Monday, October 31, 2011

making stuff up

Sleepless nights lead to late mornings.

I am sitting at my favorite table in La Rana (The Frog) waiting for a serviceable version of heuvos rancheros

La Rana tends to be a hangout for Canadians – and the few Americans who venture to Melaque.  (I was tempted to use “gringo,” but I am simply not in a mood to start another debate on whether the appellation applies to Canadians, or whether a gringo should ever use as term that the sensitive find derisive.)

But things are different this morning.  The Frog is hosting Mexican diners.  A realtor and his three children.  And an older family of four.  From Autlán.  Famous as the home town of Juan Corona – the serial killer, not the inventor of Mexican beer.

I like the change.  Despite the owner’s well-intentioned, but vaguely apartheidish, attempts to use flags to lure northern tourists, The Frog has a distinctly local flavor this morning.  Instead of the usual leaden and flat consonants, the conversation is filled with a torrent of soft vowels.  A language far more fitted to gossip and seduction than accounting and financial journals.

But accounting was under way.  At least, with the realtor’s children.  The oldest boy was cross-examining his father on the sweeter aspects of Halloween -- and wondering why such a blissful custom did not happen here.

It does.  At least, a beachhead has been taken.

I see a few Halloween decorations about.  Some children will show up at my gate tonight asking for candy (or money) in the few words of English they have learned.  Never with costumes.  As if they were government agents.

And the purists need not decry the loss of local customs.  My little village does not indulge itself in many of the highland customs that entrance northern tourists -- such as, Day of the Dead.  So, it is prime pickings for a holiday steeped in Celtic, rather than Hispanic, traditions.

While I listened to the boy Perry Mason his dad, I started thinking about what I would be doing if I still lived up north.  To start with, I would not be eating breakfast at 10:30.

Had I not left Salem, I would have been at work for three hours.  Probably in my second meeting of the day.  Dispensing sage advice.  And believing that all of it actually added up to something meaningful.  An existentialist void wearing a Yankee mask of purpose.

But there would also be people.  Friends.  Acquaintances.  Ready to share dinner at El Gaucho.  With a good story or two.  Or, even better, a lie.

But my self-indulgent reverie has come to an end.

My plate is empty, the bill has arrived -- and the laguna is still filled with water cabbage. 

My Sisyphean attentions are needed elsewhere.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

clocking my time

My word to myself is not very good.

I told myself I was not going to waste space by writing about the end of Mexican daylight saving time.  After all, it is not very blogworthy, it happens every year.

But here I am, at the official 2 AM changing point, just itching to switch my bedside clock back one hour.  Of course, I am up at this time almost every night.  And, yes I know, I can do it anytime.  But you know -- I am a sucker for official acts. 

The only news is the same as last October.  Mexico gets its hour back tonight.  Canada and The States will not get theirs for another week.  So, my contacts up north will once again be time challenged.

OK.  I changed the clock.  Now I am going to sleep for an extra hour.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

dogs and fairies

Once upon a time --

A beautiful princess named -- oh, let’s call her Diane -- lived in a kingdom far away in The Great Frozen North.  Beautiful, that is, in a biker bar waitress sense.

She was destined to live a life as happily ever after as any princess could live in a land where birds helped with the housework and dogs were wise counselors.

But, as in all tales of this sort, an older woman showed up.  Miffed about a misdirected party invitation or upset about ingenue beauty, we will never know.

What we do know is that poor Princess Diane found herself waking up in a tropical land where she could not speak the language.  And where, what she called “those people,” did not treat animals as she knew they should be treated.

What had seemed to be sensitivity in The Great Frozen North, in her exile, suddenly seemed like self-righteousness.  She alone needed to set right the imbalance between people who were not nice to animals.

So, the princess who would have tossed in bed with the presence of a pea, changed herself into a thief.  Someone is threatening a dog with a stick?  Steal it.  Or what appears to be a starving puppy?  Steal it.  Or someone is training a fighting cock?  Buy it.

Pretty soon she was a princess with a menagerie of animals -- none of whom could help her with her chores or advise her on her next step.  So, she started doling out animals to people she hoped were as sensitive as she thought herself to be. 

Of course, they weren’t.  It is one of the delusions of self-righteousness.  Being nice is nowhere near the same thing as being good.

And she knew things had come full circle when she stole two kittens and had to leave them stuffed in a box at the front door of a woman who did know the difference between being nice and being good -- and doing the right thing.

When last seen, poor Princess Diane was dressed in a black cloak carrying an apple looking for Snow White. 

Because today’s princess is merely tomorrow’s sorceress.

Note:  The photograph at the top of this post was shot by Nancy Dardarian and posted on her blog: Countdown to Mexico.  It has set on my desktop for months waiting for just the right story.  And here it is.

Friday, October 28, 2011

languid laguna

The laguna is starting to fill.

And it is its own performance art. 

Not the type that upsets taxpayers when they discover their hard-earned money has been shelled out to a woman smeared in chocolate syrup reciting her own poetry translated into Urdu.

Nope.  The natural kind.

This year the laguna was opened to the sea to mitigate the flood damage that was expected from the recent tropical storm.  It worked.  To a degree.  If it had breached on its own, the flooding would have been far worse.

As a result of The Great Flush, the laguna’s character took on a Jekyll-Hyde switch.  Though it is hard to tell which is which.

With the water went the water hyacinth and water cabbage in the main channel.  And all sorts of garbage, snakes, spiders, crabs, and fish.  Maybe even the odd crocodile.

For the crocodiles, the drain was a boon.  They had their own beach free from human bother.

But that is all gone.  The water is rising.  And things are returning to normal.  The crocodiles are now destined to skulk through the tule.

Without its hyacinth-cabbage cover, the water surface reflects the natural beauty parade around its shore.


And the wildlife is returning.  Some of them new to me, like this ringed Kingfisher doing a credible Woody Woodpecker impersonation.  A shot that somehow reminds me of my friend Howard Platt and how much I miss him at moments like this.

Or this great Egret.  The Norma Desmond of the waders.

Even this Everglades Kite is new.  I am accustomed to seeing the male, but I think this is the first time I noticed the female.  Maybe I was wrong about him being a rogue loner.  He may not be the compatriot I thought he was.

Even my little inlet is coming back to life.  With a little more water, I may be able to gather up the dead cabbage and snag the living rafts.

It would be nice to start a new cycle with a clean surface.  Before my friend the crocodile returns in full residence.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

eve should have tried this


Odd word that. 

On its own, it smacks of pinch-nosed Puritans clunking their way through Plymouth Colony in their not-so-comfortable shoes constantly worried about the state of their salvation while condemning anyone who was having the semblance of a good time. 

It is no coincidence that dour and sour are one consonant away from being Castor and Pollux.

But marry up that word with a tasty noun, and the little tug boat adjective pushes its noun into the heart of hedonism.

Sour cream, for instance.  (For a recent take on that union take a look at Felipe's Avocados and sour cream.)  The very essence of ambrosia.

But some marriages are far more complex than others -- the Windsors spring to mind.  As does sour orange.

I have one.  A sour orange tree, that is.  It is rather stunted due to the shade thrown by the paternalistic Flamboyant tree.  But it survives to throw its fruit.

When unripe, the oranges could be substituted for limes.  They are that acidic.  When ripe, they have a bit of sweetness.  Not much.  About the same measure you would expect to find in Joan Crawford's maternal well.

For the past two seasons, the oranges have gone to waste.  And that is too bad.  When I was in Oregon, I used them in my Cuban dishes.  There was no reason to let the harvest rot.

Making a Cuban marinade is easy.  Sour oranges.  Garlic (lots of garlic).  A bit of vinegar.  And a nice mixture of fresh ground black pepper, oregano, and cumin.  Swooshed together in an overnight bath for the chosen meat.

The marinade is not very particular.  Beef.  Pork.  Chicken.  They all work well with a marinade that is not the least bit subtle.

Baking is the preferred method for most recipes.  But I was in a fusion mood the other night.  Stir fried chicken Cubano sounded just about right.

One reason I like stir fry is that I get to grab fresh vegetables at the market.  Tomatoes.  Carrots.  Little zucchini.  Onion.  Serrano peppers.

Somewhere along the line I heard the voice of  my friend Carrol.  She once told me that men have a tendency to misread the effect of ingredients on each other.  To that I plead guilty.  I once made a salad dressing with mint and basil.  The combination was a disaster.  I would have been better using essence of lawn grass.

In this instance, the combination was not bad -- even though the acid in the marinade and the acid in the tomatoes did create an interesting taste choreography.

Poured over the top of multicolored farfalle, there was nothing understated for either the tongue or the eye.  One of those experiments that could have easily ended up in the trash can as on the dinner platter.  In this case, it was a success -- rather than a learning experience.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

two worlds -- one me

Reality is not absolute.  It is relative.

Or so I have come to believe from leading my life -- and then reading about that life as perceived by people who are not here.

Despite what you may be thinking, I am not about to launch into the relationship between time and quantum physics.  Michael Crichton already did that -- to the cost of his reputation.

Almost every expatriate in Mexico has a local computer message board.  Ours is called TomZap.  And an active board it is.  Made up of Mexican citizens, full-time expatriates, part-time visitors, and people who wish they could be counted amongst any of the other three groups.

The big topic recently, of course, has been hurricane Jova, its effects, and aftermath.

As you know from reading my posts, I am very pleased with how quickly the residents of Melaque shook off the effects of the flooding the town experienced.  Within days, the shops and streets in the business districts were clean.  And everything was about as normal as things can be in our little village once the usual stream of commerce was reconnected.

But to read the comments on TomZap, you would be inclined to believe that a large portion of our town had suffered devastating, unrecoverable damage.

Now, I know much of that comes from the feeling of helplessness that people feel when things or people they like are facing what seems to be tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.  I understand the sentiments.  Our congregation felt the same way about our pastor’s family and the other people who were battered and  baptized by the Red River earlier this year.

Today I decided to try a little experiment.  I drove out to the Manzanillo airport to imagine I was one of the winter crowd arriving after my departure last March.  What I knew about the flood was what I read on TomZap.

I would not have been shocked by anything at the airport.  There are a few missing tiles on the front of the airport's overhang.  But work is underway.  Nothing even noteworthy.

On the 2 mile drive to the highway, everything looked as it should.  It is a natural wetland -- and it is wet.  But about halfway to the highway, this field appears.

To the uninitiated eye, it looks like an empty field.  But it is supposed to be (and was before the flood) filled with truck farm crops.  Usually peppers.  It now looks as out of place as a missing tooth in Kate Moss’s smile.

And then, almost to the intersection, things start looking a bit more Irwin Allen-ish.  Where there was once a cloverleaf intersection, there is now a collapsed highway ramp.  That is the photograph at the top of this post.

The river that lost the construction-wrenching water is over a mile away from the ramp.  Not surprisingly, there was plenty of flood damage the closer I got to the river.

This jumble of flotsam was once an Army checkpoint on the river border to Jalisco.  Where surly young soldiers once asked for papers. there are toppled trees. 

Repair teams have done a marvelous job of cleaning up the area and repairing the several hundred feet or road that was simply washed away.

And this is where all of that water was supposed to stay -- the river between the states of Jalisco and Colima.  I apologize for the “airplane window” view, but I was driving and shooting at the same time.

Much to my surprise, Cihuatlan, the equivalent of our county seat, was open for business.  It was a surprise because even with our normal summer rains, Cihuatlan’s streets are choked with sand.

Cihuatlan suffers the same issue as New Orleans.  Its geography recurringly argues against a city being there.  In Cihuatlan’s case, it is its presence on a narrow floodplain below steep hills and above a wandering river.

In the Jova flood, tons of sand washed down the hills choking the streets while the river rose flooding the city.  What the river did not wash away was buried in a combination of sand and silt that needed to be removed before it hardened into an almost concrete formation.

And removed it was.  Actually, the sand gets removed every time there is a rain -- right back to the top of the hill from whence it came.  President Obama may want to take note.  Cihuatlan has its own seasonal stimulus built into its sand heaps.

But our recently arrived visitors would see none of that.  What they would see are the same piles of sand (though they are a bit higher and more numerous) awaiting transport to the top of the hill -- just like any other year.

Once I left town on the way to Melaque, it was possible to see what the river did on the Jalisco side of the floodplain.  There are hectares of coconut plantations.  And under the palms are banana plants.  A very clever use of Mexico’s scarce agricultural space.

The problem is that most of the banana plants are now gone.  Snapped off by the flow of the flood water.

So, if the new arrivals are looking for signs of bad weather, they will find them.

On the other hand, they will also discover that Melaque is ready for them.  The San Patricio plaza was under water and covered by mud just a few days ago.  It is now ready to receive its winter visitors.

Was the flood bad?  You bet it was.  And once the grand gesture of immediate charity is done, people will start forgetting that there is an ongoing economic issue.

This area lives off of tourists and agriculture.  The flood just stripped the area of a full cycle of crops.  They are gone.  And so is the revenue that would have come from those crops.

Like most middle income nations, Mexico’s revenue flow is lightly balanced.  It will take some time to get back into a regular cycle.

And that is why the tourists that come to Melaque offer some of the best opportunities to help make up some of that revenue.  I intend to eat out more often and to leave a bit more folding money on the table as tips. 

After all, 20% is a real easy calculation for my ever-aging mind.  A small price to pay for a view like this.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

sweat on the sand

It is hot in Melaque.

No.  That's not correct.  It should be hot in Melaque.  This is October.

Melaque has two seasons.  Hot and unbearably hot.

Hot runs from October through April.  Unbearably hot from May through September -- with moments of just hot when the rains arrive.

The calendar says the hot season should be here.  The arrival of northern short-term tourists underlines the expectation.  It is October and the voice of the Canadian is heard throughout the land.

But it is still unbearably hot.  As I draft this post, the temperature is 90 degrees.  The humidity is 70%.  There are enough drops of sweat on my reporter’s notepad to confuse it with a tween girl’s diary.

One of the benefits of our recent storm was a period of cool weather.  But the price for comfort was far too high.  I have already written about the flooding and the laundry project Christine initiated (laundress to the stars).  The reappearance of the sun has helped us get loads of laundry dry and back to their owners.  It appears that project is drawing to an end.

While picking up laundry, I noticed most of the homes had not yet been cleared of mud.  That got me to thinking of the neighbors of our new church palapa (which is looking more and more like a finished building).  They suffered some of the worst flooding -- at least, from the force of the water.

Tom, our summer pastor, and I decided to survey the neighbors to see if they needed any help cleaning out their homes.  Actually, Tom did the talking.  His Spanish and sensitivity for Mexican culture made him the obvious spokesman. 

It turned out that all of them had cleaned up their places and were back to normal.  Well, as normal as they could be with the loss of refrigerators and stoves.

We did discover, though, just how lightly balanced the Melaque economy is.  Most of the families had work.  But they could not work during the flood.  As a result, most of them were running short of food for their families.

Tom arranged to purchase food from a local wholesaler.  To get as many food bags as possible, he cut a couple of items off of the list.  The wholesaler volunteered to put the bags together for us -- and then donated the items that we had removed from our list.

That is Tom (at the top of this post) standing next to the Shiftless Escape with the bounty we were about to distribute.  I took the photograph near the food wholesaler warehouse.  But, If you look closely on the right, you will see a woman on a direct course to ask for one of the food bags.

Tom, Rosa (a Spanish-speaking member of our congregation), and I distributed a bag each to the neighbors of our church building.  The moment the truck showed up in the neighborhood, people were in the streets asking for bags.  But we requested them to return to their homes.  It was easier for us to be certain we had placed at least one bag at each home that way.

The laundry and food bag projects got me thinking about my dislike of hot weather.  For me, a perfect day is 55 degrees, overcast, with a nice light drizzle.  But I can tolerate a lot when it comes to the weather.

And then I felt rather petty when I remembered my neighbors.  They had lost almost everything when their homes were flooded.  But they accepted the fact that the flood was over and they now needed to return to their lives.  All they needed was a bit of food to get on with it.

Between laundry deliveries today, I stopped for lunch at Señor Froy’s -- one of my favorite beach restaurants.  Froy lost part of his palapa in the wind storm.  But it is fixed, and he is back in operation.

As I sat there looking at his new roof and the cleaned-up beach, I realized just how nice it is to simply sit and enjoy this beautiful part of Mexico.

And weather is not going to get in my way of doing that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

back for a moment

I took a short break from laundry today to work with my church canvassing our new neighbors to determine how they were doing after the flooding of their homes.

To my surprise, they had all moved back in.  Cleaning up with the few resources they had available.

I was surprised because the neighborhood where we have been picking up laundry is still steeped in mud.  Part of that is due to the topography.  The mud has settled in low-lying areas.

But the neighborhood behind our new church palapa received some of the most forceful flooding.  Even so, they were up and running -- with one exception.  Food.

The President of the Municipality (some compare the office to a mayor, but it seems more like the chairman of a county board of commissioners to me) came through the neighborhood along with the Army -- handing out Red Cross food boxes.  But the contents were rather limited.

The church will put together food boxes tomorrow to get more food into the hands -- and stomachs -- of our neighbors. 

Overall, Melaque seems to be on its feet again.  But there are nagging symbols that remind us not everything is quite operating as it should.

Wednesday is tianguis day in Melaque.  The traveling open-air market that always reminds me of a garage sale on steroids.

On a normal Wednesday, the tables stretch for five continuous blocks in the street -- with a tarp covering to provide shade from what is still a relentless sun.

But, not today.  There were a few lone tables.  Some under tarps.  Some in the sun. 

And there is an irony there.  The tianguis provide exactly the type of items that people who have been through a flood need.  But there were no shoppers.  When you cannot afford to buy food, you cannot afford to buy clothes.  Even used clothes.

And thus the laundry project continues.

But there was one symbol of change.  The palms are being laid on the palapa roof.  Even though the road in front of the new building is still a bit difficult to traverse (see the photograph at the top of the post), it appears the roof on the palapa will soon be completed.

I hope when it is, our neighbors will also be back on their feet.  With full bellies and laundered clothes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

washed up

I will probably be off line for a couple of days. 

I say "probably" because I have no idea how long the recovery projects are going to take.  And I simply do not feel very comfortable photographing people's homes when they are not at their best.

So, just talk amongst yourself until I get back.

Monday, October 17, 2011

laundress to the stars

Small gestures often have big consequences.

Even though Melaque did not suffer much wind or surf damage, it did take a water hit.  For a day, Melaque was an island.  We had our own moat between us and the world.  Great for a siege.  Lousy for life.

But that moat turned people from neighbors to refugees.  Even one of the hurricane shelters was flooded out.

I have been really proud of the Mexican authorities when my utilities were quickly restored.  To a degree, I was feeling rather smug until I discovered that over 100 people (half of them children) from the flooded area were still living in a shelter.  Without food. 

I believe the food situation is under control.  But we are not back to normal.

The reason the families are still in the shelter is the condition of their homes.  The flood took their possessions and exchanged them for rooms filled with mud.

During these crises it is very easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of help that is needed and where to extend assistance.

My landlady Christine is not a woman to get overwhelmed.  She is manages property and has the problem-solving skills of a Fortune 500 CEO.

Four years ago, Melaque was hit with a similar flood.  She volunteered to pick up and launder clothes and bedding from people who had been flooded out of their homes.  It relieved the families of one thing.  But a very meaningful thing.  Mexicans are one of the neatest people I know.

Last week Christine immediately drove to the flooded area and started taking bundle after bundle of clothes to her house where she rinsed off mud, washed the clothes, dried them, folded them, and returned them to the owners.  When I say she rinsed off mud, it was as if she had created an alluvial flood plain in her driveway.

The need was so great, she enlisted a few volunteers to assist her.

I accompanied her today to return laundry and to pick up more dirty clothes.  I started this post with the line: “Small gestures often have big consequences.”  That is not rank sentimentality.  It is reality.

When Christine returned the clothes, the young wife receiving them was fighting back tears of gratitude.  But she did not hold back on thanks.  As a rule, Mexicans do not indulge in the torrent of formulaic thanks that we expect up north.  But this young woman -- and her husband --- allowed her heart to flow.

While we were standing there, an elderly woman with a crude walking staff rushed up to us and with great animation asked for our help.  It was easy to see why.  She had a huge pile of laundry that she could not clean because her house still needed to be demudded.

Even as we drove away we had to stop because people came running behind us asking if we could help.

Christine is one of those people who seldom sees credit for the work she does,  And that is fine with her.  What she does, she does out of love for her community and her neighbors.

And she does not do it for the thanks.  But it would have taken a rather cold heart not be moved by the relief and gratitude that Christine’s small gesture created in that neighborhood.

She may only be doing laundry.  But she is doing it for the survivors -- the stars -- of this storm.

And what more could any of us ask?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

braking up is hard to do

I have been laying rubber.

Not like we once did in the 60s.  With traffic signals acting as drag lights.

Nope.  This rubber is being laid right in my courtyard.  And my truck is going nowhere.

Whenever I think I have cataloged all of the things that happened around here in the hurricane, I find something new.  After all, it took me over a year to realize I had lost a tool kit during my first truck break-in.

Yesterday I went out to the truck to drive over to Jaluco to have breakfast with my friend John.  I did the usual routine.  Unlocked and opened the gate.  Started the engine.  Disengaged the parking brake.

I shifted the transmission into drive and barely moved the accelerator.  Getting through the gate is a tight squeeze.  Warp drive is not recommended when leaving the space port.

Nothing.  No movement.  I gave the truck more gas.  Nothing.  It was as if a log was blocking me.

Into reverse went the truck.  Same thing.  Of course, my first impression was that the transmission had expired in its sleep -- rather than on a steep and winding road.

But,  this is the age of hope where change is touted.  So, I looked under the truck half expecting to find a body.  But nothing.

Back into the truck I went.  The obvious solution was the force of the wind on the brakes had forced them into a temporary lock mode.

I revved the engine in drive.  And the truck moved.  Or, rather, it dragged.  The front wheels were moving.  But the rear was being dragged along.  It reminded me of poor Professor Jiggs when his back legs were atrophying.

Moving forward did not break loose the brakes.  Neither did backing up.  I tried the same maneuver twice to no avail.  And, rather than wear the rear tires through, I gave up.

I walked up to my mechanic’s shop to explain the problem.  He said he could help and would stop by the house as soon as he finished painting a large tanker trailer.  But he would be there before dark.

He wasn’t.

I just talked with him.  The trailer is only about half painted.  But he will be at the house around five or six this afternoon.

I have nowhere to go in particular.  The highway to Manzanillo is still washed out, but a temporary road is being built.  Even so, who needs to go to Manzanillo?

Mentioning Jiggs reminds me how I waited too long to relieve him of his suffering.  Maybe it is about time to make the hard decision on behalf of the Shiftless Escape.

After all, falling coconut palms did not turn out to be a very good (or successful) way to dispatch it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

she cleans up right purdy

On Thursday afternoon I took a swing through Villa Obregon and San Patricio to see how the cleanup effort is going.

Quite well.

Over the years, I have noticed that my north of the border colleagues seem to have fallen into a rather neurotic state whenever nature gets a bit rough.  Maybe most Americans and Canadians are not as emotionally distraught as the people interviewed on the nightly news.

I know that is not how my Mexican neighbors react.  The areas of town that flooded were lined with household furnishings that families had brought out to discard or to dry in the sun.

No theatrics.  No drama queens.  Just people getting on with their lives.

And, no, I do not have any photographs.  They may not be showing much emotion, but I was not there to document personal losses.

What I did photograph is the street in front of the new church palapa.  You may recall it was a river just a day ago.  It is dry now.  But the force of the rain stripped the street down to the sewer and water lines.  Our palapa may be done by early November.  But it will be a bit tough getting there.

But everywhere I went, the cleanup was well under way.

Basic building supplies were delivered to this house near Ava’s to repair a damaged roof.

I stopped by Hawaii (my favorite grocery store) because I heard a lot of water had entered the premises.  It had.  Alex and his crew were mopping up mud and water.  But he had the forethought to get some of the merchandise off of the bottom shelves before it was damaged.

The Oxxo did not do that.  They taped their windows against the wind (an absolutely ineffective method to prevent breakage), but failed to move their merchandise.  A good example of how local business owners often have better street sense.

This is the mud in front of the Oxxo store.  It is everywhere.  Fortunately, the sun is out to dry the mud and turn it into new layers to be dusted out of homes.  Unfortunately, the sun is out and the humidity has returned.  At least, the storm brought two or three cool evenings to us.

Not even the Catholic church in San Patricio escaped the flooding.  The church still had a couple inches of water in it when I took this photograph.

And the sea.  The Pacific Ocean is doing its best impression of Lake Pátzcuaro.  The water is so murky it looks as if it is just one step away from being shilled by Bill Cosby.

And then there are the inadvertent moments that make me laugh loud enough that the neighbors of this sign looked over and started laughing along with me.  They knew exactly what was funny.

If you look beyond the sign, what was once the laguna at the north end of Villa Obregon is now a gully of sand, gravel, and various trash items.  Nary a crocodile to be seen.

Speaking of crocodiles, I received a couple of emails asking if I had seen my local guy (or gal).  I hadn’t.  My inlet is still dry.  But as I walked along the main channel, I spotted a crocodile.  Then two.  Three.  Four.  That is the most I have ever seen in such a small area.

But, they are out there.  Watching us.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

you light up my life

Hi.  My name is Steve.  And I’m an addict.

An electronic addict -- that is.

I have seen studies that show we moderns can get as much thrill out of hearing a “you’ve got email notice” as they do from cocaine and sex.  I am rather skeptical of this type of study.  There is usually something untoward going on with my tax dollars.  But the scientists may be on to something here.

At least two days before the hurricane was predicted to set its landing gear in Melaque, CFE (the power company) turned off our electricity.  No lights.  No computer.  No internet.

I was stuck in the dark with the bit of power my batteries would provide to my Kindle, mobile telephone, and flashlight. 

It was an odd feeling.  As if I had been cut from the world -- because I could not get immediate electronic gratification.

I have been here before.  In the early 1970s I lived in Greece.  The only communication I had with family and friends was the mail.  (It may be one reason I still get excited just walking into a post office.)  But the mail was adequate – even when it took a week or two to receive a letter or package.

But we now live in a far more immediate world.  Even though I knew the power was going to go out, I felt a chill when suddenly everything went dark and still.  Almost as if I had died.  And then the power came back on.  Went off.  Back on.  And then off.  Finally off.

What was once a bright little living womb was now black.  I read a brief chapter on my Kindle.  Rationing out the battery for -- I had no idea how long.

The refrigerator became the Especially Holy Place -- to be entered only once a day.  And because there was no power to pump water to the roof, the toilet played its part as a much-used reservoir and the shower a desert.

I assumed the worst.  That power would be out for at least a week.

I was wrong.  As you already know.  In the early evening (less than 20 hours later), the lamp I had left turned on to herald our reentry into the modern world came on.

And the refrigerator.  And the water pump.  And my blessed computer and its priest the internet.

I have had some pleasant experiences in my life (in fact, my life has been almost nothing but pleasant experiences).  But hearing the whir of electric motors is near the top of my list.

I am an addict.

And the CFE workers are my suppliers.

At least, I have made it to the first step.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

reporting for duty

OK.  I'm back.

Well, I never went anywhere -- as you know.  But the electricity was just restored.  And that puts me back in contact with the rest of you.

As it turned out, Jova is right up there in the Irene category.  Lots of hype (for our area).  Not much wind.  But lots of water.

We lost power last night around 10 or so.  The rumor is that the electrical company turned it off to avoid injuries when lines started dropping.  I don’t know if that is true or not.  It is just what I heard.

Apparently, the storm passed north of us.  Giving us a few gusts of wind.  When I got up this morning, this is what my garden looked like.  Some debris, but not as much damage as I had expected.

I took a quick walk around the neighborhood.  Not everyone was as lucky as I.  Some good-sized trees were toppled.  Taking power lines (fortunately, dead) with them.  And often on top of cars.  (Who parks their car under a tree when a wind storm is on the way?)

But today’s theme was not wind.  It was water.

Between the main highway and the beach, there is a very noticeable dip.  A dip that water seeks out with a vengeance.

I walked up that way to see how the church palapa frame fared.  It seems to have survived without noticeable damage.  But the street in front of the property had turned into a chocolate pudding river.  I should add, a very fast-moving pudding.

Most of the houses in that area were flooded.  I retreated only when we received another torrent of rain.  Rain that is still falling this evening.

Kim of Boston asked me to post a post-hurricane photograph of the beach from the same spot as two days ago.  That spot is no longer there.

Here is my best attempt.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

a few pre-storm tidbits

I drove around the village this morning to see how the storm preparations were proceeding -- and in the hopes I could accomplish a few last minute chores.

What I most wanted was a grilled chicken.  Actually, four.  One for me.  One for the tenants upstairs.  And one each for my neighbors next to me and across the street.  I thought we could all do with a bit of animal protein to comfort ourselves.

It was a nice idea.  But it was not to be.  My favorite chicken stand was closed.  As you can see in the photograph at the top of this post.  As were all of the other restaurants around town.  I guess they thought their patrons would be dealing with their own food this afternoon.

If you look at the bicycle in the photograph, you can see that we have been getting a bit of rain.  Enough to saturate the ground. 

In some places, that could be bad.  I drove through one of the poorest areas of Villa Obregon.  The roads there are almost impassable.  Just a little more water will flood those homes.

Even though the restaurants were closed, the pharmacies were open.  So, I stocked up on a month’s worth of blood pressure medicine.

But it is good that I took care of my mobile telephone issues yesterday.  The Telcel shop is closed -- along with its neighbors.

If you need a few food items, our local Kiosko is doubly prepared.  With plywood to protect the windows -- and with an open sign to welcome shoppers.

I mentioned earlier that Melaque is filled with emergency vehicles.  I took this shot of trucks filled with emergency supplies, and a police vehicle and San Patricio’s emergency warning system in the background.

Due to the road construction, there is only one good road left to travel between Villa Obregon and San Patricio.  When I left the house, a tree had fallen across it.  That seemed ironic.  No wind, yet.  But trees are falling.  I assume from too much surface water.

When I returned, this is what I found.  People who make fun of Mexican efficiency need to see more examples like this.  In less than an hour, the tree was cut up, the debris cleared, and traffic was flowing again.  (And, yes, the left side of the photograph is “the good road.”)

When I got up this morning, the water in my inlet was gone.  Someone must have breached the dunes to the ocean.  Or the waves did it.  They have been quite active.

When I went to the beach, I took the photograph below in about the same position as yesterday.  You can see all of the water hyacinth that has washed up on shore.  Otherwise, we just wait for the sea and the wind to sculpt our lives.

running in place with the wind

Apologies first.

I promised that I would not turn this blog into a storm news only site.  Well, I have.  I am starting to sound as obsessed as CNN.

After all, life goes on.  There are plenty of subjects to write about.  But, when a freight train is bearing down on you, it is difficult to wax poetic about the cosmos.

So, here is the latest.  And, if things go as normal with storms around here, perhaps the last post for a while -- until the CFE trucks swing into operation to restore power.

Hurricane Jova has been on a track to park itself in my carport for several days.  But last night it started shifting a bit to the northwest.

As you can see by the graphic, Barra de Navidad (for geographical purposes that would be me) is still within the hurricane’s cone.  But we are off to its right.

It is good that the hurricane may not come directly over us, but it does not mean we are out of danger.  I have had personal relationships more stable than hurricane path prediction.

But, even if the hurricane does move north and wreak its havoc on other poor souls I have not met, we will get the wave effects, some wind, and, of course, the danger of flooding from the rain -- the rain which has started to fall already this morning.  Not torrents, just a steady stream ensuring the ground will be saturated when the big waters rise.

I say “some wind” because this is a very compact hurricane.  Its strongest winds are only about 15 miles wide.  And we will probably be outside of, or just on the edge, of the worst part.

Based on all of that, I have decided to stay in place.  And I will not be alone.  All of my neighbors are staying in their houses.  You could hear them (my neighbors, not the houses) hammering through the night in preparation.

I really do appreciate all of the concern all of you have shown.  It made me give a lot more thought about what I would do than I normally would have.

I may go out this afternoon and take some photographs -- while all is calm.  Because I suspect it is not going to be a silent night.

Monday, October 10, 2011

harmonic tremors

I am no Harry Truman.

Not the cranky president.  But the cranky old coot that stayed on Mount St. Helens in 1980, declaring: “The mountain ain't gonna hurt me.” 

And when the volcano blew, Harry Truman became a legend.

But, as I say, I am no Harry Truman. 

Nature is absolutely amoral when its forces are at work.  Hobbes suffered from understatement when he declared that life in nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  (A friend of mine once dated an Englishman, who she described as “solitary, poor, nasty, British, and short.  But that is a far different tale.)

And I keep that in mind as I keep an eye on the reports of hurricane Jova -- back up to a category three, with the possibility of category four status tonight.  Landfall should be around midnight tomorrow.

Out of curiosity, I took a stroll through the village today to get a feel for what my neighbors are doing.

The Mexican governments -- federal and state -- have dispatched medical teams, firemen, and police to the area.  When I stopped in the little grocery store to buy a few canned goods, the firemen were there buying large quantities of vegetables.  For themselves or the local evacuation shelter, I have no idea.

There is an evacuation shelter here.  In central San Patricio at a school -- that four years ago was partly under water during our last severe flood.  If I stay, I am going to see if I can volunteer to assist at that shelter.

So far, the state government has kept us very well informed of evacuation options.  We are currently in a yellow status.  I know that because the official voice from our space age towers tells me so.

Three years ago, Jalisco installed the towers along the coast primarily as tsunami warnings.  But they are now being put to good use as the storm approaches.

Where I live, I can hear the Oz-like voice from the towers in Barra de Navidad, Villa Obregon , and San Patricio.  Because of the distances, it is almost like living at the bottom of a giant barrel.

The voice first speaks in Spanish, and I get to try to guess if an evacuation order has issued -- or if evacuation centers will be available.  The voice then corrects my test to 100% by repeating the message in English.  A nice touch since a very small percentage of the people here speak English.
I also stopped by the church today to see how the palapa construction is progressing.  The workers have almost completed framing the roof.  That, of course, is good and bad.

Good because we were planning on being in the new building when our pastor returns the first week in November.

Bad because it now looks like a house of matches facing the winds we are expecting.

I still have another day to decide whether to head out or not.  My instincts are to stay and volunteer in the evacuation shelter.

But there is time to make that call.  I do not need to be the answer in a Trivial Pursuits competition.