Sunday, December 30, 2012

the end of the beginning

2012 is over.  Or almost.

And it managed to end, not with the fears of New Age hysterics, but with the flip of a movie prop calendar page.

Mexpatriate has a year-end tradition of looking back at the "best" posts of the year.  The criteria for "best" vary each year.

This year, the choices were easy.  The blog host tracks the ten posts with the most hits since 2007.  Five of them -- unusually -- were from 2012.  And those five are rather good representatives of my life in 2012.

With one exception.  Even though I spent more time away from Melaque than in Melaque (writing from The States, China, at sea, Europe, the Middle East, Copper Canyon, and the Mexican highlands), I wrote the top five posts on my patio in Villa Obregon.

And that is appropriate.  After all, this blog is not only about my life, it is about my experiences in Mexico -- the place I live.  For now.

The post with the most hits this year was death in the family on 4 January.  A Canadian tourist was killed in what appears to have been a home robbery gone bad.  The type of death that can, unfortunately, happen in almost any community in the world.

And everybody knows why the post was so popular.  It dealt with the issue that concerns a lot of people about Mexico -- violence.  What was anomalous about this outburst of violence was the fact that it involved a tourist. 

But it was not anomalous.  In November a Canadian citizen who lived full time in Barra de Navidad was murdered.  I did not write about that death because I was in Oregon and could not filter the swirl of rumors that surrounded the crime.

Friends have asked me if the two deaths have changed my view about the danger of living in Melaque.  It hasn't.  On the first week I was back in Salem, there were three murders in town.  I feel no more in danger in Melaque than I do in Salem.

The post with the second most hits was smoke gets in my eyes on 11 December.  Another tale about death in Mexico.  This time about a dog.  And how Mexicans tend to treat death far differently than their neighbors north of the Rio Bravo.

In king of the road (on 13 October), I revealed a secret guilty pleasure.  I am an RV guy at heart.

Two years before I retired, I considered buying (and living in) a small RV.  My plan was to eventually retire and head off on a long road trip through The States.

That did not happen.  And it is probably just as well that I decided not to live in Mexico year round in the equivalent of a slow cooker.

Instead, I have kept the gypsy spirit alive -- without the home on wheels.  My Escape  (twined with some rather classy short-term rentals) has filled my travel needs.  The Escape that I keep thinking is going to die any day.

Hit number four was feliz navidad on 23 December.  The tourist and expatriate community in Melaque banded together to make Christmas a joyful time for the migrant families who live at our local Indian school.  Proving that there is a true spirit of Christmas.

And then there was to hive and hive not on 17 December.  It was probably the most problematic post I have written.  Because it was about my health.

Like many people who live on the beach, I was the recipient of some unrequested attention from parasites.  Worms, in this instance.

And why the high number of hits?  Probably because parasites are a fact of life in our area of the world, and people were interested in getting whatever information they could.

Of course, I could offer no solutions.  I am not a doctor -- I merely played one in court.

I suppose if I had written about Maya calendar disasters or the Newtown killings or some other disaster, there may have been other posts on this list.

But the five sum up my Mexican life quite well. 

I live in a community that experiences an occasional and sad acts of violence -- just like every community.  That death is as much a part of our lives as is joy.  That I will continue to travel with the soul of a gypsy -- and the eye of a writing tourist.  That the needs of others should come before my own.  And that every Eden has its serpents.

Thank you for sharing the ride this year. 

I can only wish that 2013 will provide as many adventures.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

hot and cold

This has been an interesting year for ailments.  As you well know, from my unsettling posts.

Apparently my prose was disturbing enough that my mother suggested I should escape Mexico's gravity before I -- well, not to put too fine a point on it -- died.  Of course, I will do that at one point no matter where I am.

So,here I am in Oregon.  Away from the land of exotic diseases. And what happens?  I am here for two days and I contract a cold.

Cold and flu season was always a nuisance for me in the decade before I headed south.  When I was in my 40s, colds and flu would generally pass me by.  But the moment I racked up the dreaded 5 in front of my age, they were drawn to me -- in the same way Mexican mosquitoes are.

That was one of the things I enjoyed most about moving south.  Colds were rare.

But yesterday the old symptoms were familiar.  That tickling raw spot at the back of the throat.  The slight headache.  The nascent cough.

If I learned anything from my military career, it was how to build a battle plan.  And this one I knew by rote.  Out came the heavy artillery of Nyquil with its reserve force Dayquil. 

I may have been a bit groggy, but the medicine helped me keep a semblance of health during my scheduled lunch with my friend John.  I knew I was fine when I could pronounce both the names and philosophies of Descartes and Nietzsche  -- a rare field sobriety test for the pretentious.

Of course, the best weapon is rest.  So, off I go to bed.

At some point, I need to start working on the house.

Friday, December 28, 2012

old and hot

I moved into my Salem house in 1993.  But not immediately after purchasing it.

The house was built in 1925.  And, even though it was well-maintained, the entire upstairs required work.  New plaster.  Paint.  Wallpaper.  Carpet.

While my brother, a friend, and I were busy gouging, tearing, and steaming inside, I decided to make the first major buy for the house outside.  A hot tub.  A really nice hot tub.

I knew the history of hot tubs for most families. Used daily for a week.  Then once a week.  And once a month.

Eventually, the hot tub turns into the crazy aunt in the attic.  Something to be tolerated rather than enjoyed.

That was not the relationship I developed with my hot tub.  We met every night for dinner and reading.  I would spend almost two hours every evening in its watery embrace. 

Put "hot tub" in the search function at the top of the blog.  At least fifteen posts -- starting in 2007 -- feature my adventures in my inland sea.

All relations come to an end at some point.  Even though it was a regular part of my life, the hot tub began falling apart bit by bit before I left for Mexico.  On subsequent visits, the inevitable erosion continued.   

First the control door -- then the skirting -- succumbed to dry rot.  When I was in Salem in November, the gardener managed to cut the power cable.  Flat-lining the hot tub.

And I was glad of it.  I would have eventually needed to get rid of the hot tub.  Selling it, if it was working.

In death there was but one option.  Put it on craigslist.  Free for the taking.

After four false starts, a family showed up with a trailer.  And off went my deceased lost love.

My house sitter took care of the details while I was in Mexico earlier this month.  When I showed up at the house early on the morning of 27 December, this is what I found.

In a month, I will be on my way back to Mexico -- where I have no hot tub.

But that is a failing that can be remedied.    

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

not quite paradise

Sunny.  84 degrees.  A soft breeze.

I have been sitting on my patio since late morning.  Reading the newspaper and enjoying a fine Christmas day.

This Christmas may be unique for me.  My friends the Moodies invited me to dinner this evening and I attended Christmas Eve service last night. 

But this has been a day for solitude.  To enjoy the bounty that Christmas symbolizes.

My garden is in bloom.  Including my favorite blood-throated hibiscus that always reminds me of an orchid.  The perfume of reproduction fills the yard.

Well, along with Mozart's whimsical Kegelstatt Trio.  It is almost as if the Atlanta Chamber players had stopped by for a visit.  That is, if the players relied on a pair of inadequate Sony speakers.

Earlier, the Salvation Army brass band invited me to O, Come All Ye Faithful -- as if John Philip Sousa was leading a procession smartly to Bethlehem.  My music tastes run to the eclectic.
Tourists often insist on calling my little village a "paradise."  It isn't.  It has enough human-induced warts to play the witch of Endor.

But my theology informs me that we are to daily enjoy what God has given us.  Family.  Friends.  Solitude.  And an opportunity to share our lives and what we have been given with others.

It may not be paradise.  But it is certain a blessed place where we can pass blessings along. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

feliz navidad

The next few days will be busy. 

Not only am I am going to enjoy celebrating Christmas with friends in Mexico, I also need to pack for my next trip north -- on Wednesday.

So, let me wish all of you a very meaningful Christmas.  Because I am not certain I will have time to post until later this week.

I started celebrating Christmas early on Saturday evening.

As you know, I have a limited volunteer role in working with our local Indian school.  The grounds consist of sixteen family housing units, three elementary school classrooms, a kitchen, and a clinic. 

The facility also provides education and meals for students who do not live on the premises.

Saturday was a special day.  The families are migrant workers.  Here to plant and harvest crops for months at a time.  Most of them are Mixteca from the area around Oaxaca.

As is true with most Mexican celebrations, this one was multi-layered and long in duration.  But anyone who has ever been to a Mexican Christmas party will recognize the elements.

First came the posada.  Some of the children were dressed as Mary, Joseph, the wise men, shepherds, angels, and the odd sheep or two.  They all stood on the outside of the school grounds with the gate closed.

They then sang the traditional song begging permission to enter.  But the singers on the inside denied entrance in responsive song.  Until the last verse.  The children then burst through the gates like Walmart shoppers on Black Friday.  Because they knew what was coming next.

While they settled into their seats, Miguel and his support musicians sang holiday songs for us.

But the listening portion of the evening was soon over.  And it was piñata time.  Time to bust open some candy.

Some of the
piñatas were traditional.  Including one representing the seven cardinal sins.

But the favorites for the children appeared to be the north of the border characters.  Such as Santa Claus.  This little boy is about to knock the stuffing (literally) out of Frosty the Snowman.

Having redistributed the candy wealth through random acts of violence, the children lined up to receive gifts provided by the expatriate and tourist community.  Primarily shoes and clothes.

This girl is being fitted for a new pair of sandals.

And there was more.  Including a full Christmas dinner for all.

I can only hope that your Christmas season will be as enjoyable as the one these children celebrated with their families on Saturday.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

chicken with a flair

I love food.

Of life's pleasures, it is undoubtedly my favorite.  But you already know that.  Or you could figure it out from the number of words I write on the topic of eating.

You would probably assume then that I an one of those people who moved to Mexico for -- and then gushes about -- The Food.  But you would be wrong.

I like Mexican food.  That includes the meals in The States that passes for Mexican food.  Even though the Mexican food in Melaque is something quite different.  The most obvious example is the taco.

The problem with Mexican food is its uniformity.  After about a week of combining tortillas, chicken, vegetables, and salsa in different combinations, the culinary adventure sours. 

And it doesn't matter which region I am in.  Certainly, the cuisine of Michoacán is more interesting than Jalisco's.  But everything is ruined by repetition.

Until recently, there was only one way to break the tortilla chain.  Cook for yourself at home. And I enjoy doing that.

But we have had some additional choices recently here in the Melaque area.  During the biggest tourist seasons of the year (when the highland Mexicans migrate our way). most of the restaurants serve the usual Mexican fare.

The only exceptions are during the few winter months when flocks of northerners head south.  And need to be fed.

Most of them are looking for a filling meal at a low price. And we have a few restaurants that are essentially Denny's (or Appleee's) knockoffs.

And then there are the good restaurants.  One of my favorites is La Rana.  The eatery around the corner from my house.

The menu there had been somewhat the same since I have been living in Villa Obregon.  Mexican classics mixed in with a few northern favorites.

This year the menu is delightfully different,  The daughter of the owner has been attending chef courses in Manzanillo.  And this year's offerings prove she has learned her stuff well.

The chicken section is proof enough.  Italian chicken.  Marengo chicken.  Chicken piccata.

But my favorite is illustrated at the top of this post.  Chicken jamaica.

A saut
éed chicken breast, stuffed with goat cheese and walnuts, tied with a sprig of lemon grass.  Set off by a tangy hibiscus sauce -- the southern equivalent of a pomegranate reduction.

The tastes are a perfect blend.  The fresh breast has the pungent taste that only fresh chicken can provide.  And the smooth tang of the goat cheese mixes perfectly with the acidic crunchiness of the walnuts.

I could not eat it every night.  But it is certainly a pleasant weekly diversion for the winter months.

At 90 pesos (about $7 US), it is not the least expensive meal in town.  But a similar meal in Salem at a tarted-up hotel coffee shop would run about $25 to $30.  And it would not be as fresh.

It almost makes me wish I could take La Rana with me when I head north on Wednesday.

Friday, December 21, 2012

framing our lives

Thursday was art day in my little village by the sea.

We may not have a cultural scene as multi-layered as San Miguel de Allende.  But we are not sand-encrusted trolls, either.  Well, not all the time.

Three venues opened their doors to the public on Thursday afternoon.

My first stop was at Villa Xochipilli at the end of my street.  I have worked with the owner on projects related to the laguna.  But on Thursday she opened her home to display paintings by her late husband, Martin McCarrick.

I had seen some of the pieces in her home on prior visits.  But this was the first opportunity I had to examine them critically.  I need to return for another visit to spend more time.

In the courtyard, my birder and photography pal Melanie Hester displayed several of her nature shots.  My favorite was a vine snake that had just captured a frog.  Now, why don't I have action shots like that in my garden?

My second stop was at the home of my friends Ed Gilliam (the painter) and Roxanne David (the photographer).  Ed had turned their garden into a perfect gallery for his work.

I have written about Ed's work in the past.  He combines the spirit of Picasso and Gauguin in his individual style.  In addition to canvases, he has started painting table tops.  With some fascinating scenes.

My last stop was at the home of photographer Jeanne McGee.  Even though we have lived near one another for years, I dd not meet her until the Day of the Dead bus trip this year.

She had opened her home to several art vendors in addition to her own interesting brand of photography.  Plus there was music and locally-roasted coffee.  Just what every good art walk needs.

The biggest choice in attending these functions on the beach is which pair of sandals to wear.  But it is nice to know that I have such creative neighbors.  All within a few houses of mine.

I may not need to bring my art collection south, after all.  There is plenty here already.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

blooms on the wing

I did not move to Mexico for the weather.

It is usually one of the primary reasons expatriates list for moving here.  Along with The Food.  The People.  The Culture.  And, for a few bluntly honest souls -- because the cost of living is affordable on a Social Security check.

But, now and then, the weather starts to seduce me.

Tomorrow will be the first day of winter.  There is no sign of that in my courtyard.  At least, not what I usually expect of winter in other pars of the world.

The bougainvillea are in full bloom.  Red.  Purple.  Salmon.  Attracting waves of butterflies and skippers.  But mainly skippers.  Darting around in small squadrons.  As if they were Spitfires defending the Dover cliffs.

This seems to be the time of year when those colorful pieces of confetti start setting out territorial boundaries or choosing mates.  Sometimes the behaviors are indistinguishable.  In insects and humans.

To watch them is to enjoy life.  To photograph them is like trying to film water spray.  Lots of activity, but nothing stays framed very long.

So, I snapped a few photographs and set the camera aside.  Instead, I just watched the skippers provide the show and the flowers to provide the backdrop.

Proving, once again, that Mexico is more than dead dogs and parasites.  No matter what I write.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

trick or treating with the holy familiy

I am amazed that anything gets done in Mexico.

Or more, particularly, I am amazed at how I manage to get anything done in Mexico.
On Tuesday night I was waking to dinner.  I had arranged to meet my landlady at a French bistro in town at 6:30.  And I was on track to get there on time.  She is always punctual.

Then out of nowhere, a parade of children appeared at an intersection.  And not just any parade. 

There was Mary on a real donkey.  Joseph.  Shepherds.  Angels.  Wise men.  All of them looking as if they had just escaped from a Sunday school play in Topeka.

The annual custom of the posada was at hand.  Where Mary and Joseph go door to door seeking shelter while their accompanying chorus sings to allow them admittance.  That is the retail version.

But this group had spotted a restaurant filled with Canadian tourists.  And the kids knew that nothing separates grandparents from money as quickly as smiling children in costumes.  Let's just call it Our Virgin of the Halloween.

Having sung for their pesos, they were on their way to share more terminal cuteness with the rest of the village.

I was late for dinner.  But it was well worth the experence.

After all, I did not come to Mexico to develop punctuality this late in my life.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

dwarfs and a dragon

When I heard Peter Jackson was filming The Hobbit, I wondered why.

Well, I knew why.  It is a charming book that English-readers throughout the world know almost by heart.  The book that leads directly to Tolkein's major work -- Lord of the Rings.  And, of course,it was bound to earn a dwarf-ransom in revenue.

But there are certain problems.  First, the order of production.  The Hobbit is introductory.  It introduces us to characters and concepts that were eventually spun out by Tolkien in his larger work.

What should be a prequel runs the risk of seeming simultaneously derivative and smaller than the first three films.

Second, the story is smaller in scope.  Filming it as a mere introduction would diminish the very charm of the tale.

On both scores, Jackson has scored a hit.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey -- the first of a three-part tale -- is now in theaters.  That means it is at the multiplex in Manzanillo.

The piece is a  visual wonder.  Just as you would expect from the director who gave us Lord of the Rings

But it s more that that.  The look.  The sound.  The music.  The story.  All come together to tell a tale a lot broader than Tolkein's little book.

To make a proper prequel, the screenwriters mined other Tolkein works to weave a back story every bit as broad as Lord of the Rings.  This is a moral tale of man's struggle with good and evil.

It is not a perfect film.  The narrative drags a bit.  That is probably inevitable with all of the threads that are mixed together with the book's original simple tale. 

Christopher Nolan managed to make the exposition in Inception interesting.  I would mark it as one of the most successful I have ever seen in a film.  The screenwriters here settled for talking heads backed up with action shots.  A bit like a Power Point presentation in a board room.

And the manner in which the film was shot (I will spare you the technical details) makes all of the stuff we know was generated by a computer (but we want to believe was not) look like stuff we know was generated by a computer (and we cannot avoid realizing it is merely a special effect).

But both of those are mere quibbles when compared with the visual grandeur Jackson has created.  New Zealand welcomes us back to a very real landscape where the forces of good and evil can do battle with one another in one of our favorite stories.

It is good to have you back, Peter.  I am looking forward to the 2013 and 2014 releases.

Monday, December 17, 2012

to hive and hive not

I hate mosquitoes.

The feeling apparently is not mutual.  My body is a mosquito Hometown Buffet.  For some reason, mosquitoes relish sating their palates with plenty of Steve-oglobin.

That is one of the costs of my life in the tropics.  The occasional welt and itch.

This return to Melaque has been no different.  Well, a bit different.

In addition to the usual bites on my ankles and feet (the favorite feeding spot for our local mosquitoes), I had bites on my stomach and in areas where mosquitoes usually don't have access.  Let's call it my hips.

On Thursday I stopped to see my doctor.  Not for medical business.  But to set up a time for her to conduct a presentation at the church.  On her work with immigrant worker families.

While I was there, I bared some of the whiter areas of my skin to show her my welts.  She immediately pronounced the mosquitoes not guilty.  And, after looking at the welts through her handy-dandy microscope camera, she declared my body a condominium for parasitic worms.

That is another joy of the tropics.  The opportunity to try new medications.

So, off I went to my local pharmacy to pick up my prescription.  And to experience another of my adventures that could only happen in Mexico.

My doctor wanted me to take the medication twice a day for six days.  Therefore, I needed 12 pills.

The young woman at the pharmacy, looked at the prescription and brought me three boxes -- each with two pills.  Six pills, in all.  I told her I needed three more boxes. 

She looked at the prescription and told me I only needed pills for six days.  Three boxes were sufficient.

I tried a little arithmetic with her.  But that was a dead end. 

I bought the three boxes and decided to try getting the other three at other pharmacies.  I eventually returned the next day and bought three more from the original pharmacy -- after striking out at five other pharmacies in three towns.

The lack of stock is not unusual in Mexico.  But I thought it was odd that the medication was not more readily available.  Decaris is a bit expensive for a Mexican drug.  About $3 (US) per pill.  But it is a standard Mexican medication for parasites.

But not in The States.  It turns out that the active ingredient (Levamisole)  was withdrawn from United States shelves in 2000.  And is now used as a dewormer only by veterinarians. 

The reason?  Risk of serious side effects.

That piqued my interest.  Like what? 

Well, like difficulty breathing, for instance.  Closing of the throat.  Swelling of the lips, tongue, or face.  Hives.  Lowering of white blood cell count.  Decreased bone marrow function.  Extreme fatigue.  

Confusion or loss of consciousness.  Memory loss.  Muscle weakness, numbness, or tingling.  Seizure.  Speech disturbances.

That list made me wonder if I wouldn't be better off with the worms.  But I am now in my third day of treatment without suffering any bouts of anaphylactic shock.  Of course, the welts just keep coming.

There is one interesting side note about my medication.  Even though it was withdrawn as a human medication twelve years ago in The States, it is the most common cutting agent for cocaine.

Taking these little tablets is as close as I am ever going to get to using nose candy.

It would really be nice to get back to dealing solely with mosquito bites.  At least I can see that enemy.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

sand in my pieta

Two years ago, Melaque decided it was time for our village to have its own festival.  After all, why should those Mexican highlanders in San Miguel de Allende and Morelia have all the fun?

And all of the tourist money.

The thinking was simple.  How can the area draw more tourists to Melaque before the Christmas season kicks in.  The same problem faced by every tourist destination from Las Vegas to Disneyland.  Feet on the ground in early December are rare.

Thus was born the Festival del Mar.  With its debut in 2010. 

You may recall I gave it a good review in sands stand still.  Most of the entertainment was superb.  Along with all of the diversions you could expect at the beach.

I missed the 2011 festival.  I was in The States kowtowing to the Red Chinese Consul to get a visa.  But I heard the festival was a success.

On Thursday, the 2012 edition kicked off with a dance team who obviously had spent more time on their costumes than on their choreography.  But they were cute.  And that was why they were there.

To keep this lot interested.

I had not expected to see a dance team.  Though they were a pleasant surprise.

The purpose for this rare venture to the beach was to see the sand sculpture contest.  If you click on the 2010 link, you will see what I was expecting.  The type of sand sculptures that populate the Puerto Vallarta beaches.  Where an artist takes on a monumental task in the hopes that a few pesos will come his way.

Well, that was not what was on offer on the Melaque beach.  To be kind, most of the entries were in the "I put the u in amateur" category.

Such as this pick up.  I give points for the clever recycling of water bottles for side mirrors.  But its artistic skills scream "I have a shovel and a pail, but not much more."

And the Maya should be glad the contractors of this piece did not get the contract for Chichen Itza.

But some pieces were wittily-conceived and well-executed.  Such as this piece.  You can almost hear the trio reciting: "Double, double, toil and trouble."

Or this classic moon-sun icon -- with its eerie Jackie Kennedy touches.  Probably best viewed as if it was part of Peruvian Nazca Lines.

How about this rendition of a Volkswagen Beetle?  Air freshener included.  No additional charge.

But, for personal reasons, this was my favorite.  Put it down to my Simpsons fandom.  Shovelfuls of sand.  A bucket of wit.  And just a dash of irony.  Homer at the beach.

I do not know who won the contest.  But it certainly put me into a good state of mind to enjoy what will be coming during the next week.

And I will gladly share it with you.


Friday, December 14, 2012

it's in the cards

We have a new spectator sport in Melaque.

Well, not so new.  It all started last winter when Banamex installed two new ATMs -- the only ones in town.

For some reason, the winter tourist crowd from Up North had a terrible time last year getting pesos out of the machines.  The culprit appeared to be those new-fangled cards with embedded chips. 

Most Americans had the old-fashion easy-to-use cards where the banks eat fraudulent charges and then feed them back to the consumer.  But most Canadian cards had been Europeanized with a chip that is supposed to provide additional security.

Apparently, security so effective that the cash cannot be retrieved -- even by the cardholder.

But there were -- and still are -- other issues. 

On Monday, I withdrew money from my American checking account using my debit card.  As I stood in line (a long, slow-moving line, mind you), I noticed the machines were not treating northerners very well.

And it was easy to see why.  Many of them simply were not following the directions.  And their cards were rightfully rejected.

Now, I could have stepped up to help, but two things held me back.

First, we know that you are not to take assistance from anyone other than a bank employee when using an ATM.  And, if I am anything, I am a lickspittle when it comes to regulations.  (Just go with me on this one.)

The second reason?  Well, I will let you guess.  The day had not been amusing up to that point.

When it was my turn, I stepped up to the machine, whipped out my debit card, and punched through the steps with hare-like alacrity.  I pinned the bank machine.  And left with peso-festooned fists.

On Wednesday, I needed more pesos to settle some debts that arose in my absence -- and to prepay some bills for my upcoming trip north.  So, I returned to an ATM line just as long.  And just as mistake-ridden.

Out came my card.  In went the data.  And -- my card was rejected.  Throwing caution to the wind, I tried three more times.  Same result.  No cash.

When I got back to the house, I had both a telephone call and an email waiting.  From my bank.  Not the debit card bank.  But my credit card bank.  An entirely different establishment.

They were notifying me that my card was suspended for suspicious activity.  If I had any questions, I was to call.  I did.  And I did.

What bothered me is that I never use my credit card in Mexico.  No local businesses accept credit cards.  And the last time I used it was in Los Angeles -- on Sunday.

A young woman with a honey-suckle Tennessee accent took my call.  Asked me a few security questions.  And offered her assistance.

My credit card had been used in -- she spelled my village name -- for an amount of $471.29.  I told her that was impossible.  I had not used the card since Sunday.  But the amount sounded as if it was an ATM withdrawal of 6,000 pesos.

It hit me just as she said it.  I had grabbed my credit card, which was still in my wallet from my trip north, instead of my debit card.  The credit card usually rests in a safe place at the house.  I didn't even notice that it was black instead of silver.

All appears to be well.  I went to the ATM on Thursday afternoon.  With humble pie dripping from the corners of my mouth.  This particular dessert was thick with crow.  And my debit card worked.

The question is now whether my credit card will work when I get back to The States.  If it doesn't, I should have sufficient time to have a new one mailed to me.

Once again, I discover that hubris is simply a cul-de-sac on karma drive.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

movies in my mind

Some film images stick with us forever.

Yesterday a scene from a film I had seen recently (Flight) kept playing over and over in my head.

Early on in the film, the central character, a pilot, almost miraculously manages to crash land a completely disabled airliner.  But the plane still crashes.  There are a handful of dead.  Many more injured.

As the pilot regains consciousness, he is being dragged from the plane.  We see white-robed rescuers pulling other passengers from the wreckage.  They look like angels.

And I have no doubt that is exactly what the filmmakers intended.  The rescuers were from a Pentecostal church near the crash. 

They had rushed to provide service while still wearing their baptismal gowns.  Black and white.  Men and women.  They were there to serve.  To rescue the perishing.

It was a powerful image.  The film presented a rare positive picture of Christian faith in action.  Fundamentalist faith.  Doing what Christians should do best.  Offer relief for a world in distress.

I know why that image was there.  All day I have been praying for our blogger pal, Laurie of Honduras Gumbo.

Laurie is a missionary in Honduras.  Her work emphasizes child welfare.  But she is a friend to all in her community.  Her posts are filled with the dire circumstances in which Hondurans live.  And how she is making a difference.  One life at a time.

Yesterday she informed us in Honduras: Coups, Chaos, and Curfews that things can get worse.  And have.  Please take a look at her post.  She says it better than I can.

And then remember her in prayer. 

There is a line from the musical Book of Mormon that is one of the few not ensconced in irony.

I must trust that my Lord is mightier
And always has my back

Laurie is one of those angels that walks amongst us.  The work she does on behalf of her God -- my God -- is the very essence of the faith taught by Jesus.

I pray his protection is with her.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

one and a half ladies

Mexico does not do things by halves.

Well, there is the question of construction.  But let's set that aside for the moment and talk about what Mexico does best.  Celebrations.

I regularly eat at The Red Lobster in Villa Obregon.  Not the cheesy chain of chewy seafood that blights The States.  This is a family-run place. 

And it is always a pleasure to eat there.  The food is consistently good.  But it is the family that makes the place a joy to share my custom.

On Monday, I was invited to attend the sixth birthday of Jennifer.  The daughter of my favorite waitress.

I felt my stomach knot up.  Children's birthday parties are on my list of "things to do when I have been drugged and hog-tied."  But it was not an honor I could decline.

My first difficulty was finding a gift.  For boys, I can buy.  For girls, I am at a loss.  But a very nice store clerk convinced me that I should give him 220 pesos and he gave me, in exchange, a boxed doll with enough ball gown changes to broaden Dame Edna's smile.

Jennifer loved it.  And I loved the party.  It was not a children's birthday party.  It was a birthday party for a child with only adults present.  My idea of a perfect get-together.

Just as we were gathering, the nightly parade for Our Lady of Guadalupe passed by.  Jennifer was enthralled that the event had come to her on her birthday.

One gift Mexico has given me is a broader view of faith.  My Protestant upbringing caused me to look at such celebrations as the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a bit of skepticism.  As if the worshipers were somehow directing their worship to an object rather than to God.

My blogger pal Joanna over at Writing in Merida has written about the emotional impact the celebration has had on her.  "It is very moving to witness the affirmation of their devotion and the basic faith that sustains them through many hardships."

She then noted: "[A]ny belief that comforts and consoles is a very positive and good thing."

I am not certain I would have agreed with her four years ago.  I do now.  Both Mexico and my friends, the Moodies, have helped open my eyes to what is going on around me.

Jesus taught us two great commandments.  To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  And to love our neighbor as our self.

I now see the love and devotion accorded to Our Lady of Guadalupe as another way of showing God our absolute love.  Just as Jesus taught.

For too long, I failed to see that connection.  And it was getting in my way of loving my neighbors’ faithfulness.

Mexico has many lessons for all of us.  This has been a very important one for me.

Even when it comes in the guise of a six year old girl's birthday party.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

smoke gets in my eyes

"Don't look for a happy ending.  It's not an American story.  It's an Irish one."

So says Brad Pitt's character to Harrison Ford's in The Devil's Own.  A real stinker of a movie.

Mexico has a lot of tales.  And not all of them have happy endings.  In fact, there are studies that indicate bathos, and not sentimentality, is the foundation of most Mexican mythology.

This tale is not grounded in bathos.  But it is sad.  Don't say I did not give you fair warning.

The first place I went when I returned to Melaque on Monday was the laguna.  I was positive the water cabbage had had its way.  And I was correct.

My neighbor had created a patch of clear water around his viewing platform.  And that was an incentive for me to get busy.

But there was something else.  What looked like a black and white balloon. Almost as if a small Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon had floated south for repose.

It was obviously a body of some sort.  Perhaps a small calf.

Closer inspection revealed the truth.  It was a dead dog.  A large dog.  Blown up with decomposition gases.  It turns out it had been in the water for two days.

Now and then I think of myself as "Ducky" -- the chief medical examiner in the television series NCIS.  And this was one of those times.

How did the dog end up in the laguna?  Old age?  Did it violate my aunt's "no eating within two hours of swimming" rule?  Could it be the victim of some dogland killing?

Or the more obvious answer.  Another notch on some crocodile's tail.  It certainly is possible.  A last drink at The Dead Wildebeest Oasis.

Sunday night the small crocodile was hanging around the carcass.  Perhaps waiting for it to rot enough to twirl off a few kebab pieces for dinner.

On Monday the bloating decreased, the sweet odor of mortality past increased, and waves of flies took up residence.  That was enough for my neighbor.

He decided that a Viking funeral was a fitting end for the deceased.  He pulled the remains closer to shore.  Piled up wood and grass recently cut from the edge of the pond.  And set it afire.  I almost expected Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas to show up in their Vintage Dane gear.

There is probably a moral buried somewhere in the tale.  About the ramifications of death.  Or the anthropomorphisation of animals in general.

But that is for another day.

For today, I will simply be a bit more careful around the edge of the laguna -- and I will certainly be far more polite to gangland dogs. 


Monday, December 10, 2012

tourist trap

I am back in Melaque.

After 12 hours of sleep, it was good to be walking the streets of my little village again.  Where birdsong -- and the occasional gas truck -- acts as my alarm clock.

I followed the weather here on the internet while I was gone.  The worst part of summer seemed to linger through all of November.  Giving some of the earlier visitors from The Great Frozen North a taste of what we face in the hottest season.

But last night night was cool enough for a sheet over me in bed.  And this morning was made for walking.

The day had me in a great mood.

Then I happened across a couple of scowling men.  From their pallor, I assumed they were recently-arrived northern tourists.  My Chamber of Commerce gene kicked in.  I would lead them to a happier place.

I followed their gaze.  Two streets leading to the beach had been excavated. Probably awaiting new pavers.

"Interesting," said I.  "How long has this project been going on?"

The Scowler-in-Chief looked at me as if I had just broken up their Rotary meeting.

"Too long.  What is wrong with these people?  Why do they wait until people are here to start tearing things up?"

I ignored the venom in his "these people" comment.

"Actually, people are here all year long.  Tourists come every season."

The S-in-C gave me the same irritated look, as he clipped out: "People with dollars.  The people who keep this place running."  Completely oblivious to the three young Mexican workers standing nearby who were simply shaking their heads.

I have written on this attitude before (for whom the taco bell tolls and breaking spring).  The belief that Mexico is a Disneyland that operates several months in the winter solely for the benefit of people north of the Rio Bravo.  Where only the best services can be expected at criminally-low prices.

My mood was too good to spread the pearls of cheer in that particular wallow.  So, I wandered off to buy some pesos -- for time on my mobile telephone and to pre-pay internet time for my next journey north.

It is good to be back in a world where the potential for stress is legion -- and where so little energy needs to be spent to keep it at bay.

Mexico may not be home.  But it is certainly a place where I feel free to enjoy life in the manner it is served to me.

Even when my neighbors seem to do their best to trap the unwary tourist.  The hole is man-sized.  Where the sidewalk ends.  The broken chair is a warning that a distracted pedestrian could have similar legs.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

south as a goose

I feel like one of the long line of Union generals who failed to carry out President Lincoln's military plans.

A month ago I came north to get my house ready to put on the market.  If you have been following my posts, you know I have been busy. 

But not busy enough. The house is still not on the market.

I would still be sorting my worldly goods in Salem, but I have a couple of projects that need tending in Melaque.  So, here I sit in the Portland airport waiting for my flight to Manzanillo.

For some reason, I was whisked through security this morning.  Avoiding a huge line that snaked down the concourse -- and then bypassing the prying eyes of the "show us your Larks" machine. 

Whatever the reason, from the time my shuttle pulled up to the front of the airport to the time I checked my bags and made my quick run through security, only fifteen minutes had elapsed.  That may be a record for me.

Not that it will do me much good.  My flight to Los Angeles does not board for another two hours.  Just enough time to enjoy a heavy German breakfast at Gustav's.

The weather here is a pleasant shirt sleeve 43 -- on its way to 87 in Melaque.  I confess I will miss these refreshing mornings in Oregon.

But I will not miss them for long.  I will be back here on 26 December.  To take up my unfinished task.


Saturday, December 08, 2012

signing jfk

In 1960 my mother took a speech course.

Oregon was a perfect practical laboratory for a young mother interested in improving her public speaking technique.  The Democrat primary election was drawing all of the major contenders to our small state -- one of the few states where cigar-chomping bosses did not control the system.

Lyndon Johnson had cornered a large number of delegates selected by party bosses.  John Kennedy could stop him only by winning in the few states that chose delegates through primary elections.*

That was why Kennedy was in Oregon in April.  Speaking at Milwaukie High School.

My mother's speech class attended.  As a practicum.  After all, what better way to learn public speaking than from political masters of manipulation?

She was not impressed.  Kennedy was personable.  But his policies ran up against her Republican filters.   Filters that had been in place since Lincoln.

After the speech, Kennedy did what he did well.  Connected directly with the crowd.  Mom tore paper out of her notebook, and asked Kennedy for two autographs.  One for me.  One for my brother.

For years mine sat on a bookcase in my boyhood bedroom.  Then on a display case at my first house. 

When I moved to Salem in 1993, I lost track of it.  Just like my Mel Blanc autograph.  And it turned up in the same way this month.  Stuffed in the bottom of a box.

For now, I have put it aside.  It has almost no monetary value.  The countryside is littered with similar autographs.

But it is a gift from my mother.  And that is what makes it valuable.

* -- Kennedy's campaigning made a difference.  He took 51% of the vote in Oregon's winner-take-all primary.  Besting favorite son Wayne Morse at 32%.  Kennedy's most credible rival in the primaries, Hubert Humphrey, garnered only 6% of the vote.

Friday, December 07, 2012

flying with gordon ramsay

Travel is not what it once was.

No headlines there.  But now and then something comes along to remind us of what once was.

Today I ran across two menus and accompanying wine lists from one of my flights from England.  In November 1993 according to the menus.  I suspect it was the return trip after taking a Concorde flight from Portland to London.

Both appear to be dinner menus.  And that is certainly possible.  The flight would have come in two segments -- with a break in Newark.

The courses are enough to inform you the food is from another era.  Before passengers became health-obsessed, and airline executives heard only the voices of their accountants.

Nuts.  Appetizers.  Salad.  Entree.  Fruit and Cheese.  Dessert.  International Coffee.

The type of meal that would be served at LA Tante Claire.  Formerly one of my favorite London eateries.  RIP.

Do you doubt that airplane food could ever be good?  Just listen to the choice of entrees.

Choice center cut of salmon steak grilled to perfection and enhanced by lobster dill butter.

Grilled Lamb.  Tender lamb chops topped with maître d'hôtel butter.

Chicken Forestière. Baked breast of free-range chicken served with a medley of forest mushrooms.

Steamed Maine lobster served chilled on a bed of romaine lettuce.

And that is just the first menu. The other menu offers monkfish, veal, duck, and chicken.

These days, I frequently fly internationally between The States and Mexico.  I have never been offered anything similar to these meals.  At best, I get a salad with some very suspect slices of meat topping it.  Or a sandwich.

I am not certain when airline meals went from memorable dining to forgettable snacks.  However, at some point, I started packing my own meals.  With china, linen, crystal, silverware, and four course meals.

It was my way of entertaining myself on long trips.  On my regular routes, the flight attendants who knew me would bring me special treats from the galley.

Of course, that all ended with the increased security following the Islamic terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC.

The first to go was the silverware.  Even though the airline provided me with knives and forks just as lethal.  Then, in what could only be described as insanity, the china and crystal could not make it through security. On the bogus claim they could be used as weapons. 

What was I going to do?  Threaten to smash the Wedgwood or crack the Waterford?  Causing horror amongst my fellow passengers?

My current travel kit consists of two linen napkins, an unbreakable Corelware plate, Carr's water crackers, 3 year old Tillamook extra sharp cheddar cheese, Boar's Head pepperoni, and a sliced honeycrisp apple.

It may not be as classy as my ginger-lime-kumquat chicken over wild rice, but it better reflects our age of lowered expectations.

At least, it frees me from eating another of those questionable sandwiches on my flight to Manzanillo.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

da train, da train

I have been pondering a new adventure.

My train trip last week to Olympia reminded me how much I enjoy train travel.  There is something about the leisurely pace of not only getting from one place to another, but also watching life unfold outside my window.

My favorite time of day is the early morning.  Especially in rural areas.  As the heartland of all that is good about America awakens for a day of honest labor.

OK.  I know I know that version is more Hallmark than reality.  But there is a grain of truth in the vision.  And I like to find it as often as I can.

So, here are my thoughts.  Subject to a lot of revision.

My house preparation is far from done.  Even after extending my stay to 9 December, I will need to return for the month of January.  If all goes well, I will return to Mexico for trips to Oaxaca and Chiapas in February.

When Melaque starts heating up, I am considering heading north again to spend two months on Amtrak.  With stops in cities where I have friends I have not seen recently.

On my next trip, I may even take a test run between Los Angeles and Salem to see how I like spending the night in one of Amtrak's sleeper rooms. 

The down side is price.  That two-day trip costs $200 more than a first class ticket on Alaska Airlines between Portland and Manzanillo.

We shall see.  May is still months away.  Knowing my recent mind moods, I may be off on another trip to Asia before the train thoughts solidify.

But this map is certainly filled with temptations.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

flights of fancy

I met him when I went to work at SAIF in 1989.

We will call him Paul.  Not his real name.  You will soon see why.

He was one of those young guys everybody liked in college.  Men wanted to be his best friend.  Women wanted him to be their husband.  Our own Russell Crowe.

And he was an audacious attorney.  Well-spoken.  Quick-witted.  Smart.  His clients loved him as their champion.  His opponents feared his tread.

But life was not kind to him.  His wife left, and then divorced, him.  He left our law firm for another.  That did not last long.  He tried solo practice.  That went even worse.

Through it all, I was his friend. But he eventually pushed me away, as well.  In the end, he lost his license to practice law.  And drifted.

His name is Paul.  He is an alcoholic.

I thought about him all the way through Flight -- Denzel Washington's current film.

The story is similar.  Heroic professional acting bravely to save lives. 

In Denzel's case, a commercial pilot who calmly lands an airliner under next to impossible circumstances -- saving most of the lives on board.  And does it while under the influence of both booze and cocaine.

This is a tale of an addict.  A guy whose skills as a pilot are so great that he can mask the fact that his life is out of control.  As much as that airplane diving uncontrollably to the ground.

And anyone who knows an addict knows the rest of this story.  There are moments of recovery where the booze is tossed out of the house.  To be followed by tough circumstances where the addict seeks solace in the numbing force of alcohol.

Even though the story is familiar, this one is well told.  A bit boring at points where Denzel sinks into the depths of his addiction.  And the film seems to lose its own rhythm.

And the ending is just a bit too American.  Too convenient.

But the climax pits the addict against his addiction in a real and well sat up moral choice.  One I did not see coming, but also had the feel of inevitability about it.

Flight -- a triple pun title about the airliner crash, the addict's descent into desperation, and his attempt to flee from the choices he must make -- is a film that reminds me of the Pauls in our own lives.

And how their flight is their own.  We can merely be there to help them through some of the crashes.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

emptying my drawers

I am back in Salem.  Once again at the task of clearing out the house.

After almost a full month, I have only one room notched on my pistol grip.  But it was the big room.  My office that had morphed into a sarcophagus of paper and nostaligia.

Monday I started on what should be an easy task.  Boxing up the legal files from my decade of private practice.  Once boxed, the files will become food for a shredder truck.

Those cabinets are filled with some of the best stories of my life.  Some I had completely forgotten until I looked through the files.

Murders.  Divorces.  Personal injuries.  Legal and medical malpractice cases.  And thousands of every-day legal problems my clients faced during my 10 years as a legal general practioner.

None of them avalable for public tales -- because everything in those files belongs to the people who came to me with ther issues.  Secrets and confidences that will soon belong to an industrial cross-cut shredder.

I was surprised to look down the list of names I represented throughtout the 1980s.  I hate to admit it.  But I could not remember most of the names.  And the faces are mainly just blurs.  People who shared some of the most intense moments of their lives are simply erased from my hard drive.

The files did remind me, though, that the work I did was worthwhile.  While it was happening, I was the champion of my clients.  Using my knowledge to help them work through the American legal system.  Often representing clients who "respectable" people would never encounter.

But that part of my life is done.  The files are nothing more than snapshots that serve no further purpose.

And, like all of us, no matter how dramatic our moments may be, they will soon shuffle off into oblivion.