Saturday, June 30, 2012

ballots and bottles

Unless the Mexican people have been pulling an incredible hoax on the pollsters, Mexico's next president will be Enrique Peña Nieto.  The man who has had a commanding lead in the polls since he officially started running last September.

I wrote briefly of the race three weeks ago in am I lying -- or have my lips stopped moving?,  and nothing much has changed.  It appears that the party Mexicans learned to loathe (PRI) will be returning to executive power.  Whether or not the party will have a working majority in the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate will be decided by the voters on Sunday.

I have my sentimental favorites.  But Article 33 of the Mexican constitution clearly states: "Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country."  Under the same article, the president has the authority to deport any foreigner -- without recourse to legal action.

Because I like living here, you will hear no endorsements from me.  But that does not prevent me from sharing some of the politicking that has taken place over the past two months -- the official campaigning period for the offices of president, congress, governor, and regional offices.

Some campaign techniques are very familiar to Americans.  Such as, billboards.  Where pretty women once lured customers into buying cellular telephone hours, somewhat less congenial faces flog political confidence.

What was far too familiar to my American ears were the televised presidential debates.  They were as boring as Sunday morning discussion shows.

There is a reason for that.  Much discussed by Mexican political commentators.  The major political parties are not driven by ideology.  Certainly, their candidates are not.  Elections are about personality.

And that is why splashing names over everything is so important.  Or yelling through sound truck speakers all day long. 

When I first moved here, I was surprised to discover the number of political advertisements painted on walls.  Some on the fronts of house.

I assumed the wall owners were committed supporters.  A Mexican friend disabused me of that notion.  Some are supporters.  But most people allow the signs because they receive a nice payment for the advertisement space.

I have no idea if PRD purchased this space.  But the combined message has always struck me as a bit jarring.  The happy face and AMLO, the PRD's candidate, just do not seem to be a perfect match.

And the unintended flaky impression is only slightly less jarring than PRD's choice of Bardahl yellow -- the international color of liberal parties.  If anything, PRD is the anithesis of economic liberalism.

Mexicans are just as quick to plaster advertisements of their favorite candidates on their cars.  This PAN supporter displays one of the few advertisements I have seen in favor of the PAN's candidate for president: Josefina Vázquez Mota.  Probably doomed to finish in third place on Sunday.

And a small sticker it is.

This car sticker initially threw me.

"I go with Jesus."  At first, I thought some religious group was doing a riff on the election.  Until I followed this bus through town.

Jesus is the PAN's candidate for president of our "county."

But his banners are certainly not as classy as those for
Peña Nieto.  They almost look like posters for a movie premier.  A look appropriate for a matinee-handsome candidate and his television star wife. 

You may recall he was the candidate, while campaigning at a book fair, who could not think of three books that had influenced him.  My elite friends made fun of him because of the incident.  Most Mexicans had no trouble empathizing with him.

One aspect of Mexican political posters confused me when I first saw them.  Most of the party symbols had an "X" drawn them.  I thought it was the graffiti work of opponents.

It turns out the "X" means just the opposite.  A large number of Mexicans are illiterate.  The "X" is a pictograph to mark the treasure.

And treasure there is.  Rumors abound in town that pesos are to be had by taking a cell phone to the ballot box to document a correct vote.

I know nothing of that.  But I do know alcohol is not on sale today or tomorrow.  One of those rather hollow symbolic moves to add a note of sobriety to the great democratic drama.

It has been fun watching this election from my almost-nonpartisan vantage point.  The more interesting show is yet to come with the change of power in December.

There may be a lot of talking to Jesus.

Friday, June 29, 2012

currying flavor

I remember my first curry -- as if it were yesterday.

I was living in England in the 1970s and had driven to Winchester to see the eponymous cathedral of song and the legendary round table of King Arthur.  The latter a bit of medieval P.T. Barnum hucksterism.

After a full morning of naves and knaves, I looked around for a restaurant.  There are plenty of tourist eateries in the high street.  For some reason, my eye landed on a menu in the front window of an Indian restaurant.

To me, that sounded exotic.  My experience with Indian food in Oregon was bison and fried bread.  But this Indian food was a continent away.  The cuisine of the Raj.  And it was as foreign to me as -- well, Ethiopian food.

What fascinated me about the menu was that it divided its curries into nine separate divisions of spiciness using the subjective terms mild, medium, and hot.  Mild-mild.  Mild-medium. Mild-hot.  Medium-mild.

You get the picture.  Up to hot-hot.  A veritable cuisine caste system.

I love spicy food.  And this looked like an interesting challenge.

I sat down at a nicely-appointed table.  The waiter brought out a pitcher of water and a glass, and asked what I would like to order.  I think it was a chicken curry of some sort.

He then asked me how spicy I wanted it.  I may have been young, but I knew the nine categories had a purpose.  So, I proceeded with Jerry Ford caution.

"Medium-medium," said I.

He gave me a quick look over and asked how familiar I was with Indian spices.

Ah-ha.  Another clue.  "Not very."

In those plummy rounded tones that only Indian waiters and Midland earls use, he said: "Perhaps the gentleman would have a more enjoyable meal with mild-medium."

It sounded like a recommendation from a man who knew his stuff.  I told him to bring it on.   Or maybe something a tad more urbane.

I now know enough that what I was served was a dry curry.  Large chunks of meat and vegetables in a sauce the color of hollandaise gone bad.  But it smelled marvelous.

So, I grabbed my fork and dug in as if I had just spent a long day driving cattle on the Chisholm Trail rather than wandering among grave stones.  It was a big bite.

What happened in my mouth was one of those amazing taste explosions that end up etched on the culinary hall of fame in the back of your head.

Chicken.  Potatoes.  Creamy textures.  And just a hint of the exotic spices of an open-air Indian market.

Well, that is what I experienced for a nanosecond.  The next wave was not quite in the hall of fame category.  I felt as if my tongue was ground zero on Bikini Atoll.

I drank the water in my glass.  I drank the water in my pitcher.  I started chewing on ice cubes.  To no avail.

If I had known that the spiciness in curry derives from the capsaicin in chili peppers, I would have known that attempting to drown the oils was futile.  Water merely exacerbates the heat.

My waiter had been watching every movement.  Behind his stoic exterior, a smile was romping through the fields of anti-imperialism.  He brought another pitcher of water and retreated to the sidelines for the remainder of the performance.

I ate the rest of my meal a bit more delicately.  And enjoyed it.

Since then, I have learned a lot about curries.  How to recognize a bad one (the usual variety found in North America) and how to appreciate a good one.

On Wednesday night, I had a good one.  My message board acquaintances Verne and Elke had informed me that Cafe de Flores in La Manzanilla was open summer hours.  Monday to Wednesday.  6 pm to 9 pm.  And the food was both creative and excellent.

Because I had not sat down and talked with them recently, we decided Cafe de Flores would be the place.  And a good choice it was.

Alex, the chef, has made a wise decision by limiting the menu choices.  A menu with few choices tells me that the food is going to be fresh -- and something special.  And it was.

There was a beef salad, a coconut sole, and a red Thai chicken curry.  Of course, the curry caught my eye.  Especially with the Thai modifier.

Unlike my Winchester dry curry, this was a wet curry.  A large bowl filled with chicken and potatoes and a red aromatic broth.  With a light cured cucumber salad and a ramekin of rice on the side.

I tried the broth first.  It was a bit spicier than my Winchester experience -- and much more pleasant.  Experience has taught me to savor spicy.  And the large pieces of chicken breast gave themselves up as if they were ethereal.

It was excellent curry.  And more than enough to fill me for dinner.  The remainder followed me home for Thursday's breakfast.

Our stretch of coast loses a lot of its better restaurants in the summer.  But the better reason for eating at Cafe de Flores is that it offers a great meal.

Of course, I had two great dining partners, as well.  And that is a perfect way to spend the evening.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

eight legs and a shell

My household has a new rule.  If I get out of bed, the lights go on.

And this is one reason why.

During the rainy season, all types of wildlife prowl through the night.  And my house seems to be the equivalent of a cave -- or a highway.  Scorpions.  Crabs.  The odd cicada.  Ants.  Mosquitoes

I was wandering around sleepless in Melaque about 4 this morning when I stopped in the bathroom and saw a shape on the wall.

I have become so accustomed to seeing crabs crawling up my walls, I did not give it a second thought.  Until I took a closer look.  It was not a crab.  Far too svelte.  But about the size of my hand.

Now, I have seen similar spiders in the house in the summer.  I suspect they come up through the drain.  But I have no idea what they are called.

What I do know is that those legs are made more for running than walking.

I thought I would be clever and rely on a Raid attack. 

Not a good idea.  Three strong blasts merely sent it scurrying down the wall and into the living room.  I lost track of it when it climbed the telephone table.  Perhaps to place a call to the tourist police.

Or, more likely, to find either a quiet place to die -- or to hide and make its presence known when I least expect it.

Because I was awake I decided to take a look around the garden before the sun came up.  At that time of morning, the sounds are Debussy subtle.  Just the occasional chirp of bats out hunting for a tasty cicada.

In the front courtyard, I noticed what looked like a rock stuck under the gate.  But it wasn't a rock.

It was one of my favorite animals that shares my garden with me.  A Mexican mud turtle that had made an almost certain fatal decision to stroll on a public street.

I freed it and took it to the other side of the house -- figuring that if it really wanted to get into the street, it would find an alternative route.

The turtles often come into the garden to hunt for food or to lay eggs.  With the water level in my inlet down, it may simply be looking for a refuge.

The spider and the turtle gave me a nice way to start the morning.

The sun is rising over the laguna promising heat and humidity.  And perhaps a few more entries in Steve's Wild Kingdom.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

bugging the bat

Last night I was on my way to bed.  My little de-worming experiment had left me exhausted.

While locking the back door, my ant compulsion kicked in.  I needed to ensure the leaf-cutters were not on the march.

I stepped outside, released the screen door, and knew I had made a mistake.  Just as I released the door, I saw something swoop into the house.  Something black.

A bat.  Thought I. 

And a pleasant thought it was not.  I love bats.  But a bat trapped in the house will die.  Leaving the screen door open would merely invite the mosquitoes in, and I would wish I had died.

My experience with chasing bats out of houses is that it is easier to stop the tides -- or to manage attorneys.

I took care of two minor ant invasions while I tried to work out a bat exit strategy.  I guess that would be a batxit.

Step one.  Find the bat. 

That should have been rather easy in my house.  It is simply a concrete box. 

But after spending about twenty minutes, I found nothing.  I even opened closet doors-- knowing fully well I could exacerbate the situation if the bat decided to sequester itself once I opened a potential escape route.

Without a bat, there was no step two.

So, off to bed I went.  When I turned out all the lights, I heard air movement in the living room.

At least, I now knew where my target was.

I flipped on the lights.  No bat.

But there was a large flying object.  A cicada.  A big one.  And it was noisy.

I love cicadas.  I find their summer calls to be comforting.  I suspect they remind me of some long-lost memories when summers held promise.

Unfortunately, this bit of winged nostalgia had crossed my path on a night where sleep, and not memories, held promise.  And this insect's noisy infatuation with the light bulb in my wall sconce was not part of my planned peaceful night.

Let me cut to the end of the story.  The cicada buzzes no more.  But it does make a rather good looking corpse.  Almost as if a hummingbird and Marty Feldman had produced a love child.

As a result, I slept the sleep of the self-satisfied.  With dreams of cicadas and bats in a summer garden.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

book worm

Yesterday I stopped by The Frog Annex to pick up a take away ham sandwich.

I was packing my de-worming regimen and I wanted to get to it.  No time for a leisurely lunch when there was intestinal mayhem to commit.

While I was waiting for my sandwich, I talked to the owner who was resting in a hammock watching television.  He was astounded to hear that I do not have a television.  That I have not been a television watcher for over twenty years.

When his daughter handed me my sandwich, he asked where I was headed.  Back to the house I said.  "To do what?"  Probably, read, said I.

He looked at me with the look fathers have when they figure out their eldest son cannot do math in his head.  "No television.  Alone.  Reading.  You Americans."  The last phrase punctuated with a sad shake of the head.

It is true.  Mexico is not a reading country. A Mexican friend once told me a Mexican sitting alone reading a book is committing an anti-social act.  I would not be surprised to discover it is listed as a specific example in the anti-loitering statute.

Of course, I know a lot of Americans who are as book-adverse as my neighbors.

But not me.  I am a reader.  As long as I can remember, it has been my favorite hobby.  In high school, I would read while walking up the street to classes.  A girl friend's mother was convinced that I would one day absent-mindedly walk right into the ditch.  That bit of vaudeville never occurred.

At the moment, my electronic reading table is chock-a-bloc.  Looking in someone's wallet will usually give you a good feel of who the person is.  Along those lines, let me share with you what I have been reading and what remains unread on the Kindle.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel --a bittersweet novel of British retirees in India.  You already know all about it from the best exotic mexico hotel.

James Madison -- a small character study of the Father of the Constitution by Richard Brookhiser.  As with all of Brookhiser's "biographies," the book attempts to give us a feel of who the man was.  Not as intriguing as his treatments of Washington and Hamilton, but just as informative.  The Early Republic has long been one of my favorite areas of study.

The Christmas Carol Murders: Being the First Dickens Junction Mystery -- a pre-release murder mystery novel that the author has asked me to review.  I have finished reading it, and my review will be posted -- soon.

A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent -- obviously, a biography of President Polk.  Personally, an unfavored president.  I would usually not have put the book on my read list.  But the author is Robert W. Merry.  I read a review of one of his more recent books, and decided to give the Polk biography a try.  One of the wonders of the Kindle is the ability to download a free sample of the book.  We will see if it makes the cut.

Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems -- Billy Collins's most recent collection of poems.  I saw it in Portland in hard copy at Barnes and Noble in January.  And I just got around to buying an electronic version.  The Kindle is not a good format for poetry.  Because of its screen size, I do not get an overall feel for the construction of the poem -- something a reader can see on the pages of a book.  But I like his works.

Personal Reflections of Joan of Arc: Volume 1 -- of course, by Mark Twain. It is one of those Twain works I have been putting off for years.  I now intend to dig in.  The publication of his autobiography was undoubtedly an impetus to add this book to the list.

The Innocents Abroad
-- another Twain work too long left unread.  This one undoubtedly is on my list as a result of this year's "semi-world tour."

Orely Farm -- the Anthony Trollope novel I usually recommend when someone shows interest in the author.  Over the years I have written pieces on legal ethics based on the book.  Truly a moral tale without any convenient conclusions.  It is about time to read it anew.

Sondheim on Music: Minor Details and Major Decisions -- a book about the creative process of art.  Music, in this case.  I have read the book.  But I am, now going back through it and playing the portions of music discussed in the book.  It is now more than a read.  It is a project.  And one I will probably not complete this year -- or next.

By my reckoning, if I were to do nothing but tackle this list, I would be in my garden alone until my eligibilty for Medicare kicks in.  And because I (rightfully) cannot exercise my Medicare benefits in Mexico, the day would go by unnoticed.

At least, I will have a bit more energy.  I hope.

I dosed my worms yesterday and last night with Vermox Plus.  The pills did something.  The pain in my intestines was as close to labor pains that I hope to get.

But, I feel fine this afternoon.  I am hungry.  I don't feel fatigued.  And that annoying ache I have had just under my diaphragm for two weeks is gone.

It is time to read on.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

sunday on the rocks

I lose track of time in Melaque.

That is common for warm climates where the seasons are merely variations on a theme.  But my chronological issues are far more specific.  I usually have no idea which day of the week it is.

Monday flows into Tuesday and Tuesday into Wednesday and Thursday with little to distinguish it from the day that went before it or the day that will follow. 

I stay up until 5 or 6 in the morning, and sleep until 10 or so.  It is almost like being back in college.

And I know why.  I have nowhere I need to be.  No schedule to keep.  No one urging me I need to hurry up or I will be late.  My patio chair is always there with open arms whenever I decide to wander out with my bowl of cereal.  And it doesn't ask me if "I am going out looking like that."

There are two exceptions.  Fridays and Sundays.  And on both days, I need to be specific places at specific times.

Friday morning Dora, the maid, shows up to restore some order to my bachelor life.  Because there is sweeping and mopping to be done, I am shooed outside to play like a bothersome 8-year old.

But I do not stick around.  Friday morning is also my breakfast with two of the Indian school volunteers.  Where thoughts of good deeds mingle with commentaries on art and whispers of local lore.

Sunday is my second schedule day.  Church morning, of course.  10 AM every Sunday.  For the past four weeks, I have been facilitating our discussion on grace, and why that is not the noun people usually associate with Christians.  It has been an interesting discussion.

After church, a group of us (often, all of us in the summer) go out for a late breakfast.  We did that today.

For some reason, I have not been very hungry lately.  About three weeks ago I had a bout of what polite company refers to as gastric distress.  I chalked it up to something I had eaten in one of my dining adventures.  But it has not gone away.

After eating about three bites of my hamburger, I asked the waiter to box it up for later.  I simply had no appetite. 

Usually, I would have headed back to the house for my Sunday nap.

Instead, I decided to drive up to the mirador to sit in the sun,enjoy the view, and read The Oregonian, the newspaper I delivered as a boy and can now receive every morning through the magic of my Kindle.

It was beautiful up there.  This is the part of our beach that reminds me of the Oregon coast.  I suspect it is the rocks.  And the mountains that tumble into the sea.

Today should have been a busy beach day.  Tourists from Guadalajara and the towns inland from Melaque usually flock to the beach by the busload on the weekend.

Not today.  Maybe they were scared away by the rain.  Or talk of vegetation on the beach.

But, as you can see, the sun was out and the owners have cleaned up the beach in front of their restaurants.  The only exception is the beach in front of the hotel ruin that reminds us all of the tragedy of communal ownership.

I didn't stay long to enjoy the view.  Ever since this intestinal problem started, fatigue hits me in the afternoon.  Hard.

So, off I went to find my nap.  Not so much to nap as to fall into a coma.  When I wake up, I am not very rested.

My doctor is out of town until October.  I may stop by to see someone, though, about these bizarre symptoms.  I suspect I may be a housing development for some type of parasite.

Now and then, I hear someone, who should know better, say that we live in paradise.  We don't.  Melaque has its fair share of negatives.  As does the rest of Mexico.  But it is a darn good place to live.

Especially, this table on my patio.  That is quickly becoming my window on the world.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

too crabby in the morning?

If you refuse to let my people go, I will strike all your territory with frogs.  The river will swarm with frogs.  They will go up, enter your palace and go into your bedroom, onto your bed.  They will enter the houses of your servants and your people and go into your ovens and kneading bowls.  The frogs will climb all over you, your people and your servants.
OK.  So, we are missing a few elements to make this truly biblical.  No chosen people in slavery.  No heart-hardened pharaoh.  And no frogs.

But the theme is there. 

It is time for our annual plague of land crabs.  Or mollos, as my neighbors call them.  Those one-gloved Jack Dempseys waving their comic claw in the air like a drunken campesino at the local cantina. 

The rains must flush them from the hiding holes.  And we have had plenty of flushing lately.

Last night, nine of the dark-bodied crabs were huddled around my screen in two groups.  5 to 4.  As if the Supreme Court was caucusing on my patio.  Clearly an augury of the fate of Obamacare.  But neither the 5 nor the 4 were willing to provide any portends other than Delphic ambiguity.  That I can get from the newspaper.

This morning the screen door was covered with crabs that had undoubtedly mistaken the mesh for a climbing wall.  Apparently, that is what crabs do after a full night of eating mangoes and mixing DNA.

In the four years I have witnessed this phenomenon, I have never seen this many mollos.  There must have been at least fifty just on the patio. 

At night I can hear them attempting to climb up the screen door.  Almost always ending in a distinctive shell-cracking fall.

There is no Moses to shoo them out of our lives.  Time will do that.  In a day or two, their numbers will start to dwindle.  By the end of the month, they will merely be the potential for another post in eleven months.

For now, I simply like to watch their Jerry Lewis-ish tarantula impressions.

Friday, June 22, 2012

the best exotic mexico hotel

My supper partners on the last half of my cruise were an extremely pleasant Scottish couple now living in the south of England.  Let's call them Gary and Alice.

When I told them about my life in Mexico, Alice laughed:  "You're living in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."

It was the first time I had heard mention of what is now a movie.  She summarized: "It's about a group of retired Brits who go out to India for their golden years.  Lots of adventures.  I am reading the novel on the ship.  You really must get a copy."

One of the joys of my Kindle is the ability to immediately follow up on book recommendations.  In this case, purchasing a book while cruising across the Mediterranean.

But immediacy of purchase does not resolve procrastination habits.  What was once a tottering tower of books on my reading table at home is now a full inbox of works unread.

After catching up on my magazines and newspapers, I started reading Alice's recommendation.  Originally entitled These Foolish Things -- before adopting the movie's title as its own.

If a novel does not catch my attention within the first paragraph, I will usually abandon it.  This book I did not abandon.  Because the author, Deborah Maggoch, took me by the hand and led me through a tale of loneliness and abandonment filled with bittersweet resolutions.

Her mood settings are almost poetic.  Thrifty with words; prodigal with meaning.  Ravi, an Indian doctor practicing in England, returns home:
Exhausted, Ravi drove home to Dulwich.  Walking up his path, he paused to breathe deeply.  It was seven in the evening; somewhere a bird sang.  Beside the path, daffodil blossoms had shriveled into tissue paper.  Spring had come and gone without his noticing.
If you think the shriveled daffodils may be symbolic of a home life that has "come and gone without his noticing," you would be correct.

But Ms. Maggoch also has a fine sense of wry wit.  As in this description of Ravi's wife.
Ravi wasn't an adventurous man.  She put this down to his job.  At work he coped with the victims of chance. its random brutality.  Many years ago she had tried to get close to him by reading books about Hinduism.  "Surely it's all about predestination?" she said.  "If somebody's going to be knocked down by a lorry, that's their karma."  Ravi had looked at her, puzzled, as if she were talking a foreign language.  He wasn't an Indian Indian.  He was a doctor."
Or her description of the relationship between the widowed Evelyn and her daughter, Theresa.
The past she remembered bore almost no resemblance to Theresa's version; the events might be the same, but it was like seeing a foreign film -- Serbo-Croat or something -- that was vaguely based on them but all in black-and-white and somehow depressing.
Ms. Maggoch has a jeweler's eye for the essence of relationships.  We recognize the archetype without discarding it as mere cliché.

If the book was a workshop on developing novel characters, it would be a good read.  But it is a novel with characters who should be doing something.  And there is very little doing here.

There are some fine tales of cloistered Brits breaking through their self-created restrictions.  And that does pass for adventure.

But, about half way through the novel, the narrative wanes.  To resuscitate it, the author trots out a series of sex scenes that are as tedious as they are unnecessary. 

The poetry in the earlier part of the novel simply gives way to pointless coupling.  And for no good purpose.  No pointless existential life experiences.  Just pointless writing.

The book is not without its charm.  I even found one character, the widower Norman, who rose to the level of Alice's original recommendation.
[B]eing British, he was treated with a deference that had long since vanished in his own country.  Here, he was still somebody, and that was good for a fellow's ego.  All his most intoxicating experiences had happened abroad, in places that smelled of dung and cheap perfume.  It was the smell of adventure.
Maybe that is why I like my adventure in Mexico.  It makes me feel as if I am still somebody.

This morning I am sitting on the patio watching the summer rains stir up the mud in the drained laguna -- whipping up whiffs of methane.  The smell of dung and cheap perfume.

It is the smell of adventure.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

flushing the loo-guna

"If you hurry, you can see the laguna open."

It was my landlady.  She who has the best information in town.

The telephone call had interrupted my breakfast, but I grabbed my camera and headed off to the main channel of our wetlands. 

She was correct.  The local authorities had bulldozed a gap in the dunes that separate the ocean from the laguna.

Flushing it was.  As if someone had given Mother Nature an over-sized diuretic.

And like a Macy's clearance sale, everything was going.  Water.  Water hyacinths.  Water cabbage.  Entire islands of aquatic plants and tule grass.

What I could not see rushing out to sea were all of the animals that refused to let go of their familiar haunts.  After all, it was their benefit.  It did not matter that there was no future funding.

They did not have to wait to long to be introduced to their future and its cruel realities.  All of the flotsam crashed into the waves.  Some headed out to sea.  But the majority washed up on the shoreline from Barra de Navidad around to Melaque's chicken beach.

Dying plants were mixed with fish, fresh water shrimp, and crabs.  Only the crabs were making a successful escape.

There are always tales of brown snakes washing up with the plants.  It makes sense.  After all, this stuff comes out of a swamp.  But I have never seen any.  On the other hand, neither have I seen any of the crocodiles swept out to sea, but I know they are there because the young men of the village retrieve them and release them in the laguna.
And now the recriminations will begin. 

The laguna needs to be opened to avoid flooding.  We have had almost 10 inches of rain since last Saturday.  Almost all of it accumulating in our natural flood plain.  If the dunes were not breached, streets and houses would be part of the flood plain.

But this is a tourist community.  A community that depends on clean beaches to attract visitors willing to part with their pesos -- with all the same economic sensibilities as the village businesses in Jaws.

Unfortunately, it takes more time to clean the beach than it does to release the vegetation.  I suspect the word will soon be out asking beach property owners to rake up the vegetation in front of their houses, and volunteers will show up to cart it off.

Time for me to out on my volunteer hat.

I may get to see one of those brown snakes, after all.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

one final stone

When I told you about my fifth grade dream of visiting Petra, I was very careful to avoid any references (even allusions) to the reason most Americans know of Petra's existence.  The fact that it was a movie set in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I have nothing against the movie.  Of the four Indiana Jones films it is by far the best with its themes of restored faith and familial relations.  And it would have been a good place to stop the franchise.  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Numbskulls -- or whatever it was called -- was simply an embarrassment.  The only redeeming artistic grace was watching Cate Blanchett in jodhpurs wielding a sword.

My reluctance to make the popular cultural link seemed wise when we stopped to look at the rough terrain surrounding Petra.  One of my bus mates announced in a loud voice that it was all wrong.  We should be able to see a crescent valley.  Just like the map in the movie.

But that smug smile that crept over face was etch-a-sketched away when we pulled into the Petra parking lot.  Before we got our tickets.  Before we got our orientation talk.  Before we could say copyright violation.  The sign in the photograph at the top of this post greeted us.

After all, as I pointed out in extra!  boy's expectations exceeded!, Petra existed solely for trade.  The Jordanians are merely keeping the tradition alive.  If Indiana Jones attracts tourists, the Jordanians will give them Indiana Jones.  At least, the horse rentals did not include fedoras.

But there was one more shop that summed up the entrepreneurial spirit of Petra.

Just before we entered the long gorge leading to the city, there is a small gift shop.  With a very odd name.  3 Kings Shop.

Now the only three kings I know come from the Christian heritage.  You know them.  The three kings of orient are.  The ones bearing gifts for Jesus.

But it was not an ironic bit of humor.  It was an intentional choice.

This little shop sold a gift pack that included gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  A gift pack for the baby Jesus.  Just in case our next stop on the caravan was Bethlehem.  (That is our guide holding up a hunk of frankincense at the left.)

What better testament can there be that free trade can trump religious beliefs?  There I was, standing in a Muslim country, listening to a spiel that is central to Christian belief.

Well, I suppose it could have been named Queen of Sheba Shop.  Where she stopped off to buy gifts for King Solomon on her trip north to Jerusalem.  But even trade may not pierce all hatreds.

I meant to post these thoughts just after my trip.  But other posts have intruded.

So here you are.  A final view of the primary reason I went half way around the world.  Petra.  The stone city of a boy's dreams.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

on memory lane

Are all of our experiences self-referential?  And, if they are, is the concept of a new experience a paradox?

These are the kinds of questions that a mind with too much time alone starts conjuring up.

I had breakfast this morning with an acquaintance.  He is a long-time resident of Mexico, and I enjoy getting together with him for breakfast once a week to compare life notes.

We have not done that for a couple of weeks because both of us have been traveling.  And thinking about our respective futures.  In Mexico.  And elsewhere.

On my drive back to Melaque, I glanced across Navidad Bay with its compass-perfect half circle.  And thought of -- Oregon.

It was an odd connection.  Even though the sky had what could be an Oregon battleship gray overcast, there is little about our bay that has a Pacific Northwest look.

Sure, there are the same rocks that give the Oregon coast its rugged beauty.  But Oregon's beach seldom has temperatures in the 80s.

And then it came back to me.  The contours are different, but the view had the same feel as looking north to Lincoln City from Boiler Bay.  The details are all wrong.  But the feel is the same.

Of course, nothing is mere feel.  Before I decided to move to Mexico, I had given serious thought to retiring on the Oregon coast. 

I am not a beach person.  But the dog in my life considered the beach to be the one of his best experiences.  Through him, I saw and experienced life's adventures in a way I never would have done on my own.

My breakfast conversation had undoubtedly unleashed those memories.  And the local bay was there to give some self-referential context.

I know the experience is not unique with me.  I often hear tourists say things like: "Yes, Norm.  The Eiffel Tower does look like the television tower back home Dubuque."  Or "Who knew your cousin Marion looks just like Mona Lisa?"

And I chuckle.  Not with my usual uppity ironic sneer.  But out of recognition.  Because my minds does the same thing. 

After all, wasn't that Miss Marple's schtick?  Solving crimes with references to personalities in her home village?

It is how we make sense out of life.

But back to that paradox question.  I don't know the answer.  After all, as I learned at breakfast, I don't even know where I am going to be in the next year.

And that is simply fine with me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

tenth floor, please

"What any village greybeard knows."

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, another of my boyhood heroes, peppered his writing with the phrase.  Whenever he wanted to point out that something was merely common sense.  Especially, when some pretentious academic declared a new finding that common folk had known since time immemorial.

I have long believed that our summer rains have two benefits.  The first I have written about: driving down our oppressive heat and humidity.  But the rain also seems to beat back our plague of mosquitoes.

That "seems" is a recent addition to my greybeard wisdom because it is apparently not based on science.

You have probably all seen the recent headlines about mosquitoes and rain.  I first saw the story in Nature magazine.  "Mosquitoes don't let the rain get them down" is how the "International weekly journal of science" put it.

A study was released earlier this month that asserts that mosquitoes are not deterred by rain.  Not even tropical downpours where they are hit by high velocity drops about every 20 seconds. 

And how do they survive?  They simply join with the drop and ride it downward for about 20 mosquito body lengths.  And then disembark the drop.  Like an aquatic Otis.

Those are the lucky mosquitoes.  If the rain drop catches a mosquito perched on a leaf or the ground, the result is fatal.  For the mosquito.  The force of the impact is the equivalent of an SUV dropping on a person.

If Solzhenitsyn had dropped by for tea, he would probably say: "Who cares if a village greybeard would be wrong?  Better yet, what kind of person even asks what would happen to a mosquito in a rain storm?"

The article doesn't answer the who, but it gives us a clue by answering why.  "The team is already expanding its investigations to consider a broader range of conditions, from fog to deluge, which they say could prove useful in implementing mosquito controls for disease or for designing miniature robots that can mimic mosquitoes in flight."  (My emphasis.)

There it is.  This is not a group merely wasting taxpayers' money for some nonsensical reason.  They are wasting taxpayers' money for some unnerving reasons.

You do not have to be part of the aluminum foil hat brigade to realize that the same futuristic remote-controlled robots that could cure little Jimmie's cancer and grab DNA samples from Osama bin Laden in his compound could also harvest information of political opponents or other law-abiding citizens.  History offers a warning semaphore on the ability of governments to choose wisely.

But the study does help me understand why this afternoon, as the rain continues to fall, that I have been visited by several mosquitoes looking for a quite leg snack.

Or, at least, I think they were mosquitoes.

Note: I told you yesterday about the gully that had opened up on the street near the church building.  It is now a larger gully and almost to the church building gate.  Nature has her own way of reclaiming her stream beds. 


Sunday, June 17, 2012

washing my gully


That is what Felipe called it.  Or, more accurately, that is what his former girl friend from the backwoods of Mississippi called it.  A Faulknerian image crouched in the recesses of his mind.

That is also what this boy from Powers would call it.  Those sudden down pours of rain that are so much of a good thing, the ground cannot absorb its fortune.

Whatever divine department metes out moisture decided last night was a good time to let the wet times really roll in Melaque. 

We have already had a slight rain.  But last night's light and noise was more like Highlights from Wagner.

And the rain came down.  Around an inch within a couple of hours.  Enough to make Nik Wallenda consider another use for his tight rope.

I grew up in the coast range of southwestern Oregon, where there gullies aplenty.  On the flat lands of Melaque, we are a bit gully shy.  But nature will have her way. 

During last year's hurricane flooding, the street in front of our church building was transformed into a stream.  This rain lacked the Noah factor, but it was strong enough to reduce a side street to a diorama of the grand canyon.

At least, we now have a gully to wash.

And, as those of us in Mexico repeatedly point out, there is nothing so welcome as rain.  Especially, on these tropical shores.  Where, paradoxically, water falling through the air reduces its moisture content.

For a few precious hours, at least.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

international dining

I had not sat down to talk with him for almost three years.

There were reasons.  He was busy building a house in another village.  And I have been traipsing the globe.

But we had a lot in common. 

His was one of the first Mexico blogs I ran across when I was looking for a place to retire.  And, even though we bloggers are as diverse as any random group of people, we all share that odd desire to be prodigal with what many people think to be private.  Instead, we plop it all out there on line for all comers to pick up and examine.

We were also from the same part of The States -- before we moved south.

So, we decided to meet for dinner on Thursday.  He had not yet tried the only local restaurant that cooks a pizza I like: Chez Cedric.  And I was interested to see if it was still as good as my first visit (seine memories).  I had heard some comments on our local message board about food and service issues that were completely inconsistent with my experience.

As luck would have it, we arrived an hour early.  Because we were both hungry, we wandered over to the newish Japanese restaurant.  It was also closed.  But the owner saw us, pulled a table onto the street, and we had a pleasant meal.  Yakisoba chicken for me.

The best part of the evening, though, was the conversation.  Catching up on local doings.  The joys of the blogosphere.  Our plans for the future.  (In my case, always up for grabs.) 

We even had a bit of street theater from a healthy-looking young man who told us his tales of woe -- including lifting his shirt to be certain we saw his surgery scars.  I am not certain he meant us to see the bullet wound in his side.

But I could not get the thought of pizza out of my mind.  So, last night I showed up during open hours at Chez Cedric.

Everything I wrote last November is still true.

It is by far the best-appointed restaurant in the area.  Real table cloths.  Cloth napkins.  Carafes of spiced oil and balsamic on each table with an accompanying flower arrangement.

But, just as no one leaves a Broadway show whistling the scenery, restaurant atmosphere will add only so much if the food is not good.

Most people on the local message board like everything about Chez Cedric.  But a couple participants found the pizza "average" and the service "slow."

I think I have eaten in all of the local restaurants that serve pizza.  And I would agree that most of the pizza ranges from passable to ghastly.  By comparison, they make Domino's look good.  Or, at least, edible.
Chez Cedric's pizza is consistently excellent.  At least, for me.

The crust is thin and always cooked to almost a cracker crispness.  With just enough wood-fired smokiness to ensure the crust did not begin its life in an Oxxo freezer.

I like pepperoni.  That is problematic in Mexico.  Most pepperoni produced here tastes as if it is the first cousin to bologna.  The pepperoni at Chez Cedric is both firm and spicy.  Not quite Boar's Head.  But the best I have had in Mexico.

For me, the selling point is the cheese.  Most pizzas in Mexico use cheeses that are not well-suited for pizza.  Primarily due to the chemical after-taste.  The cheese Chez Cedric uses is a fine quality cheddar.  Thick enough to get a cheese taste without overpowering the rest of the ingredients.

Creating an artisan pizza is difficult.  And subtle is not what some pizza eaters are after.  I am.  And it is the best I have found.

What baffles me are the complaints about service.  But I hear the same tune often from northern tourists.  I suspect part of it perception.

When I go out to eat in Mexico, I know it is going to be my main event either for the afternoon or evening.  I will meet with acquaintances and we will spend two hours or so enjoying ourselves.

I do not expect to have a menu shoved in front of me the moment I walk in.  I want to get settled and start conversation before I need to think about looking at food choices.

One thing I have always appreciated about Mexican waiters is they do not hover around giving the impression I need to rush my meal.  And they do not treat me like a child by constantly asking how I like everything.

When I order my meal, I always order enough beverage to get me through the evening.  A Coke Zero when the menu arrives, and a second Coke Zero when my pizza arrives.

By that standard, I have always had good service at Chez Cedric.  In the winter.  And in the summer.

And, even though I should be cutting back on the pizza, I will be showing up at Chez Cedric regularly this summer. 

The restaurant is open from 7 to 10.  Closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Friday, June 15, 2012

mail lover

I like the Mexican postal system.

Before I moved down here, I heard all of the usual horror stories.  Don't drink the water.  Don't drive at night.  And, most important, don't rely on the Mexican mail service.

It turned out all three were wrong -- to some degree. 

There is plenty of water to drink in Mexico.  Driving at night is not wise, but also not deadly.  And the Mexican mail is every bit as reliable as the United States Postal Service.  (And that is not praising with faint damns.)

It took me some time to come to that last conclusion. 

One of the first things I did when I moved to Melaque was open a box at Mailboxes, Etc. in Manzanillo.  But, after listening to my neighbors and two fellow bloggers, I decided I was wasting a lot of money.  So, I closed the box and opened one at the local post office in San Patricio (posting my life).

It has been over a year now.  And I have no complaints. 

I have one correspondent in The States who does not have access to a computer.  Our letters take about ten days to arrive.  And they have all shown up.

Even my magazines arrive timely.  My June editions are already here.  National Geographic two days ago.  The American Spectator this morning.  (National Review and my newspaper, The Oregonian, show up on my Kindle.  No mail required.)

The one exception is The Economist.  In March (two flings and a funeral), I crowed about resolving my problems with my subscription.  The print editions had finally started showing up in my mail box.

And they continued to show up -- until I left on my six-week jaunt away from Mexico.  I thought I was going to find six magazines waiting for me when I returned.  There were two.  And none has arrived during the three weeks I have been back.

The Mexican mail system does not appear to be at fault.  After all, my other magazines arrive on time.  (I just noticed that The American Spectator comes with a Deutsche Post stamp and a Mexico City return address.)

With the absence of a print edition, I have been relying on The Economist web site.  That may turn out to be a better option for me. 

The news is timely.  All of the articles are included.  And it is quite a snazzy format.  Color photographs and all.

So put me down as a very happy user of the Mexican mail system. 

And a happier internet user.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

wet chips

Remember that nice laptop I bought last January?

Light enough for traveling?  Rugged enough with its solid state drive to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

The one that cost more than my month-long cruise -- which says something about the expense of the computer, the reasonableness of the cruise price, or both.  Or neither, for that matter.

Well, I bet you are ready to hear that it has died from the heat and humidity after a mere four months of service.  Exactly like its Sony cousin back in 2009.

But if you think that.  You are wrong.  Close.  But still wrong.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in what has become my afternoon cocoon.  In the shade of my patio with a nice electric breeze.  Catching up on reading The Economist online.  Because my mail copy has taken French leave the past two months.

I swatted at one of the flies that hatched out in our recent rains.  And missed.  Well, I missed the fly.  But I managed to knock over a bottle of water.  On my lap top.

After having done all the dumb things (like leaving am open water bottle next to my computer, I did the smart things.  I pulled out the power adapter.  Held the power switch down until the power light went out.  And turned the computer over to let as much water as possibler drain out.

Now, I will wait.  I will left it upside down to dry out over the next day or so.  Of course, not much dries out around here this time of year.

I will then try the only test that will let me know if it is alive or on the do not resuscitate list.  If it will turn on using battery power, I will be home free.  To ruin it in some more creative fashion.

For the next two days, I am not certain if I will post anything.  But you will soon be the first to know whether I am in the market for another computer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

drips in the night

The rain has come.  At least, I hope so.

About three days ago, it felt as if someone had sloshed a 55 gallon barrel of water on the sauna that is summer Melaque.  What had been a pleasant summer the day before turned into the equivalent of water boarding.  Hot.  Wet.  Claustrophobic.

That usually means that the tropical rains are on their way.  Something we summer residents pray for.

The rains bring some relief by washing the humidity out of the air.  But it is a mixed blessing.  Most of the rainfall evaporates within the day and we are right back were we started. 

Hot.  Wet. Claustrophobic.  Praying for another round of rain.

Even though we live in the tropics, we do not get the Bangladesh-under-water monsoons.  Our rain is a bit more like Venice for a day.  But we can put up with the pond-hopping in return for a bit of relief.

Without our four months of rain (come October, we may not see another drop until next June), our surrounding hills would lack the greenery and flowers that give us the misnomer "jungle."  Instead, we would be facing New Mexico-style wild fires.

I started by writing I hope the rains have returned.  These things can be a bit dodgy.

In the season, we often get rain at night.  I cannot hear it because of the B-26 roar of the fans in my bedroom.  But I knew something was up early this morning when I could hear the thunder over the din of the fans.  And saw the lightning.  The summer companions of rainstorms.

All that was missing was the usual power failure.  And I did not need to wait for long.  The fans went dead.  The refrigerator's failing condenser stopped humming.

No electrical noise.  Just the subtle patter of rain.  Punctuated now and then with a cannon boom and a flash of light.  And a cool breeze as the rain fell.

It felt nice.

This afternoon there is little evidence of the rain  The sun is out.  The damp is rising.  And the electricity is back.

All is right with the summer.

Even better, I am off to have lunch with two friends at The Frog Annex -- or The Frog West, as we are calling it.

It is going to be a good day.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

am I lying – or have my lips stopped moving?

The New York Times has stirred up a bit of controversy in Mexico’s presidential election.

On 10 June, the newspaper ran an article with the headline: “Candidates in Mexico Signal a New Tack in Drug War.”  But it was not the headline that has stirred up the Mexicans.

My neighbors will elect a new president on 1 July, and he (or she – because there is a major party woman candidate) will take office on 1 January.

There are three leading contenders representing competing ideologies.  But, more important for most Mexicans, none of them are the incumbent, Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa.  President Calderón’s war against the drug lords is extremely unpopular.  And that unpopularity is setting part of the pace in this year's election.

And that is where our cast of characters come in.

All the polls show
Enrique Peña Nieto as the leading candidate.  He is the charisma candidate.  And “leading” is almost a euphemism.  He is about fifteen points ahead of his nearest contender.

All of that is a bit surprising because he is the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that held almost dictatorial power for 71 years.  Until the voters booted it out in 2000.

And that breakup was not just a small lover’s spat.  In the next presidential election (2006), Mexican voters relegated PRI to third place with its votes.

The man who came in second in 2006 was Andrés Manuel López Obrador.  And he is back again as the candidate of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), founded by a group of former PRI politicians who wanted a party with a bit more leftist ideology and, hopefully, less corruption.

AMLO, the acronym by which he is popularly known, was the Al Gore of the 2006 election.  But, unlike Al. AMLO decided to play the sore loser.  He believed he was the winner of the 2006 election and spent an entire year leading protests in Mexico City to that effect.

Not surprisingly, he is the populist candidate in this race -- and the favorite candidate of Pravda.

But he is far behind Peña Nieto in the opinion polls.  Sometimes, in second place.  Sometimes, in third.

And the candidate who is regularly in third place is Josefina Vázquez Mota, standard bearer for the National Action Party (PAN).  The party of the last two presidents:  Vicente Fox and, of course, the unlamented Calderón.

None of the candidates has offered any support for the current war on and between the drug lords.  Even Josefina has attempted to distance herself from the current policy.

AMLO is the candidate who usually creates headlines.  Not this time.  It was Peña Nieto’s turn.

One thing you need to know about Peña Nieto.  He is a very slick candidate.  He chooses his words very carefully and stays on message.  Just as any effective candidate should.

He sat down with a reporter for The New York Times, and walked very carefully through the drug war question.  But, let me turn you over to the reporter.
Lately he has suggested that while Mexico should continue to work with the United States government against organized crime, it should not “subordinate to the strategies of other countries.”

“The task of the state, what should be its priority from my point of view, and what I have called for in this campaign, is to reduce the levels of violence,” he said in an interview. 
It sounds rather innocuous.  Mexico is in charge of what happens in Mexico, and Mexican interests will not be subordinated to the interests of the United States.  Even in prosecuting the drug war.

And none of the other candidates has said anything different.

The usual political suspects up north went into a bit of a frenzy.  With little exercises in reductionism: “Will there be a situation where the next president just turns a blind eye to the cartels, ceding Mexico to the cartels, or will they be a willing partner with the United States to combat them?”

That surprised no one in Mexico.  After all, that is the sheen on the drug lord war has down here.  It is America refusing to deal with its own problem by asking Mexico to do the heavy lifting. 

That is not news.  It is simply a policy disagreement.

What was news came from the White House.  Indirectly.

When reporters ask the administration about elections in another country, the standard response should be some variation on: “The United States honors the sovereignty of other nations an has no intention of attempting to influence the democratic actions of a free people.”

And I am willing to bet that "One senior Obama administration official" wishes that is what he had spun out, instead of what he said:
One senior Obama administration official said on Friday that Mr. Peña Nieto’s demand that the United States respect Mexican priorities “is a sound bite he is using for obvious political purposes.” In private meetings, the official said, “what we basically get is that he fully appreciates and understands that if/when he wins, he is going to keep working with us.”
So, the official word from the White is: Peña Nieto is just a politician.  He is saying what he needs to say just to get elected.  But, after he is elected, he will follow our policy.  Sounding very similar to President Obama’s stage whisper to then-Russian President Medvedev.

And that is what is causing the grumbling down here. 

Now, it very well may be true.  Candidates do lie to their constituents.  But the White House is usually not the source for such revelations.

The comment has at least bruised the Peña Nieto campaign.  Nothing can be more damaging to a Mexican politician than being sketched as an American stooge.  After all, PRI has its roots in the revolution that sent Porfirio Diaz, the quintessential patsy, packing.

Will the SNAFU affect the outcome of the election?  Most likely, not.  Peña Nieto’s lead is probably insurmountable.

But, I suspect he is now calculating just how far he wants to trust the White House.  Or, if he will even need to worry about that eventuality.

After all, it is possible there will be two new presidents next January.  And headlines like these may be a contributing factor.

Monday, June 11, 2012

new eatery, familiar faces

Melaque has a new restaurant.

New eateries come and go in Melaque.  But it is unusual for a new one to open during the summer season.

I must confess that I spend a good deal of time in establishments that cater to the expatriate and northern tourist trade.  Not Burger King or Denny's.  Nothing like that here.  Simply places that attempt to accommodate the Spanish-handicapped and to give a nod to a few non-Mexican dishes.

Most of those places close during the summer season because Mexican tourists look for a more "authentically" Mexican experience. 

And that is why today's opening was so unique.

Frequent readers know that La Rana (The Frog) is one of my favorite local restaurants.  It is just around the corner from my house.  But it is also one of the restaurants that closes early.

Not any more.  The same family has opened an "annex" in Villa Obregon on Abel Selgado Velasco across the street from the Bungalos Orientales.

The spot is much more convenient for the Mexican coach trade.  And that season as begun.  The tourist buses from Guadalajara rolled into town in a salmon-spawning stream this weekend.

The plan is to open seven days a week from approximately 7:30 to 3:00.  Obviously, depending on how the trade strolls in.

I had just eaten when I stopped by today.  But tomorrow I will eat breakfast there. 

It is nice to have another option in town.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

a thing of beauty

"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."

Keats does have a pretty pen.  Doesn't he?

All that banging on about eternal beauty.  Even when we realize that all the business about passing and sleeping sounds just about right for a guy who did not get to celebrate his 26th birthday.

My neighbors are, though.  Celebrating a birthday.  But not for Keats.  They would be a little early for that.  He was a Halloween baby.

Even without Keats in mind, my neighbors are in full celebration.  Featuring our village band.  A band that plays a rather limited repertoire with plenty of drum, trumpet, and clarinet.  Sounding a bit like Latin klezmer top hits. 

And, of course, the surprisingly Mexican "Over the Waves."  What should be Strauss is actually as local as huitlacoche.

Even though I was not invited to the celebration, I get to share in the music.  Music that will undoubtedly play late into the evening.

And I am grateful in the sharing.

Just as I am grateful that the brick pile across the street has dwindled to the point where it is no longer a driving obstacle. 

Grateful that the cable television line is perched on the utility poles where it once resided.

Grateful that the laguna is filling with water, still cloudy with methane-releasing silt.

Grateful that the fish, the birds, and the little crocodile are back in residence.

And grateful that the white plumeria is in full bloom with its vague and unkept promises of transport to Hawaii.

Not to mention the little butterfly, as fragile as aged papyrus, that greeted me in the shadows when I returned from my afternoon walk.

When it comes to teaching patience, Mexico can be a bit of a dominatrix.  But she is far more than that.

She granted me my wish of getting up each morning and not knowing how I am going to get through the day.  But, in addition, I get a basket of lovely parting gifts at the end of each day.

"Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."

Saturday, June 09, 2012

the last brick

In life, we either play the role of Fortunato or Montresor.

You know them.  The antagonist and protagonist in "The Cask of Amontillado."

The wronged and the wrong-doer.  The labels shifting from character to character with each paragraph.

Yesterday, I had no doubt which role had been allotted to me.

Apparently, I had decided to test my "live and let live" time attitude we discussed in searchin' in the sun for another overload.  I thought I was meeting friends from Guadalajara for dinner at 6:30. 

At 6:10 my telephone rang.  "Where are you?"  Dinner was at 6.  The group had northern sensibilities.

I did a quick recovery, telling them I was on my way.

When I opened my gate to take out the truck, I discovered which of Poe's roles I was to play.  No doubt about it.  I was Fortunato that evening.  Bricked up alive for the "thousand injuries" I had committed.

There is never any doubt when my Mexican neighbors start a construction project.  Because Mexican homes usually fill the entire lot, all building materials are left in the street.  And they stay there until the project is completed.  Days.  Weeks.  Months.  Just another obstacle in the street to avoid.

And that is what happened directly across the street from me.  For the past few months, my neighbors have been improving their property.  Yesterday a load of bricks arrived and were stacked in one lane of the street.

The arrangement leaves enough room for traffic to squeeze between the brick pile and the trees in front of my house.  But my comings and goings are restricted.  Getting in and out of my gate is a close-run thing under the best of circumstances, due to the angle of my courtyard and my complete lack of depth perception. 

Pulling forward, I was able to get out barely grazing the bricks.  The trick was putting the truck away when I got home.  I almost felt like one of those professional stunt drivers when I reversed the truck through my gate without damaging my bumper on the bricks or scraping paint on the gate posts.

The chief reason I came to Mexico was to get up each morning having no idea how I would get through the day.  Mexico has kept its side of the bargain.  Each day I am given an opportunity to appreciate the peace at the center of every moment.

And, unlike Fortunato, I have more days to learn something new. 

At least, how to be a better driver.

Friday, June 08, 2012

i shall survive

For something we cannot do anything about, we certainly talk about it a lot.

The weather, that is.

A lot of my expatriate compatriots moved to Mexico for the weather.  I didn't.

And that is fortunate.  Because my comfort level hovers between 55 and 65 degrees.  Toss in some drizzle and skies the color of old American battleships, and I will be content.

I came to Mexico for other reasons.  And because those reasons are still attractive, I tolerate the weather.

The weather and my bucolic locale, relieves me of all of those silly "what must I wear" questions.  The answer is repeated each morning.  The same sandals, shirt, and shorts I have been wearing for the past week.

When I returned to Melaque last week, the air made me feel as if I was in the gut of a crocodile.  90 degrees.  85% humidity.  Bad enough that I could not sleep for three nights.

And when I finally got around to breakfast, I discovered the humidity had dissolved all the glue on the cereal box, and the bananas I had bought two days before had been baked in the Cartesian oven I call home.  Not simply ripened.  Baked.

There are two ways to deal with the heat: acclimation and accommodation.

I thought I had lost my acclimation from spending well over a month in the air-conditioned bosom of a cruise ship.  But even the young woman at my favorite local grilled chicken stand said she was unable to sleep because of the heat. 

It was an odd discovery.  Taking solace in shared misery.  Para-schadenfreude.

That left accommodation. 

My neighbors are expert at it.  Going out only in the early morning hours.  Walking on the shady side of the street.  Moving slowly.  Carrying the ubiquitous sweat rag for men and umbrella for women.  Indulging in the sybaritic pleasures of the siesta.

Or, in my case, just sticking around the house on my shaded patio.  Catching up on my accumulated reading.  And taking advantage of available breezes -- from the laguna and my Duracraft fan.

That, of course, will last only so long.  The Prisoner of Zenda is a part I could never play.  Eventually, I will mount the Shiftless Escape and start exploring the local countryside.

But, for now, I will catch up on the financial news, read a good book or two, and try to make some sense out of the political scene -- here, in Egypt, in Greece, and the United States.

The temperatures are still hovering around 90.  But the humidity has dropped to 75% or so.

With a bit of acclimation, and a lot of accommodation, I can Gloria Gaynor it.