Tuesday, May 31, 2011

guns on the highway

They came out of nowhere.

Well, not exactly "nowhere."  I knew where they came from.  The airport access road.  But they were driving so fast it seemed as if they had just appeared.

A white SUV with tinted windows.  With a military jeep in front and back.  And in each jeep, four soldiers in full combat gear with automatic weapons at the ready.

And, as I said already, speeding right along.  The highway between the airport and Manzanillo is a two-lane road posted at 54 MPH.  But this convoy was going between 70 and 80.  And I fell in behind.

For the next twenty miles, cars scattered in front of us.  The same drivers who ignore ambulances paid far more attention to loaded rifles.  The convoy zipped onto the toll road at Manzanillo.  I peeled off into town.

The purpose of all that raw power?  I can only guess.  A politician?  A general?  A drug lord deported from the United States and transported from the airport under arrest or protection?

I never got close enough to the SUV to get any impression.  Nor did I take a photograph.  I thought raising a camera over the steering wheel might be taken as an act of aggression.  One of the soldiers had me fixed in his sight the moment I pulled up behind his jeep.

But it was a stark reminder of the world in which we live.  My British friends often laugh at the mafia don protection the Secret Service supplies on presidential visits overseas.  But there is a reason for it.  There are far more people who would like to down the president than the queen.

And the same is true in Mexico.  The war between the Central government and the drug lords is having visible effects on Mexican society.  Military checkpoints.  Convoys.  And now this little gem.

The three major parties are considering nominating a single candidate for the governorship of Michoacán because there is fear that recent outbreaks there will make an election in November next to impossible to conduct.  In the president's home state.

During my month away from Mexico, I was once again surprised that people were solely interested in Mexico's perceived violence.  When I would attempt to put the violence into the context of my life there -- that it touches me in almost no ways -- they were not interested.

And maybe we expatriates do minimize it.  If it is not affecting us, we feel safe.  I am not so certain whoever was in the SUV felt very secure.

But it is just another factor in my choice to live here.  I can't do much about it.  In fact, I can't do a thing about it.

What I do mourn is that a Mexican president who chose to use arms to support American drug policy is watching a lot of what he admires about his country disappear before his eyes.  Proving, once again, that good intentions in enforcing bad policies simply lead to tears.

And that is truly a tragedy.

Monday, May 30, 2011

remembering the fallen line

Today is Memorial Day.

Not here in Mexico.  But in The States.  The day we celebrate those who have died in the service of our country.

Forty years ago I was on a parade ground in San Antonio as a cadet officer.  Being tested by the heat in a way my patriotism has never been tested.

As the color guard raised the Stars and Stripes on that weekend in late May, I thought about the generations of warriors who died to protect and expand a fledgling republic, who preserved its union, who subdued totalitarian regimes that made Ivan the Terrible look like a choir boy.

And what my place would be.  Whether I was prepared to make the great sacrifice.

As it turned out, I was never called to do that.  But I was about to join the military of one of the two great powers caught in an almost-Manichean struggle that would eventually complete what had been left unresolved in World War Two.  That liberty would trump tyranny.

In the process, I would lose friends and acquaintances on four continents – all fighting the good fight for the country we loved.

I am proud that I served my country.  And I still have that same pride today.

But Memorial Day is not about those of us who served our country and survived.  It is about those who served and died.

Veterans’ Day is for all of us.  But that comes later in the year.  Today – Memorial Day – is reserved for that special group.

And it is those who showed the greatest love of all who I salute.

Job well done.  Without you, we would not be who we are today.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

improving my vocabulary

Now and then I think about writing a novel.  But who doesn’t?  We all think we have a Barbara Cartland hiding in our plummy prose.  Or, worse, a John Grisham.

Having a house on the laguna has proven to be a writer’s mother lode of raw material.  For almost any writing project.

When I returned to the house on Wednesday afternoon, I grabbed a rake and headed out to the laguna to see how much vegetation had grown back in my absence.  Other than a boom in water lily pads, everything was about where I left it a month ago.

While I was fishing out some water lettuce along the shoreline, a group of five or six young boys (I would guess around 8 years old or so) came along the pathway and stopped on the bank above me.

That is not unusual.  The sight of an old, overweight white guy with a gimpy leg mucking around in the marsh always seems to amuse the local kids.

Usually, the boys start a conversation about what I am doing and why I would be silly enough to do it.  But not this gang.  They just stood quietly behind and above me.

Then I heard giggling about the same time I heard the flow of water.  When I turned around, the boy who appeared to be the leader of this lot had his pants down and was trying to urinate on me.

Fortunately, he was not man enough to complete his mission.  Failing that attempt, he started waggling his boy wand at me while reciting a list of Spanish words not commonly used in the presence of mothers.

The other boys took their cue from him and joined in what must be the local version of mooning.

I would have chased them off.  But the best I could do in my position was bark at them and return to my work.  Having lost my attention, they wandered off with their underage Chippendale act.

Now that I think about it, I am not certain I would ever be able to use that incident in a novel.

So, it will have to do as a blog post.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

eggs over hard

Bad news often rides shotgun with good news.  Ready to buck shot its way into the conversation.

That truism came visiting this week on the shores of my laguna.

The good news is I now know the sex of Lumpy – the medium-sized crocodile I have been writing about for the past seven months.

Out of habit, I assumed the crocodile was a guy.  Nasty disposition – and all those other male stereotypes.  Of course, there would be no crocodiles unless some of them were female.  (I do recall some of those biology lessons.)

And it turns out Lumpy is a she.  That is her smiling face at the top of this post.

We know her sex because my neighbor just discovered what she has been up to on our little beach.  She established a nursery in the loose sand – and filled it with just over a dozen crocodile-sized eggs.

I would very much have liked to watch them hatch out – just as my blog pal Sparks did several years ago.  For all I know, Lumpy may have been the mother in his back yard.  It is just around the corner from me.

But it is not to be.  And this is where the bad news elbows its way into the conversation.

For whatever reason, my neighbor decided no baby crocodiles were going to hang around his end of the laguna.  Or maybe he was worried that a maternal Lumpy would show up and do her mother bear impression.

To prevent that, he dug up the eggs, tossed them into the laguna, and hauled away the loose sand to prevent recidivism. The water will drown the embryos – through hypothermia and drowning.  Almost like going down on Titanic.  No cocodrilitos on this beach.

The whole incident saddens me.  For two reasons.

First, it is simply wasteful.  People fear crocodiles.  But crocodiles have far more to fear from us.  We can hunt them, destroy their young, and foul their habitat.  And we do.  It is the same mentality that causes people to reach for a machete whenever they see any snake.

The second reason is far more personal.  And hardly philosophical.  I have not seen Lumpy since the nest was dug up.  But I have not seen little Alfonso either.

Maybe they are taking a crocodile holiday elsewhere in the laguna.  At least, I can hope.  Their presence has added a bit of exotic adventure that I will not get in the highlands.

That is, unless Lumpy wants to ride shotgun with bad news on a road trip to San Miguel de Allende.

Friday, May 27, 2011

things of beauty

"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness;"

So wrote Keats in one of those self-fulfilling prophecies that often dog poets.

He never lived to hear a nice word about his work -- expect perhaps from his pal Shelley.  As far as his critics were concerned his poems simply were not "a thing of beauty."

My friend Jordan and I were discussing the notion of "beauty" when applied to art. We had just viewed Michelangelo's Pietà -- a work often labeled as "beautiful."

I have always admired the artistic skill so evident in the piece.  The contrast of Mary's eternal youth with the lifeless body of her son.  The soft flows of Mary's clothes -- carved from marble.

But it has never struck me as beautiful.  Certainly not in the same sense of Donatello's Mary Magdalene.  Donatello’s Mary has found an inner peace through her suffering.  What Euripedes called "being of one's hour."  Or what the Quakers call “peace at the center.”

I thought of that conversation on my trip back to Mexico.  My check-in line was held up while a couple took their merry time with the counter clerk.  Papers changed hands.  Credit cards appeared and disappeared.  Five minutes stretched into twenty.

But the time is not what struck me about them.  They were of The Beautiful People.  She was at least six feet tall with one of those figures that make people stop and stare.  And she knew it -- with her choice of white pants that could have been airbrushed onto her legs.

When she turned, I recognized the face from some ad or other.  It turned out she was a well-known super model and her companion was the owner of a model agency.

I do not encounter many people with the type of good looks that oozes entitlement.  Their stance at the ticket counter was one of nonchalance.  As if their transaction holding up the line was our problem not theirs.

The ticket clerk was in awe of them.  When I walked up, it was almost as if I had broken a magic spell.  As if an evil troll had entered her life.
The same phenomenon happened on the airplane.  The flight attendant stood and talked with them for at least half of the flight -- ignoring the rest of her cabin charges.

It was interesting to watch.  What is it about superficial beauty that attracts people?  I say superficial because I could hear the conversation.  It was the type of pedestrian nonsense that often causes me to nod off in mid-sentence.  But the flight attendant was as rapt as a cobra in a mongoose's stare.

Maybe this attraction to pretty faces is nothing more than our worship of the unattainable.  For the same reason that my liberal friends went all gaga about a royal wedding in Britain.  As if we had backed the wrong horse 235 years ago.

And I must admit I did my share of staring.  She was a beautiful woman.
But my last sight of them sums up my thoughts on such fading qualities as face beauty.  While they were waiting for their luggage, they decided to sit down far from we common, plain folk.  There they sat like aliens from some elven planet.

Separate.  Alone.  As the rest of the world went about its every day business.  Paying them little heed.

Sometimes a thing of beauty is not for ever.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

counting my pits

When you read this, I will probably be in the air – on my way back to Melaque.

I have now been away from my laguna for almost a full month.  With stays in Florida.  Tenerife.  Mallorca.  Corsica.  Rome.  Reno.  Lake Tahoe.  And let’s not forget Los Angeles.

The old cliché is that travel broadens.  In my case, it has certainly broadened my waistline.  But I have also learned about places I have never visited.  I have learned  my physical limitations with my year-old ankle break.  But, more than that, I have learned the joy of good friends. My three traveling companions taught me a lot about myself.

Just before I left Melaque, I made a list of the things I wanted to bring back from The States.  I have noticed the list gets shorter with each trip north.  I have either found suitable substitutes in Mexico – or I have learned to deal without.  Mostly the latter.

When I went shopping in Reno, I discovered I left my list behind.  I bought a few food items to take south.  But that was it.  My stay in Mexico has taught me what I can live without.  Quite a bit.


But one temptation was far too much for me.  Roy and I stopped at Costco -- where we discovered one of my favorite treats.  Cherries.  They are not yet as rich as mid-season cherries.  But my share (almost all of it) of that three-pound container will now hold me until next season.

I suspect you may not see a new post for a couple of days as I get settled into my Mexican rhythm.  But there will be more.

You can count on it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

gambling on the future

For the past week, I have been in Nevada – my legal residence since January.

My friends and cruise buddies, Roy and Nancy, live in Reno and own a condominium at Lake Tahoe.  We have been splitting our time between the flat land and the mountains.

My initial reason for moving to Nevada was to leave Oregon’s ridiculously-high income tax behind.  After all, now that I live in Mexico, I am getting absolutely no services from Oregon.  It makes little sense to donate 11% of my income to Governor Kitzhaber.  I can find charities far more worthy.

Instead, I have traded the conifer green of the Willamette Valley for the silver gray of the Washoe hills.

Reno has a subtle beauty.  Especially, in the late spring.  The sage and desert flowers create waves of color that Monet would love.

If Reno’s beauty is low key, Lake Tahoe’s is smack dab in your face.  Nancy calls it “the most beautiful place in America.”  She may be correct.

The combination of the mountains surrounding this mile-high lake is hard to beat.  Like most large lakes, Tahoe has its moods.  Dependent upon the sun and the wind.  The blue hues run from the color wheel.

The highlight of this visit was a trip to Emerald Bay on the west shore.  I will let the photographs carry the tale.  But only after I tell you a tale that sums up why Roy and Nancy are such good friends.

On Sunday we drove from the condominium over to Emerald Bay on the type of road that pays more homage to scenery than to safety.  But the risk was worth it.  Glaciers have gouged out an inlet that is unique on the lake.

I started shooting away with my camera. After two shots, the camera warned me it did not have storage space.  I knew immediately what I had done.  I left the storage chip in my computer – at the condominium. 

I was prepared to merely enjoy the experience without my camera.  But Roy and Nancy offered to drive all the way back to the condominium to get my storage card.  I was touched.

So, off we went.  On the way, we decided to stop at an office supply store.  I was able to buy a replacement chip – and back we went over the risky road.

I will leave it to you to determine if the drive was worth it.

For me, it was.  In friendship – if nothing else.

Monday, May 23, 2011

the pope’s eggs

About a week before I left on my cruise, I was eating breakfast at my neighborhood café in Melaque. The menu at La Rana is rather limited.  As a result, I had fallen into a morning routine of huevos rancheros.

I asked the owner, who does not speak English, why he did not serve eggs Benedict.  He knew I was heading to Italy.  On a whim, I said: “You could call them huevos del Papa.”

He laughed and laughed.  Fully appreciating my double pun.  He suggested I should check with the current Bishop of Rome to see if the name was trademarked.

Well, I never brought the topic up with the Pope – because we do not seem to travel in the same social circles.  But we did see quite a bit of Rome in our two days there.

My house sitter, who was also on the cruise, had not visited Rome.  He wanted to see as much as he could in the limited time we had.  We jumped on one of the circuitous tour buses that serve almost every major European city.

The buses are a good deal.  They drive through the city stopping at major sights.  Riders can get on or off whenever they like.

We spent the first afternoon doing that.  Unfortunately, a steady rain kept us on the bus for the full circuit.  As well, as keeping us soaked.  When the rain stopped, we spent our evening walking around Vatican City.

The next day (Monday) was the only full day we had in Rome.  We started the day with a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica – the largest church in the world.  With one of the longest admission lines I have ever seen.  It swept from the main door across the piazza and almost all the sway back to the church. 

The church is an architectural wonder, designed by some of Renaissance Italy's best architects – including Michelangelo's dome.  But I find the place soulless.  I attribute that to my prejudice against large public buildings.  Especially places of worship.

In the case of St. Peter’s, it may be because the place was built with the sale of indulgences.  The now-discredited practice of selling get-out-of-purgatory cards to the type of people who are silly enough to sell their earthly goods to hucksters who claim inside information on the rapture.

But the place is a veritable art museum from Michelangelo's Pietà to John XXIII’s oddly-paraffinic corpse to the tomb of the Stuart English king and his pretender descendants.

Our second stop was supposed to be the Vatican Museum with a culture vulture swoop to see the Sistine Chapel.  That idea was spiked when we encountered the three-hour waiting line.  I was not disappointed to miss seeing the restoration that I fear has destroyed a good deal of what Michelangelo intend to include in his plaster painting.

Instead, we declared a truce with Catholic Rome and headed off the more satisfying treats of Ancient Rome.  That was fine with my house sitter.  The Colosseum topped his list.  So, off we went.


I have long been infatuated with Ancient Rome – the Republic far more than the Empire.  When I first visited Rome, I stayed in the Colosseum for hours.  For two reasons.

The first is the construction of the place.  It is huge -- covering six acres.  With a capacity of 86,000, the building’s design and ticketing process allowed spectators to quickly enter and exit the building.  Modern architects have used several of the design principles to construct modern sports arenas.

It was an active venue for 400 years – falling into disrepair as a result of earthquakes and invasions.  What we see today is a mere shell of what was once one of the wonders of the world.  Most of the place was torn down to provide building materials for Renaissance Rome.

The second factor that focused my attention on the Colosseum was its purpose.  There is a common belief – supported by the Catholic Church – that the Colosseum was the site where most Christian martyrs died at the hands of gladiators and wild animals.

There is no doubt that the Colosseum presented many spectacles that resulted in the death of many gladiators, criminals, political prisoners, and wild animals.  There are records showing that thousands of animals were killed in single days.

And there is no doubt that thousands of Christians died horrible deaths at the hands of imperial Rome – all because of their belief.  But there are no records that those deaths occurred in the Colosseum.  It appears that the legend of the Christian martyrs in the Colosseum started in the Middle Ages.

I am not certain how many times I have visited the Colosseum.  But this visit was a highlight.

Some things are ruined by repetition.  And the remnants of the Roman Forum fall in that category.  I enjoyed showing it off, but it was a bit boring to me this visit.


One site in Rome, though, never tires me.  The Pantheon.  The only building of Ancient Rome that remains fully intact.  Built to be a temple for all of the Roman gods, it is now a Roman Catholic church as well as the burial place of Italy’s first two kings and one of Italy’s greatest Renaissance artists, Raphael.

The first time I entered the Pantheon, I had a sense the place was special.  Not in a spiritual sense.  But in a spatial sense.  My instincts were correct.  The building has a large dome – the largest concrete dome in the world.  The diameter of the dome is exactly the same as the distance from the dome to the floor.


That mathematical precision creates a perceptible sense of order.  A right-brain monument.  Thomas Jefferson was so impressed with the building that he used it as a model for his home, Monticello, and his design for the University of Virginia.

What I did not see in Rome was huevos del Papa.  I had to wait for that until I got to Lake Tahoe.  But that it is tale that will wait for another day.

Friday, May 20, 2011

hookless in mallorca

“Hottest real estate deals in Spain.  You can’t afford not to buy.”

We were sitting in the cigar lounge of the Queen Mary 2 in 2006.  He had one of those true believer voices – somewhere between Rapture predictor and infomercial barker.  It didn’t take me long to figure out he financed his expatriate stay in Mallorca with real estate commissions.

His fervor was not contagious .  At least, not for me.  Mallorca never made it to my “see this and die” list.

I have been to Spain numerous times.  But never to Mallorca – the largest of Spain’s islands in the Mediterranean.  So, I was pleased to see it was one of the few stops on my transatlantic crossing.

Like most cruise ports, the time on shore was very short.  Instead of trying to take another rushed bus tour, four of us decided to walk through the capital (La Palma) to get a feel for the place.


For the past few days, I have tried to find a hook for this piece.  To no avail.

The town was pleasant enough – a Mediterranean port dripping with Euro-wealth.  After all it is one of the spots where the well-to-do come to let down their overly-coifed hair.  The King of Spain has a palace there.

But, like Oakland, if there was a there, it wasn’t there when we were.

We saw the usual sights.  The cathedral.  The royal palace.  The broad tree-lined pedestrian boulevard where children chased pigeons.  Dogs jealously eyed the children.  And older faces content in their wisdom passed by.  A pleasant day.  But not a highly memorable one.

As I think back on the day, what I will remember most is the four of us sitting down for a snack at a marina-side café.  I know this is starting to sound like an eat-your-way-to-and-through-Europe blog, but I brought home a great suggestion for future meals.

One of my favorite treats was a bit of goat cheese on a small piece of toast topped with an anchovy, a caper, and a bit of olive oil.  A rather traditional dish for Mallorca. 

What I would like to do is experiment by combining the cheese, capers, and olive oil into a pâté to spread on toast.  I might even toss in a
jalapeño to add a Mexican twist.  Or a bit of quince jam.

And maybe that is the hook.  The stop in Mallorca was not about touring the sights.  It was about developing the future.

For a quick cruise, that may be good enough. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

getting short with the bonapartes

Corsica is a boost for those of us who are vertically challenged.

After all, the eponymous manifestation of the short complex came from this island.  The Big N.  Monsieur Bonaparte himself.

I thought Corsica would be a veritable Napoleon museum.  It isn’t. 

The house where he lived as a child is there.  And the “palace” where he sent pillaged works of art to his Uncle Joe.  Plus a handful of statues of the Emperor dressed in various costumes.

But that is about it.  There may be more Napoleon paraphernalia in Baltimore.

I must confess I have a soft spot for the little dictator.  After all, if he had not run riot over Europe, the continent may have remained a checkerboard of minor principalities with hyphenated names providing a breeding ground for spouses of Queen Victoria’s descendants.

No Germany.  No Italy.  And maybe no World Wars I or II.

The Corsicans we met were not too happy with their home-boy-made-good.  They want to be free of France.  And His Shortness was about as French as Armagnac.

Fortunately, Corsica offers the very antithesis of French sophistication.  It must be one of the most rugged areas of Europe.  That may be because the tradition of vendetta (confusingly pronounced “bandita” by our guide) has kept the human population in check. 

In one 35 year period, the residents slaughtered one-quarter of their neighbors over land, honor, or merely an old-fashioned insult.  That was in the 1700s.  But dead chromosomes now lead to lifeless family tree branches.


Rather than spend our short stay in the rather pedestrian town of Ajaccio, we took a bus tour up into the interior mountains.  They are as beautiful as anything Arkansas has on offer.

Bus tours in Corsica have their own unique rhythm.  Long drives with short stays at destinations.  And the inevitable eccentric stops – often at shops associated with the tour guide. 

In our case, it was a 15-minute stop in a gravel parking lot with no view – even though 5 minutes earlier we had passed viewpoints with stunning vistas.

But the scenery on the tour was a fair trade for that minor annoyance.

The high point of the trip was a snack stop at a railway station high in the mountains.  Our guide shepherded most of the bus flock into a typical tourist eatery that would not frighten cautious Americans.

Three of us decided to visit the shoddy inn across the dirt road.  And as Robert Frost wrote: “And that has made all the difference.”

The place could have been right out of a Cocteau film.  Rustic outdoor seating.  Dappled light through aged elms.  A young proprietress with a baby in a play pen and a rattish dog curled in its bed.

A guitar and steep mountains with vertiginous water falls completed the pastoral cliché.


While our bus mates ate burgers and fries, we folded into a salad made of local cured meats (primarily made of chestnut-fed pigs) and goat cheese.

Good friends.  Good food.  Good scenery.  A practically perfect experience.

Would I go to Corsica again?  I doubt it.  It is beautiful.  But it offers mere remoteness.  That I can get in Melaque.

And, in Melaque, I am one tall dude.  If Napoleon had grown up there, he may have left Europe alone.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

the canary sings

After assuming the vice-presidency, John Adams told a story about two brothers.  One went to sea.  The other became vice-president.  Neither was heard from again.

Well, I have never been vice-president, but I have been at sea. For the past seven days.

We are now in Tenerife.  One of the Canary Islands.  Our first land fall.  We will then have two seas days, and stops at Majorca, Corsica, and Rome.

So far, these seven days at sea have been what I have come to expect from cruises.  Mediocre (and painfully abundant) food – with the excerption of some outstanding meals in the specialty restaurants.  Indifferent entertainment.  And plenty of time to either sit alone in the sun and read – or to develop old and new friendships.

If that sounds like my life in Melaque, you will not be far from the mark.  With one exception.  The sea.  For whatever reason, being surrounded by water on a giant ship offers its own therapy – for the psyche, if not the waistline.

This is my third trip to Tenerife.  In the past, I have visited the island’s star natural attraction – Mt. Teide.  The tallest mountain in Spain.

It is a magnificent place.  Like most volcanoes, you get a taste for how fiery mountains can remake the landscape.  But I come from a place where volcanoes created next to every vista.

This trip was different.  Roy suggested a tour of the various gardens of the island.  And it was a wise choice.  We both strongly dislike bus tours. but this one was fine – mainly because the bus was only half-populated.

To get to the three gardens we viewed, the bus took us through several of the villages on the north and west sides of the island.  The place is beautiful with its European towns, pocket-sized banana plantations, and vistas with steep hills slipping into some very rough surf.

I am always on the lookout for my next retirement home – and Tenerife may make the list.  It is beautiful.  Surrounded by water.  And has a strong cultural life.

Monday, May 02, 2011

smelling the past

Lt. Col "Bill" Kilgore may have loved "the smell of napalm in the morning."

My military tastes were more catholic.  At least, more aeronautical.

For me, it was the smell of JP4 in the evening.  A muggy Texas evening walking the flight line and listening to the engines run up.

That memory came tumbling back to me Sunday evening while I walked back to the motel from dinner.  The road borders on the end of the night's incoming flight path.  Watching the cyclops eye of the landing aircraft drug me back down the time tunnel.

In Laredo, I needed to watch my step for tortoises and rattlesnakes.  My only wildlife companion last night was a frightened swamp raccoon.  Not even mosquitoes.

Sunday was my first opportunity to meet a group of people I have come to know over the past year.  I have never met any of them in person.  They are members of a message board dedicated to the cruise that starts Monday afternoon.

We met at a traditional tourist haunt known for its crab choices.  I ended up walking down the airport road because the restaurant was less than two miles away -- and I could use the exercise. 

It even gave me an opportunity to use my GPS in walking mode.  The fact that the trip was almost a straight line is irrelevant.  I wanted to use my gadgety boy toy.

I am rather snooty when it comes to eating crabs.  Golden and blue soft shells may have their advocates, but I have never found anything tastier than a dungeness.  The restaurant kept me from choosing my favorite.  They were out of dungeness.  So, I tried a bucket of garlic blue crabs.

I should not have bothered.  The taste was fine.  But I had forgotten how much work it is to get at the small morsels of meat embedded in those shells.  I have eaten meatier insects.  (And that is what crabs always remind me of.)

Simple food is my favorite.  Deboned chicken being the very symbol of what simple food should be.

And I ended up wearing a good deal of the butter on my dockers.  But that is what the laundry is for on the ship.  I am certainly not going to worry about the possibility of wearing spotty pants.

But I did not really go to the restaurant to eat.  I went there to meet some of the people I will be spending the next 13 nights with.  So far, the group is as you would anticipate.  A mixed bag.  With lots of great potential dining and adventure partners.

Sunday was my last night on land.  Monday I will get on the ship around noon and be on my way to Italy by 4.

I look forward to talking with you again -- on the high seas.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

eating my way to italy

I like southern Florida.  A lot.

I have been here for political conventions.  Hurricane recovery.  Military assignments.  And as the embarkation point for several cruises.

Today I am in Fort Lauderdale – waiting to board a cruise ship on Monday to cross the Atlantic to Italy. 

I flew out of Manzanillo To Los Angeles on Friday afternoon – and then flew overnight to Florida.  I have this thing about sleeping on airplanes.  I just don’t.  On buses, I snooze the sleep of the innocent.  On airplanes I am as wide awake as a B-52 gunner.

For this trip, I decided to arrive in Fort Lauderdale two days early.  For once, I wanted to arrive on board a cruise ship fully relaxed.

On Saturday morning I arrived at my motel at 7 – fully expecting to be told I would need to wait until the check-in time of 1.  But my lack of faith was rewarded.  My room was ready.

It is nothing fancy.  I chose this $60 motel over the $250 hotels on the beach knowing that I would merely sleep and post here.  For that, it is adequate.  Even with its lack of air conditioning.

And nothing more than adequate.  Location is its primary advantage and disadvantage.  It is close to the airport and the cruise terminal.  But it is also located amidst primarily commercial property and bisected by carotid traffic lanes.

The fact that the local sheriff appears to have a reserved spot for a patrol car is only a bit unnerving.

I took a quick nap, and then my friend, Roy, (who is going on the cruise along with his wife, Nancy) stopped by.  We had a serious mission to accomplish.

We were in Miami.  We were hungry.  And that adds up to one thing.  We needed to make a trip to Versailles – our favorite Cuban restaurant in town.


And it did not disappoint. 

I ordered ropa vieja – the same Cuban beef dish I enjoyed in Mexico City just before the onset of my stomach episode.  But I knew the Versailles version would be better.  And it was.

In celebration of dining with my good friend, I did something I have not done in a long time.  I ordered dessert.  A traditional rice pudding.  It was fine, if a bit too sweet.  But it topped off a great dinner.

We picked up Nancy at the airport and they then returned me to my motel.  On the drive back, I noticed a barbecue joint just over a mile away.

Coming to Miami and not having a Cuban meal would be a shame.  Coming to the south and not having barbecue would be a travesty.

So, I walked over to Li’l Red’s for supper. 

The presence of that apostrophe was enough to let me know I should be getting the real deal.  Plus the fact that the place does not look like much from the outside.  Show me a shiny barbeque joint, and I will show you the site of the next Starbucks.

Now, I know there are southerners who believe southern Florida is no more part of the south than is Brooklyn.  But they are wrong.  It may be more sophisticated than Tallahassee, but it still knows how to do the basics.

I had a barbeque pork sandwich with the inevitable choice of two sides.  French fries and baked beans.

As is often the case with southern cooking, the plate arrived with enough food for two people.  But more than quantity, it was the quality that still sticks with me as I sit here writing.  And all for just over $8.

The down side is that on the walk back to the motel, I felt as if I should be rolled up over the freeway overpass.  It is not a good sign to be stuffed before a cruise begins.

Tomorrow, Nancy, Roy, and I are going to have dinner with one of his high school buddies.  And I will then have supper with some of my fellow cruisers.

When we sail on Monday, I will do my best to keep in touch with you.  That much I promise.  I will try.