden apartment would probably be too small for me as a permanent residence. But I think it will suffice for a short five-month stint.

Several months ago, Jennifer Rose told me that I would not be satisfied with moving every six months. Local residents would not take the time to invest much time in knowing someone who would soon pull up stakes and move his carnival somewhere else.

She was correct. Looking for housing every six months will simply take too much effort -- if I want to tour Mexico.

And if I follow that lesson, I should start deciding where I want to live for a year or so in the central highlights. Guanajuato, Pátzcuaro, Morelia, and San Miguel de Allende are currently on the list. And they will all be good places to visit during the winter.

I doubt I will be getting much use out of that hammock.

Monday, October 19, 2009

ricky -- i'm home

Henry IV may have believed the head that wears a crown lies uneasy. But Sunday's air was every bit as uneasy in anticipation of what Big Rick might have in store for we Mexican coastal folk.

Rick needs no introduction. He is the Category 5 hurricane causing angst for people on Baja and the mainland around Mazatlán. The rumors abounded that we would see massive waves and some wind as Rick waddled north 300 miles off of our coast.

And plenty of people decided that rumors were a reliable source. All day long knots of people stood on the beach watching -- the ocean, just the regular old ocean.

There have been some waves. But nothing spectacular. Now and then we experienced waves that churned the sand rather than slamming into it. That was Sunday's fare.

But the real drama was not in the waves. It was in the air.

The humidity was high enough that the horizon was just a haze. What it blended into was a solid metal gray sky. The type of backdrop that Hollywood likes to use when the machines have beat the humans in some future war.

And the air was still. Probably as still as I have ever seen it during my six month stay. Nothing moved. The palm fronds looked as if they had been painted by Monet.

In the background, Patti Lupone was singing Sand and Water. For some reason, the song reminded me of the first hurricane of the season: Andres. (andres redux)

That storm came closer to our shore. But I remember walking the beach with Jiggs as we watched for our first major storm on the beach in Mexico.

It occurred to me that that was the first time since he died I have thought about him in the context of a specific event. And a pleasant memory it was.

But why today? The answer was in the chorus of Patti's song:

I will see you in the light of a thousand suns
I will hear you in the sound of the waves
I will know you when I come, as we all will come
Through the doors beyond the grave

And I did hear that memory "in the sound of the waves."

Tonight, because of it, my head will lie easy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

six sundays of rest

Two years ago, I named this blog "Same Life, New Location" because I knew that no matter where I traveled, the things that make up my life would travel along with me.

One of those weights in my baggage is I am incapable of saying "no" whenever I am asked to do something. And that has once again proven to be true.

Last Sunday, I was invited to lead the sermons for the next six weeks. Of course, I said "yes."

That means that for the next six weeks, I will be dedicating my time to putting together sermon materials. As a result, I suspect there will not be a Sunday post on those days.

For those of you who are interested, we will be discussing Philip Yancey's book -- Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

If you are in the area, feel free to stop by our little church -- San Patricio by the Sea -- for services at 10:30 AM.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

a moving experience

Decision time has arrived.

For the last two months, I have been looking for the next spot to bear the Casa Algodón appellation.

The search has not been easy -- primarily because I have been changing my mind about the type of living arrangement I would like.

As a result, I have seen apartments, casitas, ranchitos, and family-sized casas.

But the snowbirds are arriving from the north and the pickings are starting to thin out.

Just as in the Mexican beauty contests I love to lampoon, the time has come to pick the final three contestants.

You may recall that the readers of this blog helped me choose the house in which I am staying. That worked so well, I thought I would try it again.

A brief description of each house follows. After looking at the contestants, feel free to cast your ballot.

I am ready to decide. (And, of course, I have my favorite.) Let's leave the polls open until 1 PM (Mexico City time) on Sunday, 18 October 2009.

Pull out your scorecards and focus on the catwalk. (As a point of reference, the rent for each of the houses is approximately the same.)

Contestant #1 -- David Niven's Villa

Of course, David Niven would never set foot in a place that cried out with every element of bad taste as this place does. Its local nicknames run from "The Wedding Cake" to "The Greek Embassy."

Even though the place makes me laugh every time I see it, it does have a certain charm. It is only one block from the Melaque beach -- the better swimming beach in town. And it is close to some very good seafood restaurants.

Three bedrooms (plenty of room for guests). Quite formal in style. But a lousy kitchen.

David Niven might stay a bit, but he would certainly be sweating within an hour.

Contestant #2 -- Ozzie moves to Melaque

Ozzie Nelson, that is. Not Ozzy Osbourne.

This house smacks of 1950s American suburbia. It is a huge ranch rambler with three bedrooms, but most of the living area is on the ground floor.

Three bedrooms (again). And a kitchen that would be the envy of any farm wife. A half block from the beach. Additional photographs.

The house has a very functional yard with a palapa right on a busy street. Handy for practicing Spanish with complete strangers.

Contestant #3 -- The Garden Apartment

I did not see this place until Friday morning.

Of the options, it is furthest from the beach, but it sits on the laguna with great opportunities to watch the birds and reptiles that live there.

Very compact. It is the bottom unit of twin duplex apartments. Two bedrooms. One bath. A nice little kitchen. And this is the only place that has guaranteed a good internet connection.

Even though the living space is small, it opens onto a very nice garden with fruit trees and flowering shrubs. A hammock and fountain top off the offering.


And there you have the finalists.

I now place my fate into your wise and compassionate hands. (I should point out that I took my electoral lessons from Hugo Chávez.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

doubles of nothing

It must have been Indolent Thursday.

Well, it was Thursday -- and I was as indolent as anyone short of a seventeen-year old boy can be.

But, the lady in front wants to know how indolent.

Well, try this one on: even though I rolled out of bed around 8:30, I did not step out of my bedroom-office area until 3 PM.

I watched the ocean through the windows. Read some blogs. Listened to the news. Read The Economist. Made and took calls from three countries.

And, all at once, it was 3 PM.

In days gone by, I would have been worried about wasting time. But not now.

It has taken a lot of effort to get to this point. And, I am happy to expend no effort to maintain my stasis. A Newton experiment in rounded flesh.

I had planned on preparing a rather exotic late lunch. But that would have ruined the mood.

Instead, I decided to head over to Don Bigote's, where someone else could cook up a nice plate of fresh shrimp while I watched another spectacular Melaque sunset.

One of the first life lessons I recall my father telling me was: "Don't do anything unless you want to do it. If you don't want to do it; don't."

Several decades later, I finally have indolence down to an art form.

It just may be genetic.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

through the looking-gate

Almost every day, I wake up thinking how glad I am to live in Mexico.

I wake to the sight of the Pacific -- often sunny and calm, but, occasionally, a bit temperamental. Like a joyful spouse with a slight hormonal imbalance.

Just before Jiggs died, I started a series of photographs featuring a very Mexican gate in Melaque.

There is nothing extraordinary about the gate. It guards the entry to a small vegetable garden.

But the gate itself is very Mexican. A pastische of parts -- as if Rube Goldberg stopped by to lend a hand at international fence-mending. It is a combination of plastic pipe, sticks, lumber scraps, and metal.

Not designed to last. But it has form and texture. In short, it is the very essence of a gate in art form.

I could claim that high deconstructionism attracted me to the spot. That would be a lie.

The gate intrigues me because it is an apt symbol of where I am in my life.

Do I stay where I am? Or do I accept the White Rabbit's temptation to strike out for more adventures?

If I do not find a place to live after mid-December, circumstances will make the choice for me.

But that is a post for later this week.

Until then, I will wake up in my bed with the Pacific as my background.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

are your papers in order?

The swallows are missing.

Regular readers will know that I have had a love-hate relationship with the colony of swallows that homestead in the rafters of the patio. A few brave avian couples managed to outlast Marta's concerted military operations against their nest-building.

Those happy few raised two sets of chicks during the summer. Filling the patio with the sound of new life, and filling the air with the joy of acrobatics. My own private Cirque du Soleil. Unfortunately, they also filled the patio and its furniture with a regular layer of guano.

When I returned from Oregon, I saw about five swallows flying around almost without purpose. Sunday there were two. Tuesday there were none.

No chirps greeted me when I turned on the light. No birds zoomed through the patio to the open sky. It was a bit eerie. As if the king snake had returned and had a full day of eating.

Last night I went to the kitchen cupboard and discovered that I was pulling a Mother Hubbard. I had failed to buy any groceries for meals this week.

Easy solution: swing by the taco restaurant.

But first, I needed to replenish my peso pile. Off I went to the ATM at the bank -- and there they were.

I know one of the basic rules of blogging is to never leave home without your camera. I wish I had followed the rule.

Because soaring around the bank and on all of the neighboring wires were my swallows, and my neighbor's swallows, and all of the swallows for who knows how far around. All looking for a place to alight. Apparently, for the night.

Looking at the sidewalk, it appears that they had all been waiting for Tippi Hedren for some time.

What I do not know is where they are going. Certainly, not north. Summer in Melaque; winter in Oregon is the type of stupid decision I would make. I understand they are heading to South America for the winter.

But wherever they are headed, they are going as a group, and they are leaving soon.

I will try to get a photograph tomorrow. It may simply be of de-birded electrical wires.

That night I went up on the roof and just watched the stars and planets for an hour. And I started wondering as well when it will be my time to migrate away from Melaque.

But, like the swallows, that is a question to be answered another day.

Today I simply cherish the experience of watching them pack up their bags to head off on their bird adventures.

For the new generation of swallows born on my patio this summer, I wish: Godspeed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

sound advice

Last February, I summarized a lively discussion between three bloggers about the sound quality in MP3 files -- the format used in the oh-so-ubiquitous iPods.

In the spirit of Lieutenant Tragg (who always required his memory to be refreshed by Perry Mason), you can find part of the discussion at
let me help you with that, little lady.

The gist of the conversation was that some people are willing to give up sound quality for the ease of music portability.

I am not one of those people. And that was one of the dilemmas I faced in moving to Mexico with my limited space for my possessions.

I was raised on live music. There is something about a live, non-amplified performance that cannot be reproduced electronically.

Add a microphone, the sound changes.

Record it in analogue, the sound degrades a bit.

Digitize it, more of the sound disappears.

Then compress that digital version into an MP3 file, and much that was magic in the live performance is simply gone -- as if it disappeared up Mandrake's sleeve.

I added the analogue step to simply note that I was a late adopter of CDs. My vinyl collection provided a far richer sound -- even with the occasional nick.

But I eventually switched over to CDs in the late 1980s -- fully realizing the limitations of the medium.

I have not been able to switch over to MP3 players, however.

When I moved to Mexico, I left behind my Bose 901 surround system. Instead, I have a small Sony system attached to my laptop. But, I did bring all of my CDs and DVDs in their full formats.

In August, I told you in
the devil wore behringer that my friend Jordan had purchased a full set of Behringer studio monitors. (That is him at the top of the post standing next to one of the speakers.)

He brought the full set to my house to let me experience them for the two weeks I was in Oregon last month. If I could get the full set down here, I would have bought a set for myself. They are great.

But, as good as the speakers are (or because they are so good), we could easily hear the damage that compression causes with MP3 files.

On Monday afternoon, I drove to Manzanillo to pick up my mail. I purposely dug out several CDs of music from the 1960s -- the same music I had originally purchased on vinyl. The two hours I spent in the truck, I simply enjoyed cranking up both the stereo and the air conditioner -- and driving at least 20 miles an hour too fast.

It felt great. And the music sounded real good.

Something must have put me in an almost giddy mood (and I suspect I know what it is). Because when I came home, I slapped on a Latin-themed piece of music from Epcot (Fountain of Nations), and rumbaed my legs off in my boxers on the balcony. That should give the neighbors something to talk about.

So, where is the theme in this little essay?

I guess it is as simple as this. It is possible to get just too sophisticated and jaded with life. I love analyzing and deconstructing. And very few things most of us enjoy can withstand that type of scrutiny.

Sometimes, it helps to simply put down the tools and enjoy life with its simple pleasures.

I certainly did that on Monday.

Of course, it would look a little less awkward if I actually had a dance partner.

Applications are available in the foyer.


Simply to prove that I have not abandoned every shred of pretension, you can hear an extremely compressed MP3 file of Fountain of Nations by clicking the link. You may get a feel for the beat, but not the beauty.

Monday, October 12, 2009

thanks for the memories


I love them.

Another excuse to get together with friends and to eat something new or something traditional.

Living around expatriates in a foreign country provides an even larger collection of holidays.

American holidays. Mexican holidays. English holidays.

But today is Canadian holidays. Or, rather, a Canadian holiday. A big one. Canadian Thanksgiving.

Americans were Johnny-come-latelies to the Thanksgiving Day game.

Canada's first Thanksgiving was in 1578. Martin Frobisher managed to return safely from a failed search for the Northwest Passage. This was not a celebration of a great harvest. It was simply a giving of thanks to God for allowing Frobisher to return home without becoming another starter package for icebergs.

On Sunday evening, a large portion of the expatriate community and some of our Mexican neighbors got together at Ricky's to stuff ourselves with turkey and pumpkin pie while visiting with new acquaintances and saying good-bye to at least one old friend.

And this gives me an opportunity to take a quick look over this little adventure of mine. I am truly thankful that I have had the opportunity to live by the sea in Mexico for the past six months. I did not think everything would be perfect. And I was correct.

But in the past few weeks, I have made some very good acquaintances at church and in the community. The one element that was beginning to concern me is no longer a problem.

And I am thankful that I may have a lead on a house that will resolve my living needs for the next five months in Melaque. I will keep you posted.

The best thing is that I will be able to be thankful all over again in just another six weeks when we celebrate American Thanksgiving. And, this time, I will get to help with the cooking.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

swimming with the fishes

There is no irony deficiency in Mexican humor.

Take this interesting little sign.

It is posted on what was once the shore of our local crocodile-inhabited laguna. I do not begrudge warning the public of unseen dangers. But the sign causes me to chuckle on several levels.

The first is the font. Even with the pictogram (or because of it), I was a bit confused. I stared at the sign trying to recall what "hadar" might be. The closest word I could come up with was "hada" -- fairy.

Fairies simply did not seem to need the type of warning I would associate with this area. But there was Tinkerbelle -- and Captain Hook -- and that crocodile. Quite a stretch even to my wildly undisciplined non-linear mind.

Of course, the word is "nadar." Not the Unsafe at Any Speed guy, but the Spanish word for swimming.

But that took me to the second chuckle. The pictogram is supposed to be the international symbol for no swimming. What it is missing is the water and the appearance of a person actually performing a swimming stroke.

Everytime I look at it, it reminds me of the half-bodies that populated the opening scenes of Jaws. I don't think the warning is: Half-eaten corpses not allowed.

But the best part of this little joke is found behind the sign. Admittedly, a year or two ago, there was water behind the sign. Water filled with sewage, chemical run-offs, and large reptiles that will rework you to impersonate Captain James Hook. Not a place to take your afternoon swimming constitutional.

As you can see, though, the water connection has been severed. Between the cane grass and the water hyacinth, you would not know there was a laguna near the sign.

Move the sign? Why?

A good joke is far better than an effective warning.

So, a crocodile, a lawyer, and a shark went into a bar -- .

Saturday, October 10, 2009

size of relief

If we are to live in the moment, it is moments like this that make life a joy.

I woke up this morning to a practically perfect day. Blue sky. Warm air. And the morning sounds peculiar to Mexico.

The American South may have its mockingbirds. But they cannot match our vendor calls mixed with vaguely-Germanic music from car stereos.

After a day of deluge and another of drizzle, the air is now user-friendly. No need for any Jacques Cousteau equipment to breathe. Even with the humidity at 83%, 77 is a very nice temperature.

A great time to reflect on the past week.

My one project (to find a place to live from December through April) is not going well. I have eliminated a lot of choices. But my apartment search yesterday was not fruitful.

Today I am going to look at a local bungalow. I also have a few leads for next week.

But I need to make a decision within the next three weeks. In November, I will be gone for two weeks -- and it will then be time to pack up my few goods in Mexico, and head to a new home.

I stopped by Ricky's last night. You may recall that in addition to being my Spanish teacher, he runs a restaurant near my house.

I joined a group of people, all of whom I had met in the past. And we had a hoot simply enjoying each other's company. With representatives from Costa Rica, England, France, Canada, and the United States, (and with quite varying backgrounds) we could have been the core characters of a Graham Greene novel -- with just a touch of Kurt Vonnegut.

The temperature and relaxed conversation gave me my second night of good sleep this week.

I am beginning to think this adventure is a remake of a Busby Berkeley musical. Everything will turn out fine in the end -- and I get a big production number to boot.

Friday, October 09, 2009

2 1/2 inches

That is how much rain Wednesday night's storm gave us.

And the relief was everything I thought it would be.

I had my first full night of sleep for a week. When I finally rolled off the bed, I was ready to smite my house-search project.

No. Not smite.

"Smite" is a verb that works well with nouns like David and Goliath. In my case, "dent" will suffice.

I have been switching housing preferences between 1) a nice three-bedroom house near the beach to 2) a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in town. The only constant is that it must be furnished -- and have an internet connection. Almost as if I could not decide whether to date

The only reason to rent a house would be to lure friends south to see me. So far, that has not worked. I have had three visitors -- and great visitors they were. But I do not need to maintain all of that living space and pay a maid for the occasional visitor.

If I can find a one-bedroom place, I will take it.

La Manzanilla was where I started my romance with Mexico. I drove over Thursday morning to see if I could find anything.

I did. I found a bit of reality. Almost as if I discovered the love of my life has a secret personality.

I suspect what has happened is that La Manzanilla is simply getting too familiar to me. And when that happens with a small town, it may be time to move on.

I asked my friend Daniel to check on some rentals for me. But I am shocked at how much landlords are still asking for rental property in this economy. Monthly rent over $1000 is not unusual. And the places sit empty.

Later today I will talk to a landlord about a small place in Melaque and another in Barra de Navidad. There must be a place with my name on it.

If not, there is always the Greek revival villa.

I wonder if it leaks rain?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

bayreuth by the shore

I brought it on myself.

Not by complaining. If we could actually find solutions to problems by complaining, politicians would be admired.

Wednesday I decided to give up complaining about the unrelenting heat and humidity.

Instead, I sat out on the balcony reading Dan Brown's most recent pack of pandering paranoias while listening to Götterdämmerung at full volume. (Why not? The neighbors do. Maybe not Wagner. But songs nearly as Germanic.) You could almost imagine Siegfried and Brünnhilde pleading to the sea for relief.

It may have been the Teutonic magic, but the Aztec cousins of the Valkyries decided to respond.

Within an hour, thunder rolled, lightning flashed, and what appeared to be most of the contents of the Rhine (sans river boats and tourists) fell from the sky. I should say: is falling from the sky.

The streets are full. The beach is one step from being a giant concrete mixer. And the house has multiple puddles of water threatening electrical equipment.

This rain will not solve the local drought. It is too little, too late. But it will help.

And it will help tonight. For four nights I have tossed and turned on the couch in the living room due to the heat. Tonight, I should sleep the sleep of the almost-cool.

As is true with most things in Mexico, a bit of patience is almost always rewarded.

Sometimes in Rheingold.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

renters in the mist

I have seen it before.

Enough mist hangs in the air over the sea that the horizon ceases to be the line of infinity. Instead, it joins the sea and sky in one curtain that is just an arm's length away.

I saw it sailing the Gulf Islands and standing on the embarcadero in San Francisco. But the curtain there was a metallic curtain bringing the promise of ear-numbing fog.

Not this curtain. It is as hot as the fire curtain that made its appearance in vaudeville theaters. A mist born of long days of unrelenting heat.

The same mist I saw that summer in Greece where my youth was badly invested, if not misspent. The mist that kept Odysseus from his beloved Ithaca.

Today was the day I was going to start looking for my next base camp to explore Mexico. And I did start by looking at a few places -- from the outside -- in Barra de Navidad.

Like everything else in my life during the past year, I am not quite certain what I want the place to be. I have enjoyed having the space and view of a three-bedroom home on the beach. But my practical side tells me that a one-bedroom apartment would suit me just fine.

The upside of playing Hamlet (and living alone) is that I get to be indecisive without running a rapier through the rest of the cast. Instead, I get to sit on my balcony and listen to the waves hypnotize me into thinking that time simply does not matter.

And that is a fog that suits me quite well.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

joking with heaven

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

The sentence is not mine. But the sentiment is.

Monday was the day I was going to explore Manzanillo and La Manzanilla -- two places I have visited often. Instead, I fell into the comfort of inertia.

I drove into Manzanillo with every intention of ferreting out some new sights. But the pull of habit was too strong. I ended up visiting my two shopping haunts: Comercial Mexicana and Walmart.

And this is how adventurous I was. In addition to my groceries, I bought a metal colander to soak rice.

Yes. I know. I know. Buying a metal colander on the Mexican coast is like buying tissue paper to stop Exocet missiles. By the time I get ready to move to the highlands, the colander will undoubtedly look like an artifact from an Indiana Jones movie.

On the way home, I decided to drive through some of the condominium complexes to see if I could spot a se renta sign. I like Manzanillo's infrastructure. If I had seen any sign of availability, I would have taken a look for a place to spend my winter. But I saw nothing.

By the time I got home and took care of some travel plans for two weeks in November, it was time to head off to La Manzanilla for dinner.

A group from Melaque reserved a table at one of my favorite restaurants: Cafe de Flores for 4 PM. I mention the time only because it illustrates how I have not yet acclimated to Mexican culture. I cut off a telephone call to ensure I would be in La Manzanilla on time. And I made it -- despite being slowed down by a drunk who was literally baffled by curves in the road.

And, you have guessed the rest of the story. Most people did not show up until 5 or so.

But it was a great evening. I have commented before that I miss my friends. But I am beginning to mind the gap.

I spent most of the evening talking with four people who have become close acquaintances. They have helped me navigate several social reefs.

One big topic was how important it is to have family, friends, and acquaintances wherever we are. For we expatriates, that means a reliable internet connection.

Without it, we can quickly become isolated. As isolated as a member of the Borg cut off from the collective.

Bad Star Trek analogies must be a basic ingredient in Mexican curses. The words were barely out of our mouths when the telephone and internet system collapsed.

Maybe Carlos Slim was sending someone a message of his power -- a Putinesque note to the not-so-well-connected. Who knows?

What I do know is that I felt very odd not having an electronic communication method with the local area -- let alone to the rest of the world.

Of course, I was ready to draft up today's blog. Instead, I pulled out the same items an Egyptian scribe would have used in the 12th Dynasty: pen and paper.

The systems are now restored. But it is a sobering thought (not that I have had any inebriating ones) that we can be catapulted into the 19th Century with a simple electronic failure. And you classic scholars know that the 19th Century was not very kind to Mexico.

Today, I may return to La Manzanilla to see if I can find a small place where I can invest my winter.

That chuckling you hear is heaven-sent.

Monday, October 05, 2009

coming home

Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again.

At least, depending on how flexible you are with your definition of "home."

I had three specific missions in heading north last month: 1) to get my replacement Oregon driver's license and government identification card; 2) to assist in the opening of the Salvation Army's Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Salem; and 3) to buy items I cannot find in Mexico.

Two weeks ago, I was reluctant to leave my home in Melaque. When my visit was over, I did not want to leave my home in Salem. I started to wonder if I belong in either place.

My narrow missions were easily accomplished.

On m first full day in Oregon, I quickly had both my Oregon driver's license and my identification card in hand. Polite, helpful clerks. Flexibility in accepting documents. Full explanations of what would happen next. I was pleasantly surprised.

On the full weekend I was there, I attended several lunches, dinners, and ceremonies for the opening of the Kroc Center. Having worked on the project for five years, it looked exactly as I expected it to. The test will be whether the facility will meet its goal of allowing disadvantaged children to exercise their dreams and live up to their own potential. If I lived in Salem, I suspect I would be spending a lot of my volunteer time at the center.

And then there was buying. My first real shopping trip was to Costco. Hardly an exotic shopping experience. I had to control myself there and at Fry's and Nordstrom's. If I had not, my luggage charges would have been incredible - even in First Class. It is funny that finding Off towelettes could be a cause for celebration.

Some bloggers have commented that they felt everything was buzzing and rushing around them during visits to The States. I didn't feel any of that.

Shopping was leisurely. Driving was easy. Everywhere I went where I was known, people stopped what they were doing and took time to talk with me.

But the thing I enjoyed most was the long dinner conversations and the longer early morning conversations (sometimes until 3 or 4; something I have not done since college). As a result, I ended up seeing only about 10 percent of the people I wanted to see.

And that is what made me reluctant to leave.

I have no physical ties to Salem or Oregon. And I certainly have no emotional ties to any houses or towns. They are simply material things -- with no substantial difference from their Mexican counterparts.

What I do miss are the people -- my relatives, my friends, my acquaintances. They are a ready-made audience. If I could pick up about 40 or 50 (I might even settle for 5) of them and transport them to Mexico, I suspect I could say that Mexico will be my permanent home.

But that is not going to happen. And that is the rub. At some point, I either follow Jennifer Rose's advice to settle in an area and build a new network -- or I return to Oregon and drop all this talk about adventure.

I do know one thing, though. I cannot make any decision until I have had an opportunity to discover the adventure that is Mexico. Jiggs has given me a great gift of Independence that I cannot squander.

Starting tomorrow I intend get out to see areas of Manzanillo and La Manzanilla that I have not yet seen. Places I want to see with new eyes.

You can go home again. But home is the place where you exercise your dream.