Saturday, March 31, 2012

the game is afoot

This map fascinated me when I ran across it earlier in the month.

If someone had asked me to identify what the blue, orange, and red sections represented, I would never have guessed.  At least, not correctly. 

It certainly is not a map of how the world would vote (if it could) in the 2012 presidential election.  That would mean Kenya would vote for Mitt Romney.  And that sounds odd.

The blue area is the portion of the world that observes daylight saving time (with varying start dates).  The red and orange portions represent countries that formerly or never have played the game of springing forward and falling back.

Mexico joins the game tomorrow morning.  Three weeks after Canada and The States switched.  (That is the extent of my public service announcement for those of you in Mexico.  Fortunately, my telephone and computers should switch automatically.  But, if I want to get up in time to get to church, I will need to manually move my night stand alarm forward one hour.)

For those of you who dislike daylight saving time (and that appears to be a vast majority of the people in the world who simply do not play the game), here is another piece of trivia for your quiver. 

In The States, daylight saving time was first implemented as a temporary expedient to save utilities during the First World War.  Another Progressive idea to create a Wilsonian world. 

Like most things temporary proposed by the government, it became permanent.  Just like the temporary increase in income tax rates to finance that war.  Not to mention the fact that it failed to save utility costs, as well.

But it is still with us.  And I will do my part to play the game. 

Fortunately, by choosing to live in Mexico, my time under sentence will be a few weeks shorter than my northern correspondents.

Of course, if I really disliked the system that much, I could move someplace where it is not an issue. 

Perhaps -- Kenya.

Friday, March 30, 2012

of suns and settings

"When the facts change, I change my mind."  So said John Maynard Keynes famously.

But he was only partially correct.  Sometimes we change our minds when our perception changes.

I have spent far too much blog space recently grousing about the lack of culture in Melaque.  After all, this is a beach town where visitors should not expect a Julliard-trained string quartet on the sand.

Last week I decided to do something I had not done in months.  I wandered down to the shoreline to watch a sunset.

There may be a reason why I stopped taking an hour out of my day to watch the sunset.  Perhaps my aversion to repetition.  Or the fact that familiarity often breeds indifference.

The result?  I had a great time and told myself I need to watch more of these light shows.

Melaque has some outstanding circumstances for sunsets.  The angle of the sun creates some unusual colors -- especially, yellows.  And if there are clouds in the area, they will come in various shapes.  Disney would be envious in his crypt.

I was puttering around the house yesterday afternoon and noticed the sun was starting to go down.  The sky had been overcast for most of the day, but there were breaks in the cloud cover.  You can see from the photograph at the top of the blog, there were plenty of interesting cloud formations to create a nice sunset.

There were even subtle touches.  Like a detail from a Turner painting.

I can usually entertain myself while waiting for the big show by watching the local skimboarders.  But last night there was only one guy brave enough to ride the huge waves we have been exeriencing for the past week.  And he was not very good.

And neither were the prospects for a good sunset.  Most of the clouds were low enough to block the horizon.  I could see a bit of the horizon.  But most of the clouds simply turned darker shades of grays and blues.

Just as I was getting ready to head back to the house, I noticed that one of the clouds was showing a bit of pink.  And then, almost as if someone had thrown the light on an Amsterdam porch, the sky lit up in a shade of bright red.

As is true with most photographs, this one does not do justice to the color.  What you see looks far more pink than the red I experienced.

But that is a quibble.  It was one of the best sunsets I have seen in my three years in Melaque -- simply because of its unique construction.

And I would have missed it if I had been sitting in my duplex muttering about Melaque's need for a good Brecht theater.

There may be a lesson there.  Like changing my mind.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

hand to heart

Whenever I start getting a bit smug about my life in Mexico, I can count on my blogger pal Laurie of Honduras Gumbo to yank me back to reality.

Laurie put aside her life in New Orleans to move to Honduras -- and share her faith with her neighbors.  She then relates some of her experiences to us.  How the ground is rocky.  How the need is great.  And what she is doing to meet needs one hand at a time.

I did not come to Mexico on a faith mission.  But my faith travels wherever I go.

That is why I was not too surprised, knowing what my day held in store, to read this sentence as part of my morning devotional: "For there will always be poor people in the land. That is why I am giving you this order, ‘You must open your hand to your poor and needy brother in your land.’"*

Yesterday I volunteered to assist our church's Community Services Committee with food distribution to some of the poorer families in the area. 

Poor can be a relative term.  Most of the "poor" in Canada and The States would not be considered poor here.  For various reasons, with their assets, they could lead a comfortable life in my little village.

Like most economists, Jorge Castañeda struggled in Mañana Forever?: Mexico and the Mexicans to define the line between poor and middle class in Mexico.  It is a difficult line to draw. 

Most of my friends in Oregon would probably call my immediate neighbors poor.  But my neighbors would call themselves middle class.  They have a roof over their heads.  Food.  Electricity.  And enough excess income to purchase stoves, refrigerators, televisions, mobile telephones, and vehicles.

But there is absolute poverty nearby.  Where there is no excess income.  Including some of our neighbors around the church.

Because the church has limited resources, we try to direct it to families who need it most.  Or as the Victorians would say: "the deserving poor."  The trick is in the winnowing.

We are lucky enough to have established a working relationship with the local office of DIF -- the agency responsible for "focuses on strengthening and developing the welfare of the Mexican families."  To use their phrase.

A DIF agent accompanied us to today as we deliverered dispensas -- food bags containing staple foods for family meals -- in Villa Obregon (around the church) and in Pinal Villa (where the Indian School is located).  Based on her information, she showed us where to leave the food bags.

I have seen areas in Mexico where the people are poorer than the people we saw today.  But those we saw were poor enough.  Poor enough that every person who received a bag was thankful.

None of the bags will deliver these families from their poverty.  But it will stave off hunger tonight and tomorrow -- and maybe the next day.

And the families will know that their neighbors, in their faith, opened their hands to them.  Out of love.  To nurture their souls with kindness.
* - Deuteronomy 15:11

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

i vant to dreenk your blood

Wagner is blaring on the stereo.  And here I sit in the midst of war-planning.

The Sudentland and Poland are safe.  But Aedes aegypti and her ilk had best pack up their carbon dioxide-detectors.  Because I am irritated.

Rather, my skin is irritated.  My lower legs are as red and bumpy as a teenager's left cheek.  All from mosquito bites.

I am accustomed to battling them during the day when I sit on my patio and write.  The usual attackers are the species that carries Yellow and Dengue Fever, and wanders around at all hours of the day.  That is why I have my arsenal of Off and Raid at hand.  Both cans are well-used.

But I expect my house to be a vector-free zone.  The windows and doors are screened.  With the exception of the occasional hitchhiker, I seldom find mosquitoes in the house.

That changed on Friday night.  I found at least a dozen in the living room while I was wasting time watching a few episodes of Downton Abbey.  (I really do not understand the attraction.  It is little more than a telenovela with less yelling, mugging, and skin -- but a lot more tweed.)

Saturday night was the same.  And Sunday.  And Monday.  By last night, I found them in the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, and, of course, my bedroom.  Repeated applications of Raid seemed only to encourage them.

This afternoon I went into the guest bedroom to retrieve the Wagner.  And discovered why my casa has become an aedic aviary.  The sliding screen on the window was open.

I have no idea why.  Maybe Dora was cleaning and forgot to close it.  Or I may have opened it to chat with the writer and his wife who were staying upstairs this week.
Whatever the reason, I hope the female vampire tide is at an end.  I wandered through the house spraying Raid in the dark recesses where some mosquitoes like to hide. 

And if vampires are going to start showing up in the middle of the night at my house, why can't they look a bit more like Salma Hayek? 

Come to think of i
t, why don't the women in Downton Abbey look more like Salma Hayek?

But that may just be another reason why I live in Mexico rather than in an English country house.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

a stirring afternoon

Today is stir fry day.

One aspect of Mexican life I looked forward to when I moved south three years ago was food.  Or rather the raw ingredients for food. 

Mexican food tends to combine about three different ingredients in varying manners.  But they remain the same three ingredients repeated over and over.  And, with time, they get rather boring.

But I anticipated the vegetables would be far tastier than in my Salem Safeway -- if for no other reason than they would be fresher.  And I have not been disappointed.  Freshly-harvested vegetables are available all year in my village.

Before I moved down, whenever I cooked at home (which was seldom), I started using the stir fry method. My goal was to cut down on the amount of meat in my diet and to increase my intake of vegetables.

However, I did not put that plan into full operation until I moved.  The combination of a vegetable-intensive diet and a lot of walking resulted in 30 pounds coming off of my short frame in the first two months I lived in Villa Obregon.

Due to my recent travels, it occurred to me that I had cooked very few meals in the last six months.  So, yesterday I did my first big vegetable run in a long time.

I have listened to my neighbors complaining about how expensive food has become here.  That may be true.  But my purchase yesterday seemed like a bargain.

You can see what I bought in the photograph.  Two large tomatoes.  Two white onions.  Five carrots.  Four small zucchini.  Seven Serrano peppers.  One sweet red pepper.

All of that for $33 (MX) or about $2.59 (USD).  It is hard to compare those prices with Salem.  After all, the cost of transporting the same goods thousands of miles north is not part of our local cost.  But it still seems like a pretty good deal to me.

And it will be even a better deal when I stir fry the lot this afternoon with a little bit of left-over grilled chicken and a nice semi-homemade hoisin sauce.

Buen provecho to me.

Monday, March 26, 2012

contrasts in the shade

Contrasts let us appreciate life.

Indifference shows us the strength of love.  Night's cloak lets us truly see the details of the day.  And I suspect that is all Hegel was attempting to teach us with his convoluted Teutonic dialectic.

My friend, Ron Nelson in Oregon, sent me an email that tossed me down this philosophical rabbit trail.  The photograph at the top of this post is of his back yard.

My former state has been having some very odd weather.  When I was there in December, it seemed like Spring.  But Oregon has suffered a series of winter storms that do not fit its regular pattern.

Oregon is a wet winter state.  Not a cold, snowy place.  That is why I never quite understand people from places like Ontario or Alberta when they say they come south for the weather.  Weather has never been a real factor for me in deciding where to live.  But, for them, the contrast is greater.

And that sounds just a bit churlish this noon.  Because here I sit on my patio.  72 degrees.  60% humidity.  With a nice breeze.  Almost perfect.  With the exception of the odd mosquito -- who is simply trying to add to the contrast, I suspect.

I may have not come south for the weather.  But today I can really appreciate the contrast.

So, Ron.  As much as I enjoy contrasts, today I will simply enjoy this end of the spectrum. 

But thank you for letting me appreciate it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

desks on the hoof

We may as well have a spotted owl or a whooping crane living in town.

Except, this rare bird stays rooted.  Because it is a tree.

I have walked by it -- who knows how many times?  It grows next to the bus station and across the street from the bank.

We do not often notice what we see every day until something changes.  In this case. the tree started producing seed pods.  And I had seen those seed pods before.  On a table in my living room -- as part of an artificial flower arrangement.

But I had no idea what type of tree it was.  Nor did any of the people who ran businesses within its shade.  They could only tell me that it was a "medicine tree" (apparently, an early remedy for what Viagra now treats) or a "cedar." 

I doubted the latter claim.  The tree was deciduous.  Not a conifer.  As for the first claim, I still have no idea. 

A little bit of research (with the help of my land lady, Christine) gave me a rather quick answer.  It is a mahogany -- and, to my surprise, once classified as a cedar due to its seed cones.  And, up until the 1950s, a prime lumber tree of the Americas.
Prime, that is, until it was nearly wiped out.  Starting in the 1790s in Jamaica.  The tree once grew from southern Florida to Bolivia. 

But, because it is slow-growing, and the demand for its wood was so high, it nearly joined the dodo and passenger pigeon as once-thriving, now-extinct living things.

In theory, they are a protected species in the wild.  How the tree in San Patricio happened to be there, no one can tell.  After all, no one can even tell me how the village got its name.  Is it a specimen tree or a hardy native?

It doesn't matter.  It is simply a good symbol of how resilient nature can be.

Plus it gave me an opportunity to learn a few new things about a tree that is a bit more than my grandmother's dining table or my friend's sail boat.

Friday, March 23, 2012

two flings and a funeral

It appears my luck with telephones is running about the same as my luck with women.

This morning I woke up to find one dead on the floor next to my bed.  A telephone, that is.  I can only assume it was a suicide or an accident.  Perhaps in the same category as Amy Dudley's death.

But things had not been going well for the telephone.  It had stopped talking to my new computer about a week ago.  (Jealousy, I suspected.) 

And during the trip to China, it had decided to discharge its battery sporadically.  For no good reason.  And a mobile telephone without a battery is not very -- well, mobile.

It was not ever thus.  If you had asked me how long I had been using my HTC Touch Diamond (the deceased’s formal name), I would have guessed at least two years. 

But I would have been wrong,  It has been just over a year.  I know that because I rhapsodized poetically (or prosaically) over my new relationship in close calls -- and that was January of 2011.

Dead is dead.  And I use a telephone down here not only for communication, but as my Bible reader, to track my finances, and to avoid missing appointments (like I did this week with no reminder).

There was no choice.  Off to Manzanillo I went.  The only place nearby where I could find the type of Android telephone I wanted.  My mother, my brother, and Garry Denness of The Mexile all have Samsung Galaxies.  And that was good enough for me.

The clerk showed me an iPhone, but there was no possibility of that purchase.  Like trying to sell a Chevrolet to a Ford man.  His next suggestion was a Galaxy Nexus.  Exactly what I wanted.  The full transaction in a semblance of Spanish.

I paid my money and headed home.

It was far more money than I had planned to spend.  For another $1,000 (MX), I could have bought a Chinese-made motorcycle at Walmart.  But I was happy with the trophy I had bagged.

When I checked my postal box in San Patricio, I discovered my subscription to The Economist finally caught up with me after nine months.  Well, it didn’t quite catch up with me. 

I finally gave up on trying to get the address straightened out with the subscription department and bought an "introductory" subscription.  In the hope that starting anew would get a magazine in my hands.

It worked.  And I am now a very happy expatriate.  A new telephone.  And with my favorite magazine in hand.

Until I find one or the other expired on the patio.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

uneasy lies the head

“If a few ramshackle colonists in America can send him packing, why can’t we?"

So, said Charles Fox of George III.  With Alan Bennett’s rather anachronistic words, of course.

I have never been fond of monarchies.  The prime principle of American political philosophy is that we are all republicans.

During the early republic, the worst name a politician (or socialite) could be called was “monarchist.”  The Jeffersonians were quick to pull that one on John Adams.  And very quietly on Washington.

So, it should come as no surprise, that I agree with Fox’s sentiments.  Even though there have been moments when it appeared the theatrical run of the teutonic British monarchs would run out, George III’s great great great great granddaughter is still on the throne.  Having ruled even longer than his benighted reign.

How the Brits and the Commonwealth want to run their head of state business is none of mine.  But monarchy certainly would not be my first choice.

That is one reason I was shocked when I heard some Americans talk about restoring King Idris’s line in Libya and Zahir Khan in Afghanistan.  Fortunately, the idea was short lived. 

But what were Americans doing talking about propping up toppled monarchs?  Probably exercising the same political fickleness that caused other Americans to go all weak at the knees for last year's wedding.  (And if you ask "what wedding?," you do not need to worry.  I am not talking about you.)

Well, I guess we all have our moments.  Because I have slipped into the same line of thinking.

When I lived in Greece, I had some sympathies for (and operational contacts with) the recently deposed King Constantine.  The Army had set up a referendum to ask if the people would be happy to be rid of their king.  When military dictators ask you such questions, the safe answer is almost always: "yes, whatever you say.”

And so said the Greek people.  There were reasons for them to be a bit tired of the Greek royal family with German and Danish blood.  And a queen mother who thought being the Kaiser’s daughter was better than a fresh Bismark.

So, off the then-young king went to live in Rome and then England with his cousin Prince Phillip.  Having already married off his sister to the waiting-to-be King of Spain.

Since then, Greece has not had a very happy political history.  Politicians have continually tried to outbid rival parties by offering "benefits" -- without having a way to pay.

As we all know, the dragon eggs are now hatching for the Hellenes.  A Delphic oracle for the rest of the world.

At the moment, the Greek people do not trust either of their big parties.  And they are about to dump the party they just put in office in favor of the party they just dumped out.  There is no moral force at the tip of the heap.

And here is where I violate the deepest of my political beliefs.  King Constantine II may just be the answer to part of Greece’s problems.  The Greeks need someone in charge who they know is telling them the truth.  Even if the truth hurts.  The current parties have none of that moral capital.

This crisis will soon pass.  But a nice steady hand may be what the Greeks need to get through the inevitable financial default that is coming.

And when it is over, the Greeks can certainly send him packing again.

Given the choice, I would also choose London over Athens.   And have several times.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

a taxing event

Taxes.  If there is something more annoying in life, I haven’t experienced it.

Well, yes.  I have.  Even more annoying than paying taxes is planning badly for them.

Three years ago I retired one-third of the way into into the tax year.  Somehow, I managed to underestimate my tax withholding on my retirement pay.  Partly due to the combination of having earned income and retirement pay in the same year.

And it was a big underpayment.  Enough to spend close to a month in one of those San Francisco hotels where the staff speaks with phony French accents.

To avoid a reprise the next year, I upped the amount withheld on my pensions.  But that was also the same year I returned to Oregon to train my replacement.  Once again, two sources of income.

When tax time rolled around, I was short.  And off to Washington went another month-stay at a five star hotel.

Last year, I was certain I had it nailed.  My sole income was from my retirement, and I knew I had finally reached a nice equilibrium.  When I filled out my 1040 in January, it informed me a refund would be on my way.  A small refund.  But, a refund, nonetheless.

That is until I noticed I had skipped a line.  The only change in income I had last year was my Social Security.  And I had no idea why I was asked to include that amount on my tax return.  After all, I thought, Social Security is a non-taxable event.  Or so I had been told.

When I added my Social Security payments to the rest of my income, once again, I owed another stay at a chi-chi hotel.

It turns out that my Social Security payments did two things.  85% of the payments are taxable as income.  And that 85% bounced me into a higher tax bracket.

In the recesses of my mind, I remember that mandarin of Congress, Dan Rostenkowski, being trapped in his limousine by angry placard-wielding seniors.  He had been a prime driver for taxing Social Security benefits for “wealthier” seniors.

At the time, I thought it was a good idea.  The revenue would help balance what was then a burgeoning deficit.

Well, we all know what happened.  Congress spent the revenue -- just as it does with every tax increase.  We now have even a bigger deficit.  And I am one of those placard-wielding seniors.

I had planned on filling my taxes in January.  To get that big refund, mind you.

Now, I will wait until I am about to sail away from New Orleans. 

Maybe the government can use my payment to ransom me if I am kidnapped in Egypt.

Note -- By the way, several of you have asked through e-mail if I had any damage from yesterday’s earthquake.  I didn’t even feel it.  And surprisingly, as large as it was, there seems to have been very little loss in Mexico.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

driving down the rabbit trail

There are days that deserve double takes.

I was up at 7 this morning to get ready for my drive to Manzanillo. While cutting up a banana on my cereal, I glanced out the window. And saw what you can see at the top of the blog.

A rabbit. A white rabbit.

Spying neither Grace Slick or Alice Liddell in the garden, I assumed my visitor was an escaped pet or someone's dinner. But it did bring back memories.

My brother and I had pet rabbits when we were growing up. They came to an untimely end involving a pack of dogs. The details will do none of us any good.

I assumed this rabbit's owner (or the chef) would come looking for him. So, off I hopped to Manzanillo.

One of the things I enjoy about Mexico is that there are no wrong turns. Only opportunities to enjoy new places.

For some reason, I decided to try a new way of getting to the immigration office. It is good I do not live in a country where timeliness is next to anything. Because I found myself not lost, but heading through neighborhoods that were not designed for the efficient flow of traffic. What should have taken me ten minutes took me forty-five.

When I arrived at the office, all of the parking spaces were filled. Surprisingly, I found a spot along the street.
I had been told that the immigration office moved to new digs -- but they were easy to find. Easy it was. Take the left door instead of the door straight ahead. To keep up the Alice patter.

I signed in around 9:35 and took my number. The waiting room was almost full. So, after only about four minutes, I was surprised to hear my number called. I have no idea how I jumped the rest of the queue. Nor did the people sitting next to me.

Having gone through this drill three times before, I brought copies of almost everything I could imagine. And it worked. Because I didn't need hardly anything.

The only items she was interested in were the completed and signed application form I had filled out online, my photographs for my new card, and a copy of the photograph page in my passport.

She asked if I still lived at the same address. When I answered "yes," she said I did not need to give her a copy of my telephone bill. Nor did she need any financial information. The whole transaction took me about as much time as it took to type it up for you.

She then sent me off to the Navy Bank to pay my application fee: $1451(Mx). In the past, this step has been the most problematic. Whenever the swabbies are paid, the place is flooded.

Not today. There was one man in front of me. The clerk handled his request quickly and then took my money and paperwork. In just a couple of minutes I walked back to the office to hand in my receipt.

The very helpful woman (I cannot now recall her name) gave me a letter as a temporary FM3 (because she kept my card for updating). She originally told me to return in late April for my new card. I had thought about this ahead of time, and gave her a copy of my airline itinerary -- informing her I would be leaving on 11 April. She kindly changed my return date to 10 April.

I walked out the door, and glanced at my watch. It was 10:18. The whole process had taken less than forty-five minutes. As efficient as any government office I have visited.

When I got home, I was surprised to see The White Rabbit had not moved on. Obviously he thought he had found sanctuary. I tried approaching him, but he was as scared as -- well, a rabbit (to remint the cliché).

I went back into the house to get him a leaf of lettuce (trying to recall if Prince Charles -- my rabbit -- liked the stuff). I found him just outside my gate cowering motionless under a shrub. And I could see why.

No more than ten feet away, a nasty-looking feral white and yellow cat was crouched to spring. (The line between coiled rattlesnakes and attack-ready cats is very thin in my mind.) I shooed the cat away from its Watership Down moment.

When I returned to the garden, the rabbit soon followed me in. Not close enough for me to touch. But he allowed me to approach him while he cooled off under a small bougainvillea.  

Now, I need to decide what I am going to do with the rabbit. Between the cats, dogs, and crocodiles, I suspect his bright white coat is going to make him a prime entrée in God's buffet.  

Maybe I will follow my own advice from yesterday. It will all get worked out mañana.

Monday, March 19, 2012

best intentions in a real world

In a well-ordered universe, I would be in Manzanillo this morning.  And my FM3 would be well on its way to renewal.

But I do not live in a well-ordered universe.

For those of you who may not remember, my FM3 (or, as it is now known: Prórroga de No Inmigrantes) is my visa.  The permission granted by the government of Mexico for me to stick around for an additional year.  And it is time for me once again to go hat in hand and ask permission to stay for another year.

The process for renewing visas has improved greatly since I came to Mexico.

When I first renewed my visa, I needed to bring the original and copies of my passport, my FM3 booklet, a utility bill in my name with my address (or a constancia de domicilio -- a document issued by the local government showing my address), my rental agreement, a copy of my landlady's voter ID card, three months of bank statements showing a monthly income adequate to keep me off of the Mexican welfare rolls, portrait photographs, a letter explaining why I wanted to live in Mexico, a completed paper form that asked questions only a bureaucrat could appreciate, and a fistful of pesos for the annual renewal fee.

And each year that list mutated based on either regulations or whim.  It did not matter.  I merely jumped through the hoops like a good no inmigrante and coughed up whatever was requested.

Last year reform hit the process.  One of President Calderon's goals was to make Mexican government more efficient.  And his reforms in the visa process seemed to be working quite well.

When I renewed last year, I filled out a streamlined application online.  Printed it off.  Signed it.  With that signature, the need for the plea letter vanished.

I then took the form (within the 30 day window for renewal) to Manzanillo along with my utility bill (to prove residency), my old FM3 booklet (to be exchanged for a new card), and my passport.  That was all I needed. 

Gone were the financial documents (at least, until my 5 year renewal point) and the rest of the pesky document requirements.  Needless to say, I still needed that fistful of pesos.

Earlier this month, while planning my next trip, I realized my FM3 would expire just after I leave.  But that was no problem.  It would still give me over three weeks to get a new visa card in hand.

Or so I thought.  The first day I could renew day was Saturday.  I tried going online to fill out the form.  But it informed me I was too early.  So, I tried again this morning.  Same message.

No problem.  I would merely drive to Manzanillo to start the process in person.  After all, I had everything else ready to go.

It then occurred to me.  This is a Mexican holiday.  A huge Mexican holiday.  The birthday of Benito Juárez.  The queso grande.  The equivalent of Washington, Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan.  All rolled into one.

There would be no going to Manzanillo today.  But there is always mañana.  And mañana it shall be.

And I will be back to a semi-ordered universe.  Perhaps, with a renewed FM3.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

burning desire

Saturday evening was about as Mexican as a person can get.

I cooked up a pot of beans (admittedly with a few nouvelle cuisine touches -- something we can discuss later) and ate a bowl before leaving for the last day of our week-long celebration of Saint Patrick's death.  Well, his life.  That we celebrate on the date of his death.

Beanified, I walked the mile or so to the San Patricio village square.  A blind man could have found it.  With the doors closed at home, I could hear the band and the bingo announcer.  Loud counts in music and fireworks.  And we had a night of both.
What is it with Mexican religious fiesta music?  It sounds like a pastiche of Italian melodies, German rhythm, and Mexican exuberance.  But I like it.  Probably because I identify it so closely with nights like last night.

When I got to the square, I joined the strolling crowd -- slowing rotating counter-clockwise.  (It was destined to be a night of circular motion.)  Greeting neighbors seated on the shore of our own It's a Small World stream.

There are people who can do The Stroll all evening.  And do.  I am not one of them.  Instead, After two revolutions, I headed over to the carnival rides.

If there is a Fountain of Youth, these rides must be produced there.  Where else could youngsters, teenagers and adults (some with graying hair) be reduced to the same giddy level when subjected to things that merely spin and rotate?  Count me as a founding member of the J. Paul Giddy list.

We were still at least an hour (it turned out to be two) away from the fireworks show. What to do?  Let's see.  This is a religious festival for Saint Patrick.  Why not drop by the church where he is the patron saint?  And drop by I did.

Usually when I visit the rather bare Catholic church in San Patricio, I have the place to myself -- and the occasional pigeon.  Not last night.  Older couples.  Young families.  Single petitioners.  Praying.  Exercising the faith for which the place was built.

And, all the while, the band wrestled with Verdi and Strauss, and the bingo announcer chirped on.  Until all went silent.  That meant the big event was about to happen.  And happen it did.

I do not know what Friday night's fireworks were like.  I do know they were loud.  But last night's were a four rocket Francis Scott Key night.

The castillo was one of the most intricate I have seen.  The wheel I saw being constructed in the jardin earlier in the day was merely one part of a multi-layered display that moved at differing speeds when lit. 

And, of course, there were a record number of small rockets that shot into the udience creating joyous panic -- and a few burns here and there.  One of the rockets managed to find its way up my bare leg while I was filming.

When the castillo was done, rockets were fired into the air -- the type that are usually shot off early in the morning to remind us a saint day is at hand.  Then a series of traditional fireworks.  Followed by at least five toritos -- chased by the local boys who jumped and yelled like -- well, local boys.

A few of the teenage American and Canadian Spring Break crowd were spectators.  And they did not acquit themselves well.  The local girls showed far more bravery around the rockets.  Of course, the northern boys are not from a culture where fiery objects are purposely shot at people for their enjoyment.

Everything tonight was as it should be.  And I would no have missed a bit of it.

Was it grander than last night?  I don't know.  And I really don't care. 

All I know is -- I had a great time.  And I am looking forward to next year's fiesta.  Or, come to think of it, maybe next month's.

Note -- When I upload directly to YouTube, my videos gather a lot of distortion.  Let me try another source for my video.  Bear with me while I experiment.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

one last blast

I may have been misinformed. 

It is the bane of journalism.

Last night may or may not have been the best firework display of our San Patricio fiesta.  Each of the neighborhoods in San Patricio is responsible for financing the fireworks display for a night of the fiesta. 

Last night was sponsored by the neighborhood around the church.  And they traditionally go all out to create the best show.

But today is Saint Patrick’s Day.  And logic would dictate that if any fireworks display is designed to blow the saint into ecstasy, this would be it.

As I was walking through the jardin this afternoon, I caught the fireworks guy in the act of constructing one of their Catherine’s wheels of fire. 

You can see the jets that propel the wheel.  And those smaller objects are the pesky little rockets that shoot into the audience and make us dance a Paleolithic fire jig.

The workers told me tonight would be the big night.  But they are showmen.  Every night is a big night for them.

So, just after dark I will join the bravado community at the base of the castillo for a bit of fun.

I can then let you know if tonight was the best night ever.  First hand.

fire in the hole

Last night was the big night in our San Patricio celebration.  I didn't get there, but I heard it from my house -- about a mile away.  Both the fireworks and the music.

My blogger pal Sparks over at Melaque on the Costalegre posted the video below on hos site.  It is a great compilation of the excitement surrounding the fireworks.  The castillo and its spinning wheels and rockets.  And, of course, the torito  -- the flaming "bull" that is run through the crowd shooting out rockets.

So, join in the excitement.  Without the fear of having your hair or clothes set on fire.  It is best watched in full screen mode.

Friday, March 16, 2012

che hitler goes for a drive

Every Friday morning I meet my friend, Ed, for breakfast.  (Ed is an artist.  I discussed his work with you in little cat feet on the sand.)

The main purpose for meeting, other than enjoying some of the best huevos rancheros in Mexico, is to discuss how the Indian school is operating.  Our main concern being food and school supplies.

But we do venture afield.  One of my favorite topics is the nature of art.  How often can you sit down with an artist who understands why he is an artist and discuss, at length, his motivation?  One of these days, I need to bring you into one of our discussions.

But not today.  I have a completely different topic in mind.  As you might guess from the photograph above.

Last Friday while driving to the restaurant where we meet, I saw one of the most unusual sights I have seen in Mexico.  Or anywhere for that matter. 

A faded red construction truck drove in front of me.  On its right side (just behind the cab) was a large swastika.  Black in a white circle.  I could not have been any more startled if Fidel Castro had been standing on the street corner announcing the opening of a Subway shop while wearing a clown suit.

But I was wrong.  I could have been more startled.  And was.  Beside the Nazi spider was a painting of Che Guevara.

Who was this guy who put these icons on his truck?  A man brave enough to put two images together that look incongruous, but share one rather nasty detail? 

Of course, my camera was sitting inside my bag on the seat next to me.  I tried to speed up to snap a photograph, but he was gone with the wind. 

I did notice, though, that the left side of his truck had only a swastika.  Sans Che.  Leaving the left without Che.  But that was enough symbolism for one day.

My fellow blogger, Gary Denness over at Mexile wrote a post recently about symbols.  In fact, the two of us exchanged comments about the same two symbols on the side of the Mexican truck.  How they are powerful and why.

Symbols do not impress me.  But, there is no doubt, that both of these symbols elicit strong reactions.  For the swastika -- almost unanimously negative.

But for Che, the reactions are mixed.  My former girlfriend Linda loved him.  She thought he was sex on legs.  Of course, he was dead.  It must be easy to turn a corpse into a sex symbol.

For me, he was merely another psychotic mass killer of the Twentieth Century, who tarted up his fascist psyche with snippets from Marx.  I wonder if someone had been smart enough to put a bullet through the head of the not-yet Führer during the beer hall putsch if he would have become a t-shirt emblem for young men wishing to look cool and anti-establishment?

I doubt it.  But they both seem to have that odd look in their eyes.  The same look that the local boy gets just before the neighborhood dogs and cats start disappearing.

In my Asian travels, I have been startled at how often I see the swastika.  On monuments.  On Hindu shrines.  On statues.  Around a full balustrade of a Buddhist temple. 

Because of our experience with Hitler's Germany, the swastika has probably been forever perverted in the West.  But the symbol (in various incarnations) has long been a symbol of good luck.  And is used amongst Hindus and Buddhists. 

Even though I know this, I was still a bit startled when I examined the national costume of a Chinese minority in the Shanghai Museum.

The geometric patterns were interesting.  Then I realized why.  It was based around the swatsika that was center in the design.

I am still interested in finding the man with the truck.  I wonder if he is as steeped in political philosophy as Ed is in art.

With my luck, he will probably be wearing an Ayn Rand shirt.

Update -- A little bit of sherlocking this morning helped me find my quarry.  Here is the storied art work.  But that is just the truck.  I still know nothing about the owner.  Well, not enough to say more.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

humming with the artist

I have received a couple of email about my failure to mention Ludovic Bource's award-winning score in today's review of The Artist.

Didn't I like it?  Am I joining the Kim Novac Moral Indignation Squad over the "plagiarism" from Vertigo?

No indignation.  No dislike.

It is a marvelous score.  I love film scores in general, and this one is excellent.  It also bears the additional weight of being a Marcel Marceau for the lack of dialog.  I simply ran out of space in the review.

But I will let you make up your own mind.  This piece accompanies a bit of comedic business with actors flubbing their roles while a relationship starts building between the older male star and the young actress on her way up.  A piece of film that will prove to be a pivotal plot prop.

Enjoy.  I did.

pride and despair

The Artist* reminds me of the pretty, intelligent girl, the one who looked vaguely like Lauren Bacall, who sat next to me in high school Physics.  I liked her, but I was not certain why.

By now, all of you must know about The Artist.  A black and white silent movie.  French made.  But a tale of Hollywood film-making in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

It was beguiling enough to convince the handful of aging Academy voters to award it this year's Best Picture.  Maybe because so many of them were in silent films.

And nostalgia may be one reason the film gained so much attention.  It turns out that they do make them like they used to.

The reason I may be ambivalent is that The Artist is really two films.

The first one is what my friend Patti called ”charming.”  The not-too-original story of the silent film star at the top of his career who laughs at the coming of talkies.  And is then professionally and psychologically undone when both he and silent films are quickly forgotten.

His despair is heightened by the fact that he has fallen in love with a young actress who turns into the very symbol of the talkies.  (By the way, if you can watch this film without falling in love with Bérénice Bejo, you have no soul.)

His marriage and career in a shambles, he nearly dies.  And without the help of the young actress he would -- along with the attendant problem of Spring-Winter romances.  Think A Star is Born.

There is nothing original in that tale.  It predates the movies, and it was a staple of the early movie days.

But that is the movie’s point.  It is not original.  It is meant to charm you.  To give you hope.  Just like the depression films it is meant to reflect.  And (nudge nudge) aren’t we in the same position now, the movie so delicately asks.  Just looking for a little hope?

If that is all The Artist was, I would say: don’t bother seeing it.  After all, Mel Brooks already filmed a far more clever piece based on the same idea: Silent Movie.

But there is a far better film hidden amongst the mundane tale: a sophisticated French film comfortably cohabiting with its perky American cousin.

The French, as we know from Ridicule, honor wit far more than humor.  And The Artist is as witty as anything Molière penned.

Cultural references abound.  Visual film cues and bits that evoke the works of Degas, Rodin, and Magritte.  A tip of the hat to Jung with a shadow leaving its object.

But that is the subtle stuff.  The film is a veritable warehouse of cinematic tributes.  Every silent movie cliché is reworked into a clever homage.  Wardrobe malfunctions remind us that costumes were real clothes in those early days.  Life's worst experiences are resolved with a wide-eyed smile.

And then there are the bits from other films.  Douglas Fairbanks.  Busby Berkeley.  Charlie Chaplin.  Orson Welles.  Billie Wilder.  Rudolph Valentino.  It is as if a cinematic rapture had occurred.  And no one was left behind.

Witty it is.  But two hours of that business can cloy.  And expose itself for the conceit it is.

I have two friends named John.  Both are academics.  And they are both fascinating conversationalists.  When I get together with them, we essentially re-enact the same style I liked in The Artist.
But I am always pulled back to reality by their wives.  After about five minutes of our impersonations of Oscar Wilde on cocaine, they roll their eyes and jump on the first shuttle back to the planet Earth.

The Artist is a good film about pride and the despair that it can bring.  The ending is a typical American ending.  And that was disappointing.  I had held out hope that the witty French film would win out and give us a more thoughtful conclusion.  More like life as we know it.

But, as I said earlier.  The film is Hollywood’s attempt to bring back its take on the depression.  That a little dance step is all we need to have practically perfect lives.

The French know better.

* -- I must confess I violated one of my cardinal rules by watching this movie on a pirated DVD (that undoubtedly passed through the peso magnet of some drug cartel).  But my friend  Nancy was kind enough to lend it to me.  And I certainly was not going to find it on Netflix.  The experience taught me one thing.  The DVDs are not the bargain they appear to be.  An anti-piracy warning repeatedly showed up at the top of the screen.  And the Spanish subtitles would obliterate the silent film dialogue cards.  Both annoyances really detracted from this highly-visual film.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

trapping the mouse

One of the little death items I wrote about yesterday was my Bluetooth mouse.

When I returned from The States with my new light laptop, there was one thing I really needed.  A small mouse.

The Sony Z series is extremely well-engineered.  With one exception.  The mouse pad.  It has one of those infernal touch pads.  I know it is not just me because I  have talked to other people with the same complaint.

Somehow the touch pad makes gibberish out of my drafts.  All of a sudden a line that should be at the bottom of a piece has migrated into the second paragraph.

The solution was simple.  A small wireless mouse.  Small because I need to use it while traveling or doing my walk about.  Wireless because I do not need another cord getting in my way.

But that was the problem.  My laptop has only two USB ports.  So, a Bluetooth device would be perfect.

And that is what I found when I went to Office Depot in Manzanillo in late January.  With the seemingly-appropriate brand name of Perfect Choice.

I used it on the Copper Canyon Trip.  In Melaque.  In China.  In San Francisco.  In Salem.  In Bend.

Nary a problem.  Even though I had my misgivings.

When I bought the mouse, it had been opened and re-taped.  In Mexico, that usually means it was returned.  But it was the last one on the rack.  And I wanted it then.

When I took off the tape, the right button was stuck down.  Great, I thought.  But it popped back up.

And, as I said, it worked perfectly.  Until the electronic plagues hit me.  All of a sudden, the left mouse button simply had no click.  I tried everything.  Nada.

So, I off I went to Manzanillo with the dead mouse.  And that is exactly how the clerks and manager at Office Depot handled it.  As if it were a dead rodent. 

I showed the manager the package on his display that clearly stated the device was warrantied for two years.  He shrugged.  I felt as if I had stepped into the Monte Python dead parrot skit.

But I was not going to be saluted off so easily.  I told him I had bought it less than two months before.  That was not two years.

He then fell back on his bureaucratic Maginot Line.  "Where is your receipt?"  Said he.  "Where is the packaging?"

I may be a bit anal, but I do not keep receipts and packaging.  He merely smiled and said there was nothing he could do without them.

So, I bought another Perfect Choice Bluetooth mouse.  Just like the other one.  Except it is still working.

And I have kept the receipt and the packaging.  Now stored in an Office Depot bag along with the dead mouse.

I suspect I may have need of the whole thing.  Say, in a week or two.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

every day a little death

"Every day a little death
In the parlor, in the bed
In the curtains, in the silver
In the buttons, in the bread
Every day a little sting
In the heart and in the head
Every move and every breath
And you hardly feel a thing
Brings a perfect little death"
Even the casual reader of this blog knows that I like Stephen Sondheim’s work -- a lot.

But even I was a bit surprised to start living the lyrics of Every Day a Little Death.  Well, at least, on the surface.

I am not certain where it started.  And it really doesn’t matter.  But the cascade started with something.

Let’s say it was the lamp in my bedroom.  It simply stopped working.  Being an optimist, I was positive a new bulb would shed light on a solution.

Nope.  It turns out that the metal portion that the bulb screws into had headed off to Edison heaven.  When I finally had the thing in my hand, I could see why.  A beer can has thicker construction.

Then my Bluetooth mouse I bought in Manzanillo in January stopped working.  No click.  No input.

And the water dispenser decided water did not need to appear on demand; it could just miraculously appear.  Creating large puddles on tile floor may be great for vaudeville acts, but it is not too amusing to a gimpy-ankled senior who lives in my house.

Then my mobile telephone stopped working.  And two additional lights blew out.

Each failure was no big deal.  Nor were they in aggregate.  After all, the Mexican tropics are tough on things mechanical -- especially the electronic cousins.  But the erosion of expected order got me thinking about life in general.

Things are decomposing around us all the time.  After all, entropy is one of the constants in our lives.  My stuff simply went all at once.  And each one can be fixed or replaced.  For now.

But everything around us -- including our lives -- may appear as if they are stone.  But they are just sand and water waiting to erode.  And there is nothing we can do to stop it.

The only thing we can control is how we choose to live in those conditions.  Railing against the inevitable.  Or enjoying the ride while we hold out our hands to others as both support and an invitation.

It may be a perfect little death, but how we choose the journey will make all the difference. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

a hole in the scenery

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women are merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances.
Shakespeare nailed it.  At least for me.  The world is a stage.

And when I made my grand entrance this morning onto the garden patio, all of the usual props were there.  Plenty of sun.  A nice breeze.  And the sounds of fighting cocks competing with the less-annoying warblers.

But something was amiss.  Or, more accurately, amissing.

You may recall that I am on my third hammock at Casa A
lgodón.  The latest being a multi-colored work: lonely swinger.

Well, it appears to be the late hammock.  Where it once swung between two trees, there is now only open space.  Occupied, perhaps, by the Zen essence of the hammock.

It appears someone, who wanted the hammock more than I did, jumped the fence and made off with my swinging nap spot.

Of course, I took a look around to see if anything else was missing.  It wasn't.

I wanted to make certain my reason had not gone missing along with the hammock.  These type of thefts can often lead to what I refer to as inductive hysteria.  Because something of mine was taken, I must now live as if the Cossacks will soon descend on us.

Nothing has changed in my life other than my land lady's hammock is gone.  It is simply a prop, and the fact it is missing int his little play of life merely means I will need to indulge in a little improvisation.

The trick is making the audience believe the missing prop is merely part of the play.

And maybe it is.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

standing pat

I almost skipped the kick-off of our local Saint Patrick's celebration this year.  After all, I am the guy who says he never does anything twice.

Unlike a lot of towns in the Mexican highlands, San Patricio never had an Indian name for the Spanish to tack on a Catholic moniker.  Our little village is far too young to reflect a dual past.

We are just plain San Patricio.  Whose patron saint is the peripatetic Briton the Irish adopted as their own.  (That is him over there on the left in our little church foolishly telling our Lady of Guadalupe what-for.)

My neighbors' ancestors followed the Irish example and named Patrick their patron saint.  After three years I have yet to find any factual basis for that odd choice.  Or to answer the question why I live next door to San Patricio, rather than, say, Santa Claus.

What drew me out on Saturday night was not the odd mix of young women in tight jeans and short skirts.  And the array of cardiac-inducing vendors.  And the carnival rides.  And even the town band whose music sounds as if it came to Mexico through a Brecht-influenced Munich beer hall.

Of course, they all draw in their own way.  But I came to witness an annual rite of a passage as important as any Kenyan tribal initiation.

Each evening during the week-long St. Patty fiesta, the celebration is topped off by a tower of fireworks -- a castillo.  I have written of them before.  Spinning wheels of fire that shoot flaming small rockets into the crowd.
But those rockets are nothing compared to what the local boys face.  To show their bravery and honor, the boys -- armed only with a card board shield -- run under the shower of sparks that cascade from the it castillo.  Trial by fire.

I asked my friend Juan, who grew up here, if he was afraid when he first ran the gauntlet.

"Afraid?  I cried each night for a week before I had to do it,  My Dad told me if I did not do it, I would shame not only myself, but my entire family."

What happened?

"I did it.  The other boys were as scared as I was.  But each time we ran through, we proved we were men.  We felt alive.  It was one of the greatest experiences of my life."

And that is why I went last night.  To please that little bit of Hemingway ambient hubris that skulks in my soul.

To celebrate brave boys defeating their perceived fears in a burst of glory.  And knowing that family pride is being served.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

losing my power

Yesterday I felt a bit like Henry VI. 

One moment I had power,  And then I didn’t.  And then I did.  And then I didn't.

Electrical power, that is.  In my case.

Electricity is rather reliable in Mexico.  At least, in Melaque.  The power company (CFE) keeps its end of the social contract.  When I flip a switch, I almost always get results.

There are exceptions.  Like yesterday.

When I returned home from Manzanillo, I noticed there was a good deal of activity a few houses down.  Truck.  Men in the streets. 

I didn’t pay much attention until I opened the refrigerator door to store some prized lunch meat I had managed to bag in The Big City.  No light.  And not very cold.

Flipping a couple of other switches answered what type of truck was in the street.  A CFE truck.  They must be repairing some sort of outage, thought I in my best Logic 101 fashion.

My upstairs neighbors then gave me the rest of the story.  CFE is replacing old utilities poles.  And, of course, the electricity had to be turned off to accomplish the task safely.  The house had been without power for several hours

So, out I went.  This was a blog event playing out right before my camera.

The truck at the left side of the photograph had brought new poles.  By the time I arrived, the poles were up and were being ratcheted into place.  The men on the top of the poles were then installing new wires.

But take a look at what they are using to stay in place.

No stirrups.  No cherry picker.  They have tied a loop of rope for their foot and the weight on the loop tightens the knot around the pole.  Just like a properly-installed hammock.  Clever.  But it is the type of safety equipment that would drive OSHA to its citation pad in The States.

During the summer, we lose electricity with about every third rain storm.  But those outages are usually only for an hour or two.

This refurbishment took longer.  but not long enough to damage the food in the refrigerator -- even though I did need to make new ice.

The greatest inconvenience was the lack of internet.  I ran my laptop off of my battery.  But it felt odd not having blog or email contact.  Instead, I actually had to go talk to people face to face. 

In the end, Henry VI lost all power -- and his life. 

And me?  My power was restored by the end of the day with some shiny new infrastructure to add a bit of regal luster.

Friday, March 09, 2012

doing the town

Today was a hard shoe day.

I needed to head off to Manzanillo for a few chores.  That means the Sunday-go-to-Meeting clothes come out of the chifforobe.

Mexicans tend to treat “going to town” in the same manner my grandmother did.  The city is no place to traipse about in shorts and sandals -- as if a remake of Ben-Hur was under way. 

So, out came the long pants and hard shoes.  Nice shoes.  Soft as moccasins.  As light as opera slippers.  Looking as if they are first cousins to the type of footwear you would find on lanes one through eight at the Bowl-Rite. 

To no one’s surprise, there is a story tucked in there somewhere.

I inherited the feet of the same grandmother who would dress to go to town.  Well, at least her foot genes.

They are not so much feet as they are blocks.  Short and square.  Finding size 8 EEE is a task.  At times, I feel as if I would be better off simply buying two shoe boxes.

When I moved down here, my favorite brown shoes were on their last feet.  Literally.  You could find more sole on a Lawrence Welk LP.  So, off I went to buy replacements because I had been told that finding shoes in my size in Mexico would be a quixotic quest.
Apparently my Cervantes moment came early.  I could find nothing in Oregon, either.  After three months of La Manchaing my way through stores.

Then I happened upon a pair of Eccos.  That fit.  And threatened to drain my wallet.  If it had not been for their comfortable fit, I would not have bought them.

They looked exactly like bowling shoes. I had just recently chided a friend of mine on the Salvation Army Advisory Board for wearing similar shoes.  And here I was a step away from signing up for the PBA tour.

They turned out to be a great buy.  For three years, they have been my “good” shoes.

But all “good” things come to an end.  They served their last serviceable days on the China tour.

When I stopped in The States on my way back to Mexico, I visited three shoe stores that stock Eccos to replace the dearly departed.  But it appeared the style I had initially hated and then learned to tolerate was no simply no more.

So, I replaced them with the shoes that so amiably accompanied me to Manzanillo today.
To steal another cinematic line.  I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

breaking spring

Change is in the air.

Not the political kind -- though that may also be true.  The type of change that is really in the air.

About three days ago, The Big Hand cranked up the thermostat (just a few notches) and tossed a small can of water on the sauna rocks.

The temperature and humidity will gain far more momentum in a few weeks.  Making summers on the Costa Alegre akin to spending  time in a River Kwai punishment box.

But that will come later.  The weather is pleasant enough to attract a breed of tourists we seldom see here.

White tourists we have aplenty.  At least, of the senior variety.  This week, though, a new group showed up. 

American.  Young,  Firm. Attractive.  Maybe not as much as the cavorting youth at the top of this post.  But you get the idea.

Apparently, some of them were more adventurous than their panicky elders in The States who have been warning that traveling in Egypt would be safer than setting foot in Mexico.  For the third year in a row, the Texas Department of Public Safety earns the Chicken Little award for trying to scare Texas college students into spending their Spring Break beer money in Galveston rather than Cancun.

But they are here.  And that is a better first sign of spring than the upwardly mobile thermometer.

We do not get many young Americans here.  I suspect this lot has discovered that American dollars go much further in Melaque than Cabo San Lucas.

The local news has been filled with announcements that a record 22.7 million tourists visited Mexico last year.  The last three years have been tough for Mexicans who make their pesos catering to the desires of tourists.

But the recovery reflects a new fact.  Even though fewer Americans are coming to Mexico, the rest of the world has discovered Mexico.  (I have no idea if the number of Canadian visitors are up or down.  During the winter months here, they are thick as geese on a golf course.)

And all of that reminds me of two anecdotes I have been meaning to relate.  So, pull up a chair and let Grandpa Cotton tell you some stories.

The first happened in Oregon -- during my brief stop over on my return from China.  I met a woman for the first time who suffered a Marty Feldman eye attack when she heard I lived in Mexico.

”In Mexico?  And you’re still alive?  Seven million Americans were murdered there last year.  Americans are targets.”

If you are not wide-eyed at this moment, you must have skimmed over that 7,000,000 figure.  That is over 3 times larger than the number of Americans who died in The United States from all causes.

But I quickly understood why she could believe such an incredible allegation.  She went on to tell me Mexicans were invading the country through Arizona.  She had recently visited a relative at a gated community in Scottsdale.

”And you’ll never guess what we found in the rest room by the pool.  Mexicans.  With back packs.  Some security.”

I guess she never thought of the possibility that they were the lawn care crew.

The second story is more recent.  I was standing in the long line that forms around our bank ATM (the only one in town).  I was behind a fellow who I have known for three years.  He comes south every year for about six months.

He looked at the line of aging white faces and said: “I don’t know how this place survives after all of the tourists leave in spring.”

I told him, the place survives because there are plenty of Mexican tourists who pick up part of the slack when the northern contingent leaves.

He fixed me with a stare and said: “I mean real money.  This place would dry up without the four or five months of white tourists.”  (By the way, that was his adjective.  Not mine.)

In one sense he is correct.  There are certain restaurants that would not exist without the northern tourists.  But Melaque was here before the winter crowd showed up. And it would still be here if none of them returned.

But that is not going to happen. 

Melaque has its attractions.  As the recently-arrived young Americans are proving.  And those of us who live here all year -- as well as the people who come to visit for months during the winter season -- do contribute economically.

And we get a lot in return.  Including free sauna sessions.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

ripples on my life

I have said it before.  I will say it again. 

Steve Cotton is not a person of place. 

I have never been the type of guy who claims a bit of soil as The Place Where I Belong. The sentiment is a bit too funereal for my taste.

But we are all a tribe of contradictions.  And that lesson came home to me yesterday.

Since my return from China, I have spent a few afternoons on the shore of the laguna pulling out vegetation.  Mainly water lilies.  Their stems are strong enough to restrict the underwater movements of the crocodiles.  Green anti-submarine nets.

But there is plenty of other flotsam to be hooked out of the pond, as well.  Water bottles.  Beer cans.  The occasional pelican skull.

The most difficult are the coconuts.

The Spaniards brought the coconut palm to Mexico from The Philippines in the 1500s.  For plantations.  So they thought.  As far as the palms were concerned, it was a great new land to colonize.

And colonize they did.  Spreading like dandelions.

Some of the coconut palms around the area are cultivated.  But there are plenty of volunteers.

The trees spread through an amazing nut.  The seed is covered by a thick husk that is water-resistant.  Water-resistant enough that the nuts can travel long distances on water.  That is why there are coconuts on some of the most isolated Pacific islands.

For the cleaner of ponds, they present a problem.  I could just leave them bobbing in the water like some reminder of a tropical Titanic.  But they do not fit into the Monet landscape.

My usual vegetation remover is a pitch fork.  And it is not the best tool for coconuts.  Think peas and fork.  Same issue.  The nuts just roll off of the implement.

And once I successfully toss them on shore, they have a tendency to do as nature intended.  They roll back down the bank into the water.

Yesterday, I managed to fish out the last of the coconuts.  Exhausted, I wandered into the garden to sit down and bathe in a nice shower of hubris.

No more than thirty minutes passed before I heard splashes in the pond.  My first instinct was that one of the crocodiles had nabbed a feline snack.  But I was wrong.

Standing on the shore of the pond were two teenage girls.  Tossing the coconuts into the water.

My first instinct was to admonish them.  Until it hit me.  The pond is theirs as much as it is mine. 

I can hear the economists amongst you.  Smugly mumbling: “Ah, yes.  The Tragedy of the Commons.”  And that would be correct.  Whenever something belongs to everyone, its responsibility belongs to no one.

But my error was more basic.  I have come to think of this portion of the laguna as mine. 

It isn’t.  The public pathway around it is proof enough of that.  The work I do is not merely for me.   It is for everyone who passes this way.

And so the pond teaches me, as Walden taught Thoreau, that we are mere sojourners in this world.  We enjoy.  And then, like the Moving Finger having writ, we too move on.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

tripping to the mountains -- maybe

The China tales are at an end.  But my travels may not be.

Yesterday Abandou asked: "Where will we be tagging along to next?  Has that been decided?"

I may have an answer.  Possibly two.  The photograph at the top of this post is a good clue for the first possibility.

Early last week, Dan of Mex-Eco Tours saw me in town and told me there was a possibility that he and Ruth would be putting together a trip to Guanajuato.  It is getting rather late in the season, but he hoped enough NOBers would still be in town to fill a tour.

True to his word, an email arrived announcing a four-day trip to Guanajuato, Delores Hidalgo, and San Miguel de Allende starting on 20 March.

You may recall, I went on a similar trip in January last year.  You can read about it at: putting it together, visiting frog mountain, little gto, to see -- and observe, the tax man cometh, and shangri-la goes missing.

I enjoyed that trip.  Enough that I signed up for two additional trips with Mex-Eco Tours that year.  And the Copper Canyon tour this year.

But here is the rub.  I talked with Ruth on Monday.  Only eight people have signed up.  Twenty are needed for the trip.

So, if you are in the Melaque area and want an interesting diversion, give serious consideration to coming along.

If the Guanajuato trip does not pan out, I am looking at the possibility of a 30-day cruise from New Orleans to Dubai (through the Suez Canal) later this spring.  But more details on that later.

For now, I will wait to see if here are enough adventurers left in town to head off to Guanajuato.