Thursday, December 31, 2009

mexi-irish rose -- part i

Hercule Poirot, I am not.

When I moved to Mexico, I assigned myself one research project: Is there any connection between the name of the main village (San Patricio) where I live and the San Patricio Battalion of the Mexican-American War?

My local research revealed nada. That even overstates the case, I could not even find a place to begin the research.

An "academic" asserted online that he had seen a deed for a local hacienda awarded to a member of the San Patricio Battalion. When I asked for details to support his theory, he simply disappeared.

My only other lead was a book -- The Rogue's March: John Riley and the St. Patrick's Battalion 1846-48

I started reading it in the hope that I might find some clues for my project.
I didn't.

But I refreshed some memories about a period that established long-standing feelings between Americans and Mexicans -- a time when Mexico lost 60% of its claimed territory to the United States of America.

The Mexican-American War had as many causes as any war. And each historian has his own axe to grind.

  • An ambiguous border between Texas and Mexico, unresolved in The Republic of Texas' War of independence.
  • The United States' 1845 admission of Texas into the union to thwart a power play by Great Britain -- even though the admission broke an implicit promise to Mexico that Texas would not be admitted.

  • The presence of a small-town country lawyer in the White House, who thought he could buy over half of Mexico's territory -- territory that Mexico could not adequately occupy -- as if he were buying Tennessee farm land.
  • A Mexican government, so weakened by decades of internal warfare, that believed it could default on millions of dollars in debt to American citizen without consequence.
  • Pro-slave American politicians who dreamed of new slave-holding territory, but feared the acquisition of acquiring a non-slave California.
  • Mexican politicians who believed their war-hardened army could easily snatch away Texas from a militarily weak United States -- because God was on their side.
  • American politicians who believed in the Manifest Destiny of the United States as a continent-wide nation -- because God was on their side.

And it all went wrong right from the start -- for both sides.

The Americans naively insulted Mexican pride by trying to buy the territory -- am offer that resulted in the collapse of the only effective Mexican government in three decades. Both governments were euchred by one of the wold's first-class schemers: General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

On paper Mexico should have wiped out the American invaders. The Mexican army was battle-hardened and outnumbered the green American forces. Luck and hubris worked in favor of the Americans.

And artillery. The Americans easily outgunned the Mexicans.

That is where the tale of the San P
atricio Battalion begins.

(Continued tomorrow)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

jack frost nips into town

We awoke this morning to weather I have not seen since -- last Christmas.

On Christmas Day, a light dusting of snow fell.

But this morning we had a Disney moment.

The weather decided to take a treacherous turn. Fog and freezing temperature.

A pilot's nightmare. But almost dreamlike from the sanctuary of the living room.

The fog froze on each twig making trees look as if they were ready to be sold from the flocked section in the Christmas tree lot. (Someone out there must remember flocked trees.)

I will not see the likes of this display for some time.

In a few days, I am on my way back to Mexico. To ponder where my adventure will take me next.

Friday, December 25, 2009

to meat -- or not to meat

That is the question.

In some homes at Christmas -- but not ours.

Hamlet need not mount the ramparts of Elsinore to ponder the merits of Christmas main courses. We will be having meat.

When I cook Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners, there will be no fowl play. No turkey. No goose. No duck. Not even the lowly pollo.

At my house, it will be red and artery-clogging. Either lamb, in its leg or rack incarnation, or prime rib. My post-modern streak extends even to dining.

When I decided to fly to Oregon for Christmas, I had no idea what would await me for dinner. All I knew is that we would be having dinner at my brother's house. His wife is a very good cook -- as is my brother -- and my 17-year old niece. My niece makes the best hollandaise sauce I have tasted.

On Christmas morning I awoke to find everyone as busy as taxi cab drivers in Mexico City. That was when I saw the guest of honor sitting on the kitchen island: a splendid prime rib roast awaiting its makeup for the oven.

A bit of pan searing on both ends. A generous piercing of garlic. A layer of rock salt (nearly as thick as the alluvial flow inside my old laptop). And rosemary. Lots of fresh rosemary.

And it was ready for its closeup.

We did not eat until late that evening. But the roast, green beans, cheesy potatoes, and what has become a family traditional cabernet au jus, topped off a great evening.

The food was only a tool, however. There is nothing original in acknowledging that Christmas dinners are about family relationships. And I would not trade my family for another.

We have as many issues as any family. But the greatest gift I received from my parents is learning not to take myself seriously -- and not to take life's circumstances seriously. A friend recently told me that watching our family is like watching a sitcom. I took it as a compliment.

I started to say I feel as if I enter a safe fortress. But we are not a wall people.

More accurately, I feel as if we are nomads crossing the steppes of Europe. Riding free, but together. Laughing at what life serves up to us.

What could better symbolize the joy of Christmas?

I trust that each of you had a Christmas every bit as merry.

Monday, December 21, 2009

catching up

Just a brief note.

I am using a wifi hookup at the local Safeway. I dropped by to pick up a few groceries and decided to make it a full-service trip.

As you can probably guess, I have a new computer. But I do not have adequate wireless connections at the house.

But I wanted to upload some photographs as promised in earlier posts. So, there they are.

I hope to be able to post a bit here and there -- whenever I can get some writing time.

For now, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

another hiatus

The computer repairman returned my computer to me today. Nothing could be done other than electronic last rites.

I will entrust its soul to my brother in Bend to see if any of the hard drive contents can be retrieved.

When you read this, I should be in Salem. I intend to spend the next two weeks celebrating Christmas with family and friends in Oregon.

That means, until I have a new computer in hand, I will most likely be off line having a good time.

But I promise I shall return -- on line and to Mexico.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

calling marlin perkins

It´s my table.

The restaurant is one of my favorites in town -- a true Graham Greene experience. But the table is not the best. It is just mine.

The view is good, but partially obstructed by a pillar.

And the table is too far from any of the fans for heat relief.

But it has something no other table has in the restaurant -- or perhaps in Melaque.

That view-obstructing pillar is a super highway for ants. Not the tiny sugar ants or the giant carpenter ants. Just your average, every-day Argentine ants.

I first noticed them months ago. They appeared to be setting up a new nest somewhere in the rafters. The traffic was sparse -- until the larvae-bearers showed up. Then it was 5 PM in Manhattan -- but the ants were smart enough to unsnarl their own gridlock.

They were soon replaced by the Mayflower Van ants. These girls could lift. They managed to maneuver several large insects and insect parts up the wall. Including a dismembered grasshopper. Finally answering whether the ant ever came to the fabled grasshopper´s aid.

Probably lunch for the new mouths that would be born into adulthood with a full To Do list for the rest of their lives.

There is a reason that Solomon instructed his son to consider the ant. They are steady. Industrious. Committed.

But the reason I tell this tale is to remind myself that I am glad to not be an ant. Too much bustle. Too much worry. Too much inbred busyness.

So, I sit. I drink my mineral water. I write. I think.

And I go home.

Maybe to return to the column of ants at my table in one of my favorites restaurants in Melaque. But maybe not.

I´m not going to worry about it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

shots of grace

It is 2 AM, and I am awake.

I could have said the same at 1 AM.

If my computer had not decided to be the central element in a Mr. Science project, I would be sitting at it. Drafting this post. Or talking to the type of close friends on the West Coast that would not mind having Martha Mitchell as a friend.

But the computer is toast. I will be stuck at internet cafes until I get back to Oregon for Christmas. At least, I now what my gift to myself is going to be this year.

I know why I cannot sleep tonight. I am in a place of junctions.

I received a letter from a long-time friend today informing me that he was making a major life change. It was almost as if the Pope had called to tell me that transubstantiation did not make sense to him, and he had decided to be a Quaker. My friend´s choice is his to make. It simply caught me off guard.

Another friend sent me an email that his well-planned life seems to be unraveling bit by bit. Work. Relationships. Nothing seems to be going as he thought it would at this stage of his life.

And Wednesday night was the last night of my Bible study on prayer. I enjoyed presenting the series, but there is something bittersweet when it is all over.

I suspect that a lot of this musing has its root with the loss of computer access. It provided me with immediate communication with friends, acquaintances, and total strangers. Using the internet cafe is a bit like relying on a third-rate Methadone program.

For the past eight months, I have been struggling to get through Anne Lamott´s Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. I picked it up again on Tuesday after I moved into the new place, and started from the beginning -- where every good story should start. And I finished it off on Thursday morning.

Anne can be a challenging read. She is neurotic. A bit depressing at times. Even mean. But she is authentic. Even when I disagree with her, I always learn something new.

When she is on point, her essays cut right to the heart -- of the matter, and yours.

I ran across one of those passages in the last essay of this collection.

The gist of the story is that faith and grace will not look as they do in Bible stories, will not involve angels, flames, or harps. Some pitiful thing appears or occurs, entirely inadequate to help shift this grim situation, and it can´t possibly be enough, but then it is.

Simple. But, from my experience, true.

So, I am going back to bed. To find that ¨pitiful thing¨ that will give me some space for rest.

Whatever is unsettling me will also find its place of rest.

Of that, I have faith -- and, I hope, the grace to accept it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

making a list -- another one

Santa Claus came to town on Tuesday.

So did Joseph, Mary, wise men, shepherds, and an assorted cast that would do Cecil B. DeMille proud.

It is Christmas in Mexico and cultures are clashing.

There were few signs of Christmas in Melaque until this week. The school had its Christmas tree. A few shops had small decorations.

But it was difficult to distinguish the red and green motif for Guadalupe home decorations from Christmas lights. I think there may be another assimilation point embedded in that bait.

With Guadalupe duties out of the way, my neighbors have launched full throttle into Christmas. And I mean Mexican serious.

Around noon on Tuesday, I was rushing back to the house with some ice. Of course, the street was blocked. It seems that every time I get into a rushed northern mode, something gets blocked. The streets. The store aisle. The toilet.

This blockage appeared to be a group of mothers -- with cameras. I have one of those. I should have known what I would find.

If I have learned anything in Mexico, it is this: If you cannot go forward, stop, get out of your car, and enjoy whatever is going on.

I´m glad I did.

The mothers were photographing what mothers the world over photograph -- their children.

But not just their children. Their children dressed up in Christmas pageant finery. Mexican Christmas pageant finery. Not your dad´s left over robe or a worn-out sheet.

Stars. Mary. Joseph. Wise men. Shepherds. Angels. And some not-so-apparent assorted cast members.

Even though they were infant school by age, they formed willingly into a solemn procession. And processed.

They walked only two blocks with faces set sternly showing that Serious Work was being done on the cobblestones of San Patricio.

And they were accompanied by song. I say ¨accompanied¨ because the children were too intent on their roles to join in song. The mothers and teachers provided the cinematic soundtrack for this trek to Bethlehem. They sang full-throated and with joy -- except for the frequent maternal note trapped on the border between singing and crying.

Then they stopped. More singing. More photographs. And the distribution of candy to the entire cast. Solemn faces breaking into smiles of unexpected gifts.

This is, of course, the opening of the season where a very young Mary and an equally-young Joseph will walk home to home seeking entry -- only to be refused. But a door will finally open to admit them to provide succor from their long journey.

A good lesson on life´s vagaries and subsequent grace.

There was not so much grace with the arrival of Santa in San Patricio that evening.

No solemn procession for Saint Nick. He arrived with an entourage of tracer light bedecked vehicles -- including electronic reindeer who appeared to have escaped from the Costco zoo. And there was the omnipresent Mexican fiesta accessory: the speaker-topped car blaring, in this case, Jingle Bells in Spanish.

It was pure Vegas with the odd exception that Santa was on a wooden-wheel cart. Perhaps humility tarted up in show girl lights?

Santa was thin as a Grinch, and as European-featured as -- well, Santa Claus.

The children ran for blocks to greet him. Or to greet the candy he was showering on them.

The parade ended under a giant piñata that was whacked and whacked until it disgorged its bounty of sweets -- sweets that were scooped up by children gone wild. Sugar must be the foundation of everything Christmas in my small village by the sea.

I am not one of those outsiders who rails against American and Canadian culture ruining Mexican holidays.

The ancestors of the people in this village have been dealing with waves of invaders for thousands of years. Each wave has been assimilated into the existing culture. The result being the current menudo that surrounds us.

So, bring on the kids learning about the incarnation and the salving balm of grace. But we can also fit a bit of Santa into the day to celebrate the sheer joy of life.

I suspect the young Jesus would have liked his whack at the piñata.


I have some great photographs to be added to this blog when -- and if -- my computer returns from the land of the undead.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

the wages of hubris

For nine months, I have been quite smug when the topic of home invaders comes up.

Sure, I have been fending off ants, cockroaches, land crabs, assassin bugs, spiders the size of dinner plates, biting flies, biting gnats, mosquitoes, crickets, bees, bats, swallows, geckos, lizards, and snakes (OK. Snake.).

But I always amaze my neighbors when I say I have never seen a scorpion in the house. In fact, I have never seen one in Mexico.

Well, ¨had¨ never seen.

When I was a boy scout, we would visit a fossil bed in central Oregon for weekend camping. It was the perfect boy spot. Open spaces. Heat. Lots of rocks to crack open. Cliffs to scramble across. And a cool river for a swim at the end of the day.

If I was in a non-social mood, I would slip away from the camp fire and wander off to look at the night sky or, in my fondest dreams, to catch a glimpse of a coyote loping across the desert.

On one of those adventures, I crept up to a ridge, lying down at the crest, to see if I could spot any wildlife. I was Cochise on the hunt.

But there was nothing. The moon lit up the valley as bright as any stage, but nothing moved.

Then I felt something on my right hand. A scorpion. I had never seen one before. This one was small. Dark. Perhaps because of the moonlight, it looked menacing and fascinating.

Sensing that I was neither a good meal or even a hint of imminent danger, it scampered off in search of something to eat -- something to keep it alive for just one more day at a time.

I thought of that incident when I spotted my first Mexican scorpion this week. I was on my way out the door to shake a rug when I saw a small brown object on the floor.

I immediately knew what it was. We seem to be hard-wired to recognize some dangers.

It was probably the shape. Nothing has that chunky rectangular shape topped off by an inquiring question mark tail.

I nudged it with my foot to see if I had a corpse on my hands. It was so still, it could easily have been dead.

It wasn't. It started an evasive scamper.

For one brief shining moment, I considered the life option. I had not killed the scorpion on my first encounter: why kill this one? After all, it was headed right toward the door.

Hard-wiring won out over compassion.

For all of their fearsome appearance, scorpions die easily. But not without retaining the hope for venomous revenge. When I picked up the carcass, the tail was still moving slowly in the small hope of scoring a point against my own goal.

For nine months, I have walked barefoot in the house. Common sense tells me there is a reason to modify that practice.

Unless I want to ante up on another hubris lesson.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

farewell in sea minor

I was going to spend a lazy afternoon; but, it spent me.

One of those tropical winter days -- all heat, light, and sound.

Joel Grey sings I am a Sentimental Man in the background.

I am not a sentimental man. I profess no love of mawkish emotionalism.

But this is a week to start toting up life´s ledger. To let the left side of my brain dance on its own balcony.

I am moving house. To a sedentary laguna with its sunning crocodiles and hyacinth-hopping grebes.

Away from the one thing that has defined my months in Mexico -- the Pacific. The sea drew me and has held me here.

I have always loved large bodies of water. As a sailor, a tourist, a sometimes resident. Whether the Pacific, Aegean, Atlantic, Indian. North, or Caribbean.

I have been as beguiled as Odysseus by their siren calls.

With the exception of stormy days, my experience is that waves lap the shore.

Not in Villa Obregon. When I arrived in April, the waves would crack against the beach. Not crash. Crack.

They were loud enough to startle Jiggs into believe we were in the midst of thunder. The impact was great enough that the house would shake with each wave. I have missed several earthquakes -- some this week -- because I mistook the shaking for waves.

I have a friend who is a cinematographer. I have told him several times he should come to my beach to record the waves.

He could create a complete sound effect library. Rifle shots. Car crashes. Subway trains. Fighter jets. They are all there. In the waves.

The price to pay for the symphony is dangerous swimming water. More than once the waves have introduced me to the sandy bottom.

Bikers get road rash. Swimmers in Villa Obregon get beach rash.

For six months I lived with my temperamental neighbor. Then, one day in October, the mood switched. Sunday the equivalent of broken crockery, Monday all sweetness and light.

I thought I had traded places with Islagringo. The effect was almost Caribbeanish. The waves caressed the shore. Swimmers enjoyed the surf without worrying about spending the rest of the day getting sand out of their suits.

The only people disappointed with the change were the skimboarders.

Perhaps, Poseidon was content. If so, his bipolar disorder flared up again last week.

The waves are back with all of their fury. Living up to their nickname La Playa de las Tambors -- Beach of the Drums.

I entered this play when the sea was thrashing the shore. I now leave it almost as it was nine months ago.

There is something comforting in that. Consistent unpredictability.

But I leave without sentiment. Because the sea does not care if I am there or not.

And I am pleased to know it will always be just as I left it.

Waiting -- if I decide to return.

Monday, December 14, 2009

turn on the green flash

Before there was a Captain Jack Sparrow.

Before there was
At World´s End.

There was the quest for the Green Flash.

Like most heroic sagas, its origin plays hide and seek with the fog of my memory.

My favorite theory (and the only one I can conjure up these days) is that I heard of the Green Flash in a National Geographic story about Key West. The accompanying photograph showed a crowd -- each person with the expectant gaze of religious pilgrims. As if some apparition was going to show up as a tropical projection.

In a sense, it was. They were all waiting, on the outside chance, that they would see the Green Flash.

For all of the romance attached to it, the Green Flash is nothing more than light refraction.

If conditions are just right, as the last portion of the sun slips below the sea´s horizon, for one brief magic moment, that crumb of the sun seems to turn green. For less than a second. For a mere -- flash.

In my years of sailing, cruising, and living on or near oceans and seas, I have seen the Green Flash only a few times. Once, on a cruise off the coast of Namibia. At dinner with my friends Roy and Nancy in a restaurant on the Oregon coast. And, now, three days in a row on the beach of Villa Obregon.

Is it a talisman? Of course not. That would be superstitious twaddle.

Is my life better for seeing it? I think so. At least, in the sense that it reenforces the drive to see magic in every day.

And for at least a few more months, I can continue that quest on the beach of my small fishing village.

Jack Sparrow could not wish more.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

please stand by

I wish I could find one of those old ¨technical difficulty¨signs from the early days of television.

You know the ones . ¨Please stand by. We are experiencing technical difficulties.¨

The problem is that I would not be able to post it if I found it because I am experiencing technical difficulties.¨

Well, my computer is.

It appears the sea finally won its tug of war. I took my laptop to the local computer guru when my wireless card failed to work properly. It turns out, the computer was ¨full of water.¨ I hope that was more hyperbole than diagnosis.

Hyperbole or not, my computer will be out of operation for the remainder of the week.

Coincidentally, I will be, as well. I have some symptoms indicating that I may get the privilege of having a touch of tropical ¨flu.¨

That means I will miss the ballet tonight. As soon as I finish this post, I am off to bed for the remainder of the day. I need to retain some strength for moving house on Tuesday.

If an opportunity arises, I will post. Otherwise, I will be back on line as soon as I can get a computer (and fingers) that work.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

cheating with cheetos

They say confession is good for the soul.

They are correct.

One way or another, our short comings always find us out. In my case, usually around my waist.

My name is Steve -- and I am a junk food junkie. No sugar for me. I cut right to the salt and the grease.

When I started visiting Mexico, I was impressed with all of the unusual flavors for potato chips: chili and lime, habañero, jalapeño.

But it did not take me long to discover that all of the bags contained essentially the same taste: chili and lime. Even the pizza-flavored chips tasted like -- chili and lime.

What was once exciting became boring. But that was fine with me. I was in a weight loss frame of mind -- and cutting junk food out of the picture made the inches melt away.

This week I drove down to Manzanillo to pick up my mail. That drive and some recent life episodes put me in a rather pensive frame of mind.

And I could feel the temptation building when I stopped at the Oxxo to buy a Coke Light. The racks of chili-lime-infused chips called to me.

But it is easy to avoid temptation when the temptress is singing a song with no allure.

All went well until I spotted a familiar package. The Cheetos cheetah. There they were. The very epitome of junk food -- Cheetos puffed corn balls. Every kid in America was weaned to them.

Without one bit of guilt, I grabbed a bag. Grabbed my Coke Light. Paid. And was on my way. Bag ripping open as the pesos soared mano a mano.

I was not out the door before I realized the wages of sin are counted in artificial flavors of -- chili and lime.

Right. I neglected to look at the bag very closely. See the icon at the top? These are not your every day Cheetos corn puff balls. They are chili-lime Cheetos corn puff balls.

If I have learned one thing in Mexico, it is this. Whatever life deals you, enjoy it.

So, I ate my corn balls and drank my Coke Light as if I was dining on squab at Antoine's.

And I bought another bag the next day.

But that was enough.

Because abstinence does not make the heart grow fonder.

Friday, December 11, 2009

my best girl

My Aunt Bessie was the Queen of Spain.

The East Wind.

The fifth card for an inside straight.

Every family has a Mame Dennis -- their own Auntie Mame. Bessie was ours.

My family valued Piety. Humility.

Not my Great Aunt Bessie. She was different. She drank. She smoked. She swore like a madam. And she laughed with a cackle that could make Calvin Coolidge smile.

Her goal was to enjoy life and to be the center of attention wherever she went. She was not going to starve at life's banquet --and she was determined that no one she loved would even lose weight.

Aunt Bessie and Uncle Don had no children of their own until I was well into elementary school. I had the honorary role of being their boy. From time to time, I would stay with them and join them on their adventures.

The year was 1958. The Fourth Republic had given way to the Fifth, and Charles de Gaulle was the new president of France. It was an era of hope in Paris.

I can still remember the little night club on the Left Bank. Almost as if the set of Casablanca had been transported to Paris.

The lights dimmed. The haute couture set fell silent.

In the burst of a spotlight, there she was. As small as the light was bright. Dressed in black -- stark against her silver heaven.

Edith Piaf. The Little Sparrow.

There are moments we will never forget. For me, that light, that figure are burned in my memory.

The haunting opening strain of Le Fete Continue. The dry cough -- barely short of a hack.

And that little voice. Hoarseness echoing smoky years. But growing stronger with each bar -- singing with the power of a torch singer who can exercise the magic of music to put her flame back in her life.

That night is one of my favorite memories.

Unfortunately, it never happened. There was no trip to Paris. No night club. No Edith Piaf.

But I am so convinced of its truth that I would tell the same story under hypnosis. It is that real to me. I believe it happened. I just know it didn't.

So, why does it keep replaying in my mind like an out-take from a Claude Chabrol film?

I forgot to tell you one thing about Aunt Bessie. She was a master story teller. The best. Garrison Keillor could have taken lessons from her.

Every tale improved over time with each telling -- like a Chateau Margaux aging to its prime. Occasionally, it was even possible to recognize the original event.

But she was also a dreamer. The youngest of seven children, sixteen years younger than the oldest, she was allowed to be the princess and to spin dreams.

The last time I saw her was in 1998. I was showing a young English woman around Oregon when I received news that Aunt Bessie had been hospitalized. The years of enjoying herself at life's banquet had weakened her heart, but not the heart of her life.

The moment we entered the room, Aunt Bessie was on stage. And we were pulled into her gravitational pull. The moons of Jupiter would have had a better chance of escaping than we did.

When Aunt Bessie heard my friend was English, I was reduced to a supporting cast member, and Hilary was invited to sit beside her on the bed.

They talked of gardens and castles and manor houses and dead kings. They would have gone on for hours if the nurse had not scolded us for overstaying our visit.

As we were leaving, Aunt Bessie took our hands and said: "Thank you both for taking me to England."

At the time, I took her comment as one more of her heartfelt, slightly hyperbolic statements of gratitude.

That was the last time I saw her alive. Her heart simply could not go on sharing life's bounty.

When her daughter, Gail, went through her effects, Gail found a note that she forwarded to me. Aunt Bessie wrote the note about a year before her hospitalization -- obviously knowing the end was near.

The note said that she had only one regret in life: that she had never been able to visit England. But she hoped someone would take her there -- one day.

That note was almost a Rosetta Stone to my aunt's character. It helped to explain her emotional thanks in the hospital.

But more than that. My aunt was one of those people who could eke life out of every experience -- by traveling, by reading, or by adopting for her own the experiences of others.

Did I see Edith Piaf in Paris with my Aunt Bessie and Uncle Don?

The answer is as much yours as it is mine.

But I know two things.

I enjoyed my trip to England with my aunt.

And I have no doubt -- she was the Queen of Spain.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

deconstructing la mesa de computadora

I admire people who can do things with their hands.

They are all over the Mexico blogs. You cannot read very long before running across this crafty lot.

Calypso with his tools and construction projects. Theresa and Nancy with their knitting and sewing skills. Even Felipe with his grassy dreams.

Not me. When I see the initials "DIY" on any box, I know it is not for me. It is not coincidental that the term should be pronounced: "DIE."

And I come by it honestly. My father was great at many things. Fixing things was not one of them.

Over the years, I have proven this defect in my skills. I have a list of disasters that would make Warren Harding look like a piker.

With that load of neuroses in my backpack, I wandered off to Manzanillo to buy a computer table for the new house.

It seemed to be a simple task, but nothing was offered assembled. Everything came in a box. From China.

I finally chose a nice wood and glass combination that would fit perfectly in the guest bedroom. About $200 (US). But it looked nice on the box. The fact that the floor model was falling apart should have been some sort of warning.

The home owner allowed me to start putting the table together this week.

I looked at the instructions. I knew my Spanish would not be up to the task. But the Chinese manufacturer must not have had Spanish skills, either, because the instructions were in picture form. Great, thought I. Forgetting that lots of Mayan hieroglyphics have yet to be translated.

Another pleasant surprise, the entire table could be assembled using a little allen wrench. And it was enclosed with the hardware. How cool is that?

Within ten minutes I had the full frame put together. With everything as pictured. I was impressed. My confidence was building.

Then I noticed, there were no holes drilled for the wheels. And no screws. No problema. I could borrow a power drill and screws are sold everywhere. Hurdle crossed. Angst stuffed back into the backpack.

I knew the next step would be a little more difficult. The surface for my laptop was a large slab of glass supported on two metal columns. Snazzy look. I put the glass where I could reach it to balance it on the columns.

I know what you are thinking. But just wait. Show some respect for the master builder.

OK. Now you can start doubting.

I am still not certain what happened next. I must have budged the glass with my foot. I know it did not fall over. Instead, it simply exploded into thousands of shards. Almost as if a sniper had barely missed turning my head into an exploding melon.

I was left was a nifty little building project that has ended similar to all of my past construction projects. I have a great topless table.

The clever ones amongst you will have a lot of suggestions on how to salvage this. For now, I am simply going to use the kitchen table.

Next time, I will simply take a ball peen hammer and break the glass before I start another project.

May as well jump to the chase.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

being good on the cheap

My good friend, Gary Denness, over at The Mexile, needs your help.

For the past four years he has taken on almost Herculean labors in the name of good works. Out of pain, he hopes to raise money for his favorite charity: Wildcoast.

Because you are a clever lot, your minds are already rushing ahead of me. Just say the word "charity," and the excuses start forming: "I gave at the office."

Lower those defensive shields. There is actually good news. Very good news. No need to reach for that beloved coin purse. He is not hitting us up for a donation.

He is doing the hard work: raising money by running advertisements on a blog he has created for this grueling event.

And here is all you have to do. Click on either of the following two links:
Insurgentes Mexico City or Tours Mexico City.

That's it. By doing that, you will improve Gary's event page ranking on Google. Advertisers like that.

Doing good could not be easier.

You'll feel better. And the Pacific coast will be the better for it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

the russians are coming; the russians are coming

But don't expect to see Alan Arkin, Carl Reiner, or even John Philip Law.

This time the Russians are not invading New England.

Russians are clever enough to forsake winters that remind them of their own. This clever lot is coming to Manzanillo to dance their hearts out for a public starved for haute culture.

Do not expect dancing bears or prancing Cossacks. We are talking ballet here.

And if it is Russian. And if it is Christmas. Can the strains of the celesta be far behind?

The lucky folks who attend will get their annual fix of sugar plum fairies and waltzing flowers from THe Nutcracker Suite. Not to mention the vaguely disturbing presence of "Uncle" Drosselmeyer. Every piece of good art needs tension.

But they will get more. The Russian company will also present several other dance pieces.

For those of us who complain that the Mexican Pacific coast is short on high cultural events, this is an opportunity to put our pesos where our mouths are and our butts in seats.

So, when is all of this happening? Next Sunday, 13 December at the Marbella Salon in Manzanillo.

One of our favorite bloggers,
New beginnings in Manzanillo, is promoting this event. And those of us who know her should be there to lend our cultural-starved hands. It was through her efforts that Professor Jiggs lived as long as he did in Mexico.

No. That sounds manipulative. We should be there because it will be a good time. And fun is a good enough reason for anyone.

I know it is for me.

Monday, December 07, 2009

pearl harbor has a competitor

For two years, I was an only child. And then my parents turned on me.

Just short of my second birthday, my mother brought a blanket-covered competitor into our house in Powers -- my brother, Darrel.

I welcomed my new brother in typical style -- by throwing a toy truck at my mother and breaking her glasses.

That incident was followed by arrows, pellet guns, and broken violin bows. Between the two of us. By that point, our mother had reverted to her sacred position of fairy princess.

My memory says all of those violent acts were not my doing. But, hey, it's my memory and my blog. And we were boys.

But there were much better times, as well.

The best of those have come during the past decade after our father's death. The two of us have become much closer. Sharing accomplishments and losses. Drawing closer as time draws its boundaries around us.

He helped me moved to Mexico and stayed for the first month to ease my transition -- taking time away from his own family and job. And he repeatedly helps me keep my computer operating in my brine-doused beach house. Without him there would be no blog.

It has been a certain number of years since that fateful day in December when I discovered that the world did not revolve around me.

It is my brother's birthday today.

And what better time to thank him for being my best brother. My best friend.

Happy birthday, guy.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

pot on the streets




The old man was walking down the main street of my little village. Repeating his nasal call.

It was not loud, but it was the tone. I am certain it pierced every concrete and adobe wall.

Of course, he was not saying "Pots." It was something in Spanish.

But the word didn't matter. His was a call, as the psalmist would (and did) say: "as deep calls to deep." Penetration trumps comprehension.

I did not need my Spanish dictionary. It would have done me no good because I could not understand what he was saying.

But I knew by the ceramic pots strung over his shoulders what he was selling. Just like The Streets of Laredo, I could tell by his outfit that he was a salesman, too.

That got me to thinking, who is his target market?

I understand the vegetable truck, the enchilada man, the water guy, the boy selling dulce pan, the knife sharpener. They are all selling products that when the
señora de la casa hears the honk, cry, horn, or Tarzan yell, she knows she has an immediate need for the product. Most often, it will be off of the truck and on the dinner table that day -- often within the hour.

But a ceramic pot? Who sits around the house thinking: "Gee. I wish someone would wander through my neighborhood selling ceramic pots."

Maybe there is a high incidence of people transplanting house plants without first thinking: I need to buy a pot. Thank heaven that man is coming down the street.

But it is not just ceramic pots. Trucks cruise our street selling mattresses, couches, chairs, and dressers. And not once have I seen anyone run into the street to stop one of these travelling Wal-Marts with a look of relief that a mattress crisis has been resolved.

I love the convenience of being able to buy so many necessities right in front of my house. But it appears that a good idea has gone just a bit astray.

I am not certain which category I would place the drugs and sex that are for sale on the next block. With a little imagination, someone could add rock and roll and market it as The Boomer Trifecta.

I don't even want to think what that wall-piercing call would sound like.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

on the road with Steve

Rumors persist that your intrepid correspondent does not actually get out of the boundaries of his small fishing village by the sea.

Here is proof positive -- without the magic of PhotoShop.

My friend, Roy, his sister, Marcia, and I are strolling the ever-pleasant streets of old town Puerto Vallarta. It was a practically perfect day -- for all of us.

Friday, December 04, 2009

sunset boulevard

I promised some time back that I would post no new sunset photographs.. After all, I will be at the beach house for only two more weeks. There are a lot of objects to photograph other than refracted light on the sea.

This sunset on Wednesday evening changed my mind. It looks like a peacock in the sky.

I have never seen clouds with that type of texture isolated as a sunset canvas. Click on the photograph and see them in detail.

It was magnificent enough that locals and tourists alike stopped on the beach to watch it develop.

I would not be meeting my blog duty if I let it pass uncommented.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

coming clean

I finally succumbed to another luxury of Mexico.

In The States, I would never consider taking my laundry to a stranger. That would have been the moral equivalent of airing my dirty linen in public.

Oops. I guess that is literally what I did. (Notet to Joe Biden. This is what "literally" means.)

We were all taught from a young age how to use the washer and dryer, and how to fold and store clothes. Asking someone to do that for you would have been unthinkable. Lazy. Sybaritic. Just not done.

Well, after eight months of fighting the washing machine at the house on the beach, I surrendered. I had three weeks of laundry (starting with clothes from my two-week vacation), and I simply did not want to deal with a machine that manages to get grit in clothes after they are washed.

When my brother was here, he found a laundress two blocks from the house. That was in May. But I am a bit slower than my sainted brother. It took me a bit longer to get there, but I dropped off my large pile of laundry this morning.

She weighed it, asked me to fill out a claim form, and then showed me the price: 660 pesos -- due on pick up at 5 this afternoon. As I was driving away, I started thinking about that figure. It seemed just a bit high to me. That would be about $51 (US). Of course, there were lots of clothes, and they were really dirty.

The calculator she used had about six zeros following the 66. I just assumed the decimal point. 660 pesos seemed too high. But 66 pesos seemed ridiculously low (about $5 (US) for over a suitcase full of laundry.

For those of you who have used these services, you know the answer. The bill was 66 pesos. For the cost of an American magazine, she washed, dried, ironed, folded, and packaged three weeks of laundry.

This is a service I am going to use more often. My Protestant ethic will simply need to be readjusted. Certainly, I can do my laundry myself. But she does it better and it takes one camping inconvenience off of my things to do in Mexico.

Luxury or not. My laundress has a new customer.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

bugging out in melaque

Somewhere some modern Pharaoh (I suspect Hugo Chávez) is holding Chosen People captive.

My request: Let them go. My legs and arms can't take any more.

This past week we have had a visitation of mosquitoes.

No. Visitation is not the word. That sounds like respectable ladies in white gloves and haute couture hats making their rounds in The Hamptons.

Infestation is more like it. Genesis plague material.

My small fishing village by the sea has always had more than its share of biting-stinging insects. Every paradise comes equipped with its own serpent. The cost for admission in Melaque is the occasional bite from some unidentified bug.

Now that I have become a regular sea bather, a bite now and then was worth the joy of life by the sea.

But, as the Monty Python troupe would remind us: "And now for something different." Well, not so different. Just more.

This past week the mosquitoes have been out in force in their death squadrons. As if they know their wintery death draws nigh.

Monday night is a good example. I had dinner with a neighbor at an open-air restaurant near my new house. Due to bites earlier in the week, I slathered myself with DEET 100 -- the NOB variety unavailable in Mexico. The owner had also taken the precaution to set out coils of burning
citronella to ward off the mosquitoes.

It worked no better than the Maginot Line. The mosquitoes had their way with both of us. And I think it is the first time I have ever seen mosquitoes bold enough to land on food to rest. Maybe they have an undiscovered affinity for
quesadillas de camarón.

Even my house offers a great buffet for mosquitoes. Wherever I am, mosquitoes find me. Reading on the couch. Cooking dinner. In bed. Chicken pox could not look less attractive on me than my current collection of mosquito scars.

Mosquito bites heal. However, a portion of the mosquitoes around here belong to
Aedes aegypti -- pictured above. Easily identified by those white knees. Like some mini-skate board dude.

The name should sound familiar. We all heard it in grade school. It is the mosquito that almost stopped the Panama Canal. Its bite is not the problem. What it carries in its gut is. This is the prime carrier of yellow fever.

Thanks to William Gorgas, Walter Reed, and Carlos Finlay, we now have a vaccine to protect us from yellow fever. I recently had a booster.

Aedes aegypti carries another virus, as well -- dengue fever. Melaque is currently awash in dengue. In comes in four varieties -- the nastiest is a hemorrhagic variety with a high mortality rate.

The common variety, however, is usually not deadly. You just wish you could die. What you get is
fever, bladder problems, constant headaches, eye pain, severe dizziness, and a complete loss of appetite.

Oh, yes. When you move, the pain is so bad in your joints that it feels as if your bones are breaking. Thus, its common name: "bonebreak fever."

For me, concern over dengue fever is right up there with the fear of being eaten by piranha in my bath tub. But it would be a real pain to get it while I plan a trip to Oregon for Christmas.

So, wherever that Pharaoh is, I will put in my request, again: Let those people go -- wherever they are.

And just skip the plague of biting flies. We've already had them.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

tripping with steve

Monday was the day I was to start my mini-trips away from Melaque.

And I did just that.

The result was not quite what I had anticipated, though.

I decided to start my journey with the place that first attracted me to coastal Mexico: La Manzanilla.

It is just a half-hour drive up the highway. But it was a perfect place to start for three reasons.

The first is the ocean. Now that I have overcome my head under the water fear, I have been swimming off the Melaque beach. Our waves are not as brutal as usual.

But the waves at La Manzanilla are almost as caressing as those on the Caribbean. The Melaque waves pound; the La Manzanilla waves swoosh.

La Manzanilla also has some rock formations that make for interesting snorkeling. So, I tossed my mask, snorkel, and fins into the truck with the anticipation of finding the wily Pacific Octopus.

The second reason for choosing La Manzanilla as a starting point was Lora Loca's -- one of my favorite eateries. Laura, the owner, puts together one of the best baked enchilada dishes I have ever eaten. And her restaurant is right on the beach.

The third reason was fortuitous. My blogger friend, New Beginnings in Manzanillo, is working for a charitable organization that is sponsoring cultural events in Manzanillo -- the first this season is a Russian ballet company. (I will post more on that topic later this week.)

She told me that she would be in the jardin selling tickets on Monday. It was a great opportunity for me to see her again and to catch up on the last few months. I also wanted to thank her for all of the assistance she gave me when Professor Jiggs was ill.

That was the plan. Three fun things to do on a day trip. Should be easy. What could go wrong?

My first stop was at the jardin. My friend was there. We talked. We laughed. I bought a ticket. We had a great time.

Just like a good day trip should be.

Because the afternoon was getting on, I headed over to Lora Loka's -- where my run of good luck appeared to end. The place was closed up tighter than my Uncle Asher's wallet.

But I am not easily deterred when it comes to food. I noticed that Jolanda's was open. She is an amazing woman. Dutch, by birth, she lived in Indonesia and other parts of Asia. Her cooking reflects that background. I remember how surprised I was to find an Indonesian restaurant in little La Manzanilla during my first visit.

I probably sat there far too long. I really do not know how long it was. But the soft purr of the surf, the sand, the sun, the palm trees, all added up to what most of us seek when we come to tropical Mexico -- a sense of serenity. It is also probably the prime cause for more than a few expatriates becoming unrepentant alcoholics.

Before I could be lulled into becoming part of Jolanda's furniture, I headed out to the beach with my snorkel equipment. It then hit me: I forgot a towel.

No problema. The day was warm enough to dry off au naturale.

The French had barely left my mind when I realized I had a related problem: I forgot to bring my swim trunks with me. I was not going to drive all the way to La Manzanilla without getting in the water.

Now, I could do the math. With my walking shorts and underwear there were at least four possibilities to let me enter the water. One would potentially run afoul of the local authorities. Another would guarantee that I would be miserably wet driving back to Melaque.

So, I either swam in my walking shorts and rode back to Melaque in my underwear or vice versa. I chose the Mexican solution. Simple. Elegant. Modest.

And I had a great time.

La Manzanilla was just the start. Tomorrow I hope to head inland a bit -- to see the towns in the foot hills surrounding Melaque.