Thursday, May 31, 2012

dead in the water

I played with several titles for this post.   "dead water" nearly won the thought race.

When I returned from my Great Trek, one of the first places I visited was my pond.  The natural condominium for fish, birds, and crocodiles.

I knew when I left that the vegetation would undoubtedly take over the water surface in my absence.  If not the water cabbage and hyacinth, the water lilies would prevail.

They may have.  But just before I arrived, the authorities with backhoes broke through the sea dunes to let the laguna flush.  In the hope that if hurricane Bud dropped its predicted inches of rain, it would all rush out into the ocean.

When the dunes are breached, my inlet is high enough that almost all of the water heads out to sea in the Big Flush.  And that is what happened this time.

My tranquil pond is a tangle of dying vegetation and stinking mud.  While I have the opportunity, I will dig up some of the water lilies to cut down on their intrusion. 

But I will simply be humoring myself that I am controlling anything.  After all, the water will soon return in our rainy season.  As will the vegetation.  And the crocodiles.

There is one upside, though.  It may only be my perception, but the number of mosquitoes seems to have dwindled.

And that is a very good thing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

tranquil roots

"White. A blank page or canvas. 
The challenge: bring order to the whole.
Through design.  Composition.  Tension.  Balance.  Light.  And harmony."

Thus does Georges Seurat introduce us to the artist's life in Sunday in the Park with George.

Yesterday the gardener did just that with my pocket park. 

Even though it is my refuge of tranquility, it had become what every untended garden becomes.  Tangled.  Overgrown.  A jungle.  In other words, natural.

And natural is one thing the artistic mind cannot abide.

Whether painter, sculptor, architect, film maker, or writer, artists want order.  Design.  Composition.  Tension.  Balance.  Light.  Harmony.

And when they find it, they freeze it in amber for us.  For our admiration.  And to believe, for one shiny moment, that life is thus.

My landlady hires two men to tend the garden.  One to hold a hose a couple times a week like a mother providing water to her thirsty children.  The other to show up twice a year to bring a father's disciplinary hand to the unruly brood.

And discipline he did.  Uprooting everything in the beds.  Dividing.  Replanting.  Trimming with the ruthless hand of a visionary who sacrifices the present for a better future.

Of course, both views are an illusion. 

Gardens can no more be tamed than can life.  The trick is to develop a painter's eye for life.  To create order in our minds while enjoying moments as they present themselves to us.

And to share those moments with others.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

bunny faith

Secular icons for religious holidays are a bit problematic for me.

Santas.  Elves.  Easter eggs.

They are not part of my family tradition.  But you know that already.  (an easter tail -- one of my favorite essays).

That is why I was a bit surprised at my reaction when I found the Easter bunny on my dining room table looking as if he was the triumphant model for Marco Basaiti's The Resurrection of Christ

The bunny was one of Jiggs's chew toys.  But the object in the bunny's paws was new.

Pope Benedict visited his Mexican flock at the end of March.  And it was quite a visit.  The Mexican church being one of his largest corporate subsidiaries.

Mexico welcomed him only as Mexico can.  Crowds.  Noise.  Music.  Enthusiasm.  Bigger than Santana.

I didn't go see him.  But I now have a souvenir of that visit.
If you look closely at what the bunny is holding, you will discover a bit of confection.  A pope-sicle.

A marvelous symbol of how Mexico handles its faith.  Adoration and kitsch wrapped up in one edible package.

And why not?  We have Jesus on velvet.  Our Lady of Guadalupe in throbbing multi-colored lights.    Saints on coffee mugs.

The pope-sicle was a gift from my landlady.  She visited Guanajuato last month -- one of the cities that celebrated the pope's pop-in -- and found the perfect memento for me.  The fact that she so carefully arranged it for my arrival is what made it special.

Not only do I eschew secular religious icons, I am postmodern enough to see little utility in symbols.  But this was a big exception.

Little acts of kindness that bring a smile to a weary traveler's lips are what make life worth living.  After all, the true model of Basati's painting said it best:  "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

rose-tinted sands

I am back in Mexico -- for the past 31 hours or so.

And the transition has been seamless.  Almost.

My friends Wynn and Lou picked me up at the airport, and delivered me to Villa Obregon.  After I settled in, they drove over here for dinner at one of the few neighborhood restaurants that stay open for a portion of the summer.

I have said it before.  I will say it again.  Dinner with friends is one of life's best experiences.

As was this one.  Even though I was exhausted.  I did not get to bed on Friday night.  My housesitter and I drove up to Portland to see a movie.  By the time we got back to the house, it was past midnight.  And I had just enough time to pack and catch the 3AM shuttle to the Portland Airport.

I mentioned a not-quite-seamless transition.  Even though I was exhausted enough to head to bed around 9 PM last night, the heat and humidity did a great job of fighting off The Sandman.  I started calculating whether I should jump on a return flight to Oregon next Saturday.

But the moment passed.  And I drifted off. 

This is Sunday.  So, I was up early to head off to church.

In the winter, our church attendance is over 100.  Today it was 16.  A perfect size for more informal services.

Next Sunday, I get to play the role of sermonizer.  Or, more accurately, facilitator.  If all goes as planned, we will discuss Proverbs 15:1.
A gentle response deflects fury,
but a harsh word makes tempers rise.
That couplet contains a lot of wisdom.  Mainly in its subtext.

Then I was off to lunch with four women from the church.  And to the ATM for pesos (at an incredibly good exchange rate), to the grocer to fill the refrigerator with fresh vegetables, and to the Telcel office to buy some additional minutes for my mobile telephone (a telephone that worked on the ship and in The States -- much to my surprise).

This evening, I had dinner with my landlady and caught up on happenings in Melaque.  She was gracious enough to listen to my sea tales.

But it has been a long day.  I am now heading to bed.

Tomorrow I will start my TODO list to get my life in order for Mexico.

Despite the heat, it is nice to be back in Melaque.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

on the road to mexico

By the time you read this, I will be in the air on my way back to Melaque. 

After being gone for 45 days.  The last ten in Oregon.

Visiting with family and friends trumps about any other activity.  And, even though this was a rather rushed trip, I was able to spend more time visiting than shopping for things to take back to Mexico.

I have noticed on each trip north, the urge to act like a consumer mule diminishes.  The Costco thrill is no longer there.  (On the other hand, there were no cherries to woo me to the dark side.)

Even when I am tempted to raid the cheese case at Whole Foods.  What can you say about a society that sells cheese made of sheep milk from a remote Croatian island?  At $20 (US) a pound.

Or Safeway with its deli case of freshly-made pet foods in tiny containers looking as if a feline tapas bar had just opened in town?

I know something is up when visiting American grocery stores seems even more exotic and foreign than walking through Cairo.  Or Morelia. 

And I purposely stayed away from Fry’s Electronics.  Addicts need to exercise their own aversion therapy now and then.

That gave me time to spend with my mother, my brother, and his family.  Conversing.  Laughing.  Eating (of course). And wandering around his ranch.

Bend can be sunny and warm in May.  It wasn’t while I was there.  Overcast and a bit cool.  But perfect for me.  I am about to return to heat and humidity where crisp mornings will be a mere memory.

On my last night in Bend, we went to dinner at one of my sister-in-law’s favorite places.  Zydeco.  With a distinct Louisiana spice.

Best of all, it was a way to celebrate a late Mother’s Day dinner.

I then spent an evening in Salem helping my friends John and Jana celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary.  With anecdotes.  And a bit of philosophical musing about where America may be heading.

But it is now time to get back to Mexico.  We will see what hurricane Bud has to say about that.

Friday, May 25, 2012

not quite mexico -- yet

I'm not certain what just happened, but the entire post for today disappeared.  As did my draft in Windows Live Writer.

Rather than recreate it, I will simply pack for my flight to Manzanillo tomorrow.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

cruising odds and ends -- iii

History provides us with some of our best punchlines.

This one was blowing in the wind on a Red Cross Building.  Please note there are two symbols.  The Red Cross.  And the Red Crescent.

The Red Crescent is the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross.

Now, let me throw in another fact.  The building is in Cartagena.  In Spain.  The land of their Catholic Majesties, who drove the Muslims from the country.

Maybe it is more than irony.  It may be a symbol of reconciliation.  Or merely accommodation.  Either way, it is a new chapter in European history.

I lived in Greece for a year in the early 1970s.  The Mediterranean would occasional do a David Copperfield.  The water and the sky seemed to meld into one another.
One morning while we were off Malta, I tried to take photographs of the phenomenon.  At first, my camera would not focus.  It was like looking into infinity.  But I finally got one.

Several people asked me about shuffleboard.  Yup, the ship had it.  Nope, I did not play it.  But some of my fellow cruisers did.

The colors and shapes of the piles of spices in a market in Barcelona caught my eye.

I may have mentioned this in the past, but it is worth a re-run.  The Voyager of the Seas has a unique landmark for men only.  A urinal made of granite.  My former employer installed a fountain in its employee break area that looked similar.

But it did not have the Deck 11 view of the Voyager urinal.  Complete with glass mermaids that reminded me of the silhouettes featured on the mudflaps of some semis.

For those of you with a Weimar Republic sensibility (or if you are just a Cabaret fan), this is a reflection of the audience on the entertainment bridge in the Promenade.

But this is my favorite photograph.  From my window, I had just watched a Caribbean parade along the Promenade.  One of the parade accessories were balloon palm trees powered by fans.

The crew had started breaking down the props.  But not before this elderly couple came by.  I must confess I was out to get a shot of the woman with her walker.

Then something amazing happened.  She reached out to touch the prop.  And she broke out in a smile.

She may have been old.  Her walking may have been impaired.  But she knew joy when she saw it.  And she shared hers with us.

That may have been reward enough for this trip.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

cruising odds and ends -- ii

The photographs may be odds and ends, but life itself has its own odds and ends.

I have always been fascinated by buildings that have been torn down, but the penumbra of the structure lives on in its neighbor.  Such as the proscenium arch in demolished theaters. 

If you click on the photograph to the right, you can see a former resident's taste in wallpaper in her long-gone apartment.  Or her upstairs neighbor's subtler approach to sitting room decor.

In Cartagena.

I saw this bit of irony several years ago while taking a backstage tour of the theater.  It is still there.  I am willing to bet the stick figure represents a dancer who now bears a scar.  Art imitating life.

What more can I say?  Barcelona this time.  A block away from the Picasso Museum.  This golden retriever was sitting -- patiently waiting for his master to come out of the shop.  Jiggs would never have been that patient.  He would have been looking for a horn to honk.

I wish I could give you an earlier warning.  But those of you who believe meat comes in styrofoam packages may find the photograph below a bit disturbing.  The heads in a Barcelona market reminded me of my first baked lamb head at a Greek Easter.  It was not ba-a-a-d.

Love reigns supreme no matter where I went.  This was the cathedral plaza in Barcelona.  The couple had eyes for no one else.  Such shows of affection were specifically discouraged in Dubai.  Even at the mall.

This mural decorated the front of a wine shop in The Azores.  I liked its modernity.  A busy street kept me from getting a better shot.

There were very few young people on the cruise from New Orleans to Barcelona.  But this young Scottish couple added a romantic note.  Just before the Love and Marriage game began, the young man brought his girl friend to the stage and proposed to her in front of us.  Of course, she accepted.

Sometimes, classic children's literature comes to life.  Such as the pushmi-pullyu I saw at the Giza pyramids.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

crusing odds and ends -- i

I have not quite made it back to Melaque.  But I will be there in a few days.  Until then, here are a few odds and ends from this trip.   

Probably three days' worth.

In no particular order.

Starting with the title photograph.  My little joke about passengers in my age group.

Remember my post about the pirates (pirates of the arabian)?  Well, the insurance company seemed to think the danger was large enough for us to take on some hired guns with big guns.  Take a look at what passes for anti-pirate gear these days.

Most of the houses in The Azores look as if they were sired by mainland Portuguese buildings.  But this multi-colored shingle tower was eccentric enough to catch my attention.  My whimsy meter pinged.

While snaking my way through the alleys of Barcelona, I ran across this interesting tableaux.  Two well-dressed Spanish women and a man with a cart.  Rhyming shapes.

Even though Egypt is 90% Muslim, 10% are Coptic Christians -- once the majority group before the Arab invasion.  That 10% number is quickly dwindling.  Like the Chaldeans in Iraq, they see a new world coming where non-Muslims will not be tolerated as they have been.

Now and then I would notice a cross on the top of a building.  Obviously, A Copt church.  But the "cross" on this church along the Suez Canal turned out to be quite creative.  The Messiah child lifted by his mother.

Even though I missed seeing the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, I ran across this commercial in production.  I have no idea what the product is.  But tourists kept wandering into the camera shot.

I was fascinated by these dove cotes in Egypt.  I would like to tell you more about them, but the childish tourists on my bus trip to Cairo were fighting so much with one another I missed the details.  All I know is this is an example of an irrigated farm along the Suez Canal.

Barcelona is a fascinating city.  But it is difficult to find a WiFi hookup.  Or so I thought.  There is a full-service establishment right on the main pedestrian thoroughfare -- Las Ramblas. The combination still sends me in flights of authorial fancy.  Not to sound too defensive, but I have no idea what lies behind the face of that building.


Monday, May 21, 2012

through a glass brightly

The headlines were almost breathless.

”Minority births outnumbered whites for first time.”

By now, I am certain you have all read the stories.  Even The Economist led with the story in its passive voice: “More births of non-white babies than white babies were recorded by the Census Bureau for the first time in the United States. Hispanic, black, Asian and mixed-race babies made up 50.4% of total births in the 12 months to July 2011.”

Apparently, some Americans (especially, journalists) are having a bit of trouble getting past their Jim Crow mentality concerning race.  They love to put people into some rather ill-defined boxes and then conjure up policies as if those definitions meant something in reality.

Here are the numbers.  In 2010-2011, of the babies born in the United States, 49.6 percent were “white,” 26 percent “Hispanic,” 15 percent “black,” and 4 percent “Asian American.”

For a moment, let’s skip over those labels.  A manipulative grab bag of ethnicity and race that do nothing but draw silly lines dividing people into warring tribes.  The Trayvon Martin - George Zimmerman tragedy being the latest example of racial doublespeak.

But before I get off of the label issue, an example.

Several years ago my company required all of its employees to attend a diversity class.  A friend of mine, born in Oregon of Iranian parents, was in the same session.

The moderator asked each of us about our backgrounds.  When she got to him, she asked: “Let’s start with you.  How does it feel to be a person of color in a white-dominated company?”

He was speechless.  Probably because, to look at him, he looked as if he could have lived in Oslo.  No one, except a person with her own agenda, would have applied the term to him.

Such is the nonsense of labels.

But that is a topic for another day.

What struck me most about the news articles were the Chicken Little “experts” who saw nothing but racial catastrophe in their crystal balls.
From the New York Times: “Will older Americans balk at paying to educate a younger generation that looks less like themselves?  And while the increasingly diverse young population is a potential engine of growth, will it become a burden if it is not properly educated?”

Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, co-director of Immigration Studies at New York University: “The question is how do we reimagine the social contract when the generations don’t look like one another?” .

If I am reading that correctly, it sounds as if the accusation is that white, old people are so stupid they will ruin the future of their nation merely because a majority of young people do not look like them.

And this is one reason political discourse has become so difficult these days.  Most Americans do not see the country in racial terms.  And it angers the people who can only see things in racial terms.

We have had a terrible history when it comes to race.  But, in my lifetime, most Americans have moved far beyond that.  It appears the only people who have not are those who cannot think outside of their little census boxes.

A couple of newspapers managed to slip  in a voice of reason in the last few paragraphs of their articles.

Political economist Nicholas Eberstadt, of the American Enterprise Institute: “The findings do not foreshadow anything in a ‘fluid society’ with an historic pattern of assimilation that has worked well.”

The news does not mean that we face a race war or the need for more government programs or any of the other subtext agendas that have kept the headlines howling.

It is simply an announcement that America has a strong future with new citizens on the horizon who will continue to add to the uniculture that is America.

Sounds like good news to me.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

and the winners are --

Enough of this manufactured suspense.

As you undoubtedly know by now, my entertainment favorites are the production shows featuring the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers. Backed by what is becoming a rarity – a talented nine-piece band providing live music (along with a bit of recorded fill).

They have the “Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show!” exuberance of a Garland-Rooney movie. And even though they are as personable as your talented neighbors, they are professionals.

The on board production shows suffer the same limitations as the headliner acts. They need to be familiar without too many surprises.

The ship has two long-running productions that are definitely showing their age. Broadway Rhythm and Rhyme that has been on board for thirteen years. A pastiche of familiar show tunes. And Music in Pictures. Same idea with movie songs.

In Rhythm and Rhyme, the producers have concocted an interesting twist on Bernstein’s “America” from West Side Story. Every time I have seen the number, the audience shifts uncomfortably.  Too unfamiliar.

For me, it is one of the few moments when the talent is allowed to explore their creativity. And, even though, the more familiar material is predictable, the singers and dancers execute it with great skill.

Fortunately, we got to see just what they can do in their own showcases. Where the singers and dancers designed acts to show just what they can do.

And what they can do is reach out through the dark and connect with their audience. Perhaps disproving that the audiences on board are stodgy.

Part of that is due to the age disparity.  The cast transfer their youthful energy to the rest of us.

If you have wandered through these pages over the last few years, you know that, on each cruise,  I sponsor a “thank you” dinner for the singers and dancers at one of the specialty restaurants.  For two reasons.  To get to know them better.  And to share in their optimism for the future -- one of youth’s gifts.

Let me introduce you to them.  The photographs of the dancers are a bit blurry, but it was the only way I could think of to show the grace of their movements.

Alan Bertozzi -- An athletic and finessed dancer from Rimini, Italy.  One of those entertainers who has been performing for a long time.  Starting at 10.  Favorite style?  Contemporary and jazz.  He has also taught dance in Italy.

Michelle Brandenburg -- A dancer from Baltimore, Maryland.  She started dancing at 3 and attended college on a dance scholarship.  She is not only graceful and beautiful.  She is also brainy -- with a degree in mathematics -- and dance.

Michelle Brown -- A singer from Virginia.  She has been with Royal Caribbean for five years and a professional singer for seven years.  With great pipes.  And a love for Whitney Houston.

Leonne Campbell -- A dancer from Durham, England,.  A graduate of the Central School of Ballet in London, she toured Europe in The Nutcracker for two years ad performed in One Man’s Dream 2 at Disneyland Tokyo in 2008.  She confesses to loving all things Disney.  She dances like a fairy princess.

Christopher Ebarb -- A singer from Virginia.  With a nice variety of styles.  Jazz.  Swing.  Popular.  Broadway.  And a pleasant conversationalist.  I had a nice chat with him about a book I have been reading: Sondheim on Music.

Jordan Ellis -- A singer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He started performing when he was twelve.  An honors graduate of the Chicago College of Performing Arts, he performed in several productions as a singer and dancer, as well as studying jazz and ballet.  He serves as the cast’s Vocal Captain.  And is incredibly versatile as both a singer and dancer.

Scott Gurney -- The cast’s Dance Captain from Kent, England.  Scott began his career starring in a West End production of Oliver.  He is also an honors graduate.  From Bird College in Kent.  He has previously danced on three other cruise lines before joining Royal Caribbean. A great dancer and an excellent conversationalist.

Melanie C. Konig -- A dancer with an exotic history.  Born in Namibia and raised in Germany, she was another early dancer.  Starting at three.  She has studied performing arts in London and New York.  For the past fourteen years, she has had a varied career.  Teaching dance in Germany, the United Kingdom, France,and Dubai.  Working as a freelance choreographer and dancer.  Working for Royal Caribbean for the past ten years.  She choreographed a German expressionist piece for the dancers’ showcase -- a number that was easily my favorite.

Sharelle Melnichenko -- A singer from Virginia.  She has worked for Royal Caribbean for five years.  Before that she performed in productions of of Cabaret, Little Shop of Horrors, and All Night Strut.  She is married to an ice cast member.  Their home is in Atlanta, Georgia.  Another extremely good singer.

Mary Smigiel -- A dancer whose gymnast background is evident.  She started dancing when she was twelve.  It should surprise no one that she was a statuesque dancer for the NBA for three seasons.  But I was surprised to discover that is is attending the University of Central Florida in nursing.

Ronnie Stripling -- A dancer from Tallahassee, Florida.  For this group, he started dancing rather late in his life.  At sixteen.  But his skills indicate far more experience than that.  He studied dance performance at Oklahoma City University, and worked with Royal Caribbean for two years.

Artem Sushchov -- A dancer from Donetsk, Ukraine.  He started dancing at the Ukrainian National Academic Ensemble of Dance and then worked as a dancer in Shanghai and Dubai.  Since 2005 he has danced on cruise ships.  His ultimate career goal is to be a sports instructor.

Corinne Ventre -- A dancer from Cincinnati, Ohio.  She started dancing at six.  And then graduated from Point Park University with a degree in dance performance.  For the past seven years,she has danced professionally with Exhale Dance Tribe and Royal Caribbean.

Lindsay White -- A dancer from Palm City, Florida.  She has studied ballet, modern, tap, jazz, and contemporary dance.  After graduating from the Palm Beach Ballet Center, she moved to New York City to dance with the Alvin Alley American Dance Theater.

But those are merely résumés.  They do not begin to describe the heart, soul, and talent they put into into their performances.  But their contract is at an end. 

When you read this, they will have left the ship in Dubai and will be headed off in their individual directions to follow their dreams.

As I told them in my toast to them at dinner: “As one if those people sitting out there in the dark, who has been touched by your magic, I salute you.  For the professionals you are.  And will be.”

I wish them well.  They have added more than a little joy to this aged theater buff.