Sunday, January 31, 2010

funding like cats and dogs

Wherever two or more expatriates are located, there will be a fundraiser.

My fellow blogger, Felipe, seems to draw a distinction between Do-Gooders (not so good) and people involved in Good Causes (maybe better).  I don't.  That may be because I end up being dumped in both camps.

Several people I know down here are very involved in an organization known as Cisco's Amigos.  The group's chief aim is to sponsor neutuer and spay clinics for local cats and dogs.

The clinics work.  The number of stray animals has been greatly reduced since the clinics began in 2004.

Like most projects, this one is fueled by volunteer activity.  But there are always expenses.

That is where the fundraisers come in.  Today's was a combination of two of the best: bingo and a silent auction.

I am not a bingo player.  And no amount of torture will get me to include a sarcastic comment about the game or its players.  It raises money for the welfare of cats and dogs.  That is all we need for the content of this post.  (That.  And to avoid humming "And Bingo is his name-o.")

But I love silent auctions.  Not because I am good at snatching up bargains.  I am not,  But because I simply like to donate money in return for some bit of memorabilia.  Rather like the $500 tote bag from public broadcasting -- proof positive that some people should not spend too much time in the free market.

The event would have not been possible if Restaurant El Marino in Villa Obregon had not offered its dining area for the full afternoon.  I have not eaten dinner there.  I intend to do so now.  One good deed deserves another.

I would do a great disservice to the good people who put together this event if I did not mention that dogs and cats are not their only concern.  Many of the same people are also involved in providing services and funds to a local senior home and to poor, local children.  We are blessed with Good Causes galore.

So, for those of you who think we beach dwellers live only for sand and a larger glass, come over sometime and drop a few pesos in the Good Cause bucket.  Who knows?  It may actually do good.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

la mesa reborn

I am starting to settle into a Mexican cycle.

Seven weeks ago, I broke my own DIY record, literally, by shattering the glass top for my new computer table: deconstructing la mesa de computadora

My landlady, Christine, suggested a great solution: hire a local handyman, Fernando, to replace the glass top with a wood one.  Several of you made the same suggestion.  About the wood, that is.  I don't think you know Fernando. 

I called him that day and we made an appointment for him to stop by the morning I was heading to Oregon for my two (then three, then four) week trip.  And he showed up exactly on time -- speaking perfect English.  (He is one of the Returnees from construction work in The States.)

He took a look at the table remnants and worked out a replacement in his head.  He was ready to fix it right then.  But I was on my way to the airport.

Of course, this is where four weeks of stalling comes in.  But I was in Oregon, so, I was really not slacking.

Where the slacking came in was the last two weeks.  I just kept putting off calling Fernando.  Christine finally shamed me into calling him -- and he showed right up with his tools and materials.

He was not quite finished when I left for my concert in Manzanillo.  I thought the project would sit partially done.  But when I returned, there was my table.  Probably better than the original.

When I stacked all of my computer material on it, I felt as if I was once again slipping into the cockpit of an Air Force fighter.

And that reminded me: Mexico is a target rich environment for we bloggers.  I am strapped in and ready to go.

Friday, January 29, 2010

blog wars

"I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened."

Not quite, Obi-Wan.  Nothing terrible happening here.  But there certainly may have been a disturbance in the Force.

Babs and Steve finally met.

In truth, we met last week briefly.  But this is the first documented sighting at breakfast.  Almost as if Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woolcott were dining again at the Algonquin -- simply waiting for the rest of their party to arrive.

The blog community is an interesting group.  We are almost like old school chums.  We know a lot of secrets about each others' lives.  We know our likes.  Our dislikes.  Our peculiarities.  What we don't have is knowing one another in person.

Of the blogs I read, I have only met three authors.  But I certainly know the others from their writing.

We all experience the same anxiety, though.  We really like a person on line, but we wonder if they will be the same in person.

Babs is exactly what you expect -- but more.  Gracious.  Funny.  Laughing.  And nice.  Nice beyond almost anyone you could hope to meet.

We immediately started talking about our lives and the lives of fellow bloggers as if we had spent 16 school years together.  We lauded some of our colleagues; laughed about others; worried about some.  You cannot buy that type of comradeship.

We both had other obligations.  When our hour was up, we had barely touched the surface of most topics.

I promised her that I would see her in San Miguel de Allende before I return to Oregon for my 6-month hiatus.

That is a promise I will keep.  Because the Force needs to be disturbed now and then.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

daring young men -- no trapeze

Little girls dressed as Cinderella.  A boy with one glove and a gold lamé top hat -- as if Michael Jackson was playing the Mad Hatter.  Three brothers in foam rubber trick ties.

The line waiting for the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

Not in Barra de Navidad.  They were a portion of my comrades standing in line for Wednesday's circus performance.

I mention only children because at least 70% of the audience was children.  From toddlers to teens.  And they were as juiced up on circus love as any children could be.

Now and then each child would stare intently at the tent flaps as if it were the entry to a womb of magic and mystery.

OK.  Let me take off my Carlos Castaneda* sombrero for a moment.  No more Mexican mysticism for this post. 

My night at the circus was not a night at the opera.  There was plenty of humor.  But none of it Marxist. (Groucho, that is.  Not that sauerkraut Karl.)

At least half of the acts were clownish.  In the manner of clowns.  Clowns in a Mexican sense.

The children thoroughly enjoyed them.  But their childish Spanish is better than mine.  Even though I suspect we both managed to miss most of the double entendres aimed at the adults -- who laughed in that hide-it-from-the-children manner that every parent manages to develop.

Everyone laughed at the clowns.  Mainly at slap stick routines that are older than yours truly.  One classic -- the mirror mime -- is as old as the Marx Brothers, if not older.

Even the appearance of the satanic Barney brought whoops of joy.  The purple dinosaur may be recognized as a saint in Mexico, for all I know.  His image was plastered on placards right up there with the Lady of Guadalupe.

But there was more. 

A very Mexican version of the Cirque du Soleil silks -- cool and arrogant in silver and shades.  Quite good, but far too short. 

A unicyclist with the johnny one note trick of skipping rope while pedaling.

The unicyclist then did a reprise as a high wire artist where he rode across the wire on a -- unicycle.

And "trained" animals.  A zebra.  A horse -- with running mounts and dismounts by the silk aerialist.  And 3 misbehaving Shetland ponies, who did more back biting than a Senate caucus.

The tiger and leopard that were displayed in trailers towed through Barra to draw in the crowds did not make an in personam appearance.  After watching how well the ponies were trained, I was happy enough to forgo the possibility that a leopard might decide to sit in my lap rather than jump through a fiery hoop.

And capitalism was served.  Clowns shilled trick ties and squirting noses.  Acrobatic boys sold rides on a mean-spirited pony.  (Reminding me of an unfortunate event at one of my half-sister's grade school birthday parties.  I think it may have been where I learned the phrase: "Want to see where the horse bit me?)  And vendors sold the usual array of sugared goods to keep children whizzing around the big top.

The sales pitches actually raised my spirits.  A recent poll concluded that Mexicans see themselves as one of the most non-socialist people in Latin America. 

Having toted up the experience, I reluctantly conclude that the circus was a bit lame.  I wanted to like it.  And I did not expect a whole lot from it.

But I have seen under-financed circuses that managed to create a world of mystery -- even a tawdry one.

This one didn't.

I am glad I went -- having surrendered to the spirit world of the zebra, tiger, and leopard.  But I doubt I will walk in their shadows again.

* --
Yes, I know Castaneda is Peruvian.  But the reference is a literary device; not a literature course.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

new discoveries

Moments like this are supposed to happen only at the movies.

I went searching for the mystical circus on Tuesday afternoon.  One of the message boards I read gave very precise directions.  "On the highway into Barra.  Next to the chicken man."

That is how we give directions around here.  No numbers.  No street names.  With a number and a street name, the best you can do is get lost -- without the aggravation of looking for the blue sign with the bull on it.

It turns out I have been around here long enough that I recognized the spot where I was supposed to find the circus -- even though it seemed rather cramped for a tent, animals, and patrons.  And it was.

The first notes of the overture to The Magic Flute had barely sounded when the circus tent appeared.  Mozart and Barbum.  A natural pair.  Both show men par excellence.

Nothing was happening around the tent.  There were a few ponies, a horse, a dog, a kangaroo, and a coatimundi.  But none of the reported big cats.  Or zebras.

The animals up front were well-fed and in the shade.  And apparently content.  With the exception of the coatimundi.  He was obviously bored.  Chewing his right paw -- like some frustrated teenager who cannot figure out what else to do with his nervous hand.

I finally saw a young woman wandering aimlessly -- perhaps, looking for a parasol and a high wire.  She told me that there will only be four performances in Barra: at 6:30 and 8:30 on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Then the tent will be struck and the show will be on the road.

I think that was our conversation.  For all I know, I agreed to marry her and live in Paris.  And that would be fine, as well.  She could bring along the coatimundi and we could pretend to be Scott and Zelda -- she wrapped in a coatimundi, he chewing the paw. 

She also told me that tickets sell for $100 (Mx) for a box seat and for $70 and $50 for less desirable seats.  For much less than the price of a movie ticket in Salem, I can pretend to be the King of Spain in his box seat and see acrobats and animals -- live.  Up close.  Personal.  I don't need no stinkin' CGI Avatar.

I had planned on attending the circus on Tuesday evening.  But I did not want to miss my Bible study group that fell right between both performances.  My box seat will await me on Wednesday.

On the way home, I stopped by to listen to the crowd.  The sound system is great.  And the crowd was obviously involved with the performance.  More importantly, I saw both the tiger and the leopard that are part of the circus -- both being chauffered about as if they were feline Rockefellers.

So, I still have at least one day of discovery ahead of me.

But I cannot let my one big discovery of Tuesday pass by unnoticed.  In November, I noted the complete lack of women surfers and skimboarders on our beaches:
gidgets wanted.  Locals told me women surfers show up -- now and then.

And they were correct.  I spotted my first today.

Persistence pays off.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

another opening; another show

Todo tiene su momento oportuno;
hay un tiempo para todo lo que se hace bajo el cielo.

Or as most of may know it better:

For everything there is a season,
a right time for every intention under heaven —

I should have kept the words of The Teacher closer at hand on Monday -- or, at least, kept my camera closer at hand.

The first rule of blogging is never leave the house without your camera.  The second is not unlike the first: Keep your camera in your hand.

If I had, I would have captured an amazing photograph.

Around noon, I was walking into the village to buy some vegetables for a Mexican red rice dish I was preparing.  My mind must have been on matters culinary because I completely missed the full minute I had to capture my photograph.

Just as I was nearing the elementary school, I noticed a red truck driving toward me.  Nothing unusual about the truck.  It was just a pickup with a sound system.

Blaring announcements are the norm for a community with no newspapers.  We rely on either helpful neighbors or sound trucks to let us know what is happening in town.

What was happening here was a circus.  Tuesday.  In Barra.

I started calculating how I could attend the circus.  And then I noticed something unusual.  Boys and girls in school uniforms started streaming out of the playground and onto the street.  Following the truck.

I thought I was witness to a modern Hamlin piper.

Then I saw it as the truck drove by.  A trailer.  And a zebra.

As far as the children were concerned, it may as well have been a unicorn.

Lonely in his barred heaven.  But the very essence of magic from the plains of Africa.

Of course, by the time I saw what was happening, I had to fumble with the zippers on my back pack.  Dig deep.  Pull off the lens cap.  Switch on the camera.  Adjust the focus.  Change the setting.

And it was gone as quickly as mist on a spring morning.

Not to be deterred, I backtracked several blocks and caught the truck just as it turned at the Villa Obregon jardin.

A somewhat sad sight of a magical childless creature.

But it is the circus.  And I will try to attend on Tuesday.

That brief moment conjured up one of those memories I discussed last week.

There was a day when I wanted to be a veterinarian -- so, I could earn enough money to buy a circus.

My grandfather would take us to the circus whenever both he and Barnum-Bailey were in town.  Everything fascinated me.  The clowns.  The trapeze artists.  The animals.  The tight rope walker.  And the ring master in charge of the organized chaos.

My brother and I actually organized some of the neighborhood kids into an ersatz circus.  We had a parade with band instruments and our questionably-trained pets.  There was magic.  And acrobatics.  And clowns of questionable provenance.

I never bought the circus.  Instead, I joined the circus that is politics.  Looking back, the road that led to the center ring would have been wiser.  But not even the circus gives us the opportunity to retrace those steps.

So, Tuesday, I will relive an almost-forgotten memory of being the fellow in the slouch fedora wondering if another pay day can be met from gate receipts.

Monday, January 25, 2010

fiesta of dying waters

And if, tomorrow, it ends
I won't have wasted today --

I will have lived like I am dying.

The lyrics are Don Black and Charles Hart's -- not mine -- from Aspects of Love.

But they could easily pass as an anthem for my Mexican neighbors.

On Sunday we celebrated the lingering death of Villa Obregon's most important resident -- our laguna.  It was a fundraiser to help save and preserve the body of water that gives this village its character -- far more than the showy and unfriendly sea.

"Celebrate" may not seem like the appropriate word for a vigil -- and vigil it is.  But this is Mexico where some of the most dreadful events -- historical and personal -- are greeted with dance, music, and hearty calls of salud!

That was Sunday's recipe, as well.  Tragedy and festivity in equal measures.

There is plenty of time to sit upon the ground and tell tales -- not of dead kings -- but of dying waters.  I need to do some research to be certain of facts.  The life of the laguna is festooned with enough myth to constitute another chapter of Beowulf.

Today we will talk of festivity.

Irma, my neighbor several houses down, runs what we NOBers might think is a hacienda.  It isn't.  But it is a very grand piece of property facing the laguna with a large home and five bungalow units -- known as Villa Xochipilli.

She also chairs the local group fighting to save the laguna.  So, her home was a natural site for a fiesta called Dia Mexicana.

The idea was to combine the best of Mexican local culture with the artistic work of two expatriate photographers known for their wildlife work.  The goal?  To raise consciousness about the plight of the laguna.

All of the elements were there.


Folk dancing.

And a local girl who has made it big as a singer and entertainer: Angelina Sol.

But that was not all.  We were also treated to a buffet of local specialties.  Mostly goat.  And all parts from the head to the stomach.  I wish I had taken some photographs, but my stomach took control over my head.

However, there were photographs.  Nature photographs.  Of the amazing wildlife in the laguna -- when it is healthy.  From the cameras of two expatriates: Melanie Hester and a long-time friend of this blog (and blogger): Howard Platt.

Any of those elements alone would have made a good party.  Together, they created one of the best days I have had in Melaque.

For many reasons.

The only question now is whether the laguna can celebrate along with us.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

moons and memory

Saturday night. 

The end of the week for English-speaking countries -- though we insist on putting Sunday at the start of the week, but still call it part of the week-end.  And we wonder why our Mexicans neighbors find us culturally-challenged.

It is one of those Saturday nights that will hang around the nostalgia hall of my memory -- to reappear at some time in the future, usually when least expected and unbidden, triggered by some sound, sight, or scent.  Eager as a four-year old to please with its witty meaning.

The night was simply sybaritic -- sensuous, but in a different part of town from the Hedonists.  And not the night's activities.  The night itself.

I had dinner with a woman I met at a fund-raiser to preserve our laguna.  But it was the night that will be memorable.

Even with a half-moon brightening the sky, we could see stars that are light-shrouded on most nights.  Orion's belt was as big as a lucha libre buckle.

And the air.  Warm, of course.  Melaque air in January is expected to be warm -- a truth as constant as a mother's love.

But tonight's air was different.  A very distinct scent hanging in the air.  From some flower desperately wooing creatures of the night to assist her in propagating her own -- with the promise of perfume.  Her desperation was our joy.

Not the type perfume your Aunt Rose wore: all lavender with sachet packets and crocheted hankies pinned to her bosom with an amber brooch. 

No.  This was a subtle scent.  As if
Sônia Braga had glided past your table minutes before on her way from the dance floor.  The type of scent that reminds you of -- tonight.

Perfume. Stars.  And the sounds of geckos, crickets, and the occasional splash of something vaguely dangerous on the shore of the laguna.

And maybe more.

But undoubtedly a night that will be remembered -- somewhere -- some time.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

buy the numbers

San Francisco.  London.  The Hamptons.  They may think they have their Social Seasons.

But so do we on the Mexico Pacific coast.

Last month, it was twirling Russians.  A ballet performance that my friends say was impressive.  And I missed due to a head cold.

This month, it is the orchestra.  The San Luis Potosi Orchestra to be more specific.  They are coming to Manzanillo on 28 January.

To call them a symphony orchestra is to stretch the point.  They number just over 70 musicians.

But, with music, size may count in marching bands; not so much with orchestras.  Quality counts with orchestras, and they are known as the best in Mexico.  (Of course, that construction conjures up the old Mel Brooks joke.)

And this will be a very special presentation.  2010 is Mexico's double centennial: the 200th anniversary of independence and the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution.  The orchestra will be presenting a special performance honoring Mexico's history.

Most of the historical events associated with both anniversaries took place in the Mexican highlands.  We beach folk are a bit too laid back to get our blood up over civil wars and revolution.  But we certainly like a good tune.  And that we should get.

Once again, our fellow blogger, New Beginnings in Manzanillo, is helping to organize this night of music. 

For those of us in the Manzanillo area, I suggest marking your calendar as a good way to start celebrating with our Mexican neighbors.

Here are the details:
When: January 28, 2010

Time: 8:00 PM

Where: Marbella Salon, Manzanillo (in front of the Marbella Hotel)

Tickets: Juanito’s Restaurant, Marbella Salon, Hotel Colonial, or contact Chantel (

I missed the Russian ballet.  I do not intend to miss this.

Just watch my Paris friends turn green with envy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

then whose lover is she?

I spent the night with Michael Jackson.

I could make a cheap (and tasteless, as if "cheap" and "tasteful" were natural partners) joke about selling my tale to the National Enquirer

But you have heard them all -- and can probably contribute some of your own.

Of course, it was not the real Michael.  I realize some of his fans were disappointed that he did not show up for his This Is It tour three days after he died.  But he failed to show up in person in Melaque on Thursday night, as well.

Who did show up was a very talented impersonator: Faraon.  He impersonates a number of Mexican entertainers. 

But the northern crowd at Ricky's was provincial enough that Mexican humor would fly over our balding pates faster than Tinkerbell at a skeet shoot.

So, rather than regale the crowd with the wit of Juan Gabriel, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder showed up to prove that we Boomers know what we like and we like what we know. 

We would have expected the real stars to sing the same familiar songs.  Nothing is more disturbing than the unexpected.

He was a good entertainer.  The lyrics were synched.  But the moves, the steps, the banter were all Faraon, and he caught the spirit of both Michael and Stevie.

I do have to add one little note.  Faraon's skin tone was a bit dark to play Michael (a joke he made himself), but too light to play Stevie.  He resolved the latter problem the way Al Jolson and a generation of minstrel show performers did -- with black face. 

The PC shock could have been registered on the Canadian Human Rights Commission monitor in Ottawa.  But, we are in Mexico, not north of the border, where entertainers are not hounded off the stage for perceived insensitivities.

The fact that Faraon could catch the spirit of Michael and Stevie begs the question: why are we so enthralled by celebreties?  Why do we spend our evening watching a fellow pretend to be super-stars?

We have all run into fantastic entertainers who seem to be permanently stuck on the D List.  They have made the cut enough to make a living at entertaining. 

But they will never have the type of Baal-admiration accorded to the entertainment demi-gods.  Of course, the answer is that life is what it is; it is not fair.  Nor does it pretend to be.

Faraon will never find out what it is to be the Mexican Michael Jackson -- or even George Michael.

So, he plays the faux celebrity, and we enjoy our evenings -- for a moment believing that Billie Jean truly is our lover.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

went up the hill

There is a small town, La Huerta, in the mountains about 40 minutes from Melaque. 

I had planned visiting there when the heat was getting too much for Jiggs.  After he died, I did not get around to making the short drive into the mountains.

All of that changed while Roy was here.  He wanted to see something new.  We had been north and south.  And we were about to venture into the ocean.  So, we decided a mountain trip would be just what we needed for a little adventure.

The drive into the mountains is beautiful.  Like most of Mexico, the Pacific coast has a small alluvial plain that rises steeply into the mountains that make up the central highlands.

The view from the highway is stunning.  Precipitous drops into steep valleys.  Most of them incapable of supporting much life.  And certainly would not support any life if a vehicle decided to be precipitous enough to visit the floor of one of those valleys.

And steep enough that the dreaded transmission noises returned.  At least Roy can testify that my ears are not merely playing tricks. 

Our stay in La Huerta was brief.  It turned out to be one of those villages that has a practical purpose for its surrounding farms, but very little to offer the tourist thirsty for history or more mundane pleasures.

So, we turned around and came down the mountain.  Unlike Jack and Jill, we neither fell down or broke our crowns (whatever that might mean in the exegesis of nursery rhymes).

But we did discover an interesting sight.

On our way into the mountains, Roy saw our local cemetery.  Some of you have been introduced to it already when I discussed my small fishing village's rather lax Day of the Dead celebration.  But Roy was interested in exploring it.

So, we stopped on the way back to Melaque.

The last time I was there, the place was in bad repair.  Tall grass everywhere.  Weeds.  Trash.  The husks of once-colorful plastic wreaths.

During our visit the place looked better, and the reason was readily apparent.  Two men were busily weeding and edging the graves.  Probably in the hope that our next few months of dry weather will keep the weeds down.

Roy was duly impressed with the number of tombs that literally house bodies.  City of the Dead is a reality in Mexican cemeteries.

But what caught Roy's eye was just outside the cemetery fence.

Cocked at an interesting angle, a tomb-like structure appears to be sneaking onto hallowed ground.

Roy suggested an interesting exercise.  If he had been an English teacher, he would have put the following question to his writing students.  "What is this picture all about?  Why is the tomb outside the cemetery?  Who is buried there?  A suicide refused a holy place to rest?  An unfaithful husband making his final trip home?  A secret lover searching for her heart's desire?"

OK.  Part of the questions are Roy's; part are mine.

The point is that Roy, as a visitor, found the heart of Mexico.  It is a land filled with questions and few answers.

And that is its joy.

So -- why did the tomb cross the fence?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

a watery birth

I waited nine months for this. 

It is not what you think.

When I arrived in Melaque last April, I wanted to regularly head off on snorkeling expeditions.  I have my own mask and fins.  And the ocean was literally at my back gate.

But I kept putting it off -- all for good reasons.  I had no one to snorkel with; only a fool snorkels solo.  The local tours were not running during the summer.  I had to wash my hair.  (OK.  Number three is a lousy reason, but I needed the rhythm of three.)

This week I ran out of excuses.  My friend Roy is here; he loves the water.  The local tours are in full swing.  And the weather has been snorkel perfect: clear skies, warm water temperatures, slight breezes.

On Monday I stopped by to see my friend Nan (after all, she is on my Facebook list) of Sea to Sierra.  She had good news for us.  On Tuesday, she had an all-day snorkeling tour -- and she had just two slots left.  The Snorkel Fates were running our numbers.

But it was not just a snorkel trip.  It was a boat cruise (from Barra de Navidad to Tenacatita Bay -- complete with aquatic wildlife, a virtual Robin Leach-ish home tour of the rich and famous, and a parade of luxury resorts), a jungle river cruise (mangroves, not Disney), an afternoon at the beach, and a healthy chunk of time beneath the waves.

I love to snorkel.  It is the best method I have found to overcome my ongoing concern of having my face under water.

Tuesday was no exception.

Let's start with the obvious.  The Pacific coast of Mexico is not Hawaii or the Caribbean.  The water is a bit murky.  The coral is not colorful.  The sand is not brilliant white.

What you get at Tenacatita Bay is subtle beauty.  The plain sister who understands why a sentence including both topes and topiary may be witty.

The coral is brown with a patina of algae.  As if Bertolt Brecht had taken up set design.

But it is a lively set.  Angel Fish.  Clown Fish.  Rock Fish.  Parrot Fish.  Eels.  Octopus.

Unlike the Las Vegas splashes of a St. Thomas reef, Tenacatita requires patience and persistence.  The rewards are rich.

In its own eccentric way, it was one of the most rewarding snorkeling adventures I have experienced.

As much as I enjoyed the snorkeling, though, I had as much fun with our afternoon art the beach.

I am not a beach bum.  After about a half-hour of swimming and sitting in the sun, I am usually ready to move on.

But Tuesday turned out to be the exception.

Tenacatita is little more than a strip of fish restaurants on a strand of sand.  But what a strand of sand!

The sand feels sifted.  Soft and light -- as if it was about to be added to a fine gateau.  The surf is little more than a whispering rush.  The water temperature perfect for swimming.

In short, it is a perfect spot to spend an afternoon or day at the beach.  And I intend to do just that in the near future.

My friend Roy helped to make it such a great experience. 

We ate a very leisurely lunch and talked about topics that only good friends can discuss.  That was topped off by Nan's discussion of the Manila Galleon and its connection to Barra, the myth of hidden hacienda wealth, and the unsubstantiated stories of the San Patricio Battalion.

The bottom line is that the trip was easily worth its nine-month gestation period.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

swords and dragons -- perhaps

The Princess Bride
speaks truth.

Well, it usually has an appropriate quotation for almost any occasion -- without all the Platonic analysis.  And one line will suffice for today's scripture.

I am retired.  I have written that sentence numerous times during the life of this blog.

I suspect, if Inigo Montoya stopped by the blog today, he would say: "I don't think that word means what you think it means."*

And he would probably be correct.

Since Saturday, when I promised a big announcement this week, several of you have left comments.  They fall into two general categories: 1) Mexico has beat me to a pulp, and I am a quitter; and 2) I have a special personal relationship to announce.

The first is a failed syllogism because it is based on a false premise.  The second is an interesting idea -- and not to be lightly dismissed -- but not today.

So, here it is.

I retired last March.  My employer recently decided to fill the position.  And that is where I come in.

The obvious guess is I am abandoning Mexico permanently to return to my old position.  That would be wrong.

What I am doing is returning to Oregon to assist in training my successor.  That should take about six months starting on 1 May.  And it will give me three more months to tour some potential future home sites in Mexico.

The job will also allow me to do some repairs on the house that I did not accomplish last year before I moved to Mexico.  When the repairs are done, I can put the house on the market.

The temporary stay will also resolve a logistical problem for me.  My house sitter will soon be heading south to Los Angeles to pursue his entertainment career.  I can avoid the empty house syndrome with my return.

My bottom line is: the Mexican adventure is not over.  When I finish the training, I will return to Mexico.  It is just the same life in a new location.  (See, Felipe.  There was a reason for keeping the title.)

As for pursuing a new personal relationship -- let's just leave that as an open agenda item.

* -- Actually, my favorite quotation from The Princess Bride is: "Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die."  But there are so few occasions these days where I can use it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

crow in your face

Today's word is "roosters" -- a word in two parts.

The first part you have heard from every other blogger since the flag was first planted in Blogland: Mexico is a veritable wall of sound -- not the Phil Spector type.  That is not a criticism -- merely an observation.

My recent return to Melaque has given me an opportunity to hear Mexico with new ears.  And hear it I have.

The symbol of the Mexican sound is the rooster.  It is no coincidence that a proud rooster graces the cover of The People's Guide to Mexico

Roosters are almost everywhere.  Flocks of hens tended by a solitary king of the heap.

I live in a rural community.  10,000 people live in Melaque.  But most of us live as if we owned 40 acres and a mule, and covered our gingham-trimmed walls with photographs of our long line of agrarian ancestors.

Horses.  Goats.  Mules.  Cattle.  Sheep.  You can find them all within a few blocks of my house.  But that barnyard mob is like the good child: best seen and not heard.

Not so the cock-a-doodle-doo set.  As showy as a rooster may be -- and some would put Liberace to shame, he is best known for his non-Caruso voice.

I re-discovered that joy Saturday night.  At some point in the dark of the Dylanesque night, I heard the distant crow of a lone cock.  Then another.  And another.  Drawing closer and closer.  Then passing over and beyond like some fowl Doppler Effect.

Each rooster waiting patiently for his turn to answer a perceived competitor's threat to pull a Clinton on his flock.  Almost as inevitable as The Wave at a football game.

In some ideal land, roosters may merely greet the dawn and then go about their regular sultan duties.  Not here.  Crowing is a 24-hour duty.  Territory must be defended. 

These boys are just a few genes short of being fighting cocks.  And some of the crowing comes from that odd breed of rooster awaiting his brief life as a champion.

But not all roosters are quite that disturbing.  And that brings us to the second part of today's blog.

My friend Roy is visiting from Nevada.  You remember him.  Along with his beautiful wife Nancy, he visited me at the beach house in July. 

On Sunday morning, we ate breakfast at Rooster's restaurant, a breakfast gathering spot for Canadians -- and a sprinkling of Americans.

No loud crowing there.  Just the slow rhythm of Sunday breakfast.  Eggs Benedict for the two of us.  (And, yes, I know.  That is not the way to start losing my Oregon-layered pounds.)  Not an outstanding dish, but good enough to make up for a rooster-challenged night.

I realize that roosters were not what you expected to hear about today.  I promised something else.

But, if you want to know what the future holds, I should have an answer for you tomorrow.

I promise.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

heavy on my mind

I am sitting in a German restaurant (Gustav's) at the Portland airport.

That sentence is pregnant with news from this four-week trip north.

The first is that eating fried potatoes from a German restaraunt is not bothering my conscience at all.  I have managed to gain enough weight over the past four weeks, I decided not to worry about what an odd breakfast would do to my once-slim Mexican-whittled chassis.

I will be in Melaque this afternoon.  Walking and a non-junk diet will get me back on track.

The past four weeks have been interesting.  Lunches and dinners with friends.  Long chats through the night.  Cool weather.  But, best of all, I had an audience for my impromptu performances.  I have been surprised at how much I miss that part of my life.

And that brings me to a big announcement.  But it is better told on a Monday or Tuesday.  And so it shall be.

For now, I am preparing for the warmer weather that Melaque will offer this weekend.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

another year old

Birthdays are for reflection.

Today's reflection is this: I am simply going to enjoy the day.

See you in Mexico next week.

Monday, January 11, 2010

on the road with donny datsun

Nostalgia can be as deadly as a Shell No-Pest strip.

If you immediately had a brand name flashback reading that sentence, you know what I mean.

Nostalgia is the mind's narcotic to avoid living in the moment.  And I have been OD-ing on the drug during this visit to Oregon.

For some reason, most of my conversations with friends up here have centered around how good things once were.  Relationships.  Food. Jobs.  Completely ignoring Solomon's advise that such questions are foolish.

I have been reading P.J. O' Rourke's latest book (Driving Like Crazy) this past week. It is a compilation of re-written articles on driving in America.  (One day I need to think through this notion of getting paid to publish old articles.)  More specifically, it is about guys and their cars -- the true American romance.

The read is slow.  Not because the writing is dense.  P.J. writes sentences as fluffy as a souffle -- an analogy he would undoubtedly detest as being effete.

The read is slow because I keep flashing back to the automotive loves of my life -- some fervent, some as cold as a Hitchcock blond. 

For instance: my first car: a 1967 red Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible -- a gift from my parents, christened by a friend as looking like "a whorehouse on wheels."  (One of those tales I never told my mother, but I guess I just did.)

And then there was a series of nice, but practical, cars suited for a young attorney: Datsun 200SX, Pontiac, Ford Taurus, Oldsmobile Aurora.

Of course, there was the inevitable yup-mobile: a 1988 red BMW convertible.  An olio of mid-life crisis and automotive resurrectiuon -- the Cutlass reborn as samurai.

But that is not the car that glides through my memory evoking the types of sighs every guy hopes to produce from the statuesque blond in her cheerleader sweater, a class ahead of you in high school and light years ahead of you in class, who ruffled your hair and called you cute when you wanted her to treat you as if you were vaguely James dean dangerous.

That car was a 1973 blue Datsun 240Z.  Spartan as an MG.  As reliable as a mother's love.

I flew to Oregon from California, where I was stationed at the time, with an acquaintance I had met recently.  Robin had never been to Oregon, and I wanted company for the drive back.

My father knew the Datsun dealer and had struck a good bargain for me before I arrived.  The paperwork was waiting when we walked in.  All I had to do was hand over the cash and drive my new beauty away.

And it was a beauty.  Sports cars in the 1970s fell into two categories.  Continental lovelies that only an Italian count could afford.  Or English runabouts that would seldom run.

The 240Z was something different.  Long.  Low.  Inexpensive.  Looking like the love child of a Jaguar XKE and a Corvette.  With the understated sex appeal of a geisha.

Rather than zooming down I-5, I decided to show Robin a bit of Oregon.  To me that meant, a Rube Goldberg drive up the Columbia Gorge, over Mt Hood, down to Crater Lake, and up the windy mountain roads to Powers.

What could have been a one-day trip back to California turned into a week road trip.  By the end of the week I knew the car had a tendency to slip on turns over 50 MPH (a lesson I would re-learn while skidding sideways across an English roundabout a few years later), it could easily hit 120 MPH even with a passenger, and its gas gauge was not entirely accurate.

I also learned that you cannot share that type of adventure with an acquaintance without the relationship growing into friendship.

When I left California for Greece, I drove the car across America in just over two days -- with Robin as my co-pilot.  That is a tale worthy of recounting -- but not today.

I remember that 240Z fondly.  I smile at the memory of the trips.  But they are now both gone.  One, I suspect, to a junk yard.  The other to the back recesses of my mind.

What remains is the friendship.  We see one another infrequently: he lives in South Dakota.

But we enjoy recounting that trip.  Whenever the narcotic of nostalgia has its way with us.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

plato of food

I had a fine plate of irony for lunch this week.

What else would you call a Mexican resident who visits Salem and orders up a combination plate at a local Mexican restaurant?

Let's start with the obvious.  Even though the restaurant styles itself as serving Jalisco-style food, I have never seen a plate that looks anything like this in Melaque -- an authentic Jalisco village.  Not even the usual police lineup of eateries that cater to Canadian and American tastes.

But I was not there merely to eat.  I was meeting my good friend, John.

You have had the pleasure of meeting him on these pages.  PhD in philosophy.  Family man.  Raconteur.

He is a regular commenter -- under an alias.  I will let you guess which.

If I ever need good conversation, I call John.

Our exchange this week was a mixture of the serious and frivolous.  Our usual quasi-intellectual brew. 

The spice is that the two of us could not be further apart from one another on issues of faith and government.  That is what makes us such good friends.  There is nothing less satisfying than talking with people who agree with your position.

We do agree on basic moral principles.  Where we differ is on our conclusions.

Accepting that possibility is what makes a civilization civil.  The antithesis is Somalia -- or, at least, Bosnia.

While we were talking, I thought of a young man I talked with earlier in the week.  We share the same faith principles.  Our notion of truth could have been painted on Plato's wall.

Where we disagree is on some of the conclusions to be drawn from those principles.  I consider that ambiguity to be a sign of maturity.  He views it as vague heresy.

But it is that type of strict Aristotelian thought that strangles civility on the field of conformity.  It is what frightens some of us about political correctness and most forms of political and religious fundamentalism -- from both the right and the left.

It certainly leads to unpleasant lunch conversations.

John and I did not fall into that unpleasantness.  When we parted, I was sorry to see him go -- and to know that will be the last lunch with him for some time.

But I can now return to Mexico and have a plate of food that I will recognize as being truly Jalisco fare.


Thursday, January 07, 2010

streets of laredo

She was an Aztec goddess.

He was an Air Force pilot.


Or, rather, he was training to be one.

In a time long ago: Richard Nixon had not yet been reelected president.

But it was not in a galaxy far, far away.
She lived in Nuevo Laredo; he in Laredo.

They were in love.
Or what passes for love for young people in their twenties.

The world was filled with unlimited potential joys.
But he had Qualms. He did not drink booze or use drugs, and fast cars were available only if borrowed. But there were always fast women.

Where they first met is stuffed in a dark corner of his memory -- behind his telephone number in the 1960s and the word for that electronic instrument used in horror films.

Was it at the officers' club?
Downtown Laredo? At a friend's party?

His favorite theory is that she intervened in Nuevo Laredo when an older man with a hard-scrabble mustache and a red eye patch approached him with the hissed invitation to purchase "Spanish fly."

Nuevo Laredo had its own form of performance street art.

She asked him to call her "Linda."
That was not her name, but neither of them could recall her given name.

She dreamed of being married to a blond American and living in a large house in Connecticut. The state's name enthralled her after she read it in a Mark Twain novel. After all, it had the word "Yankee" in the title.

She was beautiful.
Petite. Raven-haired. Ebony-eyed. But it was her face that escaped the gravitational pull of cliché.

Her high cheekbones showed a hint of Indian heritage.
But her skin and lips were as Spanish as any Criolle.

Lord Byron's love may have walked in beauty like the night.
But "Linda" was the very beauty of the night.

Young men in their twenties say such things.
With no shame.

At 26, she was four years older than her pilot trainee.
To him, she was as exotically sophisticated as a Hapsburg princess.

In his Miracle Whip world, their relationship would have been fodder for gossip.
The closest thing to Mexico he had seen was taco shells and jumping beans. In Laredo, they were simply part of the landscape.

For three months, they were inseparable.
When he would return from his supersonic world, she would soar with him in her universe. He led her to believe that she taught him to dance. It was a lie. But she taught him different steps.

It was never going to be a long romance.
He eventually stood in the kitchen with new orders in his hands for assignments far from Laredo.

There were tears.
Promises. And other lies.

But they both knew.
It was over.

At least, the moment was.

She became part of him.
Her love for adventure. Her ability to find new in the mundane.

On some lonely nights, he sits in his Mexican home and he focuses his attention on what was and who he is because of her.

And he wonders if she ever found her permanent ticket to cross the border into her dream.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

icon on the horizon


We all have them. Physical objects that represent higher truths.

Mt. Hood is one of mine.

More than just the tallest mountain in Oregon, it is my icon of home.

Boy Scout camp. Family tubing. Skiing. Partying. For 22 years, it was my playground.

Then the Air Force called. For five years I left Oregon. My visits home were infrequent. But whenever my plane would approach PDX, I first looked for that distinctive almost-dormant volcano to welcome me back.

When I fly home from Manzanillo these days, I do not see Mt Hood. The flight arrives at PDX around midnight. Even the vampire-late sunlight of Oregon summer does not stay bright that late.

On this trip north, my brother drove my mother and me to Bend for Christmas.

I know the route. And the scenery. But seeing Mt. Hood was as thrilling as the first time I saw it.

I am home -- for now.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


Before the three kings arrive on the 6th and Christmas starts morphing into the Mexican fiesta calendar, I thought I would publish my version of a yule police lineup.

The photograph on the left is this year's record-breaking (and traffic-snarling) Christmas tree in Mexico City. Beautifully photographed by my friend and fellow blogger, Gary Denness.

The photograph on the right is the much-maligned spire of La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende.

Is it just me or do they look like fraternal twins separated at birth?

I am reluctant to draw the conclusion for fear that the Magic Kingdom Gang will get some clever ideas on how to dress up the SMA churches for Christmas next year. Richard, are you listening?

After all, 2010 is going to be a big year for Mexico -- 100 years since the Revolution; 200 years since Independence. There will be plenty of opportunities for dress-up this year.

Monday, January 04, 2010

salted (micro) chips

Harry Chapin is softly serenading from the grave.

It seems I've been here before;
I can't remember when;
But I have this funny feeling,
That we'll all be together again.
Well. I remember when.

I am sitting in the library of my house in Salem looking out at my rather ragged back yard. But it is a familiar scene. This has been my writing perch for several years. This -- and the hot tub.

The last time I sat here writing was April 2009. Just nine months ago.

I had just purchased a snazzy new Sony notebook -- my designated writing tool for my move to Mexico. I knew then that I would be putting it in great danger by living near the sea -- with its salty mortality. (a new star in the firmament

And you all know how that tale of woe went. Within two months, the briny air was having its way with the computer. In December, it simply died.

I now sit in the same spot in my library composing on a computer.

Now, I know that most of you may not be interested in the specifics. But several of you have asked what I bought as a replacement.

It is an HP Pavilion dv6-1375dx.

Is it just me or do computer model names simply lack any sex appeal? Cars once had names that reflected their personalities: Imperial, Viper, Phaeton.

But dv6-1375dx? It sounds like the part number for industrial shelving.

Notwithstanding the moniker, it is a nice computer.
The processor is an Intel Core 2 duo with 6GB of DDR3 memory. Fast. Really fast.

It is two pounds heavier and nowhere as handsome as my deceased Sony. Had I taken the time to research what I really wanted, I probably would not have bought this machine. But the quick buy gave me the opportunity to get back on line for my infrequent posts on this trip.

On Saturday, I will fly back to Melaque and my adventure in Mexico. After all, the effervescent Babs is in town.

It is time for another spin on the circle that is my life.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

time in a bottle

God is chuckling.

My plan was to return to Mexico on Saturday after two weeks in Oregon. But some very interesting circumstances changed my plans.

I will be here for another week.

There are two good reasons to live in Mexico: 1) lower cost of living and 2) high quality health care. My change in travel plans highlighted both.

My doctor in Mexico has prescribed two medications for my high blood pressure. When I left Melaque last month, I packed enough medication to carry me through my planned two-week stay.

Short of a Chanukah miracle, two weeks of medications were not going to stretch three weeks. And they didn't.

In Mexico, when I need medications, I merely drop into one of the multiple village farmacias with the name of the drug I want to buy. No prescriptions. No health insurance card. As if I were buying a packet of aspirin.

Not in Oregon. I stopped by my local Safeway pharmacy with the empty medication boxes. It was almost a scene from Cheers -- with controlled substances playing the role of draft ales. The pharmacist and her two assistants greeted me with: "Steve!"

And that is where the bonhomie ended. The pharmacist looked at the empty boxes, punched up my computer information, and donned the face professionals affect when they are about to deliver bad news. A mix of regret, compassion, and pity.

Well, only half bad news. My prescription for one of the drugs was still open -- even after nine months. She could sell me a two-week supply.

But the other drug required a prescription, and my paperwork from Mexico simply did not meet the legal requirements of the political fun-suckers.

Even we libertarians are prepared to admit that long-term medications should be monitored by a doctor. Mine are.

But without a prescription from an American doctor, I was not going to be afforded any of the benefits of the free market system.

In Mexico, if I needed something from my doctor on a weekend, I would find her either in her office or by walking to her house down the block from my apartment. Just like my family did in rural Oregon in the 1950s.

In Oregon, I could not see my doctor until late January.

One of the creative problem-solvers I talked to suggested that I fake a heart attack in an emergency room. It appealed to my dramatic side. But I didn't want to incur a $1000 bill merely to get a prescription.

And that brings up the second advantage of living in Mexico: cost of living.

In Melaque, I pay less than the equivalent of $3 (USD) for a 40-day supply of medications. Safeway charged me $34.99 for a 14-day supply.

To be fair, not all medications cost less in Mexico. I asked the pharmacist the cost of the drug she could not dispense. It would cost one-third less than what I pay in Mexico. And it is expensive enough to wipe out the savings on the other medication.

The next time I head north, I will pack enough medication to put the TSA and Customs boys in a tizzy.

I can then see what else will occur to cause the Divine Chuckle.