Saturday, April 30, 2011

trading my mark

Living in Mexico without a sense of irony is like living in Palm Springs with a bad slice.  You can do it, but life will not be very pleasant.

That little adage popped to mind while I was walking past a new taco stand in our neighborhood.  I hear it is quite good.

But I did not have food on my mind when I first saw the place.

It is called “Scooby’s Tacos.”  And that face on the wall is not of the owner or his pet.  It is, of course,  Scooby the Dog.  Famous cartoon character.  And the property of Warner Brothers.

In November, I spoke to the Latin American Bloggers’ Conference about American and Mexican copyright law.  And the basic rules we learned in kindergarten.  Like, not taking other people’s property.

That is a tough act to sell in Mexico.  Even though Mexico has a very thorough copyright and trademark law, you might suspect it is administered by Ali Baba and the forty thieves. 

Cultural icons are treated as just that down here.  If it is popular, it belongs to the public.  And if it belongs to the public, there is no perceived problem in simply taking it and using it for your own purposes.

Mickey Mouse decorates the ice cream truck.  Batman shills for the carnival on the merry-go-round.  Disney princesses decorate almost everything imaginable.

And I will not even mention (but I guess I just did) the drug cartel-sponsored pirated CDs and DVDs.

Mexico is a country where little goes to waste.  And if a trademark seems like a popular draw, users will slap it on anything that moves – or is stationary, for that matter.

I suspect, as a former lawyer, this creative piracy should offend me.  After all, it is theft.

On the other hand, I am a bit ticked off at Disney and Time Warner who have effectively turned the copyright and trademark laws from a recognition of intellectual property rights to a monopolistic Chinese wall around aging icons.  I suspect if either company owned the Mona Lisa, they would add a 600 year old grandmother clause to the law.

But I really don’t care.  In fact, I have started playing a little game to discover the most creative (and jarring) use of trademarks.

One of these days, I may draft a post concerning the finalists for the award.

Nominees are always welcome.

Friday, April 29, 2011

patient posts

I stopped by to meet Lou for lunch in Barra de Navidad the other day.

We had a great conversation over lunch.  When I was about to drop him off, I told him I was going birding and asked if he wanted to come along.  He was game.

Lou and Wynn had shared one of their private birding spots with me earlier in the year.  We headed out that way. 

As we were driving down a rural dirt track, Lou said: "Slow down.  Stop.  Look at the fence post."

They looked like the usual tree branch posts I see on every rural road around here.

Then I saw it.  A hole at the top of the post. 

And then a head.

It was a woodpecker nest.  The bird had discovered a way to put the recently deceased to good use.  By drilling a perfectly round hole.

I love woodpeckers.  Every time I see one, I can sit and watch its antics as long as I can keep it in sight.

And I suspect I know who is responsible -- Walter Lantz.  The Woody Woodpecker shorts at the movies and the subsequent television show taught us to love that rascally red-head (and not the one married to Desi Arnaz).  Dennis the Menace with a dye job.

Whenever I hear woodpeckers in trees (and we have quite a few around here), I almost expect to hear that trademark ha-ha-ha ha-ha.

In this case, the woodpecker returned to feed its young.  And I got a good view.  Enough to identify it as a ladderback.

I stopped by yesterday to see how the family had grown.  The nest was completely empty.  I hope the young fledged.

But I learned another valuable lesson about Mexico.  I had driven past those posts several times and completely missed the nest.  But with a little patience, and help from a good friend, I witnessed one of Mexico's little side shows.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

viva visa -- part 3

Life in Mexico can be practically perfect.

As long as you realize that any plan is subject to the whim of circumstances and bureaucrats -- two factors that are sometimes indistinguishable.

Today was the day my new visa card was supposed to be ready.  You have already read how I planned to go to Manzanillo to start the FM3 renewal process (are your papers in order?)  and how I had to plead to have the card issued before I left on my cruise (following the paper).

When we left off, the very nice clerk (after giving me the mother eye for waiting so long on renewing my FM3), told me to return on 27 April for my card -- two days before I was to fly off to Florida.  That was yesterday.

I wanted to get to Manzanillo as early as I could.  The vestiges of the semana santa traffic have been slowing the drive between here and there.  So, I was on the road just before 8 to get in and out as soon as I could.  Or to plan on driving down again on Wednesday -- if things were not quite as promised.

I checked on line to determine the status of my card.  That was of no help.  The last entry was on 21 April and indicated the card had received the approval of the Colima office.  Not being in a worrying mood, I just assumed the data entry clerk had enjoyed the Easter holiday on the beach and did not have time to update any stinkin' web page.

Traffic was a bit heavy, but not bad.  Just enough to keep me from getting to the immigration office at 9 -- when it opened.  It was 9:10 when I walked through the door.  I expected to see a large group of early birds.  Instead, there was one Mexican couple being served.

As I reached for a Baskin-Robbins ticket, the clerk at the next window called me over.  I told her (in infant Spanish) that I was there to pick up my card and handed her the receipt from earlier in the month.

She looked through the file cabinet.  Then a pile of papers.  Then another.  On her fourth search, she looked on the computer screen and entered some information I had provided two weeks prior, but was not yet posted.

Of course, the first thought that went through my mind was that the application had not gone any further from where I had left it at my last visit.  There are days when I could easily play the role of the disciple Thomas.

But my pessimism was not to be rewarded.  She walked away and came back with four papers for me to sign and two copies of what looked like jail booking forms for my thumb prints.

Completing my presidential impression and having been printed, I waited for a couple of minutes, and she was back with my new card in hand.

And that was it.  I looked at my mobile telephone.  The whole process at the window had taken less than 15 minutes.  Try that at any DMV north of the border.

My walk back to the shiftless Escape was one of my most pleasant I have made in Mexico.  The day was warm.  The birds were singing.  And a pretty girl smiled at me and treated me to a musical laugh.

What could have been better?

A practically perfect day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

dining in the halls of moctezuma

Yesterday's post about snack food reminded me that I have not yet related my culinary adventures in Mexico City.

I told you a lot about pretty women thieves, cathedrals, Aztec ruins, canals, archaeological treasures, art and "art," and dance.  But that was only part of the adventure in Moctezuma's former home town.

Mexico City, like any great metropolis, has numerous highly-rated restaurants.  I didn't get to any of them, but I did have a fun time eating my way through the sinking city.

Before some wag (and there are several in mind at the moment) points it out, let me confess.  Yes.  Mexico City was where my Olympian bout of "intestinal disorder" had its onset.

Was it something or someplace where I ate while there?  I have no idea.  But the chances are probably high that it was.  Chronological proximity is not always causation.  Sometimes, it is.

I do know my stomach is convinced that pizza is involved.  I tried to eat a piece in Salem after I had recovered, and one bite was my limit.

But my stomach also thinks there is nothing redeeming in hot dogs.  So, I am not certain I am going to trust its diagnosis.

Whatever the cause, I had three interesting eating experiences in Mexico City.  None of them come close to breaking into my Top Ten.  But they were each remarkable in their own way -- just like Tolstoy's unhappy families.

For fun, nothing outdid La Bodeguita del Medio -- a Cuban restaurant with good food and even better live (and very loud) music.  I had ropa vieja -- shredded beef in a creole sauce.

I love Cuban food, and that dish is a classic.  But it did not come close to what I get regularly at Versailles in Miami.  Not bad.  Just not outstanding.

But what made the evening so much fun was getting to know a large portion of my fellow bus tourists.  Cuban music and food (not to mention other lubricants) can coax even the stuffiest of northern European descendants to pull that stick out of their spine -- and loosen up.

And loosen up they did.  As you can see in the photograph provided by Ruth Hazelwood of Mex-ECO Tours.  Well, we did get a bit looser than this.

The best meal with grandmother overtones was served up by Cafe de Tacuba.  Our tour guide recommended the place.  But, more importantly, so did gourmand (and my fellow blogger) Don Cuevas

The place is a Mexico City tradition.  Both for its food and the decor of the restaurant.  If you never have a mouthful of the food, simply go to look at the colonial-era tiles.  It is impressive.  Don Cuevas did not sell me a bum steer.

I ordered tongue.  For me, it was not an exotic dish.  Both my grandmother and mother prepared it as a regular dinner.  Just like here in Mexico.  (Even though my preference is in sandwiches.)

When my plate arrived, one of my fellow tourists, who I do not recall marrying, asked me: "I wish I had ordered that.  May I have a piece of your tongue?"

By this point on our trip, most of my fellow diners had pretty much sized me up.  You could hear crickets in the park two blocks away.

Rather than take the cheap shot (and several flashed in front of my eyes), I held my tongue and let her have a piece from my plate.  Once again, good, but not outstanding.

But I have saved my favorite experience for last.  After visiting the art nouveau post office Porfirio Diaz left behind to Mexico when he fled to Spain, we stopped for lunch at Los Girosoles.  Right next door to the Mexican federal senate.

My usual routine at restaurants is to order something new and something I do not prepare at home.

The choice jumped out at me the moment I saw it.  Escamoles en salsa verde.  Ant eggs in green sauce.

I love anything with salsa verde.  And here was my opportunity for a symbolic show of support for my battle against the leaf cutter ants.  If they will not leave my garden in peace, I will eat their young.  And did.

The eating experience was neither good nor bad.  The ant eggs had the appearance and consistency of soaked barley -- those white pieces you often find floating in vegetable soup. 

As for taste, all I really noticed was the salsa verde.  And what is there to complain about that?

I eventually need to do a tour of Mexico City's famed high end restaurants.  And I will.

But I suspect my stomach has taken pizza off of the plate for some time.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

adventures with my tongue

I have been a junk food eater for as long as I can remember.

I can easily pass up a piece of cake.  But give me salt and grease, and I am in pig-out heaven.

When I moved to Mexico, I was enthralled with the chili-lime flavor on snacks.  For the first month or so.  Then I really got tired of it.

I started looking for new ways to scratch my junk food itch.  And, as we learned in cheating with cheetos, it is hard to avoid the chili and lime conformism.

Hard, but not impossible.  Now and then I see something new at the checkout stand. 

Our cashiers are not surrounded with magazines featuring the shocking confessions of Michelle Obama and Brad Pitt.  We have lots of junk food.  The kind you eat, instead of the kind that eats the mind.

As I was leaving Walmart the other day, I saw two new flavors of Doritos.  I knew they were new because of the fancy black packaging and the gaudy neon yellow highlights around "NUEVO."

The first was labeled "Jalapeño Poppers."  The taste was easy to predict.  Cheese and jalapeños.  And I was correct. 

It was just "all right."  Nothing special.  Nor new.  There are similar snacks in the United States.

It was the second package that really caught my eye  And actually got me salivating. 

"Jocho."  I didn't know the Spanish word.  And no one around here knows it either.  But the icon indicates the flavor should be hot dog with mustard.  And the Spanish words for "hot dog flavor" are at the bottom of the package.

Let me stop there for a second.  I am not a big wiener fan.  Never have been.  I will eat a hot dog when I go to a baseball game for the same reason I eat escargot in France.  They seem to go together, and within those boundaries, they both taste good.

But I do not eat hot dogs anywhere else.  Even in Mexico, where you can find wiener parts in almost anything imaginable -- snacks, pizza.  I wouldn't be surprised if their is wiener flavored Jello.

So, I was a bit surprised that I had the Pavlovian response when I saw the package.

The good people at Frito-Lay (Sabritas down this way) were not misleading me.  One bite of the fiery orange chip exploded mustard and meat byproducts in my mouth.  For a moment, I was in Fenway Park.  But just a moment. 

Within seconds, the chip simply tasted like another artificially-flavored snack trying to be something it isn't.  And because I was not in Fenway Park, the wiener taste -- artificial or not -- was simply not very good.

I should quickly add -- that is good.  I do not need to find a substitute for my no-longer-lamented Snyder's pretzels.  I can simply do without.

Of course, I will find far too much junk to stick in my mouth on my upcoming cruise. -- in just another four days.

Monday, April 25, 2011

count me in


I have always been fascinated with them.  I still remember how excited I was in the third grade when I discovered division and multiplication were the yin and yang of each other.  Same functions in drag.

There was even a time when I thought of answering the siren call of mathematics.  Instead, I responded to the kazoo of law and politics.

But numbers still interest me.  Like most bloggers.  Well, special numbers.

Earlier this week I stumbled across a tab that lets me see the top "views" for each page of my blog -- broken down by "now," "day," "week," "month," and my favorite: "all time."

That last one had great promise.  It sounded as if I could see anything from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21.

I was wrong.  According to the application, "all time" meant from May 2010 until now.  Hardly "world without end."  But the results were still interesting -- to me.

I have only a vague notion what constitutes a "view."  Merely pulling the page up seems to qualify -- whether or not it is read.

Here are the top five.

Number one on the list with the most views (in fact, more views than the next nine added together) is float like a butterfly, sting like a caterpillar.

It is an odd piece to be number one.  It starts as a tale about Jennifer Rose's encounter with a stinging asp caterpillar and metamorphosizes into a nostalgic saunter through my childhood.  If that was not mundane enough, the post is almost three years old.  Almost a year before I moved to Mexico.

But, I think I know why it has so many views.  It shows up in Google each time someone searches for "stinging asp."  For some reason, that is a rather common search term.  Perhaps, there is a big Cleopatra wannabe lobby out there.

And, of course, I get fallout from my obvious Cassius Clay ripoff.

The position of the second (bandera de méxico) is as easy to understand.  My little history lesson on the evolution of the Mexican flag shows up whenever vexillologists (and their groupies) conduct their searches.

Ironically, I also wrote that piece in Oregon, as I did number three (tears on the sand) -- a rundown of the bumpy road of purchasing real property on Mexico's coast, using the controversy surrounding Tenacatita as an example.

I suspect most of the hits came from people who were caught up in the emotions of the property changing hands.

Looking at the first three posts on the list made me wonder if only old posts have high hits.  It didn't make sense.  After all, the "all time" category is really less than a full year.  And posts, by their very nature, are ephemeral.

But those three posts seem to be the exceptions that prove the rule.  Without their unusual search terms, their numbers would not be remarkable. 

The next seven posts were all written this year.  Including the last two of the top five.

I wrote number four (at a snail's pace) earlier this month.  And I will confess I did the same thing television producers do during sweeps weeks.  I spiked the results.

The posts asked readers to assist me in identifying a large black bird who had become a regular visitor at my inlet.  (The answer was snail kite.)

But I did not stick with my regular readers.  I put a link to the post on the Melaque message board -- and netted a few new readers.  Or, at least, new viewers.

Number five is the only post from my Mexico trip series that made it onto the top five list (searching for pátzcuaro).  That surprised me due to the number of comments the series engendered.  And why the
Pátzcuaro piece?  I have no idea.  Maybe the Felipe Zapata Fan Club stirred up some local interest.

The list made me wonder.  How many of my fellow bloggers have looked at their top view lists?  Do they make sense?

Want to share?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

an easter vacation

I decided to take the day off from blogging for Easter.

I hope you and your family have a pleasant day.

If you need an Easter post, here is one I wrote last April (an easter tail).

Cristo ha resucitado!

En verdad, esta resucitado!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

paging joyce kilmer

No myth is worth its bark without a good tree in its supporting cast.

Where would Lord of the Rings be without Treebeard and the Forest of Fangorn?  Or To Kill a Mockingbird without the hollow oak?  Or Macbeth
without Birnam Wood?  (Come to think of it, Shakespeare seems to have had trouble getting out of the woods in a series of his plays.)

If Mexico had a mythological tree, it would probably be the guanacaste.  (It certainly made the cut as Costa Rica's national tree.)

Magnificent is a perfect adjective for this wonder.  If any political party ever needed an emblem for the "big tent" theory of inclusion, this would be the tree.

I saw my first guanacaste during my Yucatan tour with islagringo.  At Sayil, the guanacaste (called pich trees by the Maya) grew along the royal causeway.  Stealing the show from the ruins.  Tall with a very wide canopy.

I thought I would never see another guanacaste unless I made a return visit to Yucatan.  I was wrong.

Earlier this week I drove up to the mirador to see if the view was still there.  It was.

On the drive down, I caught a flash of blue.  What I thought was a lazuli bunting.  I have been trying to get a photograph of one for a year.  So, I stopped, pulled out my camera and binoculars, and started my stalk.

There were birds everywhere.  Some old stand-bys.  Grackles.  Common ground doves.  Yellow-winged caciques.  Hooded orioles.  And, of course, the ubiquitous house sparrows.

But there were also new sightings for me.  What I thought was a lazuli bunting wasn't.  If you enlarge the photograph at the top of the post by clicking on it, you will notice that bird is not simply blue.  It looks as if it flew through an airbrush test range. 

A painted bunting?  Naw.  Too close to the analogy.  But I have no idea what it is.

And then there was  a citreoline trogon.  They are a common bird around here.  But very shy.  Whenever I would try to focus either my camera or binoculars on it, it was awing.  I have some great back shots.  They may as well be Yeti photographs.

And then there were three white-throated magpie jays. 

I heard them before I saw them.  As loud as teen-age boys on motor scooters.  When I caught a glimpse of the first one in the tree branches, I thought I had discovered a chachalaca -- until I saw the odd crest on the head.  It could only be a magie jay. 

I watched them for well over an hour as they clowned their way through each of the surrounding trees.  Upsetting the other bird families -- knowing full well that jays, like Lenin, believe that a few eggs need to be cracked now and then.

It didn't take me long to figure out why they were there.  In the middle of the field below the road was a guanacaste.  Not quite as resplendent as a Maya pich.  But almost.

And the birds certainly did not know the difference.  To them, the tree was as deluxe as a Manhattan brownstone.

That evening I opened Marc Olson's blog only to discover he had composed a prose ode to the guanacaste.  It was a good tree day.

I have returned several times to the guanacaste in Melaque this past week.  I have lots of photographs to prove it.  Unfortunately, most of them are not very good.  Shooting into the shadows with plenty of light filtering through the branches is a photographer's nightmare.

I will keep trying.  I suspect some of you might be interested in what things my brain fancies.

One you already know.


Friday, April 22, 2011

an even better friday

It is Good Friday.  Both on the liturgical calendar -- and on the local business calendar.

In fact, it has been a very good week for the businesses in Melaque.  Semana santa always brings lots of highlanders to town.  But this year has been particularly good.

Melaque gets its Easter trade mainly from the Guadalajara area.  The middle class tends to book into Puerto Vallarta -- with all of its resort conveniences.

Not so the working poor.  They come to Melaque.  Every country seems to have these little class distinctions -- usually based on income.  In England, the working poor go to Blackpool.  In Oregon, to Lincoln City.

The fear was that Easter would come too late in the year to attract the Tapatios to the beach.  The received wisdom is that the big attraction at the beach is getting sweaty -- and the heat wave had already started in Guadalajara.

That fear was far too rational.  Most people come to the beach during semana santa because that is what you do.  Not going to the beach during semana santa would be like attending Notre Dame and skipping spring break in Daytona Beach.

And come they have.

Last week I had breakfast on the beach and took a photograph of what the beach looked like that particular morning.

Melaque makes a good deal of its living off of tourists.  It is certainly not a traditional Mexican town.  We leave the cultural color to those faded colonial beauties in the mountains.  This is Ferengi territory.  There are pesos to be transferred from those willing to spend to those willing to serve.

We have two tourist seasons here.  The first starts around mid-November and peters out in late March. 

It is the season of old white people.  There may be politer ways to say that.  But it is the truth.  Most of the tourists we see in town during those months look as if a Viking ship of casually-dressed senior Norwegians had grounded on the beach.

The local merchants know their stuff.  Out come the Canadian and the American flags to let baffled northerners know that if they eat at a flag-bedecked restaurant, they will not be embarrassed if they do not know their huevos from their pantimedias

Waiters and clerks are all smiles -- as pesos are tucked away.

There is then a late spring lull until the Mexican tourists arrive for semana santa.  Under the counter go the Canadian and American flags faster than you can say Parisian collaborationist.  And up goes the red, white, and green of the national colors.

Waiters and clerks are all smiles -- as pesos are tucked away.

The Mexican merchants I know practice a form of utilitarianism that would make Jeremy Bentham proud.  They are in the business of pleasing people.

They can put up with out-of-towners taking all the parking places, walking in the middle of the street, treating them as hired help, walking around without shirts in public, and getting as drunk as a frat boy following finals.

The fact that old white tourists act almost exactly as younger brown tourists makes no difference to them.  After all, they are in the serving business.

This has been a good week, as I said earlier.  I stopped by my breakfast restaurant this afternoon and snapped off this shot of the beach today.  It looks like a successful season to me.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

catting around

If anyone had told me a year ago I would have a cat in my house, I would have gladly examined their commitment papers.

I am simply not a cat person.  We had cats when I was growing up.  So, I know their ways.  But I never thought I would end up in a cat box as an adult.

My good friend Cor Greive moved back to California at the end of last month.  He sold his home to my land lady before he left, and she is doing a bit of remodeling.

And that is where the cat comes in.  Cor left his cat, Lety, with the house.  Cats and remodeling are not a natural mix.

But there was a natural solution.  The upper unit (or upper room, as I call it this religious season) in my duplex is not being rented right now.  So, in went the cat.  And on went my cat tamer outfit.

My land lady takes care of the cat's major needs.  My role is as Royal Jailer.

I have always wanted to appear in one of those period pieces where I do not even know the names of clothing items.  "Hand me that round thing that ties to this thingamajig." 

Each day I climb the stairs to the royal prisoner's apartment.  Lety, Queen of Cats.  To bring her the latest news of her exile.  And to avoid being won over by her charms -- to grant her full release.

Lety was raised as a house cat.  And she quickly acclimated to her new surroundings.  But she has watched carefully as I came and went through the door.

Today I decided to let her see more.  We spent about two hours wandering through the garden.  She had to smell almost everything.  As curious as a -- well, you know.  (Too many
clichés and this essay will capsize.)

Just as the Scottish Queen seduced her jailers, Lety has won me over to her catness.  But she was more than willing to return to the safety of her apartments after our walk.

This little tryst is about to end.  Lety's house is almost complete.  Maybe later this week.  And she will then return to her home.

And life here will return to normal.  I can then start dreaming of a true pet.

Perhaps -- a chicken.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

lee smith -- my clever pal

This is a month for transitions. 

Another friend died this week.

I first met
Lee Smith (pictured above with his wife, Judy, celebrating their 58th wedding anniversary) in 1989 when we were both employed with the same company in Salem.  He had an innate ability to treat the most difficult situation with his trademark humor.  Often acerbic.  But always humorous.

During the five years we worked together, he was faced with what could kindly be referred to as uncaring managers.  The type of bosses that show up in situation comedies -- and we all chuckle how they could not exist in real life.

But they did.  And Lee characteristically laughed them off.  Until he decided that retirement was better than losing his sense of humor.

We had much more in common than our work.

We were both Air Force officers.  He joined the Air Force the year I was born.  But our shared status was far more important than our age differences.  Proving that age is not a restriction on friendship.

He could (and did) tell some of the funniest stories I have ever heard about the absurdities of military life.  And some of the best revolved around adventures his wife, Judy, and their daughters, Donna and Beth, faced as part of a military family.  (Beth, at one point, worked with me.)

When we all lived in Salem, I would often have holiday dinners with them at Beth’s home.  And, you will not be surprised to discover, the entertainment was usually provided through Lee’s sardonic story-telling. 

I thought I would lose some of that contact when I moved to Mexico.  But Lee turned into one of my most regular blog readers.  He always knew the details of my little adventure south of the border.  And could recount them – with his personalized twists – whenever I was in Oregon.

He devoted his life to his country and his family – participating in tumultuous events in our nation’s history. Always giving selflessly of his wisdom and his love.

We’re going to miss you, Lee.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

love and death

It is one of my favorite Woody Allen films.  Maybe because it has great lawyer jokes.

And Woody starts delivering them from the prologue on.  The protagonist Boris tells us why he is in jail awaiting execution for a crime he didn't commit.

"Isn't all mankind ultimately executed for a crime it never committed? The difference is that all men go eventually, but I go six o'clock tomorrow morning. I was supposed to go at five o'clock, but I have a smart lawyer. Got leniency."

I was thinking of that routine during my recent tour of laguna cleaning.  My goal is to get rid of some of the vegetation.  But my grappling hook has brought up far more than water hyacinth.

It is amazing the things people will throw into bodies of water.  Including bodies.  Which I have not yet discovered.  But Jimmy Hoffa is out there somewhere.  I'm certain.

But I have discovered enough.  Plastic bottles.  Plastic bags.  Disposable diapers inconveniently disposed.  Various pieces of clothing.  The lid to an old washing machine.

And this beauty.  Another view is at the top of this post.

I could see it in the shallows when I started this project, but I could never quite hook it.  At first, I thought it was the bulb of a large water lily.  But it finally gave way to the hook.

My romantic side suspected it was the head of a young crocodile killed by a larger version of himself.  Oedipus on the Nature Channel.

But that was obviously not true.  Crocodiles are not round heads; they are cavaliers.  (And, yes, I know.  References to the English Civil War are seldom witty.)

It has to be a bird.  A big bird.  And we have plenty of big waders in the laguna.  Great blue herons.  Great egrets.

But my gardener, who is a professional fisher, has a different theory.  He thinks it is the skull of a pelican. 

And he may be correct -- even though most of the photographs I have seen of pelican skulls reveal a much smaller skull.  Maybe this fellow was a Klingon subspecies.

Pelicans we have.  But not in the laguna.  I will not discount the possibility some pelican mob boss dumped a rival pelican in my inlet.

While I was cleaning the skull in the garden, I noticed an odd shape near one of the bushes.

An egg.  Well, you might say, it is Easter.  Perhaps, the bunny left it a bit early.

My vote is the Easter serpent or the Easter lizard.  This beauty is about the size of the tip of my thumb.

My land lady and I moved it closer to one of the shrubs to protect it from all of the back yard activity.  We will see what sprouts from it. 

I have been tempted to put it in a box to protect it -- and to see what pops out.  But I have seen Alien enough times to know I do not need to do a personal reprise of John Hurt.

According to Woody, I should not even be concerned about the love aspects in my garden.  "Some men are heterosexual and some men are bisexual and some men don't think about sex at all, you know... they become lawyers."

But even Woody is not always correct.  Just funny.

Monday, April 18, 2011

palms across the village

On Thursday, the palapa over the space where our church met burned.

When I walked through it on Friday morning, the rubble had been cleared.  But it was clear we would not be meeting in that space.  A stump was still smoldering. 

And summer has arrived.  Meeting in the heat of the sun is not a possibility.

But I had no need to worry.  The church board is made up of people who have the souls of expatriates.  Being sentimental over the loss of a grass roof simplify would get in the way of finding a place for us to worship on Sunday.  And find a spot they did.

The photograph at the top of this post is the home of the Maya Restaurant in Melaque.  It is closed during the summer.  But it provided just the right venue for we circumstance-created nomads.  Disney calm writ large.

Our pastor read an email from one of our regular visitors recounting that the recent loss tied with our current happiness was a perfect reflection of the mixed emotions of Palm Sunday.  Triumph.  Loss.  Ultimate joy.

I have received several comments and email concerning what the church is going to do. 

What we are going to do is to continue to be a part of the community.  One of my Mexican neighbors attended church with us this morning to show her solidarity with our work.

This whole incident has helped confirm what I like about my church family and this area of Mexico.  I think it is going to be the start -- or renewal -- of a great friendship.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

snapping the sea

I am, at best, a hobbyist when it comes to photography.

No.  Even that label sounds too grand.

I am nothing more than a snapper.

A friend once told me I had a sculptor's eye for photography.  He didn't intend it to be a compliment.

But it is a fair rap.  I have very little knowledge of how my camera works -- or how to get the best out of it. 

And my choice of subjects is often -- to be kind -- touristy.  A bathetic Thomas Kinkade.

Now and then I run across something that simply strikes my fancy.  Like last week's pig.  I find joy in contrasts.

Late last week I drove up to the mirador in Melaque.  The high point at the west end of our beach.

There is a panoramic view of the bay and the sea.  For some reason, the contrasting combination of the ocean and the cactus on the cliffs that form the margin between land and water struck me as amusing.

Maybe the shapes.  The textures.  The foundational plant and the ever-changing tide.  I don't know exactly what it was.

But I decided to share them with you -- and let you draw your own conclusions.

From your snapper.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

one plate of mustard seeds at table five

This is the faith season.  At least, on Mexico blogs.

Several of my fellow bloggers have posted about spiritual matters.  I have been planning to do the same thing since January -- the Easter season seems like a good time to do it.

I enjoy much about Melaque.  But, my church here makes the area very special.

I started attending San Patricio by the Sea when I first visited the area as a tourist.  Since then, I attend religiously.  And, despite the old joke, that means more than twice a year.

My faith is far more important to me than the religion (the ritual practices) that surrounds it.  My experience has been that religion tends to get in the way of our relationship with God and with our love for our neighbors.

But I also find that my faith is strengthened when I worship with other disciples.  And that has been especially true here in Mexico.

San Patricio by the Sea is an odd faith vehicle -- suited perfectly to the community. 

It is a multi-denominational church drawing worshippers from various religious backgrounds.  Because the services are in English, most of the congegrants are expatriates or tourists -- lots of Canadians, a few Americans, and a sprinking of Mexicans, Australians, Englishmen, and South Africans.

In the winter, the attendance is regularly over 140 on each Sunday.  In the summer we dwindle to a handul -- often in the single digits.  But that is the rhythm of life in Melaque.

And because this is a church that believes strongly in sharing love with our neighbors, I have found many good friends through the church.  Lou and Wynn being prime on that list.

I started this post by saying I have been meaning to write it for some time.  But there is another reason to write it today.

The palapa at the church is no more.  When I drove by on Thursday afternoon, this is what I found.  Fire decided to have its way with the roof.

No one knows what happened -- only that the roof, the wooden contents, and the plastic chairs are no more.  Even the poor palm trees look the worse for wear.

And this is a photograph taken from about the same place as the interior shot posted above (second photograph).  That one was shot this January.  The one below on Friday afternoon.

The rubble is cleared away.  The church board has arranged to meet in the space that until recently was Maya -- one of my favorite restaurants. 

There will be new chairs.  And a reminder that God does not live in buildings.  Nor is a church a building.  A church is people.  Anywhere we worship, He will be there.

And it will be a good reminder to continue showing our love to our neighbors.

Friday, April 15, 2011

following the paper

I just realized, I left you hanging on the outcome of my visa renewal tale.

As I noted in are your papers in order?, I intended to drive to Manzanillo to start the visa renewal process.  And I did.  Drive to Manzanillo,that is.  And started the process.

This is my second renewal.  So, I thought I had the process down.  Even though the office had required different documents on my initial registration and last year's renewal.  And I was partially correct.

When I arrived, there were a few people in front of me.  Including my good friends Lou and Wynn Moody.  They had finished the application process and were simply waiting for the date they needed to return to pick up their new card.  We soon found out.  9 May.

Well, that was not going to work for me.  But that was still three steps away.

The first was to get my application started.  I already had a head start on that.  I had applied on line, printed out my application form, and signed the request letter -- now combined with the application form.  Quite impressive work Mexican Immigration has done.

The clerk patiently took each of my documents -- and asked in English whenever the Spanish term resulted in my very good impression of a clueless expatriate.

The application form.  My mug shots.  A copy of the first page of my passport.  My old FM3 booklet.

"Do you still live at the same address?"


I showed her my lease.  It got a quick glance.  When I tried to show her my constancia de domicilio (that engendered drools last year), she waved it off.  Along with the utility bill.  If I had not moved, no need for the extranea.

"Do you need to see my bank statements?"

"Not this year.  Only after five years."

Great.  All of that could not have taken more than five minutes.  Pleasant.  Efficient.  Professional.

I was then off to the military bank to pay my application fee.  $1,294 (Mx).  No line.  No wait.

To and from the bank was a twenty minute walk.  It was a practically perfect day.

Then came the bump in the road.  The fly in the ointment.  The twist in the knickers.

The clerk told me my card could be picked up on 9 May -- just like Lou and Wynn.

Well, no, I can't.  On 9 May, I will be in the Atlantic Ocean -- almost to the Canary Islands.  I leave on the 29th.

Supervisory huddle.  Very motherly look.  Just this one time, I can get my card expedited.  Be back on 27 April.

And that was quite a concession.  Next week is semana santa (Easter week) in Mexico.  Almost everything shuts down while Mexicans celebrate the Messiah's resurrection by partying on the beach.

The 27th will be cutting matters tight.  But I am certain it will work out.  And, if it doesn't, Mexico allows FM3 holders to leave and return without their card.  But the process for that dispensation is -- onerous.

A denouement will soon be at hand.  The last step in this process will occur -- one way or other.

I am counting on the Manzanillo office.  After all, they have never let me down these past two years.

Hmmm.  Did I just jinx myself?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

surfing alone

Breakfast on the beach.

I could do it every morning.  But I don't.

It is a five minute walk to the beach from my house.  Fifteen minutes more to the restaurants.

But I don't do it very often.  When I do, it reminds me why I chose to move to Melaque.  The sun.  The sand.  The cooling morning breeze. The rhythmic surge of the tide -- as if I had been tucked into some somnolent beast's circulatory system.

It is easy to see how the part-timers are seduced into the paradise myth.  I slip into myself now and then.

I stopped at one of the restaurants this morning after tapping the ATM for pesos.  And I had Goldilocks timing.

Starting on Friday (which will be of the Good variety this week), the vacant beach you see above will be chockablock with tourists.

But not your pale snowbird tourists.  These will be Mexican tourists.  For most of them semana santa (Holy Week; Easter Week) begins on Friday and runs through the rest of next week.

When I lived in Greece, no one paid much attention to Christmas.  But, Easter?  That was a different story.  It was the big religious holiday of the year. 

The same is true of Easter in Mexico.  It is the big event.  As long as you ignore the Buffet of Our Lady of the Painted Cape.

And when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.  I understand why Christmas makes the northern European theological hit list.  The incarnation is an important point.  Lacking any deity qualifications, it just isn't going to happen to me, though.

But, resurrection?  Now, that is something I can celebrate -- and want a piece of.

Of course, that assumes the Mexican families on their way here have weighty religious thoughts on their mind.

They don't.  They will spend Sunday at mass and the rest of the week on the beach indulging in the sins of the sun.

Me?  I am going to enjoy my breakfast today -- and the surf's pounding solitude.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

dancing in my chair

I am in a Latin frame of mind today.

Before I get a big "Duh! You live in Mexico, dude!" from everybody, let me explain.

Our summer has begun.  Not by the calendar.  We will not be there until late June -- just as the rest of the northern hemisphere.

But the reality of summer arrives around here when the keepers of humidity say it is time to rehydrate the Pacific coast of Mexico.  That happened last week.  And it was as predictable as the naked, overweight guy pouring another can of water on the sauna's rocks.

The gills I developed for Oregon rains are coming in handy.  This is salamander weather.  When the shore and ocean gain enough kinship they couldn't even get married in Arkansas.

But it is not just the humidity that puts me in a Latin mood.  After all, this humidity could spell New Orleans just as easily.  And for all of its French and Spanish roots, New Orleans is no more Latin than is Chicago.

For the past hour, three of my neighbors have been in a battle of the boom boxes.  Almost all of it ranchera -- traditional and contemporary.  All at full volume.

My young neighbors to the east of me appear to have won.  In celebration, out comes the mambo -- the dance, not the snake.  And I become one with the music in my chair under the shady mango.

During the music war, I almost pulled out my headphones.  Listening to three music sources in different tempos and on different beats is only slightly less pleasant than listening to Manhattan street noises.

But, like everything else in Mexico, if you are patient, matters sort themselves out.  Usually.

Or they start all over again.  The battle has been rejoined by another boom box across the laguna.

But that is why the siesta was invented.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

driving past

"Wow!  I feel like I'm in Vietnam."

We were driving toward Manzanillo when my Air Force buddy Rob tossed that one out of the blue.

The problem is, I knew exactly what he meant.  I occasionally feel that way myself.  I have another friend who said something similar on a visit.  But he thought he was in The Philippines.

There is something about the tropical Pacific coast of Mexico that starts the search function in the nostalgia file.  It happens to me at least twice a week.

And I came across part of the answer on Saturday.  My blogger friend, John Calypso, recently bought a house in Puerto Escondido.  One of the joys of home ownership is house repairs.  In this case, the roof.  A palapa roof.

You see them everywhere on both coasts of Mexico.  But John gave us a nice history lesson about roof thatching. 

It turns out that the familiar Mexican palapa is not Mexican, at all.  It is one of the imports the Spanish brought from The Philippines.  Another, of course, being the coconut that is not native to Mexico, either.

That helps explain why the thatched roof below looks as if it might be somewhere on Luzon.  When it is really just two lots down from my house.

But there is something more.  Even when there are no palapas to give visual clues, I still get that feeling.

Enlarge the photograph at the top of this post by clicking on it.  That view is on the road to Manzanillo.  In fact, the very spot where Rob had his Vietnam flashback -- and where I have the same thought every time I drive over that hill.

Or this photograph.  Doesn't it speak southeast Asia to you?

The bare rock hills.  The water reflecting the tropical landscape.  The jungle vegetation.

Maybe it is as simple as realizing that coastal areas in the tropics are cousins.  And that is the reason the Spanish imported the palapa to Mexico. 

It is the perfect roof to allow air circulation in humid areas and to keep out torrential rains.  Something that Malaysia, The Philippines, Vietnam and tropical Mexico share.

The part about Rob being positive he saw North Vietnamese regulars sneaking through the rice paddy will have to wait for another session.

Monday, April 11, 2011

grilling the meat

Whenever I start thinking about whether or not I should keep blogging, I run across something like this on the street. 

And I wonder, would I even notice this if I did not have a journal that covets the eccentric confined within the ordinary?

Mexico is filled with all sorts of kitsch like this.  Just think of the objects held sacred that end up on tea towels -- let alone some religious visitation on a tortilla.

But, why not barbecue pig parts over a pig grill.  After all, Los Angeles made a name for itself with novelty architecture.

If you look in the window, you can see the first candidate for roasting standing in the waiting line ready to jump on the grill -- just like a shmoo.

I really need to ask how much it costs.  And then this little piggy can come home from the market.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

at a snail's pace

Good deeds in nature are like anything else in life.

You often do not get to share in the rewards of your work.

Not so with our little swamp.  When we harvested the water lettuce and water hyacinth last year, we saw two immediate results.  And they both arrived on large wings.

The morning after we opened a small patch of the water, I discovered a wading bird I had never seen before.  Mottled brown and white.  And a bit shy.  He was aloft before I could get a good look at him.

At first, I thought he was a variety of ibis because of the down turned beak.  It turns out I was wrong.

He was a limpkin.  And he kept coming back.  Each time a little more confident.

It is amazing that I saw him at all.  According to my bird books and local birders, we are on the border of the limpkin's range.  They are not a common sighting.

More than one lives in the laguna.  You can hear them at night.  Their call is almost like a scream.  Chupacabra stalks in the dark.
But the limpkin was not our only new visitor. 

About a week later, I saw a large black bird with a white tail patch circling the pond.  Mexico has all sorts of eagles and hawks.  But I had never seen one like this.

When I finally got a good photograph of his bill, I decided I knew what he was.  Neither hawk nor eagle.  He was a snail kite.  The hooked beak betrayed his ancestry -- and diet.

But I have a few doubts about his identity. 

With the exception of the bill, he looks a lot like a common black hawk or a solitary eagle.  His build does not look like that of a kite.  And his legs certainly are not the orange tootsies found in bird identification books.

But it is not only his field marks that make me wonder if I have the correct name for him. 

If he is a snail kite, he is out of his range.  The limpkin may have been on the border, but as you can see on this range map, Melaque is not even close to the green area -- the snail kite homeland.

For now, he will be a snail kite.  And if he is, there may be a reason for these two birds to be out of their normal range.  They both feed on apple snails.  And the laguna offers a healthy buffet of snails for both species.

I have never seen one of the apple snails alive.  They have a snorkel that allows them to live underwater most of their life.

But whenever I clean out the vegetation, I find plenty of empty snail shells.

It is easy to see why both birds look for these snails.  They are big.  Almost as large as a man's fist.  I suspect, based on the pierce hole, this snail met its demise on the beak of a kite.

When I picked up the shell, it reminded me of something.  Those escargot kits that you can buy in "gourmet" shops with the empty shells and canned snails.  Having tried them, I suspect the kite is getting a better gastronomic deal.

There is a bit more vegetation to fish out of the inlet.  But, for now, I am going to enjoy the avian rewards that have come our way with a lot of hard work.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

three part hominy

Food is romance.

We fall in and out of love with its various forms over time.

My youthful infatuation with Twinkies and Hostess fruit pies led to irreconcilable differences, divorce, and a very bad taste in my mouth.

I had a brief fling with Brussels sprouts -- those odd little cabbages -- in England.  Just a year.  There is no need to speak of it again.

And then there was hominy.

My family is as Yankee as they come.  Mayflower.  Massachusetts.  Funny hats and even stranger shoes with buckles in all the wrong places.  We learned to eat our corn fresh.  Not after it had been lye-drated.

I had never even seen hominy until a visit to my cousins.  There it was in a bowl on the supper table.  White.  Fat.  Canned.  It looked like mushy corn nuts.  But tasted like aged library paste -- to my elementary school palate.

And that was that.  One date.  The relationship was over.

Those relativists who insist on telling us we cannot say we don't like something until we have tried it -- I tried it.  Didn't like it.

I have been offered hominy only twice since then.  Both times I demurred.

Mexico is the land of corn.  You can (and do) find it in almost every type of food -- including soup.

And prominent in the soup category is pozole.  A soup made primarily of hominy and some form of meat.

Pozole is as Mexican as a food can be.  Before the conquest, the Aztecs created pozole as a sacred dish.  For them, the connection was obvious.  The gods created humans out of corn dough.

But here is the twist.  During their ceremonies to appease the gods, the Aztecs would sacrifice their victims and add the human meat to their ritual corn stew.  The community would then consume the bodies of the victims offered to their gods.  A rather primitive form of communion.

When the Spanish arrived, they frowned on cannibalism.  After all, they had better work for captives than to sacrifice them to Aztec gods.  There were mines to dig and fields to plant.  With slave labor.

Instead of human flesh, pork became the usual meat in pozole.  Another example of the term "long pork" having creepy historical echoes.

I have been tempted to try pozole -- despite the hominy -- for two years.  This week, I finally gave in to curiosity.  After all, I enjoy culinary adventures.  I am always willing to put treats in my mouth -- and it is even better when things are as good or better than I expected.*

Melaque is fortunate to have one of the best pozole restaurants on the west coast.  At least, it once was.  All I know is that it was very good.

I ordered mine with chicken.  But, who knows?  I hear that is exactly how tourist tastes.

* -- The reference to culinary adventures reminded me that I have not told you my eating tales in Mexico City.  I will do that.  Soon.

Friday, April 08, 2011

are your papers in order?

I seem to have misplaced my common sense.

I had a series of small chores to accomplish today.  And they all went well.  By noon, I was done with my list.

But I knew I had two more things to do.  Two things I have been putting off for almost a month.

The first left me no choice.  My FM3 expires in the middle of this month. 

Last year, I applauded Mexico for jumping into the twenty-first century with internet forms for visa renewals.  And I still feel that way.

For some reason, I was simply not in a mood this month for government forms -- the reason will soon be apparent.  With the expiration date coming up almost as fast as my departure date for Rome, I needed to get moving.

I had agreed to accompany my land lady to Manzanillo in the morning to take care of a few chores -- like changing the telephone bill to my name.  And getting a faster internet package (I hope).  I am a bit tired of having each of my photographs take at least fifteen minutes to load.

And it seemed to be a good time to renew my FM3.

With that deadline in mind, I grabbed my Spanish dictionary, dug out my passport, and opened up the required internet site.  It took me less than 20 minutes to get the ball rolling.

In theory, when I show up in Manzanillo tomorrow, the process will have begun.  I will take along my passport (and a copy), my old FM3 booklet, a utility bill and my constancia de domicilio to prove my address, a copy of my lease, and the original and copies of my last three bank statements to prove I have adequate income for an FM3.  And, the item I did not have last year, a copy of my land lady's voter card.

Oh, and one additional item: mug shots.  Because I will get one of the new identity cards, I need front and right portrait photographs to accompany the application.  The photograph that will undoubtedly be used on CNN when I am kidnapped by leftist separtists.

Several people have told me proof of income is no longer required for renewals.  But I am taking mine along.  There are rules -- and then there are practices.

After pulling all of that together, I am looking forward to tomorrow's process.  I hope.

My second task is what has put me off of government forms -- perhaps for the year.

It is tax time.  And no one likes filling out income tax forms.  Even with software packages that streamline the process.

This was an odd income year for me.  I started the year retired.  Then I returned to my old job for six months to train my successor.

I had been an employee for the prior twenty years.  And for each of those years, I received an income tax refund from both the federal and state governments.

But not for 2009 -- my first year of retirement.  I ended up paying a rather hefty pile of Franklins to both governments.

To avoid that result for the 2010 tax year, I upped my withholding amounts from my retirement checks and asked my former employer to take out the maximum in taxes for the six months I was there.

Due to my great planning, I whipped right through the tax preparation software.  Only to discover that I owed almost three times as much in non-withheld taxes than last year.  I ran and re-ran the figures.  They were correct.

That was in early March.  I kept waiting to file my taxes.  I suppose because I was reluctant to part with savings that were the equivalent of buying a late model used car.  As opposed to buying a share in two badly-used governments.

But, today I decided to bite the bullet and slash a financial artery.  And it is done.

It is on days like this that we realize the road from serfdom is a two way street.

But that task is done until next year.

Now I just need to get my visa in order.  Getting deported is not my idea of a great Mexican adventure.

But, who am I to judge?

Note -- I am aware the photograph runs afoul of Godwin's law.  But some things are not to be helped.