Monday, November 30, 2009

calling buddy holly

Tropical Mexico is a huge vaudeville theatre.

For six months, The Amazing Swallows had top billing. Swooping. Diving. Pooping. Then they were gone.

The Scuttling Land Crabs starred for two months. And then they were gone.

The Bumblebees for two weeks. The Biting Flies for five month. Cameo appearances by snakes and various lizards. Here. Then gone.

With the exception of the ever-present (and abundant) las cucarachas, there are no long-term billings in this theatre.

This week's act is The Infernal Chirping Crickets.

They are certainly not the solitary crickets of my youth in Oregon. Up north, I would hear one or two crickets in my back yard. Chirping now and then. As if chirping was not quite cool.

Like everything in the tropics, the crickets in my back yard are not constrained by anything as non-Mexican as seeking a quiet cool. These crickets know how to communicate.

To call it a chirp would be an insult to the decibels these crickets produce. If I did not know better, I would estimate their size somewhere between a city bus and those giant grasshoppers from the 1950 horror films.

But big they are not. I tracked down several. They look just like the crickets I knew as a boy.

Why the larger sound? For one reason, there appear to be more of them. A bunch of young males out to impress the girls at the local singles bar. I am surprised that they do not produce enough friction to simply disappear in a poof of fire.

And perhaps it is the sense of desperation that fills the air in every meeting place of the young as the clock slides near 2 AM. Failure to meet Ms. Right Now means that there will be no little crickets to book into the theatre next November.

So, I sit out on my balcony in the evening enjoying what has become a loud, but intriguing, chorus. And wonder just how Jiminy Cricket got his start in show business.

He must have been booked into a different theatre. Perhaps La Scala.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

the perfect servant

As Mrs. Wilson, the head housekeeper of Gosford Park, Helen Mirren gets one of the classic lines of cinema:

I'm the perfect servant.

I know when they'll be hungry and the food is ready.

I know when they'll be tired and the bed is turned down.

I know it before they know it themselves.

I had one of those practically perfect experiences today on my third (or fourth, depending on how we're counting) day of Thanksgiving.

My small fishing village by the sea is not without its patina of sophistications. Most of our eateries are of the taco-burrito variety. Food that fills without really satisfying either the stomach or the soul. But there are exceptions.

One of the best is Restaurant Maya. I first ate there in July of 2008 when I test drove the house where I am now living. I loved the food.

The owners did not have the place open this summer. Instead, they were in British Columbia. But they are open now.

I was a bit reluctant to stop by -- for two reasons: 1) I was wearing my beach bum outfit and 2) I was afraid my gluttony over the past few days would take the edge off of the food.

Let me tackle ambiance first. Maya is not a shorts and flip flop place. If that is what you are wearing, you will be welcomed, but you will immediately feel as if you stepped onto the wrong sound stage. That was exactly how I felt sitting amongst my better-dressed expatriates.

I purposely use the cinema analogy. If Shakespeare is correct that all the world's a stage, Maya is the Cole Porter Theater.

I sat there tonight looking at the self-conscious arrangement of the well-manicured tables with their tidy candles and cutlery. The ocean and sunset as a backdrop. A canopy of palm trees as a roof. Subtle jazz drifting through the open air. Almost as if Erté had taken a tropical turn.

Even if the food had not been good, the visual effect was enough to make you believe Clara Bowe or Norma Desmond could be sitting next to you at dinner.

But the food is good. No. It is excellent. Considering the ambitious nature of the menu, I am amazed at the consistency.

The menu changes. But the current menu offers the following
entrées: vegetarian, 3 fish, 2 prawns, chicken, pork, and beef.

I tried a mahi mahi marinated in lime, basil, and garlic -- along with side dishes of spinach risotto and a carrot-based puree.

I do not like fish. But this I liked. Of course, I also stuffed in a plum
flambé with vanilla ice cream.

The total: $290 (including three soft drinks and a coffee). Or about $22 (US).

Try that in Manhattan or Montreal.

But, best of all, were the waiters. Black-clad as any stage hands, they disappeared into the darkness to appear even before the diners knew they needed anything. The perfect servants. Hardly the usual reticent service where waiters need to be summoned with gongs.

Thus ends my journey of self-indulgence. Well, this bout, in any event. Another thing for which I can be thankful.

If all goes as planned, this coming week, I will start some mini-journeys around Mexico. I have no plans. I intend to just head out.

Some of the trips may take me away from the house. If so, I may miss a post now and then because the wireless connection is not working on my laptop.

But you will hear it here first. I may not be the perfect servant, but I will stay in touch.

tail of the turkey

So, here I am. Three days into my turkey bender. Even though there was a bit of pork sandwiched in between -- as if I were a congressman from Boston.

I have enough tryptophan in my bloodstream to have a go at the Rip Van Winkle Open.

On Friday night I dined with two local attorneys, a hotel owner and his wife, and a friend from Tuxpan. Our conversation was primarily in Spanish. I discovered my listening skills have improved over the past eight months -- to the point I could enjoy (or, at least understand) the lawyer jokes.

We ate at one of the beach spots where herds of expatriates congregate -- usually. The type of place you could not swing a cat without causing abuse concerns from a score of Canadians. In a normal year, the place would have an orderly queue of expatriates waiting for a table.

Not Friday night. Tables sat vacant like jilted lovers waiting for the wandering scoundrels to make amends.

The upside was we enjoyed amazingly attentive service. The downside is if the wanderers do not show up, there may be no place to swing my cat.

The photograph at the top of this post illustrates the problem. That is the main shopping street in the village. On Friday night. If mouths are to be fed, the shops should be filled with tourists willing to exchange hard-earned pesos for shells and sandals. It is simply not happening.

A recent issue of The Economist puts the Mexican economy in perspective. It is hurting.

Fourteen years ago, Mexico's economy came close to collapsing. The peso was devalued in the midst of a bad recession. The United States put together a $50 billion rescue package, and the Mexican economy started to soar with the additional boost of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

I lifted the following graph from The Economist article:

It illustrates that the current recession is deeper than the 1996 recession (with almost a 10% shrinkage of GDP this year) and a drastic decline in exports. So far, inflation has not been a problem.

Mexico is often a slave of its own history, even when it attempts to toss off its yoke.

One goal of the Revolution was to make Mexico less dependent on outside economic forces, especially the United States. Mexico abandoned most of that principle with NAFTA.

But another historical factor undercut that brave move. Even though Mexico had trade agreements with other countries, they were primarily ignored in favor of trade with the United States. When Mexico was a colony, Spain allowed Mexico to trade only with Spain --with all of the troubles that come from a closed economic system. Inadvertently, Mexico resorted to historical type -- and has now paid a very high price for the slip.

But what does this have to do with living our lives in Mexico?

Successive Mexican governments have failed to address a major flaw in Mexico's fiscal health. For historical reasons, almost all taxation is imposed by the federal government. Mexico collects only 11% of its GDP in taxation -- one of the lowest in the world.

As a libertarian, that figure seems just about right to me.

The problem is that the figure has nothing to do with liberty. Mexico collects nothing more because the wealthy are powerful enough to prevent any additional taxes and the poor simply cannot pay more.

The Mexican government recently went through the political equivalent of a slap-down merely to increase the VAT by 1%. And raising taxes during a recession is usually counter-productive -- especially for raising revenue.

Some politicians have raised the possibility of an expatriate tax -- with details remaining increasingly vague. The problem with that option is that it would cause more problems for the government and raise very little revenue. But that is a logical response to a system that thinks it needs money.

If it is to recover from this recession and protect itself in the future, Mexico is going to have to make some very hard choices.

The domestic economy must be reformed with the goal of keeping Mexican labor at home -- rather than relying on remittances as if it were some Third World banana dictatorship. That means repealing regulations that prevent businesses from starting and operating; jettisoning the system of favored monopolies that stymie innovation; reforming trade union laws to remove their veto power over important economic matters.

Can it happen? Certainly, with a political will.

Will it happen? Mexico is about to enter an interesting time. Next month PRI -- a party not known for its reform affection -- will take control of the Chamber of Deputies. We will see if it has learned anything during its exile from power.

In my small fishing village by the sea, the big question is going to be whether the government will simply get out of the way to let turkey dinners be served to restaurants filled with tourists willing to part with their cash.

Friday, November 27, 2009

day two -- and counting

Today I felt the Newtonian tug of nostalgia.

I mentioned yesterday that Thanksgiving is -- by far -- my favorite holiday. The day that should be spent with family and friends.

Lacking any local family members, I celebrated the holiday with acquaintances from our local church. We share
no memories bittersweet with time, as I would with my family or old friends. But, after dining for almost three hours, I certainly have the foundation of good friendships.

Earlier in the day, I must have been suffering from post-stimulation withdrawal of the cruise-Disneyland trip. While walking through the village, I realized I was simply bored.

Part of that was the realization that I was not sharing Thanksgiving with my family. I solved that by calling several people today.

But the dinner also proved there are people wherever we go who can help us share our joy and burdens.

For that we can be thankful.

Every year some postmodern smart-alec journalist tries to impress us with the shocking news that our teachers lied to us in grade school. The rap is the pilgrims did not celebrate the first Thanksgiving in what would eventually be the United States.

I have yet to meet anyone who ever heard a teacher say any such thing. Journalists often confuse straw arguments with reality. The implication being that the earlier Thanksgiving did not comply with the Puritan Myth -- being celebrated by Catholics and Anglicans, you see.

But here are the facts.

On September 8, 1565 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and 800 Spanish settlers founded the settlement of St. Augustine in what would be Florida. The landing party celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving. Menéndez then laid out a meal and invited members of the Seloy tribe to participate.

In 1619, the English settlers at Berkley Plantation, Virginia celebrated a modest Thanksgiving on the banks of the James River -- a task they were obligated to perform by their charter, and executed with all the enthusiasm of a 13-year old boy cleaning his room. Considering the civil problems of the settlement, they were probably thankful they had not throttled each other.

On April 30, 1598, early Spanish settlers held a Thanksgiving ceremony and mass in the city of El Paso, Texas. That is them at the top of the post -- just hanging out together in artistic order.

The pilgrims, who obviously had a far better public relations department than the Spanish or the Virginians, did not celebrate their Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation until 1621 -- where they handed out construction paper pumpkins and turkeys to Indians who looked as if they had just stopped in from the American plains.

What those four celebrations had in common is that each group had faced long odds and thanked God for their survival.

Which group was first is irrelevant. They were thankful. And we should be, as well.

Without their derring-do, we might be eating our turkey somewhere in the depths of Lower Silesia.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

on the first day of thanksgiving

If I work it correctly, I may be able to stretch this Thanksgiving into a Chanukah-length holiday.

We will skip over the fact that I already cheated by celebrating one Thanksgiving in October -- Canadian style (
thanks for the memories). And a nice celebration it was.

But it is now time to celebrate American Thanksgiving -- and I got a great start on Wednesday night. Thanksgiving Eve, if you will. Now, there is a holiday we need to add to the calendar.

An American friend, Jean (she of cinnamon roll fame:
buttery buns on the beach), invited a few of her closest friends for Thanksgiving dinner at her house. The bargain was simple. If the invitees brought a side dish and their own beverage, she would provide everything else.

I do not come from a very large family. The most family members I have seen at a Thanksgiving dinner ranges around ten or so. We cannot even fill out a decent Last Supper tableau.

Jean's invitation garnered about 42 guests. And it was a diverse group. Well, as diverse as most expatriate groups are. I sat next to people I had never met before. Because they had just arrived with the snow bird migration.

As is true with all potlucks, there was enough food left over to feed a good portion of our small village. The turkey was very good, but Jean's sister brought a star attraction with her from Portland: a genuine bone-in ham. Her sister then whipped up some of the best pies I have ever tasted, including a blackberry pie made with fresh Oregon blackberries. I could not have asked for anything better at home.

Tomorrow, I will have another dinner at a local restaurant with our new pastor. I suspect the dinner will not come close to Jean's extravaganza.

And on Friday I may have one more. Reservations are still open for Saturday.

Thanksgiving is easily my favorite holiday. It is not encumbered with the sense of mandatory joyful gift-giving and fears that something is going to go wrong that will end up with half of the family in psychoanalysis for at least forty years. Christmas and Valentine's Day come to mind as the prime candidates for that type of fun.

To me, Thanksgiving is the holiday where you can get together with family, eat a nice meal, have great conversations, play a board game or two, and perhaps catch a football game. I cannot think of one Thanksgiving where disaster struck -- or, if it did, it was not met with humor.

For that reason, I will miss having dinner with my family tomorrow. But I can still be thankful for many things:
  1. That I have a family where I feel safe and loved.
  2. That I have a brother who is my best friend.
  3. That I have a group of marvelous friends throughout the world -- people who know me well from as long ago as grade school to as recent as this past year.
  4. That I have met a fascinating network of people through this blogging process -- people I would never have met, otherwise; some I have not met in person and may never meet; but people who I feel as close to as I do to some of my old friends.
  5. That I have had the opportunity to start this retirement adventure in Mexico and that I am prepared to take it to the next level.
  6. That I enjoy freedoms in Mexico that I would never enjoy in Oregon.
  7. And, most importantly, that the God I know has taught me that sharing His love is the most important thing I can do each day.

And I suppose I should be thankful that the weather is cooling down. That means I can get out on the road and walk a bit more to fight off the pounds that I hear sneaking up behind me.

Maybe that is why Thanksgiving is a holiday best served in daily portions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

we were young together

"12 is the perfect age."

My friend, John, leaned across the lunch table to make his point, in his best professorial mode.

"You are old enough to have a vague idea how life works, but you don't have any of the adult responsibilities. You know how to fix and maintain a bicycle. How to eke out the most fun in an afternoon with friends. How to avoid adults and their silly obsessions. Practically perfect."

I should point out that it was a well-appointed lunch table in an upscale restaurant he was leaning across. Neither of us could carry off the 12-ishness with much aplomb. Like old men muttering in their country club about socialism.

But, he is correct. 12 was the perfect age. And I have heard that same sentiment from several of my friends recently.

That may be how I ended up in Disneyland for almost a full week -- to be Magic King-demned.

Depending on which version of family history you choose to believe (more of that in a later post), I have not been to Disneyland since 1955 or 1956.

My belated homecoming was originally unplanned. When I decided to take the Mexico cruise, I thought I would immediately jump on an airplane after I disembarked from the ship.

Not so fast, sport. There is only one flight to Mexico on my chosen airline -- and it leaves LA on Saturday. Only on Saturday. My ship came in on Sunday. Sunday is not Saturday.

What to do in Los Angeles for six days?

Well, some friends had the perfect suggestion: join them in looking at the technical side of Disneyland. So I did.

Now, spending a week trying to figure out how Disney works its magic does not mean that you cannot enjoy the fun that Disney offers. And I did.

I have always enjoyed amusement rides. Anything that goes fast, throws you around, and promises even the hint of severe injury will win me over for repeated rides. That means variations on roller coasters operating in the dark or the light. Fake elevators plummeting to the ground. Faux flight simulators. (Hold it. I think just turned Soarin' into an actual flying machine. In Spanish, there would be no problema.)

What pulled it all together, though. was the music. Anne Lamott once wrote about the power of music: "We're walking temples of noise, and when you add tender hearts to this mix, it somehow let's us meet in places we couldn't get to in any other way."

I thought about that quotation as I walked around the amusement park. Disney has installed high-quality speakers throughout the park, and they play uncompressed music that convinces you there must be an orchestra on the other side of the building. Music that is not intellectually challenging, but that is appropriate for families enjoying time together.

I suspect this is what Marx had in mind -- if workers could net $200,000 annually.

Would I go back? Sure.

But the next time I am stuck in Los Angeles, I will probably want to log some more roller coaster time.

I need the address for Six Flags.

And another swig of that "Now-You-Are-12" potion.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

the friend ship

So -- what am I doing on a cruise ship off of the Mexico Pacific coast?

If you have read can you spare a cruise?, you will know the question is rhetorical -- because I have already told you why I was there. You know it. I know it. It is a cheap writer trick.

But here I go, any way.

My former work colleague, Roy, and his sister, Marcia, booked the Mexican cruise before I moved to my small fishing village by the sea. They wanted me to spend the day with them in Puerto Vallarta.

Instead, I signed up for the full cruise.

I am glad I did. It turned out to be a great time -- for a very predictable reason. I thoroughly enjoyed spending a week with close friends.

There was nothing unusual about the ports (Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta). I have visited all three regularly on my birthday cruises.

But I do not go on cruises for the ports. I would have been happy to spend seven full days at sea -- simply because the big ships are destination resorts. Most people can find something to keep them stimulated for the entire cruise.

For me, it was friends, food, adventure, and entertainment. Let me put food and friends together -- because we certainly did on the cruise.

Robert Frost said there is something about a wall that wants it down. Steve says there is something about friendship that makes us down food.

In addition to the regular dining rooms, our ship had two speciality restaurants: a steak house and an Italian restaurant. For a small additional charge, we had some of the best food I have eaten outside of Paris and Florence.

Beef eaters know that Mexico does not offer much in the way of tender steaks. The ship did. Even though I am not supposed to be eating beef (triglycerides and all), I stocked up on my annual intake in one week.

I suspect we could have been eating tractor tires, though, and we still would have had a good time. My friends know me well enough that we do not need to fall back on social conventions to keep conversation running. We ran out of food long before we ran out of laughter. That is something I have been missing in Mexico, and that I am now trying to remedy.

Despite what I said about the ports, the adventure element came on land -- or partially on land.

In Cabo San Lucas, I para sailed. That was not a new adventure. I did a tandem para sail several years ago in the Caribbean. This was a solo job. And great fun. At full altitude I could see the whales in the bay. But it was a bit lonely up there. I kept wanting to point out sights, but there was no one there. Do you see a theme here?

In Mazatlan, I went zip lining. I have done zip lining three or four times before. But it never ceases to thrill me. The speed. The height. The sense of impending danger. The shared comradeship. They were all there. And I would gladly do it again.

My only regret about zip lining is that it took so much out of the day, I was unable to get back to town to meet Nancy of Countdown to Mexico. But she was as gracious as she is in her blog. One of these days we will actually meet.

But the top reason I cruise is live entertainment. The ship is filled with small bands and pianists. But my favorites are on stage. And I get my most energy out of the singers and dancers of the ship's company.

I have stopped calling them kids because, even though some of them are just starting their careers, a number of them have been practicing their talents for a few years.

I have mentioned that I try to sponsor an appreciation dinner for the cast on each of my cruises. This cruise was no exception. The full cast showed up, and they were delightful conversationalists.

But their talent is far beyond conversation. They performed two Vegas-quality shows on a moving ship. Singing. Dancing. All with the professionalism you would expect from a Broadway-trained cast.

In fact, at least one performed on Broadway: Adrienne Fiske. Pictured at the top of this post. She is a true star in her own right.

I have now taken twenty-some cruises. But this one will be memorable because friendship ran like a thread through the full week.

And what could be a better result than that?

Monday, November 23, 2009

docked and loaded

I'm home.*

After a week at sea and a week at Disneyland, I have returned to Melaque with a grab bag of mixed emotions.

Jumping at warp speed from two weeks of extreme sensory stimulation to the relative serenity of my small fishing village by the sea has been a bit disquieting (or, more accurately, ultra-quieting -- to coin a word.)

But it is not the same Melaque that I left two weeks ago. The temperature on Sunday morning was a delightful 68. Better yet, the humidity has fallen into the 60s.

Snow bird season is in full swing. Even though expatriates make up a very small portion of the population in Melaque, their pocket books change the character of the town. He who pays the piper, gets lots of piping.

Two weeks ago, the village rolled up its nets around 8. No more. Sunday morning I could hear party music throbbing across the bay until 2 AM.

That was a little surprising. Most of the northern visitors I have encountered do not strike me as the Studio 54 crowd. But someone is paying for that music.

Whoever is paying, it is a good sign. Maybe the winter season will not be as catastrophic as the local Jeremiahs have predicted. (I use the metaphor warily. After all, Jeremiah proved to be an accurate prophet.)

So, I sit on the beach. Watching the ever-splendid sunsets. Writing the never-ending blog.

But enough navel-gazing. I suspect you would like to hear a bit about the last two weeks.

And relate tales I will. But not everything. After all, each life must have some mystery.

Even the examined life.

* -- I cannot write those words without conjuring up the opening of Billie -- when Michael Crawford still sang like a Yorkshire Mickey Mouse, rather than John Raitt-lite.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

sailing out

Three million people in the City of Angels according to the last census, easily half of them up to something they don't want the other half to know. We all get sucked in by the lobby. Palm trees finger the sky and there's enough sunshine to lay off some on Pittsburgh. But that's all on the top. L.A., truth to tell's, not much different than a pretty girl with the clap.

Some opening lines from plays summarize a place in few words. Prose poems.

And what better introduction to Los Angeles than City of Angels?

I flew up from Melaque this afternoon. Great flight. Sat next to an interesting couple from Alberta who live in a neighboring town. We actually made arrangements to meet when we return.

But my goal tonight is to simply settle down, get some rest, and head off to the ship in the morning.

Then, I should have more to say.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

can you spare a cruise?

When I moved to Melaque, a friend asked me if would still be here in November.

I told him: "I certainly hope so."

He then told me that he was taking a Mexican cruise with his sister, and that one of the stops would be Puerto Vallarta. He wanted to know if I would spend the day with them.

It sounded great to me. Of course, I would need to find accommodation for the dog.

Well, we know how part of that story has developed. When Jiggs died in October, it occurred to me that I not only could meet them, I could join them on the cruise. And that is exactly what I am going to do.

I am going to end up spending hours flying to and from Los Angeles to visit the country where I live. Better yet, it is the same cruise I would take for my birthday every year: Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. Places I have visited -- a lot.

But, I am looking forward to it because I will be spending time with my friends.

When I set up the reservations, I noted one big problem. There is only one direct flight from Los Angeles to Manzanillo each week -- on Saturdays. The ship returns to Los Angeles on Sunday. That means that I would have to stay in Los Angeles for almost a full week.

Now, I do not dislike Los Angeles -- exactly. I just found it hard to think of anything I could do for a week.

Then another group of friends came to the rescue. I have not been to Disneyland since the mid-1950s. My friends were more than willing to drag me back to the Magic Kingdom.

Surprisingly, I am looking forward to it. I will be wandering around with a group of techie-minded types. We can spend our time looking at how things work. For me, it will be like being in theater heaven. Better than a week at Fry's.

So, that is the agenda -- and not one secret item in sight.

I will do my best to keep you posted on this little adventure -- even if it is Mexico from the ultimate tourist's perspective. Assuming I can get enough bandwidth to upload photographs from the ship.

Let the adventure continue.

Friday, November 06, 2009

zoom with a view

Nancy (of Countdown to Mexico) commented yesterday that I should have included photographs in yesterday's post about my new camera.

Great idea. I wish I had thought of it.

I sorted through my output over the past month -- trying to choose examples of shots that have made a difference with the new camera.

The photograph at the top is an example. My prior camera did not have the pixels to pick up the details of Salem's tallest building -- or the textural variations in the Autumn sky.

This is a sentimental favorite. It is impossible to miss this dog on the beach. He is the class clown.

If he is not worrying a coconut shell to death, he is pestering strangers to throw it into the sea where he will retrieve it. Again. And again. And again.

But, more than that, he simply likes to dig holes in the beach. Simply because he can. In this shot, I used a sports setting with a high speed shutter in the macro. My old camera could not have captured the sand as the dog tossed it out of his excavation.

OK. Some of you are thinking this is just the dog I need to adopt. But he does not want to be adopted. He has friends everywhere, and no desire to be anyone's dog. He is his own.

I wish I could remember the setting I used for this shot. I simply liked the combination of the horizontal driftwood matched with the sea's horizon. I was also impressed with the different hues of blue that the camera was able to distinguish.

The 18X optical zoom tied with its 12 megapixel capture picks up some interesting detail. This shot is the highest point on a war memorial -- a hand grenade held aloft. I took it at full zoom.

This is another zoom picture, but it illustrates a different point. On full zoom, the heron was only a small portion of the photograph. After severe cropping, I ended up with a photograph that looks as if the image filled the view finder. This works only because of the megapixel capacity.

This was a tricky shot.

I hate getting too close to people when I am shooting. For some reason, I dislike being intrusive. But I was close enough to this couple not to need my zoom. I include it because of the color and detail.

There are bloggers amongst us who rail at closeup photographs of flowers.

Well, this bud's for you.

Abraham Lincoln once said: "People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like." That is true of the closeup macro on my new camera. Lots of options. Lots of good results. Just look at the rain drops.

So, there is a little bit of what comes out of this new camera. I trust you will be seeing more in the very near future.

No matter where I am.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

mi recámara

You may have noticed an improvement in my photographs since early October.

If you haven't; I have.

The sole reason is my new camera. After a bit of assistance from a number of you (
through a glass darkly), I decided to purchase a Panasonic FZ-35.

I wanted a camera that had some of the ease of a point and shoot, but also had the ability to override the built-in macros to perform more like an SLR camera. This camera met that basic criterion.

Along with the ability to shoot at 12 megapixels and an 18X optical zoom.

For me, the zoom is far more important. The wide vistas of the Mexican Pacific coast gives me a great field of vision for shots. But many of those shots are simply beyond the range of a point and shoot.

My last camera taught me the value of a powerful zoom. I will never buy another camera without one.

But there is one downside. The camera body is about the size of an SLR camera -- just a bit smaller. It certainly will not fit in a pocket without some rather morally-pointed stares.

That means I need to carry a back pack with me when I go out on shoots. Not really a big deal.

The camera has also given me an opportunity to relearn basic photography skills. Because I can set the camera as if it were an SLR, I need to recall all of those principles that are now on a dusty shelf somewhere in the south of Greece. But it will be fun to relearn what I have forgotten through disuse.

My bottom line is that is a great camera.

The question is whether or not you will enjoy the photographs.

I promise to use it on my upcoming trip.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

gidgets wanted

My little fishing village on the Mexican coast is not a hotbed of athletics.

As in any town in Mexico, there are the odd football matches. And even a rodeo or two. But Melaque is not known for its sports society.

With one big exception --skim boarding.

I have commented several times that the waves on my beach are not swimmer friendly.

The pitch is steep enough that the waves do not merely pound the sand. They slam it. The WWF has nothing on drama queen noises in comparison with the sounds the ocean makes when greeting the shore.

But that violent one-break surf creates a veritable Aspen for the local skim boarders.

If you do not know what a skim board is, think of a short surf board that is smooth on the bottom.

The boarder waits on the beach for a likely wave. If he spies one, he tears off in Jesse Owens style.

When he hits the surf line on the wet sand, he drops his board (taking advantage of another Newtonian rule of physics), jumps on it, and sails out into the surf, where he catches the curl of the wave.

Most of them are in their teens. Some are older. But, unlike snow skiing, it is a sport not to be enjoyed by white-haired men, no matter how many wily tricks they may have learned. Wiles do not equal balance.

But watching these guys on their boards is a cultural potpourri. Graceful as ballet. Enchanting as the Cirque du Soleil. Invigorating as active youth can be.

What is missing are young women. Oh, they are at the beach. Lined up in a row with their babies. Watching their men grapple with nature. All attired in proper Nazarene Church camp summer wear.

I asked one of the young women why she was not a boarder. She simply laughed, and said: "That's for boys." And looked at me as if I had just asked why boys don't wear skirts.

I have heard there are some women skim boarders. I simply have not seen them in my stay at the beach.

Until they do appear, I will have to be satisfied with watching the fathers of the little babies who accompany the women on the beach.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

death takes a holiday

Near the end of Annie Hall, Alvy and Annie are dividing their property. Looking at a stack of books, Annie says:

Now, look, all the books with death and dying are yours, and all the poetry books are mine.

If you changed the character names to Mexico and America, you would just about sum about the respective attitudes of each nation toward death.

Death is a timely topic. It is always, of course.

But death rides high this week in Mexico -- with its Day of the Dead celebrations.

I drove to the local cemetery today and yesterday. It is a fair distance to drive from town. When I got there, I found a couple cars and a few knots of relatives in the cemetery. Hardly the mob scene I had been told to anticipate.

I stopped, but decided not to intrude with my camera. After all, I would feel a bit violated if a stranger with a camera elbowed into our family's Memorial Day grave decoration ceremony.

The celebration caused me to organize some thoughts I have been mulling over during the last few weeks.

Mexicans seem to have a natural relationship with death. Perhaps because it seems that much closer to people who have few material goods. Or it could be the effect that Roman Catholicism has had on the general public. As Anne Lamott points out "a basic tenet of the Christian faith is that death is really just a major change of address."

Whatever the reason, their remembrance of their dead relatives through stylized demonstrations is not emotional on the surface. In fact, it appears to be quite loving.

Americans do not share that view of death. I have several friends who will not discuss it with me. An American doctor friend tells me that he is amazed at how many of his patients say "if I die," rather than "when I die." Another young friend told me he thinks that death will be conquered by science by the time he gets to be my age (40 more years).

Of course, there are exceptions. I have been fascinated with death all of my life. And another friend told me recently that he has been hiding his fascination with the topic because everyone else thinks he is weird to discuss it.

That is why an American newspaper could run a headline "Mexico death museum lives up to morbid name" with a story about the Mexican National Museum of Death. The story goes on to refer to "the country's macabre interest in kicking the bucket."

Morbid? Macabre? Simply because the topic is death.

When I read Babs's post yesterday morning, several pieces came together. She wrote about the emotional turmoil that she went through when building an altar for her daughter: Jennifer's Altar. But when the altar was complete, she felt a sense of peace.

I suspect that is what we Americans attempt to avoid when discussing death. We want the peace on the cheap -- without the emotional turmoil.

Yesterday I did not feel well. I ended up sleeping most of the day. But my death thoughts seem to have triggered something.

I had a dream. I was in a strange apartment. There was a knock at the door. I opened it, and there stood a liveried chauffeur. No idea who he was. But he said: "Sir, the car is ready."

I followed him down two flights of stairs to an urban street where a Duesenberg J awaited. He opened the door. I got in.

Even though I was alone; I was not alone. There were about eight other people in the car. But they were ethereal. My dad. My grandmother. My Aunt Bessie. Some people I have not yet met.

But they were all looking forward. No social interchange at all.

But that is what I get for thinking too much on this topic.

Of course, it would have been a far better tale if it had been a carriage and my fellow passenger was Miss Emily Dickinson.

Because we could have shared our books -- of poetry and death.

Monday, November 02, 2009

altars and friendship

My friend and fellow blogger, Gloria, has posted photographs and commentary on her Day of the Dead altar.

She has graciously included Professor Jiggs amongst her family members and pets. Jiggs would appreciate it.

I certainly do.

harvey's burger bar

There is a new meat market in town.

Well, a new cooked meat market. A burger bar.

There have long been hamburger joints in Melaque. But this is a new concept.

The owner, long-time resident Harvey, has combined good food with a great location.

The restaurant is located where Cesar and Charley's once did business -- next to the Hotel Monterey. But more importantly, the view takes in the full bay.

Most restaurants with a good view have little more to offer. But Harvey's has great food.

Here is the concept. You can build your own burger.

First, start with a 100% sirloin patty, a grilled chicken breast, fish, or a vegan burger. A nice selection.

Second, add some traditional or not-so-traditional vegetable toppings -- the "healthy" refuge of we burger eaters.

Third, spread on some sauces. From honey mustard to tartar.

And, of course, french fries or sweet potato fries.

I ate there twice -- trying the sirloin and the chicken breast. Both were extremely good. And the secret is that all of the ingredients were top rate.

Better than that, though, it is a great place to meet new people. You can heard Anne Murray warbling in the distance. The snowbirds have started to arrive and this appears to be a new roost for them. And a good roost it is.

Good view. Good food. Good company.

Who could ask for anything more?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

lines in the sand

A friend was talking with me the other day about his favorite television program: CSI.

He may have planted the idea. But I think this may be more than my imagination.

Doesn't the photograph look as if CSI is filming a homicide episode in my back yard?

What I want to know is what type of body would leave an outline like that? And did it fall out of the coconut tree?

I doubt I will be producing any television programs in the near future.