For those of you who are too impatient to wait for my Day/Night of the Dead experience in Pátzcuaro, fret not.
My young Mexican neighbors have come to your rescue.
Our little village lacks a lot of what is traditional elsewhere in Mexico. But this is a tourist spot -- and it knows how to take advantage of any excuse for a fiesta. And to then make the event its own.
On Tuesday afternoon the local high school students flocked to our little plaza and started constructing their notion of what a Day/Night of the Dead altar should look like.
Their teachers had provided instructions for all of the required elements. Given those constraints, artistic license was theirs to pursue.
The results were interesting, but I had more fun watching the production come together. Like most school projects, two or three students took the project seriously while the rest of their classmates wandered about aimlessly socializing.
Young men tossed off personal insults to other young men, who puffed up their chests in indignation while their girl friends told them to stop acting like children.
And they danced to rock music (with some English rap lyrics that would have made my sailor uncles blush). If this was a day to have fun, they were doing it. And, of course, there was the usual flock of grandmothers shaking their heads at the "disrespectful" spectacle.
The result was about a dozen booths that looked oddly like a science fair in the Parrish Middle School gymnasium -- if the science fair had been held on Halloween night.
The booths are meant to act as public remembrances of deceased friends and relatives.
The usual Catholic paraphernalia was present. But objects from the deceased’s life were the centerpiece of each altar. Clothes. Food. Drink. Cigarettes. (This is one event that has not yet surrendered to the heath police.)
The most mundane objects were the most poignant. Reading glasses. Well-worn sandals that will not be worn again. An old scooter.
All of it looking vaguely familiar. And then it hit me. The collection of personal memorabilia looked liked every Evangelical Christian "celebration of life" ceremony I have attended for the past two or three decades.
These are my people.
But seeing death through the eyes of teenagers is always a unique experience. The sentimentally comes packed in the bubble wrap of bathos. And is always outweighed by sheer self-referential fun. Often slipping into a Michael Jackson Thriller homage more than remembering the deceased.
But some pieces were artistically inspired. Going from this --
-- to this in just a few hours of patient mosaic work.
The display in the plaza is about as far away as possible in detail from what I will see in Pátzcuaro during the next three days. But it has a semblance of the same spirit.
In the same way that Day/Night of the Dead is a second cousin three times removed of Halloween.
One of the joys of living in a small town for a few years is the daily trip to the post office.
I suspect the ritual is the same for village life in England, Honduras, or China. Check the box for mail. And, more importantly, chat with the postal clerk about the latest goings-on in town.
What Agatha Christie novel would be worth reading without a similar plot-propelling scene?
Even though our temperatures are still past 90 degrees before noon, I decided to walk to town yesterday -- to enjoy this little town of mine.
And it was a bonanza day at the post office. All three clerks were there. Each with interesting tales.
We talked about the universal topic of the weather. Car wrecks. And my upcoming trips to Pátzcuaro and Oregon.
Even my postal box held more mail than usual. Two magazines. Well, the September and October editions of the same magazine.
As a blogger, I have been quite a booster of the Mexican postal system. It is usually very reliable. Certainly as reliable as the high-cost postal services used by some expatriates.
But,now and then, something odd happens. It usually takes about 10 to 14days for mail to be delivered from up north. In July, I sent off a pack of cards and letters -- both to Mexico and The States. It took six to eight weeks for the mail to be delivered.
And we all know the story about my subscription to The Economist. It arrived fine for a few weeks. And then just stopped.
Now, the odd delivery of different issues on the same day. I have no idea what happened. And I am not concerned. At least, they arrived.
One thing I have learned in Mexico is that getting in a lather over a few late magazines is not worth the bother. My focus is on the fact that I will now have something to read on the bus on my way to the hotel in Morelia.
It is certainly not the end of my world.
And my conversation at the post office is always worth far more than what shows up in my box.
Each year since I have been here, I have written a post about Mexico's return to standard time a week or two before The States and Canada fall back an hour.
There are good reasons for the difference. The primary being that Mexico is closer to the equator and we have less meed to "save" daylight. Our days and nights are closer in length all year long. Certainly much closer than the frigid plains of Alberta.
But I did not mention the pending change on Saturday this year. For a good reason. I forgot.
We talked about it at church last week. Telling tales how folks show up an hour early for church in the fall. And then make up for it in the spring by being an hour late.
Even after participating in what could have been self-mockery, I went to bed without setting the clocks an hour back. I got up at my regular time and prepared breakfast.
It was not until I started reading comments on my blog that I looked down at the clock in the lower right corner and realized I could have slept for another hour.
So, we residents of Mexico are now an hour closer to our northern brethren. Until the law puts everything into balance once again in a week.
And, as luck would have it, I will be in Oregon for the change this year. That means I get two hours back when I only lost one last spring.
With logic like that, I could be a government economist.
Let me be the first to fire a shot across my rather erratic bow.
I know I have spent the last year acting like a man who is uncertain where he should be. My trips -- almost circumnavigating the globe. Elegiac essays on the virtues of San Miguel de Allende. And Morelia. And Pátzcuaro. Houses to strum my heart strings.
And now. Something else.
Late last week, I received a slightly-dated New Frontier -- my Salvation Army newspaper. I usually flip through it quickly. But a headline on page 5 stopped my browsing. "Mission: Cuba."
A group of Canadian Salvationists has sent building teams to Cuba the last four years. But the details of the story were not what had attracted my attention. It was that headline.
In the spring of 2001, my law school alumnae association sponsored a trip to Cuba. It was one of those cultural-legal education trips that once attracted academics to countries on the east side of the iron curtain.
A Cuban friend of mine contacted a relative in Cuba -- a minor Communist Party functionary -- to ask him if he needed anything that I could bring along. Yes, he said. A Volkswagen muffler.
He then asked why an American was coming to Cuba. She told him -- for a law conference. "A law conference? In Cuba?," he laughed. "Isn't that a little like attending a chastity conference in Gomorrah?"
I knew I was going to like him.
I stuffed the muffler in my suitcase. A suitcase that contained only one change of clothes for me for my week stay. The rest of the suitcase was filled with Salvation Army uniforms that I smuggled to Havana -- the Castros were not very fond of the importation of any "clerical" garb.
In between my law conferences, I spent a good deal of time with the Salvation Army officers in Havana. The husband was the son of the officer at the Havana corps during and after the revolution.
A week was enough time for me to realize that I wanted to return to Havana to work with the Salvation Army. History had another idea.
Six months after my Cuba visit, terrorists leveled the World Trade towers, and the licenses to visit Cuba were almost completely closed off. When I retired, I looked into moving to Cuba. I could get there. But my money couldn't.
The Cuban Salvation Army has plenty of hands. What they need are funds to do their work. And the absurd embargo on Cuba keeps that from happening.
Instead, I came to Mexico. But that headline -- "Mission: Cuba" reminded me I once had a mission different than the one I am on now.
The Salvation Army is currently taking applications for its mission to Cuba in 2013. I would be interested in participating. There would be massive political problems to overcome -- not being a Canadian citizen, for instance. But I am going to give it a try.
And if this is not the trip, there will be others.
Something for me to include in my prayers this Sunday morning.
A friend once commented upon meeting my family that we lived life as if we were in a sitcom. He meant it as a compliment.
I thought about his remark this week with my return to laguna cleanup. Humming --
Green acres is the place for me.
I do not live on a farm. But, some of my chores have a rural resonance. Harvesting the water cabbage, for instance.
Farm livin' is the life for me.
Land spreadin' out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.
But Oliver Wendell Douglas I am not. I never was a member of a silk stocking law firm. And most of the socialites I dated were no Eva Gabor.
At least, I thought I wasn't Oliver Wendell Douglas. My rope purchase this past week may make me re-evaulate that conclusion.
As you know, I returned from the highlands to discover the rope for my grappling hook had disappeared. It was as useless as a pirate or burglar tool as it was useless as a weeding implement.
I finally bought a rope at my favorite hardware store in Melaque. You can see it wedded to the hook. A nice bright yellow rope. Nylon rope.
I knew when I bought it I was making a mistake. I have enough experience as a sailor to know why most lines are made of cotton rather than nylon. They are far easier on the hands.
It took me only three throws of the hook to realize my innate knowledge was far wiser than my purchasing impulse. The nice thing about nylon rope is that you can fast forward past the blister stage to the fully-lacerated fingers stage. Having writer hands, rather than sailor hands, may have been another contributing factor.
There were two options I ignored. The first was to wear gloves. I had none at hand. But I could have bought a pair.
The second was to tape my fingers before I started rather than needing to do it after -- and then trying to figure out how to photograph my right hand while staying in focus. (Please ignore whatever gang sign I have inadvertently made.)
My neighbor has cleared away enough of the water cabbage that I can now verify our two regular crocodile visitors survived the multiple emptying of the laguna this summer. I have seen each of them at night over the past week. The smaller one was there at dusk last evening.
One advantage to staying where I am is to enjoy nature in my back yard. Eva Gabor may have preferred the stores. I prefer the chores.
Well, at least to drive.
You may recall that one of my tasks on my summer odyssey was to get a driver's license from my legal state of residence: Nevada (from the mountain to the prairie to the ocean white with foam). The application process was simple. Getting it in my pocket was a rather convoluted procedure.
The license showed up at my place in Nevada just as advertised within 10 days of my application. From there it went to Seattle. A Melaque friend muled it down to me in late August.
But because we have both been away from Melaque, it did not end up in my hands until this week. And its arrival is timely.
I will be heading north in a few days to get my Oregon house on the market. And I will need a driver's license to rent a car for my month-long visit to Oregon.
I doubt rental car agents in The States would be as understanding about my hole-through-the-title Oregon license as was the federal policeman on my way to San Miguel de Allende (an international journey).
Other than that one incident, I never felt the least bit concerned that I was driving around with an invalid license -- a condition that makes my automobile insurance null and void. In fact, it gave me a certain sense of freedom.
Even having everything in legal shape does not change that feeling of freedom here in Mexico.
Most of my northern friends know of only two Mexican holidays.
The first, of course, is Cinco de Mayo (created almost exclusively by Corona beer), which is almost unanimously confused with Mexican Independence Day. Wrong date. Wrong adversary.
The other is Day of the Dead. And the inquiry usually starts a bit obliquely. "So -- you go to that Day of the Dead stuff? Pretty weird if you ask me."
Unfortunately, my answer is that I have never seen what they remember from some Discovery channel clip. I was looking forward to seeing a lot of traditions when I moved to Melaque. But I came to the wrong part of Mexico if I want tradition.
There are very few buildings in town that are older than I am. History has swirled around this bay, but left it untouched. We have no monumental Indian structures. No colonial buildings. Almost everyone here came from somewhere else. It is a beach town with a beach town sensibility toward tradition.
Especially, in the Mexican highlands, Day of the Dead -- where families perform rituals to commune with their departed relatives -- is a public ceremony. Some would claim that it has been Disneyfied to further attract tourists.
In my village, there are no public displays in the cemeteries. Some people participate in the privacy of their homes. Others don't bother.
The only public display of the holiday I have seen was in the San Patricio town plaza. The schools sponsored an evening where students could set up booths to honor loved ones. Complete with photographs, memorabilia, and the favorite foods and drink of the deceased.
It had all the sense of tradition of a science fair in a northern middle school gymnasium. Without the vague odor of sweaty gym clothes.
But this year, I am going to see the real thing. Mex-Eco Tours is conducting a trip to Pátzcuaro at the end of this month to see what Day of the Dead looks like in its flowery glory. 31 October to 2 November. If I had stayed cool in Pátzcuaro for an additional month, I could have met up with the tour there.
I will save the details and the background material for posts during the trip. But a holiday that has the word "dead" in it is bound to be a favorite of mine.
By the way, Dan says there are seats available. If you haven't signed up, you still can.
But that is not the only holiday Mexicans celebrate in that time period. 31 October is Halloween.
Even though Halloween is celebrate in many countries, the grand productions of costumes and trick or treat booty has a distinctly American flavor. And Mexico is a cultural magnet for anything fun. Especially, if it involves getting to dress up in masks. Octavio Paz would have quite a bit to tell us on that topic.
In Melaque there is very little evidence of the Day of the Dead merchandise that chokes retail shelves in the highlands. But Halloween paraphernalia we have.
I took this photograph on Melaque's main street a few days ago. The display is almost maskless today.
When I went to Manzanillo this week, there were tables of Halloween candy in Walmart. Racks of costumes in Soriana. And piles of pumpkins at Sam's Club. Just waiting for trick-or-treaters in training.
Some of my expatriate friends bemoan the northern Halloween invasion. The same people who are shocked at the presence of Mexican middle class families enjoying Starbucks and Burger King.
But Mexicans know a good thing when they see it. For thousands of years, new ideas have been stuffed into the cutural olio that is Mexico. And something fun like Halloween is not going to be tossed aside.
So, while I am on my way to Pátzcuaro, a handful of trick or treaters will saunter by my blackened house where no treats await them.
When I get home, I may discover how those giant packages of toilet paper for sale at Sam's Club may have a seasonal purpose.
On Tuesday morning I was still without a rope for my plant-grabbing grappling hook.
Melaque is a fishing village. Or, it was a fishing village. Tourists are more likely to take the baited hook than dorado. But the town has plenty of hardware stores more than willing to sell rope to fishermen and tourists alike.
I think I just needed a good excuse to drive east to Manzanillo. The last time I was in Manzanillo was to pick up my renewed FM3 -- in April. I suspect I have not been in any of its shops this year.
And there were new shopping meccas to visit. A Sam's Club opened while I was in the highlands this summer. It was big news for the tiny expatriate community. But even bigger news for the area's expanding Mexican middle class. The opening of this type of store is another milestone in Getting There.
The first Sam's Club I visited was in Colima two or three years ago. I was not very impressed with the place.
I am a Costco man. And the Costco/Sam's Club divide is as wide as the Coke/Pepsi gulf. The store did not seem to offer anything I could not get at the local Walmart.
The Manzanillo store is a clone of my Colima experience. I walked around for an hour with an empty cart - - and left with empty hands.
I will confess that a 55 inch Sony television kept whispering my name. Lacking a crew, I metaphorically stuck wax in my ears and lashed myself to the mast, Ulysses-like, to avoid the sirens' call. But it was tempting.
I did give into temptation, though, at the cinema. I love movies. But the offerings in Manzanillo are usually limited to big American movies.
I decided to take a gamble on Taken 2. The reviews were not very good. The most common complaint being that the film was a remake of Taken, and not really a sequel.
The storyline is rather simple -- as they usually are in action films where stories are written and characters are drawn not to get in the way of the action.
In the first film, Liam Neeson is a private security provider with intelligence resources. His daughter is kidnapped by Albanian white slavers. He kills the gang, one by tortuous electrocution, and rescues his daughter. Considering his amazing killing and physical skills, you start wondering why he simply did not melt them with his x-ray vision.
In Taken 2, the father of the electrocuted terrorist seeks revenge with a plan to kidnap Neeson, his ex-wife, and their daughter on a trip to Istanbul. Of course, all three are alive in the end and the Albanians are all dead. (Before you complain that I just ruined the story, let me remind you there is no story.)
There is little to enjoy in the film. Even the action scenes are ultimately disappointing. There is no action. Merely some annoying camera angles and MTV choppy editing. The type of editing that could make Newt Gingrinch look like an Olympian.
My chief concern is the violence. Violence has its place in art. Especially if characters can grow in its midst.
There is nothing like that here. It is all revenge. On both sides. And the second film arises because the cycle of violence was initiated in the first film. There is a promise of a third cycle when we discover the Albanian father has two other living and undoubtedly vengeful sons.
As far as I am concerned, the cycle of violence is broken for me. I am not going to bother with being fooled three times.
After the movie, I was on my way west to Melaque after stopping at Soriana for some sandwich fixings.
Here it is Wednesday morning. And I am still without a rope for my plant-grabbing grappling hook. I completely forgot the primary reason for going to Manzanillo yesterday.
Well, there are still those fisherman-satisfying hardware stores in town.
This month was the 50th anniversary of Oregon's largest wind storm. What we called the Big Blow.
My brother and I were 11 and 13. With trees falling and electrical lines snapping, my mother and the two of us wandered around the neighborhood to see what hath wind wrought.
Stephanie, the neighbor girl who lived across the street, reminded me of our crazy Cotton family outing when I stayed in place last year for hurricane Jova.
Almost exactly a year ago. (reporting for duty)
You may recall our area did not suffer much wind damage from Jova, but there was plenty of flooding.
What appeared to be a well-constructed bypass highway had recently opened on the outskirts of town. I say "appeared to be" because in two places, where the road bridged local dirt paths, the bridges had been knocked from their footings causing them to drop several inches.
The flood water rushing down the dirt paths was that strong.
Last week on my ATV adventure with Ray we drove by the construction site. I didn't have time to take any photographs. So, I wandered out there yesterday to take a look.
The two bridges have been demolished and the road crews have started anew. The fact that it has taken a year to get the bridges in place is a good indication that the road was not a priority, it presented a difficult engineering problem, or both.
The farmers around here need roads to get their goods to market. And the politicians are sensitive not to upset them.
After looking at the amount of rebar and concrete going into each bridge, I suspect there is a massive hole somewhere in Mexico where a large building is supposed to be.
Look at how densely packed the rebar is. And how much concrete has already been poured into the footings. I suspect each bridge could withstand a full force tsunami.
I had forgotten how much there is to see on that stretch of road. It runs through miles of mango orchards. And there is plenty of wildlife to see. Unfortunately, much of it as road kill.
I took the most detailed photograph of a gray fox I have ever captured. But I will save some of your sensitivity by not posting it.
Dead mammals are easy to shoot. Butterflies not so much.
I have never had much luck with butterflies. They move quickly. By the time I can get focused, the subject is gone.
And today was not an ideal day. The breeze was a relief from the heat. But it pushed both butterflies and flowers in unpredictable loops.
Of all my shots, only two are even recognizable as butterfly shots. And both are blurry and noisy. Unfortunately, I do not know the identify of either butterfly.
But here they are. Number one.
And number two.
The nice thing about having the road closed to other than local traffic is that it is easy to stop by the road and admire the narrow alluvial plains that support the farmers in this area.
And also lets me enjoy nature -- even when I am not on an ATV.
My ballot is finally on its way to the Washoe County clerk.
It took me over a week to find a scanner with a bed large enough to scan my over-sized ballot. But on Sunday evening, I launched it into the electronic electoral stream.
The scanner search gave me time to consider how I was going to vote for president. The Nevada ballot gave me five options.
The first winnowing was easy. The IAP is one of those nativist, populist parties that pops up from time to time in American politics. But I share little of its reactionary rhetoric. Where I seek reform, it seeks nostalgia.
- Virgil Goode, Independent American Party of Nevada
- Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party
- Barack Obama, Democrat Party
- Mitt Romey, Republican Party
- NONE OF THESE CANDIDATES
I put "NONE OF THESE CANDIDATES" in the same category as my sentimental favorite -- the Libertarian Party. Voting for either would simply be a bit of peevishness.
There are only two real contenders. The nominees of the major parties. And that is where the real action is.
Several days ago, I called this election "critical." Kim of Boston, a frequent commenter on these pages, demurred. He identified three truly critical issues (dramatic global military pullback,
entitlement reform, and tax reform -- to create a
sustainable fiscal path), and pointed out that neither candidate will do any of the three.
I agree with Kim that those are three of the country's most critical issues. And it is true that neither candidate has been very forthcoming on how he will address them.
But there is more than a dime's worth of difference between them. To cadge a phrase from the 1968 George Wallace.
Starting with their political philosophy of the role of government in American life.
From four years of experience, we know that Barack Obama instinctively sees every social issue as political and potentially the responsibility of the federal government. Some people mistakenly refer to him as a socialist. He is not.
He does not advocate the public ownership of the means of production -- with the exception of the wrong-headed taxpayer bailout of General Motors. (Where the tax money of single mothers without benefits were used to protect the pensions of auto workers -- an important special interest group to the president. After all, single mothers do not have money to donate to campaigns.)
His views are more accurately labeled as corporatist. The means of production remain in private hands, but the government determines the policies the producers must follow. Of course, it is also a system where the government attempts to pick economic winners.
And does it very badly. After twelve years of Bush-Obama economic policies, I am ready for a change.
Mitt Romney is not a libertarian. But he appears to be serious about addressing the nation's pending fiscal car wreck.
There is little that the federal government can do to right the economy. But much can be done to make matters worse.
The Bush-Obama tack of relying on Keynesian economics was doomed to fail. Until the federal government's fiscal situation improves, no one in the market is going to believe there is a stable economy in America's future.
That it why is was gutsy for Romney to add Paul Ryan to the ticket. Ryan is willing to talk as an adult with the American people. If we do not take steps now to address our blossoming entitlements deficit, everything else the federal government does will be for naught.
And Romney has proven himself to be a capable leader as the American people have come to know him better. The president is the head of the executive department. He needs to be competent. We have already seen the results of amateurism with our last two presidents.
Is he the perfect candidate? Hardly. His call for increased military spending is wrong headed. It is time to let the Europeans pay for their own defense of their economic pipeline.
But, he is the best candidate.
So, I have voted.
Having done my part as a citizen, I can sit back and wait for the results (and not trouble these pages with more politics -- for a bit). As it turns out, I will be doing my sitting in The States.
Note -- The very nice people at the Washoe County Clerk's office just sent me an email that my ballot was received and accepted. An amazingly efficient process. Other than the step about finding a scanner.
There are days I feel drained.
As if my energy tank had lost the bung out of its bunghole.
The frog (I suspect it is a Mexican tree frog) sat on the window grill of my guest bedroom for two days. Maybe he simply did not have the energy to go make tadpoles.
I know how he felt. About not having energy.
Our weather here has decided to do its best impression of September. As you know, I headed off to the highlands for the months of August and September to avoid what is traditionally our most tortuous months in tropical Jalisco. And the moderate 50 degree mornings of the highlands were like gifts from heaven.
This past week, the combination of temperatures and humidity in Melaque has driven the "feels like" indicator consistently over 100. I can tolerate a lot of weather. But it does get more difficult when it is a lot of weather -- repeatedly. Like being force fed papaya.
My usual coping skill is to sit in the shade with a book while a fan does its yeoman best to make me believe there is a breeze. The kind of breeze you would feel on Molokai.
Even my Mexican neighbors are complaining about the inability to sleep. When I get to bed early (around midnight or 1 AM), I regularly end up staying awake until 4 AM.
The heat has really taken the joy out of my recent house-hunting high. Today I started asking myself what on earth I am thinking? Buying a house on the coast because I liked the highlands?
Earlier in the week I received a long list from my realtor in Oregon of projects she thinks need to be done to upgrade the house for the current market. They are all quite logical. But if I were to complete the list, I would move back into the house myself. And I would undoubtedly make changes that a new buyer would not like.
So, here I sit on the back porch. My Kindle at hand. My fan at foot. Putting away big decisions for a week or two.
Because I can.
Every Friday morning when I am in town, I have breakfast with Ed the Artist -- and another friend when he is here.
We usually talk about needs at the Indian school for the migrant worker children. But there are no borders on conversation. We push each others' buttons now and then. But that is one of the liberties of friendship.
Last week, I was running a bit late for one reason or another. But I was not rushing. What's the point? This is Mexico.
The main highway crosses the laguna just before passing through my destination village. I could see a motorcycle in front of me. Maybe about 10 car lengths.
Ed rides a motorcycle. Thinking it might be him, I slowed down a bit. We could arrive at about the same time.
The next thing I saw was the motorcycle cartwheeling forward. Making at least three or four revolutions. Of course, I was now really worried that it might be Ed.
I have seen many a motorcycle go down on the road and on the race track. They usually slide.
Not this one. And I instinctively knew that a rider exposed to the road on a cartwheeling motorcycle would not be a good thing.
And it wasn't.
I was the first to pull up. Within seconds there were two other men on the scene helping. The first task was to get the motorcycle off of the rider. It was not Ed.
I grabbed my telephone to call for an ambulance while retrieving my first aid kit from my truck.
But in the time it took me to return, someone else had completed the call. And whatever was wrong with the rider, my first aid kit was not going to help. He could not move.
What did help was the arrival of the fire emergency crew. And then an ambulance.
While they tended to the rider, we started clearing the street of various motorcycle parts. And one big dead dog. A second dog had limped off into the laguna, probably to be a crocodile meal, just as we arrived.
I can only surmise that the motorcyclist hit one or both dogs and panic braked on his front wheel. Whatever happened, his motorcycle performed actions for which it was not designed.
When I finished breakfast, I returned to the duplex and told Dora, the maid, what had happened.
Yesterday morning she told me the rest of the story. The motorcyclist had died.
Of what, I don't know. Like most riders around here, he wore no helmet. But I am not certain that would have mattered with the forward rolls he took with his bike.
We will all have our own lessons to draw from this tragedy.
Mine is: life is fragile. If we remain aware of that fact, we might treat others in our lives with a bit more respect and love. I know I need to work on that.
Note -- There is no photograph with this post because I took no photographs at the scene. If I had, I trust you would have lost any respect you might have for me. Even though that type of photograph is daily grist in some Mexican newspapers. But not this blog.
Thursday was Man Day.
The day I rolled up my short sleeves to tackle the duties of a pioneer on the frontier.
Around here, that means pulling water cabbage and water hyacinth out of the laguna. The chore has been neglected for some time.
First, it was the crocodiles babies. I was reluctant to disturb the nursery. And, as you may recall, MaMa Croc was far more intent on me not disturbing the nursery.
Then I wandered off for two months. In my absence, the laguna was emptied twice. When I got back, it was a plain of wet mud covered with water plants -- hanging onto life in the few puddles that survived the drainage.
For the past three weeks, my inlet has been filing with water. And just like income tax rate cuts, all boats (or, in this case, plants) are rising.
Having put off what needed to be done for too long, I started gathering up my tools. Well, tool. I only have one. The four-prong hook that I toss into the pond and then pull out with a rope. If all works well, a carpet of plants will come along with it.
But, if you look carefully at the photograph, my two-part tool has been reduced to a single piece of re-bar. Without the rope, it would be as futile as a governmental program to toss the hook into the pond.
I am considering driving to Manzanillo on Saturday -- for a day in the Little Apple. If I do not buy a rope locally (and there are plenty of local retailers), I will pick up one there.
Then I can return to my John Wayne impression.
My compadre blogger, Felipe, over at Unseen Moon has posted on the baffling resurrection of nostalgia for communism and its related cousins.
There is no doubt where I stand. I have spent my adult life opposing an ideology that is morally indiscernible from Italian and German fascism.
But some red keeps creeping into my life.
For those of you who have met me (or even looked at my profile photograph), I am not overly blessed with melanin. Some of my ancestors came from the Outer Hebrides. There is a good chance Scandinavian raider genes run in my blood.
Whatever the reason, no one has ever called me olive-skinned. I am one of those people who broil rather than tan.
Yesterday I recalled staying at my cousin Danny's house in Myrtle Point when I was nine or so. We had spent a full day at the Bandon beach -- in a time when sun screen was what you put on the front porch.
Trotsky was less red than my back the next morning. But I helped Danny with his paper route by wearing those old paper carriers that looked like a fat-man poncho stuffed with newspapers in front and in back.
It hurt. But there was work to be done.
Looking at today's photograph should be reason enough to explain why that little anecdote popped into my head.
You would think I would have learned -- after sixty-some years -- that going out in the sun means protective gear. At least, a hat.
In fact, Ray asked me that very thing when we started our ATV tour. He just shook his head that I was heading out without a hat or sun protection.
I thought my four years down here would lay down a protective layer against the sun. I forgot one important fact.
For the past eight months I have been traveling to places where long pants are in order. My pudgy thighs have been living in the equivalent of a rabbit warren.
Not surprisingly, you can see the result. My face is a bit red. But it is my thighs that took the brunt of the sun. And just the thighs. That is what comes of sunbathing while sitting down.
And, yes, I am aware of the dangers of sun exposure. But it ranks up there with eating what I want to eat. And fearing being eaten by piranha in the bath tub I do not have.
Oddly, I am not paying the pain dividend for my hubris. Usually a burn like this would present logistical sleeping problems. But it does not even feel warm to the touch. What is the world coming to when I cannot count on Skinnerian aversion therapy.
I am smart enough that I generally stayed out of the sun yesterday.
Today I am having lunch with a reader who participated in the house poll. It will be fun to listen to another property owner's decision-making process.
We may even get around to talking about reds of one type or another.
And some things I have never done once.
Tuesday was the day I marked at least one thing off of my list. The list of things I want to do before I die -- even though some of the activities could easily result in "GAME OVER."
This was one. Sorta.
I have never ridden on or piloted an ATV -- an all terrain vehicle. Those four-wheeled vehicles that pre-teens use to terrorize sunbathers on Mexican beaches.
There was no reason for not doing it. My house sitter is a big advocate -- having had one in his youth on the family farm.
It turns out that its ride is a cross between a motorcycle, a wave runner, and a horse. And I long ago mastered all three.
Last week, I saw Ray Calhoun of The Only Tours at Rooster's restaurant late last week. We met about three years ago while my neighbor (at the time) and Ray were figuring out exactly where true north was on the beach.
I really do not remember why that was so important then. But it was.
I would then see Ray on the beach or guiding one of his ATV tours through the back roads of the Costalegre. But I never had taken the time to set up a tour for myself.
When we talked last week, he told me he was heading out on Tuesday to scout the streams and roads before this season starts. I invited myself along as a paying customer.
Let me give you the bottom line. I love ATVs. And I love the challenges Ray offers on the trip.
We were gone for about four to five hours. Riding on beaches and back roads. Fording streams. Climbing landslides from our summer rains -- slides that I could not have climbed on foot.
You heard me go on and on about the scenic vistas of Michoacán. Where there is a stunning sight around every corner.
I have slighted Jalisco's coast with my prose. This is a view in the hills looking south toward Manzanillo. When this place greens up, it makes Greenpeace look like minke harvesters.
Unfortunately, when you have one hand on the throttle and both hands on the brakes while dashing through shifting sands, it is difficult to get good shots. As you can see.
And that is too bad.
We passed through clouds of tiny to large butterflies -- as if we were in a Mardi Gras parade surrounded by blue, white, yellow, organge, brown, and black confetti.
Gray hawks. Turkey vultures. Lizards. Snakes. And birds I have never seen before. All on the back of a steed that could take us almost anywhere our dreams could imagine. We went down trails Ray has never explored before.
And I think this is the first time I have seen the Mexican and Red Chinnese flags flying together at a business complex. It turns out it is a joint venture mine. The locals in Tequesquitlán say it is an iron ore mine.
That makes sense. It is in the same range as the Peña Colorado mine on the road to Colima. If I remember correctly that mine is a joint venture with the British. It is almost as if both Guadalupe Victoria and Porfirio Diaz were still setting policy in Mexico City.
But there may be more than iron ore in them thar hills. Our local source lowered his voice and got that Hispanic glint in his eye -- the same look that propelled Nuño de Guzman through the highlands.
"They say there is -- gold." The perfect opening line for a short story.
But we were not in a short story. We were on another of those adventures that make me as giddy as a school boy. At least, until the adrenalin has burned off with what is left of my testosterone, and my buttocks start telling me it is a long time since I sat a saddle. That hot tub would have been welcomed last night.
I want one. An ATV, that is. If I get that house in the country, it would be a perfect fit. Something more to tie me to Mexico.
Unlike the area around Lake Pátzcuaro, the roads and fields around Melaque do not have banks of fall wild flowers. But the mountains do.
Not the pastel pinks of Pátzcuaro with its cosmos. These flowers are boldly tropical. Oranges. Purples. Reds. Blues. Yellows.
Nothing subtle. But I could not help but notice this flower (whose name I do not know) is certainly close kin to the cosmos. As leggy as a Las Vegas chorine. But in a brighter costume.
It seems that all good times eventually meet, shake hands, and become one.
For your own adventure, you would be well-served to contact Ray when you are in town.
I intend to take a few more runs myself.
Some things in Mexico could not be better. Cost of health care comes to mind.
Other things are not quite so good.
Here is one example.
I was chatting with my realtor this afternoon about the legal process for selling Mexican real estate. For someone who teethed on the Anglo-Saxon deed recording system, the Mexican process can cause a few jitters. But it works.
Deeds matter. But getting there does not bother me.
The internet does. In this area, it is incredibly inconsistent. Part of that is the very nature of DSL signals -- internet through the telephone line.
There are three basic packages on offer from TelMex. Up to 1, 3, or 5 Mbps. That "up to" is a dead give away to the variations in speed customers receive.
The realtor was a bit confounded when I told her my internet in Melaque is so slow I cannot run YouTube videos. It did not make sense to her because she pays for the least expensive package, and regularly receives speeds above that.
We did a little speed test. Sure enough. Her download speed was 3.57.
It has been some time since I tried a speed test on my computer at the garden apartment. When I got back, I was surprised my speed was almost as fast as the system at the realtor's office. As long as you knocked off the digit to the left of the decimal point.
0.58 Mbps download; 0.62 Mbps upload. That is only slightly better than the dial up speed I had in the 1990s.
I am going to take a trip out to the prospective new house to see what type of speed the renter gets. If it is not much better, I may call in John Calypso and his amazing bamboo pole antenna.
I may not get what I pay for onthe internet, but if I get sick -- my bang for the buck will be worth of of the other irritations combined.
Life is full of surprises.
And I like it that way.
No matter what you plan, events usually turn out differently than you anticipated they would. And almost always for the better.
Take my house hunting adventure as an example. While I was visiting Pátzcuaro, several thoughts came together in my libertarian mind. It may be time to settle down a bit and own a house. It would be nice to play my music at the volume I like it. It would be even better if I also had a big dog.
The three could easily have been resolved independent of each other. After all, I could have a dog where I am renting now. But not the loud music.
Interestingly, I thought I was planning on becoming a loud music, dog-caring homeowner high above the south shore of Lake Pátzcuaro. But all of that changed when I got back to Melaque.
Even though the heat is often a challenge for me, I have spent four years here building up a network of acquaintances. I realized how valuable that was the first night I came back. And the fact that the house that had drawn me to Barra de Navidad was back on the market seemed to be something more than coincidence.
When I started tapping up some calculations on the computer, I had two potential sources for the purchase price of a house. What I thought would be easiest was taking a loan on my 457 deferred compensation plan. I had heard it was possible to use it as collateral.
What I heard was true. If I still worked and was contributing to the plan. Once I rolled the money over to my IRA, the Internal Revenue prohibits me from using it as my play money.
For obvious reasons. The "deferred" portion of that plans means income taxes have been deferred until I withdraw it.
For most people, the plans are a great deal. Earning the ability to pay taxes at a lower marginal rate after retirement.
But if I withdrew the purchase price as a lump sum, the marginal rate would have been staggering. And if there are tax rate increases at the start of next year, I would have been one of the fish in the barrel.
So, that idea was out.
The other source is the equity in my house in Salem. I own it outright. There was no reason I could not take out an equity mortgage. Until I realized, in addition to the $1000 a month I am currently shelling out to run the house, I would be making a large mortgage payment.
Then the obvious answer hit me. I needed to do what I should have done six years ago when commenter Kim suggested it. Sell the Salem house.
That is what is happening now. My realtor has made a checklist of the few things I need to do to get it on the market. The biggest item is throwing out the accumulations of several decades. Or finding homes for things that others can use.
So, early in November I will fly north to get the repository of my infamous hot tub ready to turn over to a new owner. Someone who can use the place better than I can at this point in my life.
All of that is prelude, of course, to answering the question of which house has caught my interest.
The winner is the house that got the fewest number of votes in my poll. The large white house in the country. The only option that will accommodate both a large dog and big sound.
We are currently in negotiations. If it turns out that we cannot come to a deal, I will be no worse off. I will be rid of the Salem house and I will still have a place to live on the laguna.
And no matter which result, life is going to just getting better and better.
In all the excitement of talking about new houses, campaigning for contenders, and polling your opinions, I almost forgot there was another election wending its way through the American consciousness.
That is, until I went to my postal box on Saturday. The only piece of mail was an important one: my ballot from Nevada.
I knew it was about to arrive. On Friday I received a very nice letter from the Washoe County clerk explaining a proposed constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to call itself into special session. And informing me my ballot had been mailed to me.
But, on Saturday, there it was. The real deal. My proof that I am still a citizen of an American state. That the people of Nevada do not work for the government. The government works for the citizen. And we can hire and fire who we want.
Sometime on Sunday, I am going to do just that. My pen will join those two little arrow segments together -- saying I want this guy for this job. All the others can look elsewhere for employment.
And I will be so bold as to project that the federal government will have a partisan split. That is a pretty safe bet. All the polls show that the houses of Congress will be held by different parties -- even if the spread is closer in both the House and the Senate. As for the White House, it seems to be a closer race every day.
Will my preferred candidate win? I have no idea. I think he may.
By voting in Nevada (one of the swing states), my vote will have far more weight than it did in Oregon. However, not as much weight as it had in 1984 when I was a member of the electoral college.
I was a little concerned that I would not have enough time to mail the ballot back to Reno and have it arrive before election day. But the forward-thinking state of Nevada has my back. I can either fax or email my ballot to the clerk.
When I have drawn the appropriate arrows on Sunday, I will scan the ballot and my certification -- and email my choices north.
As for who I am voting for (as if most of you could not guess), I may leave that revelation until I tell you about my Mexican living decision.
At some point this week. Let's just say plans are a'brewin'.
This blog is better than psychotherapy.
Parts of my past come out that I had completely buried. Even the recent past.
If it had not been for our group discussions about houses, I would have forgotten that I was almost part of the RV crowd. Well, the junior branch of the RV crowd.
Back in 2006, I had considered cutting my living expenses by selling my house and moving into what I thought was a relatively classy RV -- a Rialta. One of my co-workers used the adjective "classy." At least, I thought that was what he said.
What he said was "Class C" -- part of the labeling system used in the RV caste system to designate my new love as being one step up from converted van. The equivalent caste in India would be "untouchable."
But I had great plans. I would sell my house, get rid of all of my stuff, and Jiggs and I would hang out in or near my employer's parking lot. Living the life of luxurious gypsies.
This is where the Class C designation hits home. We would do all of that in a 22 foot RV.
No library. No hot tub. Fewer clothes than I stretch to last for a four-week cruise. And a bathroom that needed to be pulled out to form a shower space.
At least, it would have been good training for my living conditions in Mexico. Camping with a twist.
I was such an amateur that I did not even consider details like water and sewer hookups. So much for roughing it in an insurance company's parking lot.
And when I researched the cost of hooking up at an RV park, I discovered I would have been paying the equivalent of what it would cost to rent a comfortable Salem apartment.
Jiggs was relieved. And another of my little dreams was strangled in its crib. The fact that the dream looked a bit like Rosemary's baby probably made its early demise a not very well disguised blessing.
So, I came south with Jiggs to a beautiful beach house.
I thought of the garroted dream yesterday as I was walking around my neighborhood. What had once been a series of bucolic lots was now the site of a massive construction project.
A speculator is betting that the RV crowd would like an additional park in our hook-up happy villages. This one has 21 spaces. A swimming pool. And what looks like a community center, but I am not certain about that.
Generally, it looks rather classy. With one exception. The registration window looks as if it was borrowed from one of the local no-tell motels.
Jiggs and I could have a great time there. The RV park, that is. Had it existed a mere four years ago. Me in a baseball cap. Jiggs in a lounge chair.
What surprised me is how quickly it was built. Obviously, it must have had very good financing. Most projects do not spring up quite that quickly around here.
It is right around the corner from another new establishment. La Oficina (now headquartered in Barra de Navidad) is opening a bar-eatery before too long. All of thse RVers will have a spot close at hand where everyone knows their name.
For all of its real estate problems, this area continues to grow.
And I keep finding parts of my life that I did not even know were there.
It's now up to you.
You have heard each contender's pitch. So, pull out those electronic pencils and help Steve Cotton settle a portion of his indecisive life.
There are four choices. Each with advantages and disadvantages.
Because I am one positive Joe, I will accentuate the positive for each of our candidates.
Number one: Little Room with a view -- That vista over Tenacatita Bay is worth twice the price. Cozy. Easy to maintain. Perfect for the writer who wants to get away from it all.
Number two: White House South -- Without the headaches of That Other Place up north. Plenty of room. A bedroom that would please the Sultan of Brunei. A small municipality to itself. Perfect for a big dog and big sound music.
Number three: Casa Mia Not Yet -- The coziness of option #1, but on the flat lands. Urban. A walking place.
Number four: The Beloved Garden Apartment -- Shade. Breeze. Garden. Laguna. Crocodiles. Squirrels. Birds galore. All at a renter's price.
The poll is to the right. And will stay open until the end of today (Friday).
My future is in your hands. At least, to the extent I put it there. Think Mexican presidential elections in the 1980s.
Today was supposed to be election day.
The day when each of you could narrow down the three potential houses I should buy. At least, the house you like best that you think I should buy.
But Mexpatriate is a dictatorship. A benign dictatorship, mind you. But a dictatorship, nonetheless. Ruled by a first cousin of Plato's philosopher king.
And the dictator says we are all to hold off on voting until an additional candidate is added: the option of continuing my rental arrangement at Casa Nanaimo -- where I have lived blissfully since 2009. The ultimate status quo candidate.
I do not need to add much more than what you already know about my little duplex by the laguna. For the past three years, my photographs and prose have centered around it. If you like, you can look back on the poll that led me to these fine walls at we have a winner.
Voters always whinge that they never have enough choices. Well, choices there will be.
But that is tomorrow.
And, as Scarlett O'Hara so sagely said: "Tomorrow is another day."
Joseph has a snazzy view.
The Barra compound has a visceral sexuality.
Candidate number 3 (Casa Mia) is just a solid plain girl with a nice personality.
My brother and I looked at the house when we drove down in 2009. It has a pleasant look from the street. And there was something about the lines that I found enticing.
I was not the least bit surprised when I discovered this is one of the first houses designed by Alejandro -- the premier local architect.
The house is the most urban of the three. It is within steps of Barra's commercial area. I would need to drive my truck from the other two houses to buy anything. From Casa Mia, I could walk to fulfill most of my needs.
I like the house's personality. It is built on one level, but in two sections. The front part of the house includes the living room, dining room, kitchen, and utility room.
The second section includes two bedroom-bathroom suites. Divided from the rest of the house by a shaded patio.
When Darrel and I looked at the house, we tried to figure out where the best site for a hot tub would be. I have sorely missed my hot tub these last few years.
I have now asked the realtor to check with Alejandro if the roof would be capable of supporting the roof. Without the hot tub ending up in the living room -- along with a slab of roof concrete.
The house is compact. There is no wasted space.
But I do feel a bit claustrophobic in the patio. That is undoubtedly because I have become so accustomed to the wide expanse of my current garden.
Even though it is just a couple of blocks walk to the beach, there is no ocean view. Not even standing on the roof.
I periodically drive by the house and check the price. It has come down over the years.
Currently, it is listed at $158,900.
So, there you have them. My three prospective brides.
Tomorrow, I will ask you to pull out your electronic ballots to recommend one or the other to me. I am also including a rental option. Just in case you feel as if my heart is not in this.