Wednesday, March 31, 2010

the price is perfecto

Felipe, over at The Zapata Tales, has some strong opinions about what he likes (and does not like) about Mexico.

Mexican medical care, he likes.

Me, too.

While I was prone on the gurney awaiting surgery, I had little to occupy my mind.  So, I thought about what any red-blooded American thinks about under similar circumstances.  What is this going to cost me?

I do not have health insurance.  There is no need to go into the reasons I chose this course, other than to say I do not expect other people to pay for my food and housing, why should they pay for my medical bills?

If I had the same injury in Oregon, I would probably pay around 16 to 25 thousand dollars just for the surgery.  Or so I guessed, based on my litigation experience. 

Two days in the hospital would cost maybe an additional three grand.  So, maybe $28,000.  (My sources indicate my guess is within the margin of error.)

When I was getting ready to leave, my angel flew in with a credit card slip for my signature.  I knew that Mexican medical charges are reasonable.  I have had treatments during the last year down here.

So, imagine my surprise when I looked down at the credit slip to see -- $60,611.11!

It took me a moment to remember I was in Mexico.  The bill was in pesos, not dollars.

In US dollars, that seemingly large bill dwindles to just under $4,500.

For the price of a cruise, I was treated as royalty for two days, had my bones photographed, and was given a reconstructed right ankle -- along with some rather stylish bandaging.  All at free market prices. 

80% less than the same care in The States.

If I had chosen a hospital that did not cater to upscale expatriates and upper middle class Mexicans, the bill would have been much less.

In truth, I would have preferred the cruise.  I undoubtedly chose the wrong door while visiting Monty Hall.

Of course, I will get to do some of my own price comparisons when I return to Oregon in just over two weeks.  That should be an interesting experience.  I had best reload my credit card.

When the doctor released me, he asked me to see him in two weeks to have my dressings changed.  I intend to do that at the start of next week.

I may then have a better idea how long I am going to be spending on crutches.

There must be another adventure waiting out there.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

room with a vista

My surgery was exactly what I would expect from medical services in a high-quality hospital in The States.

My hospital room was what I would expect from a Milan boutique hotel.

Comfort.  Clean lines.  Able bilingual staff willing to please.

From what I could see on my floor, each room was private with a nifty adjustable bed right out of the Sharper Image catalog.  A pullout sofa for family members to spend their days and nights with the patient.  A private well-appointed bathroom. 

And a view of the sea front -- or of the buildings between the hospital and the sea.

Let me get one point out of the way.  Several of you have been asking if I have much pain.  The answer is: very little.

From the moment I received the epidural, I have felt only a slight irritation around my ankle.  Even after my recent two falls.  And for that I am thankful.  For the lack of pain, that is.  Not for the falls.

During my overnight recovery the doctor thought ahead to install a syringe filled with a strong pain killer in my back -- just in case I was in severe pain.  I am pleased to report no one needed to push the plunger.

But the moment the nurse put me to bed, I was bored.  My book (Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945 -- a good read) was in the truck -- a mile or two away.  My computer was in my hotel room -- just across the street from the hospital, but it may as well have been on the moon.

So, I took out the reporter's note pad I carry with me, and started jotting down memories of the day.  In between moments where I would simply pass into sleep.

In the middle of the night, it hit me.  My hotel room!  I was scheduled to check out at noon. 

When I woke up that morning, I watched the hours tick over.  I had two problems: (1) checking out of the hotel and (2) getting my computer to give a valid credit card number to the cashier and to start contacting friends to figure out my escape plan.

And then an angel* appeared.  She was part of the hospital staff that ensures all paperwork is completed -- especially payment information.  For me, she was the equivalent of a Milanese concierge.

I explained my dilemma.  If I could reserve another night at the hotel, that would give all of us time to work out the financial and transportation issues.

She checked.  Every room was filled for semana santa.  I was a veritable Mary and Joseph.  No room at the inn.  (OK.  Wrong story.  But same book.)

She then offered to check me out of the hotel and to bring my computer and luggage to me.

When the computer arrived, I started contacting friends to see if I could put together a plan to escape the hospital's gravitational pull.  And you all know how that part of the story turned out -- with the intervention of my friend, Lou.

My angel then arranged to let me stay at the hotel for another night -- at rates far less than my imagined Milan boutique hotel.

Everyone complains about hospital food.  My four meals were a nice balance between fruit, vegetables, and protein.  Well-presented and far better tasting than most restaurants I have encountered in Mexico.  That is not to denigrate Mexican restaurants; it is to compliment the hospital.

But that does raise the question of price.

A great topic for tomorrow.

* - There is more to that term than meets the eye.  If you want to hear a more personal story, let me know.  This post is probably not the place for it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

adventures in surgery

As I wrote on Saturday, I have had little personal experience with hospitals.

That is no longer true.  I am now a scarred veteran.

When we arrived at the hospital, two orderlies rushed a wheel chair out to the van.  As it turned out, that was probably not the best approach.

As long as I was prone, no pressure was on my foot.  As soon as it dangled, though, it hurt.  A lot.  A quick look at the x-ray at the top of the post shows why.

Like all hospitals,San Javier wants to be certain whoever comes through the front door can pay for services when they exit.  I do not have health insurance.  That caused a bit of a stir.  In fact, the stir was still under wsay the next day.

But only a slight one.  After realizing I had a credit card number, an orderly rushed me off to x-ray where it became apparent I had not suffered a mere foot displacement.

X-rays in hand, I was off to the emergency room to be examined by the doctor on duty.  She took one look at the x-ray and contacted an orthopedist -- telling me he was on the way.

I have heard "on the way" a lot in my 61 years.  In hospital parlance, it can mean almost anything.  In what seemed to be almost germanic efficiency, there he was.  A short, elderly man who could have played the role of my grandfather -- if I were still the 20-year old I attempt to be.

In perfect English, he told me I had fractured my right tibia at the head and had separated my ankle bones.  There was no possibility of simply re-setting it.  I needed surgery.  And I needed it now.

I asked him to brief my friends, who were still awaiting word in the admission area.  He did.

Then, much to my surprise, he allowed all three of them into the emergency room.  They were interested in what was going to happen, but their ship was about to leave.

I wished them bon voyage, and then I was -- alone.  In a city where I knew no one.  In a culture that is based on the assumption that family members will be present to assist hospitalized patients.

That is when the hospital staff performed admirably.  In a mixture of Spanish and English, I let them know the information they needed to know (sometimes repeating the same information to several staff members), and they told me what was about to happen.

The anesthesiologist did not give me a general anesthetic.  Instead, he gave me an epidural that numbed me from the waist down.

During the surgery, I drifted in and out of sleep.   When I was awake, I watched the surgery on my foot.  The staff attempted to pull the sheet up to obstruct my view, but I saw quite a bit.  And wish I had seen more.

To me, the surgery seemed brief.  But it took over two hours to install the screws and pins that will help my old bones to mend.

Tomorrow I will show you my hospital room.  Or, at least, I will write about it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

what lies beneath

There will be a break in the hospital tale to share a little safety tip with you.

Everywhere I have lived has had its share of things that creep and crawl.  However, the two places I have lived in Mexico have been well-situated to afford some up-close and personal experiences.

Saturday offered another.

I was trying to open a jar of chipotle salsa.  Mexican food manufacturers must seal their jars using zero atmosphere.  The lids will usually not budge without using all of the tricks I learned from my father to open recalcitrant jars.

I had tapped.  I had twisted.  I had put the lid under hot water.

The next step was the dish cloth as a friction piece.  Without looking, I picked up the dish cloth -- and something fell in the sink.  Something that did not like being disturbed.

It may appear small, but that centipede is about two inches long.  And he was not pleased to be out and about.  At least, not in the sink.

Rather than dispatch him, I grabbed my camera.  And once again proved thart I need to learn how to use my closeup function.  But you get the drift from the photograph.

I thought about picking him up to release him.  Then I remembered being told that these little beauties have a venom that rivals a scorpion sting.  True?  I have no idea.  but I was not going to offer up my hand as a testing lab.

Begging his pardon, I took two dinner knives (awaiting washing) and divided him into three equal parts.  And each part started running for cover.  That is some nervous system.

Not every tale has a moral.  But this one does.

Look before touching folded items.  Many an enemy can hide within.

At least, I did not have a new hospital tale to add to the one i have interrupted.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

one for the road

I know next to nothing about hospitals.

At least from personal experience.

I was born in one.  At 4, my skull fracture was treated in the same hospital.  In high school, my tonsils were removed in another.

But I know a bit about medical care.  Two decades of poring over other people's medical records for litigation, tours of hospitals, and deposing doctors has taught me something.

Or I thought it had.

Just like a play, being a member of the audience and being a member of the cast are two different experiences.  Too different.

When I broke my ankle, one of the first questions the guides asked was where I wanted to be taken.  There I was -- a stranger in town, not knowing anyone.

The question would have stumped me had I not seen a hospital the night before while looking for my lost bank cards.

San Javier Marina Hospital had the look of one of those boutique hospitals that spring up next to high rise condominiums in tony neighborhoods.  The type of place where you could leave a good portion of your children's inheritance.

It had three advantages for me: location, location, location.  Just like the old real estate joke.

It was across the street from my hotel.  It was one block from the cruise ship dock (for my friends).  And it was about a mile or two away from the disco where I parked my truck when we went ziplining.

The guides loaded me into the van -- after my rather melodramatic parting speech.  And down the hill we started.  To the hospital.

But, this is Mexico.  We were all part of a tour that included a free tequila tasting.

OK.  We were part of a tour that had an agreement with a tequila distributor to ensure that the zipline tourists stopped at the tequila store for a shot -- and the marketing opportunity to take home a genuine bottle of local tequila.

The driver asked if anyone wanted to stop.  Hands shot up like a Russian election.  They then asked if I objected.  Of course, I said: go right ahead.  My foot was not hurting too much.

But it did bring back a memory.  In the early 1970s, a group of us regularly skied Mt. Hood.  We were in our 20s, and knew no danger.

While hotdogging on a jump and somersault, my friend Leo gashed the back of his head with his ski.

The ski patrol gave him first aid and told us to get him to a hospital near our homes as soon as possible.  So, off we went on our mission of mercy.

One of our ski traditions was to stop at a burger drive-in for dinner at a small town at the base of the mountain.  And, being young people of a pre-postmodern era, we honored tradition -- especially those dealing with food.

Leo was fine with it.  His girlfriend (now his wife) was not.

But we got him to the hospital.  And we are all still friends.

So, Theresa -- I guess Karma has had its say in the great stopping for refreshment lottery.

Tomorrow, I will tell you a bit about the surgery.  I will warn those of you of an empathic nature, eyes may be averted.

For the rest of you, that is merely a come-on.

Friday, March 26, 2010

highs and lows

Today has been a rather odd day -- literally filled with ups and downs.

Yesterday I related the tale (back to school) of our church's donation of a classroom to the primary school in Villa Pinal.

Today was the dedication ceremony for the building.  Lou stopped by on his motor bike to drive me over to the ceremony in my truck.  We had planned on driving to Manzanillo later in the day.

One of the more obvious traditions that Spain left to its colony Mexico is pomp and circumstance.  If there is a ceremony, it will be as formal as the circumstances allow.

This one was no exception.  Not only were the school officials there, the local political figures also showed up.  With plenty of formal introductions and conversation.

I have seen the exact same behavior during my years in Great Britain while attending military functions.  There is no familiar first-name American back-slapping.  It is all about titles and station.

And, of course, the scheduled starting time slipped past with no concern.  There was formal socializing to be conducted.

Even in this small village, the chairs were decorated for the dignitaries with a formal table cloth for the refreshments.  We were even greeted by white-gloved children in uniforms.  I almost felt as if I could be the King of Spain's third cousin.

At the appointed time, the children lined up in formal rows and a color guard presented the Mexican bandera -- along with the long version of the Mexican national anthem: Himno Nacional Mexicano.  A rather rousing tune, rendered with the gusto and tunelessness of children.

A young girl then led all of us in the pledge of allegiance to the Mexican flag.

I did not see one postmodern hesitation by anyone.  Everyone saluted in the stiff right arm Roman salute, and recited the pledge from the heart.

Mexicans love their flag.  They love their country.

Seven-year old Antonio then stepped forward and read a letter (that was almost as large as he is) to the representatives of San Patricio by the Sea -- telling us how much the children appreciated the classroom, and what it means to the community.

Antonio has the makings of a community leader.  He read solemnly and deliberately.  But there was nothing mechanical or teleprompted about his message.

He said what he meant -- and meant what he said.  (If that is not too Seussical.)

The ribbon on the front of the building was cut.  Our pastor said a prayer.  And the ceremony was over.

At that point, all formality disappeared as we chatted and ate an incredible fruit salad along with cookies.  For this community, it was the equivalent of champagne and caviar.  And far more appreciated.

Lou and I, along with another friend who required an x-ray, then headed south to Manzanillo.  It was nice to be a passenger and see the landscape that zooms past me on my weekly drives.

I had two tasks: pick up my mail and buy a few groceries.  After buying some gasoline for the truck, my pre-injury peso supply was exhausted.  I will now ration out the few dollars I have over the next three-week period before I head north.  I certainly hope my transmission holds up that long.

On the way out of town, we stopped for lunch.  Where I managed to get down three of the five steps in the restaurant without incident.  The fourth tripped me up.

Fortunately, I did not fall all the way to the ground with my crutches, but I did hit the step hard with my bandaged foot.  Hard enough that I felt the splint move.

The surgeon asked me to see him two weeks post-surgery in Puerto Vallarta.  Unfortunately, he is not associated with any of our local doctors.  But I may stop by to see my local doctor on Friday.  Just to be certain there is nothing I need to do now.  It would not be good (to indulge in understatement) to have the healing process go bad at this stage.

I am now back at the house.  My foot is propped up as I write.  Hoping I can avoid any further drama with this injury.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

back to school

Mexico is not a poor country.

Its gross national product places it as either the 13th or 14th wealthiest nation in the world. Above South Korea and Australia. Mexico easily falls within the category of middle income nation.

Central Americans sneak across Mexico's border to seek work. The greener pastures syndrome is not limited to Mexicans looking north.

But those numbers are a bit deceptive. What that gross national product figure is split over Mexico's large population, the per capita figure puts Mexico around 69. About the same as the average Russian or Pole.

here are poor people in Mexico. Lots of them. Some very poor. And where there is need you will find expatriate Canadians and Americans reaching for their wallets.

The church I attend is no exception. I started attending San Patricio by the Sea in 2007 on a house search trip to La Manzanilla. When I made the permanent move south last year, it became my church home.

San Patricio by the Sea is one of those bodies that takes Christ's commands to "love your neighbor" and "feed the hungry" very seriously.

The church's primary community service project this year was the construction of a new classroom for the primary school in Villa Pinal, a small village on a dirt road almost a mile from the main highway. It would not be an insult to refer to it as a poor farming community. Dirt poor.

Working one's way out of dirt poor is the same throughout the world. Skills like critical thinking, reading, writing, and ciphering must be acquired.

Villa Pinal's primary school was simply not equipped to provide its children the ladder to get out.

The school's sole classroom was a partially open air palapa with a barely functional blackboard and ramshackle desks. The size limited the number of children who could attend. Those who could not were forced to walk two miles to the nearest school -- along a dangerous highway. And because they were not there, increased funding went elsewhere, as well.

If you would like to see what the building looked like, you can see it at the San Patricio by the Sea site.

A local charity (Ayuda los Niños Costalegre) donated money to construct two classrooms. Our church donated money to construct a third -- which has just been completed. When I saw it earlier in the month, the finishing touches were being added. It will be officially accepted by the school on Thursday.

The miracle of all this is not merely that children will now be able to avoid the dangerous daily walk to the neighboring school. Though they will.

Nor that the students can now have a comfortable environment for their education. Though they will.

Nor that enough students may be attracted to the school that public funding will be increased. Though it probably will.

The true miracle is those who have been blessed with resources have shared much with those who have little.

I have personally been blessed with that same open-handed approach from my friends in the church.

Now we can pray that the children will use the gift as best they can to find a better future for themselves -- and for Villa Pinal.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

opening my rear window

I am home.

Thanks to faithful friends, I slept in my own bed on Saturday night, and I have been near it ever since.

As nice as the hospital was (and I will write about that experience later this week), it is always good to return to home base.  Even if I am not certain where it is.

A good friend from church (Lou) took an early bus from Barra de Navidad to meet me at the hospital Saturday afternoon.  We then took a taxi to the place I had left my truck when we went on our zipline adventure.

Mirable dictu, it was still there -- and not in an impoundment lot or a chop shop.

And then we were off on a leisurely drive back to Melaque.  This time I had an opportunity to look at the sights I had sped past on Wednesday morning.

We met up with Lou's wife (Wynn) and had a slow-paced dinner just around the corner from my house -- as if I had not just attempted to snap off my right foot.

While we were eating, my land lady stopped by the table to inform me that my telephone and internet were not working, but that they would soon be back in commission.  That was ironic because I had been thinking that as long as I had the computer and the telephone, I would not really be alone.

Now, I was alone.

But, not yet.

Lou and Wynn came to the house and helped me rearrange the furniture to create clear paths to the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom -- where I will be spending my last days in Mexico with my crutched body.

I almost feel like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window.  The crocodile can play the Raymond Burr's role.  All I am missing is a Grace Kelly.

That is not to say I do not have people helping me out.  Lou and Wynn took me to lunch on Sunday after church and picked up some chicken for later in the week.  And Lou stopped by on Monday to go buy some vegetables for me.

My land lady has volunteered to help wherever she can, and the young man who delivers my water stopped by today to go shopping for me.

And I guess they all have one real advantage over Grace Kelly.  They are here.

I want to thank each of you for your well wishes.  I have not received this many kind comments since Jiggs died last year.

But there are more tales to tell about this past week.

My problem then becomes, short of witnessing a murder through my back window, what am I going to blog about during the next few weeks?

I suspect we will find something.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

temporarily out of service

If it is not one thing, it is another.

I returned home last night to discover I am without telephone and internet -- probably until later in the week.

I will be back on line then.  It will give me some time to get accustomed to my crutches.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

one foot in the gravy

Richard Weaver was correct.  Ideas Have Consequences.

So do adventures.

I drove up to Puerto Vallarta on Wednesday afternoon to meet some friends arriving on a cruise ship.  I had almost forgotten how deserted the road between Melaque and Puerto Vallarta can be on a normal day.

For good reason.  Even though it is the only major north-south road in the area, it runs through sparsely-populated rural countryside.  It reminds me of driving through eastern Oregon.

And I drove as I once drove in eastern Oregon.  Speed has no limit.  As it turned out, I may have been fortunate not to have my reflexes tested.

I had not been in Puerto Vallarta for a few months -- and the last trip, I was acting as a capital T Tourist.

My agenda was light.  Stop at Costco.  Eat a nice meal.  Go ziplining.

I decided to put Costco off until Friday -- on my way out of town.  But I was looking forward to that good meal on Thursday night. 

I duded myself up in my Guy on the Town outfit and headed out to make a name for myself in my favorite Mexican resort city.

I even took my credit card along -- simply because I can use it in Puerto Vallarta.  And I brought along my debit card -- because I needed to get pesos for gasoline on the return trip.

Having learned my lesson about putting all of my financial eggs in one basket (when I lost my wallet last July), I put the cards in a separate area from my wallet.

I crossed the street to Walmart to use my debit card -- only to discover it was not where I put it.  Neither was the credit card.  A quick retreat to the hotel room revealed they were not there, either.

You may recall the last time this happened, my debit card is my sole source of cash in Mexico.  Without it, I am effectively as poor as the beggar woman in front of the grocery store.

But, I was not worried.  I have some cash on hand -- probably enough to last until I get back to The States -- if nothing expensive happens.

That put my trips to the highlands in question.  It would be a tight-run thing.

But I was in Puerto Vallarta for fun -- and I was going to have it.  I may not be able to afford a fancy dinner, but I could have fun ziplining.

My friends arrived right on time to start our adventure the next morning.  And we were on our way.

If you have not ziplined, imagine you are in a parachute harness attached to a pulley.  The pulley is attached to a cable strung across a gulch, ravine, or stream.  You then let gravity pull you across the scenery -- to alight like Peter Pan on the other side.

Some of the lines are very high and long  -- where speeds of 30 or 40 miles per hour are possible.

We had a great day of yelling, screaming, and laughing in death's face.  Maybe too much fun with that laughter.

On the longest line -- the second to last -- the guides made it very clear to keep the legs up as high as possible to our chests.

The reasons were obvious.  Curled up like that, a zipliner can build up enough speed to rival a bullet train.  Well, at least, an Amtrak train.

The other reason is safety.  Putting your feet down on the platform at that speed is an invitation to a nickname like Hop-Along.

Well, just call me Hop-Along.

I came hurtling down that line, approaching the platform as if I were on a strafing run.  I attempted to use the approved braking method.  But it was obvious I was going to collide with the catcher guide.  Of course, that is his job.

I instinctively lowered my right foot.  Bad instinct.  I still crashed into the guide.  But it was apparent something was wrong.

My knee was facing forward.  But my right fot was stuck out at one of those angles not found in nature.

I calmy (Really.  This is not bravado.) informed the guide: "I broke my ankle."  When he did not respond, I repeated myself.  By then everyone else was trying to get me to lie down.

There are some other gruesome details you do not need to read.  Satisfy it to say, I am writing this post from a hospital bed in Puerto Vallarta following a two-hour surgery to reconstruct my ankle.

And this is where the loss of the credit card adds another layer to this drama of woe.  I am negotiating payment as I write.

So, here I sit in the hospital, my truck in the disco parking lot where we were picked up for ziplining, and no credit or debit card with me.

But there are always friends ready to shoulder part of the burden.  One of the men from my church has volunteered to ride the bus to Puerto Vallarta and drive me back to Melaque in my truck -- assuming it is still where I left it.

My highland trips are off until the end of the year and I may head north a little earlier than I had planned.

It will all turn out well in the end.  It always does.

Friday, March 19, 2010


My hard drive is failing.

You all know the tale of the computer I bought last February and brought to Mexico with me -- only to watch it die a briny death with its exposure to the sea at the beach house. 

There was no Lazarus option for it.  So, off to the junk pile it went.

In January I purchased a new computer and brought it to my new house where we are sheltered from the sea spray.  Or so I thought.

For a couple of weeks, I have been getting strange warnings every time I boot up.  On Saturday, it refused to boot until after a dozen tries.  I have not shut it off since.

Being a good computer user, I have a backup drive.  However, my files had not been backed up for three days -- and there was some important material there.  So, I tried to back up those three days of data.

The computer would have none of it -- declaring my drive to be as corrupt as an Illinois governor.

On Monday I drove down to Manzanillo to purchase an external hard drive. 

I thought another source might trick the computer into transferring the files as a back up.  No dice.  Instead, I have now transferred my major data files to the hard drive manually.

But I cannot turn off this computer.  If I do, I will most likely not be able to get it to reboot.

That is not a major problem.  I am returning to The States in late April.  The computer is still under warranty.  I can take it back to Best Buy for one of their lengthy service checks.

The trick will be keeping it running that long without Windows having one of its "I'm-too-tired" fits and shutting down on its own.  Or running out of battery power on my trip to Puerto Vallarta this week.

If anyone has a better idea, now is the time to step to the front of the class.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

weeding with benito

Happy Benito Day.

Not the Italian Il Duce whose apparent lovechild is now running Venezuela.

The Benito known to some as the Lincoln of Mexico: Benito Juarez.

His birthday is actually the 21st of March.  But the Mexican government decided that the American Congress had a good idea in moving Washington's Birthday to accommodate the desire of every patriot to celebrate the birth of dead presidents with three-day weekends.

So, this weekend, over a week early, we celebrated the birthday of the only president Mexico deigns to so honor.  Unfortunately, for good reason.

Our house celebrated Juarez's birth by harvesting water hyacinth.  My land lady, a mutual friend, and I slogged into the mud with our grappling hooks and started tossing more of the evil weed onto the laguna bank.  When it dries, we will burn it.

Several women rode by on their bicycles.  Each applauding our almost Herculean efforts.  Certainly the Augean stables could not have been as difficult to clean out.

And then along came two men.  They stopped.  Looked at what we had done and what was still left to do.  One guy commended: "It looks as futile as spaying dogs."

My landlady is one of the leading lights in the neutering-spaying project in our village.  She calmly asked: "How long have you been coming to Melaque?"

"Ten years," said he.

"And you haven't noticed any difference in the dog population in the last 10 years?"

"Nope.  Still too many of them."

At this point, I knew we were dealing with a founding member of the misanthrope society.

I tossed out: "Or it could just be the result of presbycusis."  Presbycusis being the inevitable loss of hearing as we age.

He responded: "What was that?"

"I thought so."

Of course, his problem was not that he could not hear.  He simply could not appreciate how things can change for the better.  And it was his judgment we were really questioning.

I imagine that is exactly how Benito Juarez felt.  He thought he had some good ideas, but his opponents could not see it.  As a result, he died a very unhappy man.

As a consolation prize, we celebrate his birthday.

So, happy birthday, Benito.  This hyacinth's for you.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

a little bull

I have been running with the bulls.

Make that singular.  Bull.

A small (but deadly) one.

My neighbors follow a very simple maxim.  There is no sense in celebrating a saint's birthday unless you can maximize the possibility of maiming, trampling, or blinding a few innocent spectators each evening.  Perhaps in the hope Pat will wow us with his ability to produce a miracle or two.

The local boys may show their bravery by running under the dying shower of sparks on the castillo.  But the rest of us are no less brave for simply standing around in the jardin after the corona crashes to earth.

Some older folks (those in the know and with expiring health insurance) scuttle quickly away.  But the rest of us gird ourselves for the release of the bull.

That is him at the top of the post.  Getting his tail lit.  Admittedly, his paper-mâché construction does not engender immediate fear.  I heard a woman from Ottawa saw: "Look!  A piñata!"

Not quite.  If he is a piñata, he is a piñata who is packing.

Here's the drill.  The fellow runs through the spectators with boys running in tow, and the crowd parting like the Red Sea.  As he runs, mini-rockets shoot out of the bull into the crowd.

And I cannot overemphasize that verb.  Shoot -- as in from a grenade launcher.

I tried to follow close enough to get a good photograph.  But I was so busy dodging friendly fire, I could not get off a return shot.

Watching from the edge of the jardin, the rockets shooting over and into the crowd looked like those videos of Baghdad during the air war.  But this was all in fun -- terrifying, adrenalin-rushing fun.

So, why does everyone stick around for the opportunity to be burned, terrified, and trampled? 

I know why I do.  For exactly the same reason we speed in our cars or pay money for a carnival ride. 

We want to stand up, look at ourselves and our neighbors, and laugh that we have all survived another attack of danger. 

And life is good.

Note:  If you want your bull in larger doses, take a look at Gary Denness's site:
Mexile.  He has posted a BBC clip of a bull in Mexico City.  Ours is not that large.  But when it comes to causing pandemonium, size does not matter.  The result in our little village is just as riotous.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

boy in a box

Boy's Life

Those two words are still magic for me.

It was (and still may be, for all I know) the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America.

That was the prosaic description of the magazine.  For me, it was a monthly magic carpet of newsprint wrapped in its glossy cover.  Taking me to worlds as exotic and diverse as California surfers, Watusi warriors, and Amazon archers.

Almost every article was a not very well disguised take on boys passing through some ritual to manhood.  The voice of Rudyard Kipling always lay just above the subtext.

After all, that was the point of the Boy Scouts, wasn't it?  All that talk of trustworthy, loyal, thrifty, brave, reverent was not designed to leave us in our 12 year-old worlds.  We were to change.  To grow.  To put some back into it.

Thoughts of those Watusi warriors have darted through my head this week while watching the fireworks in front of our local church.

The photograph at the top of this post is where the firework artisans want your eyes directed.  As each layer of the castillo is lit, the viewer is to look higher and higher in awe at each display until the final three layers of this pyre of piety are lit.  And the top layer flies high -- spinning in honor of the good Saint Pat.

But there is a foundation story, as well.  While the fireworks spray their fire and rocket bursts, little boys gather, cover themselves with their cardboard armor, and scuttle beneath the dragon's breath.To show their budding macho natures.  To pass through the fire from boyhood to bravery.

And, as in all rites of passage, this one is painful.  The burns are very real.  But the night before, many of them cry, out of fear of the fire, but also out of fear that they will be found wanting on the field of battle.

I understand the tears. 

On the second night of the fireworks, I was busy recording the event for you, and I did not not notice one of the mini-rockets that shoot from the spinning wheels.  Not that I could have done anything.  They travel at Tinkerbell speed.

It caught me right on the stomach -- one of my more-insulated body parts.  But it took the breath out of me.

And I was not alone.  Other audience members took as much fire at the minutemen at Lexington, with similar wounds (at least, on the non-mortal side of the wound scale).

Eyes at the top praising a saint.  Boys passing to bravery at the foundation.

There is enough symbolism to mine there, it could occupy a full week of writer conferences at San Miguel de Allende.

"Your assignment is to find an appropriate analogy to describe the mortal and immortal in daily Mexican life.  Go."

Monday, March 15, 2010

springing forward -- eventually

I always thought I was the Mad Hatter. 

But, I'm not.  I'm the rabbit.

And I suspect I will be perpetually stuck in the role.  For two reasons.

The first is that I have adapted very well to my mañana milieu.  Removing the urgency for almost everything lets me be 12-years old again.

But the second reason is far more pernicious.

I wrote about it in prepare to fall back last October.  The odd tale of how a city in Mexico can be in the same time zone as an American or Canadian city, and show a different time on its clock.

And here we go -- again.  It is now time to spring forward.  Or it was up north, and it will be down here.  But not right now.

Early Sunday morning, those states and provinces that have been beguiled by the questionable virtues of daylight saving time, moved their clocks an hour forward.

That will not happen in Mexico for three more weeks.  Not until 4 April.

For me, this is not an academic issue.

Later this week, I am driving up to Puerto Vallarta to meet friends who are arriving on a cruise ship.  We intend to have a great day ziplining over the canyons of Jalisco.

I say "intend" because the time-keeping on cruise ships often requires an engineering degree.

Under normal circumstances, a ship leaving Los Angeles will move its ship clock forward one hour when entering the new time zone at Cabo San Lucas.  When the ship arrives in Puerto Vallarta, the captain can reset ship time (because the marina is barely in the central time zone) or leave the ship clock on mountain time (to avoid bewildering the passengers with another time change).

Some ships do not bother taking into account the daylight-standard time issue.

I told my friends I would meet them in the Walmart parking lot at 10:30 AM (local time).  You see my problem, there could easily be a two-hour variance from ship time.

I suspect my friends will be clever enough to simply check a local clock when they disembark the ship.

Otherwise, Thursday will be a day to push that mañana envelope.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

one plant at a time

King Cnut (and, yes, I have given in to the forces of historical spelling correctness) would have advised us to abandon our hubris, and accept the fact that water hyacinths rule the laguna.

But we six souls on Friday would hear nothing of it.  We decided to mount a frontal attack on the invading plants in the inlet just outside my gate.

The neighbor had cleared out a portion -- and it turned out to be a great spot for the crocodile to hunt.  We decided he could use some more room.

It turns out that water hyacinths are very easy to pull out of the water.  They spread by sending out shoots.  As a result, they form a large floating platform with roots extending into the water.  From a fish's eye-view, it must look like a jellyfish with chlorophyll.

They are easy to get out of the water -- only because they are not rooted.  But they can be heavy.

To harvest our "crop," we needed to position ourselves on a steep soggy bank.  We then used either a rake (for nearby plants) or a grappling hook (for plants beyond the rake's reach).  That plant was thrown on the malecon where it was loaded into a wheelbarrow and then dumped in a vacant lot.

After two hours, we six volunteers had cleared out a strip of the hyacinths that will give some of the wildlife an opportunity for open water.  (If you look at the photograph below, it is the water in the upper left -- looking a bit muddy.)  I suspect the snails, small fish, and frogs preferred the cover.  But there is still plenty for them.

With a couple of boats and a full crew, the inlet could probably be cleared in a week.

Even though my back objected on Saturday morning, I would gladly prove good old King Cnut wrong -- one plant at a time.

On another day.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

lunch and a movie

Maybe I have enjoyed all of the cultural stimulation just a bit too much this week.

Fireworks.  Carnival.  Circus.  It is almost like watching Congress.

But, on Friday, I took it all a step further.

My upstairs neighbors were returning to Canada, and I volunteered to drive them to the airport.  I have thoroughly enjoyed talking with them, and extending my time with them was well worth the price of a few drops of gasoline.

The first conversation we had ranged from fiscal policy to Ayn Rand to Philip Glass to Stephen Harper to Aristotle to John Locke.  Good times like that are not to be easily forsaken.

The airport is almost half way between my place and Manzanillo.  On a whim, I decided to head on to Manzanillo after I dropped them at the airport, and drive the 30 miles south.

I had just been to Manzanillo earlier in the week to pick up my mail and to buy a few exotic supplies.  That made this trip a real extravagance because I had no real reason to go.

Expect one.

I had recently talked with a friend in Salem who had seen the new Alice in Wonderland.  He was very pleased with it -- especially Danny Elfman's score.

Manzanillo is no entertainment backwater.  It has a very nice multiplex that seems to receive first run movies about the same time they open in The States.  But I had never seen a movie there.

I had no way of knowing whether Alice would be there.  But, it topped the marquee when I pulled into the parking lot.

And my luck held up.  It was in the big theater.  With a great sound system.  In 3D.  In English with subtitles.

I had never watched a 3D movie with Spanish subtitles.  It is a bit disconcerting for the Spanish words to lunge off the screen about chin level. 

Not surprisingly, I did not get to read much of the Spanish text -- though I found some very interesting translations.

I doubt I would have read much, any way.  Tim Burton packs his films with enough action and interesting dialogue that reading anything can be rather difficult.

And this film was a tour de force.

Someone made the decision to play this Alice as a 19-year old liberated woman.  That was a clever way to avoid all of Lewis Carroll's pedophile subtext.

The wisdom of that decision was apparent with flashbacks to a child Alice.  Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter leer worked well with the older Alice.  With the 8-year old Alice, the skin crawls.

The choice also gave the film team the opportunity to skew adult society as up-tight, repressed, hypocritical, greedy, adulterous, and just plain weird.  And Burton took each of those opportunities.

In that sense, his 19-year old point of view gets the advantage of both worlds -- a child's vision and an adult's protection.

I saw Avatar in 3D on one of my trips to Oregon.  The technology amazed me.  It convinced me I was on another planet.

Burton used a slightly different system.  For his purpose (building a dream world) it worked just as well -- if not better.

But I fully agree with my friend in Oregon.  Danny Elfman's score is one of the stars of the film.  From the pieces I have listened to on line, it stands alone quite well as a very good piece of music.

This trip to Manzanillo taught me that there are all sorts of resources nearby.  One hour is not too far to travel for a movie -- even when I have to drive home in the dark.

Something else to go on my list when I return next November -- or so.

Friday, March 12, 2010

llamas -- and tigers -- and bears -- oh, my!

Another circus is in town.

And I have been sucked into its vortex  -- front row, center.

The animals did it. An elephant.  A tiger.  A bear.  Baboons.  Monkeys.  Camels.  And llamas.  Enough llamas to mount an expedition to Machu Picchu.

So, there I sat.  Once again, amongst all of those childhood memories I wrote about in another opening -- another show.

I approached this circus with higher hopes than the circus I attended in January.

The tent was much larger.  The animals were impressive.  The facade worthy of a Barnum show.

But when I arrived, something was lacking.  A crowd.  It was sparse.  No.  That is unfair.  It was simply missing.  Maybe they were all at St. Pat's on-going bash.

Some of my hopes disappeared the moment I stepped inside the tent.  The interior was as sparse as a Fellini set in search of a circus.  Lots of space.  Little filling.  Third degree investigation lighting.  And piles of rubble.

But circuses are about acts.  Not scenery.

And acts there were.

Let's get something out of the way.  This was not the cirque du soleil.  It is a Mexican family-run circus.  Of course, I did not pay $250 (US) to see it, either.  $40 (Mx), if you please.  And worth every centavo.

The acts used every family member -- right from the grand opening with the full cast led in by two beautiful young women twirling batons (Yup!  Batons.), and dressed as Las Vegas show girls. 

That was followed by a trampoline act with some very talented children and two adults.

An animal act involving llamas, a camel, a pony, and a dog.

Two beautiful women (the aforementioned show girls) and a little girl dancing with hula hoops.

A clown -- clowning with children from the audience.

A tiger with the useful fire hoop and whip act.

Another clown with a robot dog.

Another animal act with a small bear, a huge horse, and a dwarf horse with a severe limp.

And finally, a very nice trapeze act with three guys, a clown, and a young boy.

Then, it just stopped.  It was over.

Cheesy.  Sure.  Cheesier than a quesadilla.  But just as fun.  And that is all anyone can ask of a circus.

And it certainly fit in with this week's high celebrations.

But I really need to tell you a bit more about those fireworks.

And I will. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

blowing its top

San Patricio knows how to celebrate a saint's birthday.

Carnivals. Bombs. Crowds.

And fireworks.

We have been hearing the percussive explosions, rocas (or what I call "bombs"), that thrill young Mexican men. These are not firecrackers. I am talking about explosions that sound as if they could take down a 10-story building.

And they can come at any time of the day or night. 2 AM seems to be just the right time to wake up a patron saint for his birthday.

But those are not the fireworks that draw crowds.

On Tuesday night the local church was decked out as if a space shuttle was to be launched from San Patricio -- for the first of a series of celebratory gatherings.

The "guest of honor" was a 20 to 30 foot structure made of what looked liked bamboo. Looking a bit like an insect sculpture gone bad.

But we were there not to worship form. We wanted function. And we got it.

The structure is called a castillo, and its sole purpose is to act as a framework for fireworks.

Up north, we have a tendency to be awed by fireworks of the rockets' red glare variety.  Mexicans appreciate their fire art to be a bit less bombastic and more artistic -- not to mention, up close and personal.

And artistic it was. A series of fire wheels spun furiously in varying colors -- one flew off and lodged itself under a parked pickup's gas tank, threatening a reenactment of shock and awe over Baghdad.

But the finale is always the same. And awe-inspiring in its consistency.

At the very top of the structure is a crown -- corona. When it is lit, it starts spinning until its attains lift-off speed. It then shoots into the air a few hundred meters -- until gravity pulls it back to earth. Or, more accurately, back to the middle of the crowd.

On Tuesday night, it chose to alight in the back of the same pickup that had earlier escape its inferno.

Anyone with a bit of spark in his heart would have enjoyed the night's performance. I stood by a couple who said they had not seen anything like it. They were as enraptured as children.

But, then, so was I.

Give me a carnival and fireworks, and I can be as sentimental as -- well, me, I guess.

New York may think it celebrates Saint Patrick's Day. But they don't know even how to begin celebrate our hometown boy: St. Pat.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

hey, rube!

I can't remember where I first heard that aloha-like yell.

My memory fingers a childhood favorite book: Amigo. The story of a circus palomino. I do recall the book teaching me the appropriate funeral rites for a dead parakeet.

But that universal carny call for assistance popped into my head Monday afternoon.

noticed a carnival was setting up in the vacant lot behind the local school. Not one of your fancy Brazilian carnivals, mind you, with over-decorated floats and under-dressed women.

This was the type of carnival I remembered as a boy. The type of operation that would show up at the county fair.

Bottles to knock over with a baseball. Ring toss. Coin toss. Almost any way imaginable to toss pesos from rubes to carnies.

And the rides. All the way from tykes imagining they were motorcycle thugs to teens proving to their mates and girlfriends that macho is not merely a myth.

Up north we still have similar rides -- or vestiges of the same rides after they have been re-engineered in the hopes to limit trial lawyers to BMWs rather than Maseratis.

Not so in Mexico. The rides here are still fun because they feel dangerous. I saw one ride operator use a hammer to open the safety release bar. The entrapped teens simply laughed.

hen I stumbled onto the carnival on Monday afternoon. they were still setting up. I was a bit surprised to see this island of frivolity in the midst of Lent in a small Catholic village.

I asked one of the workers why they were there -- in my north-of-the-border journalist quest for facts.

He looked at me quizzically, and responded: "We are here because we are here." A Zen master could not have summed it all up better.

I later discovered the carnival is in town to help us celebrate the birthday of San Patricio's patron saint -- Saint Patrick. And the festivities started on Tuesday night.

But that will be a post for tomorrow -- taking a peek at how saints are celebrated in my small fishing village by the sea.

ntil then, I will leave you with this photograph:

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

new ways to dream

I am starting to feel like a snowbird myself these days.

For the last few days, I have noticed that summer is starting to sneak in amongst our little thatched huts here on the Pacific coast.  Since about mid-November, our days have been warm; our nights comfortable.

Not so on Monday.  I began my day late.  I usually get up in the morning and walk to the village to do my daily food shopping.  During the winter months, I arrive at the grocery store feeling as if I have had a refreshing workout.

On Monday I didn't start my walk until 2PM.  And the sun and humidity were doing their best to prove that Melaque is a tropical town.  My shirt was soaked half way through my walk.  Those extra pounds I re-gained while in The States didn't help.

As I sit here writing this post, the temperature is still 79 degrees with 73% humidity.  It is not William Faulkner writing weather.  But it is close.

Maybe it is the change in weather, but I sought a bit of culinary adventure on Monday evening.  I had bought some carrots, zucchini, onions, and a yellow pepper at the market.  I stir fried the vegetables and added some grilled chicken and rice I had left over from my Saturday dinner.

That, obviously, was not the adventurous part of the meal.  I usually add in a pepper sauce for taste.  Instead, I modified an Italian sweet and sour sauté sauce.

It is very simple.  Just three ingredients.  Chopped fresh mint.  Cider vinegar.  Honey.  Equal measures of honey and vinegar.

It turns out that I had no cider vinegar.  So, I dipped into my oriental kit and used rice vinegar.  I need to remember that substitute.  It is better than the original.

But it may be the last time I will use that recipe.  The meal is a bit heavy for these hot days.

If I were not heading to Oregon in six weeks for the summer, I would be watching the palm trees disappear in my rear view mirror as I headed off to the Mexican highlands.

And I will let a little chauvinism show here.  I am looking forward to summer in Oregon -- where some of the best summers in the world can be experienced.

After making all of those snowbird comments the day before yesterday, it appears I may be spreading my own little wings.