Sunday, March 31, 2013

an egg-citing morning

I discovered something new this fine Easter morning.

Something in addition to the awe I discover every morning waking up in Mexico.

The something new I discovered is that Easter bunnies can fly.  Or climb trees.  Either way, I had no idea.

I have been writing about bunnies (Dr. Bunny, the rabbit cake bunny -- death of a playgoer) since I was four.  But flying rabbits is something even my fevered imagination could not conjure up.

But the proof was right there before my eyes.  As I sat down to eat breakfast on the patio, I glanced up and saw this prize hanging from my ficus.

Undoubtedly, a gift from a bunny with supernatural powers.  Or it could have been my landlady once again showing her Easter creativity.

Occam's Razor would probably help me with that conundrum.  But this is the season of miracles and resurrection.

And acts of kindness that make being human a joy.


purity of sacrifice

My friends Lou and Wynn have been telling me about the mountain town of Villa Purificación for years.  But I have not made the trip up there on my own.

That changed yesterday.  Not the "on my own" part.  But I did get to the town.  With Lou and Wynn -- and my mother and brother.

The town has a long history -- founded in 1532.  Its church is reputed to be the third oldest in the country.  Even though much remodeled, the stone buttresses, that must be from an early version of the church, are still there.

Even with its potpourri of architectural styles, nothing jars the eyes.  It is almost like an historical timeline.  Smooth.  Transitional.

Most towns have attracted carnivals for Easter.  But, at the close of Easter celebrations, Villa Purificación will transition into its own festival.  Complete with bull fights on 9 April.  Maybe that is what has the carousel mermaids looking so concerned.

Villa Purificación has a traditional tie with our area of the Pacific coast.  Five years ago, I told you the tale about the Spanish setting sail from Barra de Navidad to establish a trade route with The Philippines  -- manila extract.

What I did not tell you in that post is that the return voyage was almost a disaster.  Many of the crew had died in the conquest of The Philippines.  Others died on the return voyage.

This photograph may look familiar.  It echoes the monument on the Barra seawall.

Where the Barra monument is celebratory, this monument has a note of tragedy in its recitation honoring the crew.  Because many of the lives that were lost began in the village.

Our visit was cursory.  Perhaps this summer I will return to visit the church and the rest of the town.  After all, many of its early inhabitants gave their all for Mexico's ultimate prosperity.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

rob lemmers -- a life

I did not know Rob Lemmers well.

We met in passing several times.  Usually at eateries.  It was inevitable.  We both lived in Villa Obregon.

Unfortunately, I now have to rely on others to know him better.  Last week, he quickly took ill and died in hospital at Manzanillo on Sunday.  At 69.

His friends gathered tonight to pay homage to him and his life by releasing traditional paper hot air balloons  -- globos.  I will leave the eulogies for people who knew him better.  Some have started on our local message board at Tom Zap.

But I can tell you about the balloon celebration.  It was my first.

The photograph at the top of this post is the start of the assembly process.  The large paper balloon -- you can get a good sense of its size -- was lifted and pulled apart to let the air fill it.

When the launchers were satisfied the balloon was air-tight, a large torch was carefully inserted to fill the pocket with hot air.  A cotton wick, soaked in petroleo, was then lit to keep the internal air hot -- creating the lift that would keep the balloon aloft.

When the balloon was ready for launch, it was walked down a candle-lit runway and released.

Unfortunately, none of my photographs of the ascending balloon are worth printing.  Most balloons first float out over the ocean before catching a breeze out to sea.

This balloon shot straight up like a rocket.  We could see it for minutes as it climbed higher and higher above the clouds.

In this Easter season, the balloon is as good a symbol of any for our hope in the resurrection.  But it also reminds us that we are not people focused on the balloon. 

When the balloon was gone, all of Rob's friends and acquaintances were still on the beach.  His life has touched and altered everyone he has come in contact with.  We now have a duty to share that same love, humor, and joy with one another.

And that would make this a very special Easter.

the red cloaks are coming

It took me three years before I saw my first Good Friday procession in Mexico.  That was last year (i thirst).

This year, my friends, the Moodies, invited Mom, Darrel, and me over for a taste of this year's Mexican celebration -- and, more importantly, piety.  One o' clock, they suggested-- the time they had been told the procession would assemble.

We have lived in Mexico long enough to know timeliness has nothing to do with godliness.  And it certainly was not as important as the procession itself yesterday. 

But that gave the five of us an opportunity to talk about a full range of topics.  Proving another cultural advantage of Mexico.  Forging relationships is more important than clocks or money.

We were in full conversation mode when the first red cloaks appeared through the foliage up the street.  Mounted Roman legionnaires were leading Jesus to be crucified while his woman disciples followed him to his death. 

Along the way, the procession stopped at each station of the cross.

I am glad that Darrel and Mom were able to experience this little slice of Mexican life.  I am still as ambivalent about it as I was last year.  But it was a perfect transition to our own Good Friday service.

After watching the procession last year, I concluded:  "For me, yesterday was a very good Friday.  Because life is not about the crucifixion.  It is about the resurrection and living in love with one another."

And it is always good to be reminded that we mourn the fact we are not the people we know we should be.  Only with God's grace -- and our reflection of that grace -- will we be.

I wish you another meaningful Easter this year.

Friday, March 29, 2013

eating the past

When my brother was here four years ago, I introduced him to one of my favorite restaurants in La Manzanilla -- Lora Loca.  Lora makes a baked enchilada dish that will whisk you off to a grandmother's table in central Mexico.

He made me promise it would be one of our first afternoons out.  So, on Monday, off we drove over the hills between Melaque and La Manzanilla -- only to discover (or remember, in my case) that, just like barbers of my youth, she is closed on Mondays.

Yesterday, after an unsuccessful search for a new Ford Escape in Manzanillo, the three of us decided to give Lora's place another try.  And successful it was.

The last time Darrel and I were there, we had dinner with two fellow bloggers -- American Mommy in Mexico and the author of Visit La Manzanilla.  We all had a great evening sitting on our sand-bound table and getting to know one another -- supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  Due to the over-blown hysteria associated with the swine flu that spring night, we had the beach almost to ourselves.

That was not true yesterday.  Semana santa is swinging into full gear.  Even though the beach in front of Lora's was busy, it was nothing compared to the crowd about a block up the beach.  I regretted not taking my good camera with us.  Instead, all I have is the shot from my telephone camera.

As Darrel said, it looks like a good start to one of those "China-goes-to-the-beach" photographs.

This is one of my favorite times of the year. I love to see people enjoying life.  And there is no better place to see that than on a Mexican beach at Easter time.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

axle of evil

The line between eccentricity and lunacy is often very thin.  I have a small house in the borderlands.

But I have no idea where the driver of this truck falls.  You met him just over a year ago in che hitler goes for a drive.  Rather, you met the truck.  I have not yet been able to corner the driver for a chat.

Last March the truck was festooned with a swastika on each side of the truck bed -- and a caricature (if that is not redundant) of Che Guevara on the right tool panel.

Yesterday, I noticed that the axis powers have shown additional colors.  The tool panel door (along with Che's visage) is gone.  As is the swastika on the right side of the bed. 

But it has been replaced by the rising sun of Imperial Japan.  A flag that rose and fell during the battles of World War II.  The same flag, of course, that displayed the nationality of the aircraft that conducted their sneak attack at Pearl Harbor.

I took a peek at the other side of the bed.  There was another rising sun and a swastika.  All that was missing was a bit of Mussolini paraphernalia to complete a full trifecta of evil.

Of course, Italy, Germany, and Japan are now our allies.  Having been beaten to a pulp.  Times were a bit more clear cut in the 1940s.

Our Axis enemies today are just as apparent.  But our approach is heavy on the Neville Chamberlain and completely missing in the Winston Churchill category.

And what will be the truck owner's next art project?  Something that might cause a moral stir?  Like satirical cartoons of Muhammed?

Don't count on it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

wooing the family

Tuesday was the day I was going to make the big sales pitch -- to convince my brother and mother that they needed to move to Mexico.

My plan was simple.  Early in the morning I was going to drive them out to the large compound that was my favorite choice in my house search poll last October.  You remember it: ms. barra-in-the-country seeks your vote.  My nickname for it was "Live like a narco."

But I liked its feel.  And I thought that once my mother and brother saw it, they would drop their lifestyles to live there.

I needed to discuss auto insurance with my realtor.  Either on my old Escape or the imaginary Escape I have not yet bought.  I was then going to ask her to take us out to the big white house.

Our conversation never got that far.  She told me the house had sold while I was in Oregon closing the sale on the Salem house.

That is not a bad outcome.  A couple of readers were kind enough to send along email with their own tales about the problems associated with large houses in the country.  Both were quite logical.  And all of the downsides of their purchases paralleled what I most likely would have faced with the white house.

So, there was no housing pitch.  Instead, I took Mom and Darrel to the beach walk in Barra -- where they could see a much more attractive beach appearance than what Melaque has to offer.

The subtle approach most likely worked better.  When we got back to the house, my brother and I whipped up a simple meal of hoisin chicken stir fry and a Mediterranean salad (cucumbers, onions, and tasteless Safeway-bound tomatoes -- dressed with olive oil, rice vinegar, basil, oregano, and a dash of pepper.

We then sat down to discuss their impressions of Barra.  Mom seems to like the suburban subdivision feel of the neighborhood near the beach.  I was not surprised.  That is where I initially started looking for houses to buy six years ago.

This photograph sums up the differences between Barra and Melaque.

Barra likes to tart itself up as a fashionable tourist town.  Melaque is far more basic. 

When Melaque faces an onslaught of tourists, rather than finding fancy porta-potties as Barra might do, Melaque sets up a semi trailer for bathroom facilities.  It may not look like much, but it certainly is practical.

But, when it comes to serving up dinner, there is nothing in Melaque that rivals dining over the ocean on a pier draped with gauze and highlighted with tracer lights. 

It is nice having my family here with me.  And they appear to be enjoying their visit to our little piece of the Mexican beach.

I just need to convince them to move from visitor to resident status.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

crossing the border

My land lady is a creative soul.

Three years ago, she created an Easter treat out of my laundry (my easter basket).  Last Easter, she outfitted one of Jiggs's old toys as an Easter resurrection rabbit (bunny faith) -- complete with a lolli-pope she had bought to commemorate the last pope's visit to Guanajuato.  I could not imagine it getting any better.

But it did.  When I returned to the duplex this Palm Sunday, I discovered the same rabbit.  This time he was carrying a less whimsical icon.  But an appropriate one.  One of those crosses woven from palm fronds that the local women sell in front of the church during each of the Easter days of obligation.  (If that term is still au courant in Roman circles.)

When I headed to Manzanillo yesterday morning to renew my visa, I was not certain if I was joining the bunny in sharing that cross.  If you have been following any of the Mexican message boards this year, you are aware that Mexico has revamped its entire visa program.

I have been in Mexico for four years now on what was once called an FM3.  It was designed for people who intended to spend a good deal of time in the country, but were not intending to integrate into the community.

The biggest attraction of the FM3 was the right to import one vehicle into Mexico without paying the duty.  Some expatriates took full advantage of that option by driving around in foreign-plated vehicles with registrations that had long ago expired.  Knowing that the Customs agents were fully aware that as long as the expatriate's visa was good, so was the tax-free status.

The new system offered me two options.  I could renew my FM3 by leaving the country and applying for a new visa at a Mexican Consulate in The States.  Or I could apply for a permanent resident visa. 

For me, the big attraction of permanent residency was to avoid the annual visa renewal process.  But there was a psychological factor, as well.  Permanent residency just sounds more -- well, permanent.  That I actually belong here.

One of the costs, of course, is that I can no longer have a tax-free vehicle here in Mexico.  That means that I either need to pay the duty on my 12-year old vehicle -- or buy a new one.  I have chosen option number 2.  More on that later in the month.

With all of those questions laid out, I drove to the Immigration office in Manzanillo.  The good news is that everything went better than I expected -- as is often the case here in Mexico.

I arrived just before 9AM and was whisked to the desk for people without appointments.  I have heard people complain about the young man who assisted me.  "He's not nice." 

Those people are simply wrong.  His manner is professional.  And he knew his stuff.  And that is far more important than the vacant smile some people confuse with good service.

He reviewed my bank statements for the last six months and my investment statutes to ensure I met the income requirements.  He then added a copy of the picture page from my passport to the pile. 

That is all he wanted.  No utility bills or other proof of residency.  He simply verified that I still lived at the same address on my last FM3 renewal. 
And I was done with the first step.
I was then off to the bank to pay my $1000 (Mx) application fee and my $3815 (Mx) permanent resident visa fee.  (About $388 (US) if you are interested.)  When I came back with the receipt, he told me the office would notify me in three to four weeks that my card was ready.  All of that in less than an hour.

He then offered me a choice.  I could wait for 20 minutes for his supervisor to fingerprint me -- or I could set a appointment to come back in a week.  Since I was there, I decided to wait.

The wait was closer to an hour, but I was soon fingerprinted and on my way.  With a bit of confusion.  The supervisor said I could expect to hear from the office in one to three months.

And, there is my current dilemma.  I was hoping my brother could stay until I needed to drive the Escape north.  But he cannot stay three months.

Here is what we are considering.  I will drive up to Guadalajara to buy a new vehicle.  My brother ad I will then drive the Escape north -- relying on a transit letter (How Casablanca is that?) I can purchase while my visa application is pending.

Now, I know there is a lot of information floating around about permanent residency and tax-free vehicles.  I usually do not mind gambling a bit.  Even when it means putting all my chips on red.

But I need a new vehicle, and getting it done as soon as possible seems to be the best of all possible worlds.  Now and then Voltaire is correct.

So, this Easter may really be a resurrection for me.  As a permanent resident of Mexico -- with a shiny new SUV.

Monday, March 25, 2013

unorthodox flight

My flights from Los Angeles to Manzanillo are usually quite tame.  My section of the cabin is mostly populated by the type of people who, at their most emotional, are testy, but who are almost uniformly bland as a Dow Jones report. 

Not so on Sunday.

My brother, mother and I boarded early.  Simply because we walked up to the counter just as our section was allowed to board.  We settled in -- along with an aging Canadian couple.  All of us meeting the staid model of reticence.

That was soon to change.  The remainder of the cabin filled with an extended family.  Bursting with joy.  And shouted conversation.  A cooler of food was quickly opened and rice cakes, quesadillas, pizza, and assorted drinks were passed around and shared by the family.

The young man sitting beside me was studying the Talmud.  Being the Sherlock I am, I deduced he was a rabbinical student.  If this had been Jeopardy, I would have been pushing to get $100 out of that conclusion.

The entire family was on its way to a Jewish conference in a hotel near my village.  (They were very open about their meeting place.  But there are people in this world who do not wish Jews well.  Because I do wish them well, the place they are meeting is not important.  Other than it is in Mexico.)

The family patriarch (an odd term for a man who must be in his 40s at most) is married to an Israeli.  But he is Mexican.  Born in Mexico City.  And has converted to Judaism.

I could not resist the question.  Did he feel safe living in and visiting Jerusalem?  He chuckled.  "Safer than living in Los Angeles.  I am a trained reservist.  I know how to take care of myself."

And his family knew exactly how to take care of life.  Children were held.  And kissed profusely.  Opinions were expressed with conviction.  And loudly.

It would have been easy to get irritated.  The Canadian couple looked as if they were melting down.  But I decided to join in the family's fun.

As a result, I may have the honor of celebrating Passover with people I admire (after all where would my faith be without theirs?) in a country I admire.

But all of that will have to wait until I talk with the good folks at immigration this morning.  I need to discover whether I a eligible for a permanent resident visa or if I can still eke out one more year on my FM3. 

Let the fun begin.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

billie redux

I had been blogging for less than six months when I decided to tackle one of my favorite political topics -- drug legalization.  A four-part series terminating with drugs -- the summary.

The connection with Mexico was obvious.  But I was still living in Oregon.  My move south would be almost a year away.

At the time, my blog was picking up about 75 readers a day.  Most were probably spam hits.  But I was writing for myself.  As I still do.

But that series turned out to be my breakthrough.  Thanks to the referral of a fellow blogger.  Billie of Billieblog.

Billie read the piece and posted a link on her blog with some very kind comments.  My readership spiked.  And it has grown ever since.  Thanks again, Billie.

She has now started a new blog -- Reservations for One.  Describing it as: "A journal about the Third Chapter, my life as a widow. Cooking-for-one, Entertaining, Travel, Grief, Family, Friends, Ageing, Photography and Living in San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico."

Head over there.  Pull up a chair to her table and enjoy your conversation with Billie.  I always do.

As for the family Cotton, we are on an airplane flying south to Manzanillo.  Adventures to follow.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

the road to freedom

Americans are defined by their cars.  And the freedom that comes along with big fins and shiny chrome.

I have long understood that.  When Jefferson wrote that men are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," he could only dream of how Americans would pursue that happiness. 

Sure, horses and carriages brought a lot of mobility to American settlers.  Enough mobility that they could conquer an entire continent-wide country in less than a hundred years.

But the moment middle class families could afford a gasoline-powered freedom-mobile, the world was limited only by one's imagination.  And that liberty wave crested just about the time I was born.

I grew up in a world where there were no limitations on dreams or hopes.  Even when that dream was nothing more than to drive as fast as your car would go to the next town.

And, even though I knew all of this long ago, looking at old photographs has really brought it home.

Take a look at my Dad in the top photograph.  Standing proudly beside our 1951 Mercury.  You have met him only as the man of dust in the box that I carry around to Father's Day celebrations (band of fathers).

Here he is in his element.  As proud as any cowboy with his horse.  And well he should be.  I remember the car.  It was like riding around in an upholstered tank.  Power and luxury rolled into one green package.

It was the first car I remember.  But this is the car I remember best.

In 1955, my parents bundled up their two young sons and headed off from Powers on what would be one of the two vacations we took as a full family.  And it was to be quite an adventure.

In Portland, we boarded a train that would be our home for the next three days.  For two boys aged 6 and 4, it could have been tedious.  I remember it as being filled with constant wonders.  Western places I had only dreamed of.  And, finally, Detroit.  Our destination.

We had traveled east to claim our new 1955 red and white Ford station wagon.  Another symbol of American freedom.  But for the whole family.

As exotic as the train was, the station wagon had an additional advantage.  It could take us anywhere.

We traveled all the way back to Powers.  Stopping at attractions along the way.  For some reason, Carlsbad Caverns is the clearest of those memories.  Probably because of my love of caves -- and the dark.

I can trace most of the major events in my life through the cars my family owned -- and the series of cars I have owned as an adult.

But these two have a special place in my life.  The freedom of the open road.  And the loving arms of a family.

Note -- Speaking of freedom, my mother, brother, and I are flying from Redmond to Portland around noon.  We will then be heading south to Mexico early Sunday morning.  If I do not have a chance to post anything before then, I will meet you on the other side.


Friday, March 22, 2013

not my father's oldsmobile

This week we drove from Bend to Corvallis to retrieve my niece from Oregon State for spring break.

That means driving through the Cascade Mountains.  One of my favorite places in Oregon.  The scenery is always stunning.  Even when the snow decides to add its complications to the trip.

Oregon's history of European settlement is relatively brief.  But it is studded with fascinating people and events.  Lewis and Clark.  Jason Lee.  Joe Meek.  John McLoughlin.

And then there are those eccentric bits of the state's past strewn along its highways.  Take the photograph at the top of this post.

In 1904 Dwight Huss drove the first automobile from east to west across the United States.  It was the first car on the Oregon Trail. 

And then there is this rather odd fact.  "The first car to enter Portland on its own power from out of state."  There are enough modifiers in that phrase to qualify as a category on the Emmys.

Darrel and I marveled at the sign.  The snow may have added a bit of challenge to our trip.  But in 1904, there was no paved road.  No gas stations. Mr. Huss was a pioneer as much as the Oregon trail wagoneers.

Huss's car was a 1904 Oldsmobile.  We shared something in common.  My first car was an Oldsmobile -- a 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible.  A bit more luxurious than the runabout.  But it served me well in my first two years in the Air Force.

When I drove up to my first assignment at Castle Air Force Base in 1971, one of the NCOs called my red convertible "a whorehouse on wheels."  The phrase summed up his life aspirations more than mine.  But I knew what he meant.  The car was sexy.

And it served me well.  Until it was replaced by my favorite car -- a 1973 Datsun 240Z that shot me down Greek highways at 130 MPH, across Europe for two years in England, and then through my three years of law school. 

But I have never forgotten that Oldsmobile.  Well, not really.  Until Darrel mentioned it during our discussion of the historical marker, it was merely a vague memory.

But there you have it.  The true value of this trip.  Reliving shared values with my brother.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

hanging my genes

DNA is not destiny.

At least, I hope not.  Considering some of my ancestors.  But it is certainly one of life's signposts of who we are.

Several years ago, my mother joined the Daughters of American Revolution.  Yup.  The DAR.  Forever destined to bear the cross of Marion Anderson's glory. 

But the great contralto had no bearing on my mother's membership.  She was there to feed her genealogical jones.  I was a bit surprised because I have never seen her as one of the bluenosed set.

She called me to tell me about her first meeting.  A long-time DAR member sat down and welcomed her to the group.  In the social dance of trying to place my mother on the appropriate rung of the social ladder, she asked how Mom was qualified to be a DAR member.

Mom responded: "Well, I have four Mayflower ancestors."  Her interlocutor smiled and leaned in closer.

"And my husband has five Mayflower ancestors."  She leaned in a bit closer.

Mom then lowered her voice to a conspiratorial level.  "But that is not our most interesting family heritage."  Now, the woman was close enough to hear a whisper.

And whisper Mom did: "We have a first.  One of my husband's Mayflower ancestors was the first Englishman hanged in Plymouth colony."

The DAR dame nearly fell over backward in her attempt to distance herself from Mom.

About two days later, my boss and I were sharing tales about our mothers.  He told me that his mother had called him about this "terrible" woman she had just met at DAR.  It was, of course, Mom.

The relative in question (John Billington) was a real piece of work -- "terrible," as far as his fellow colonists were concerned.  The year after the colony was established, he was punished for challenging the orders of The Great Myles Standish.  He would challenge additional orders of the leadership.  And he would be punished.

He was even accused of leading a revolt against the Plymouth church leadership.  Being one of the first people to challenge the conformity that had theoretically brought the pilgrims to the New World.

If that had been his life crimes, he would have been hailed as a martyr to liberty (as were Roger Williams and Anne Hathaway).  But his non-conformity took another road to martyrdom.

This is how Nathan Philbrick described the action in Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War:

In the summer of 1630, the profane John Billington fell into an argument with his English neighbor John Newcomen.  A few days later, while hunting for deer, Billington happened upon Newcomen and shot him down in cold blood.
What Philbrick leaves out is that Newcomen attempted to hide behind some trees, and Billington purposely searched him out and shot him in the shoulder -- a wound that led to a painful and lingering death.

And did my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather confess guilt and ask for forgiveness?  Never.  He argued that he should not be executed because the governor lacked the authority to kill him and the colony needed colonists (like him) to keep it alive. 

The governor decided he did have the power to execute Billington and that the colony could live on very well without him.  Hang he did.  And entered into family legend.

So, there you have it.  A man with a libertarian streak, a large dose of hubris, and an almost complete lack of self-awareness.  I will leave the dot connection for you.

But he certainly makes for good stories.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

health on the shelf

When I talk to people in The States about my life in Mexico, one of the first questions they raise is health care.

I am always ready for the question.  If you have been following this blog for any time, you know how highly I think of the Mexican medical system.  The doctors are well-trained and more interested in relationships than in generating income.  And, as a direct result, Mexican health care is affordable.

But that is not really what concerns the Americans I meet.  The true worry hangs low in the subtext because America is a land where certain issues cannot be stated aloud.  Especially, when the topic has the potential of conjuring up that deadly, conversation-stopping appellation.  Racist!

Some will whisper their concerns out of the earshot of polite society.  "Aren't you afraid of all the -- diseases?  I hear the place is filthy."

I am always frank.  Yes, my little village is very dusty.  And our sewage infrastructure could use a bit of work.  But, filthy?  No.

As for diseases, we get the occasional Dengue outbreak -- just like The States.  And a lot of us contract worms -- like people throughout the developed world.

But I must admit I have never seen a display in Mexico like the one I saw yesterday in the Bend Walmart.

"Lice Treatment."  A full shelf from top to bottom.

This may be the last time I feel the need to defend health in Mexico.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

food on stage

While I was writing today's post on foodies (the whole food), a C. S. Lewis passage kept popping up in the back of my head. 

I couldn't use it in the earlier piece, but it deserves a place of its own.

Early on in Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes:

Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?
The food/sex analogy has never worked very well for me.  But his description of food obsession struck home.

Lewis may as well have been talking about me.  At some point in my life, I became infatuated with good food.  I read all of the haute cuisine magazines.  I would read Bon Appetit and Gourmet under the covers with a flashlight.

I bought cookbooks just to enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of reading about ingredients mixing together and climaxing in a heavenly platter of sauced meat over rice.

And I knew I had really slipped into the land of food obsessives when I joined a gourmet dinner club where we monthly swapped dishes.  I looked forward to each get-together.

OK.  Maybe my foodiness was not quite that bad.  But food, for a long time, has been a central factor in my life.  I love good food.

And that brings us back to Lewis, who addresses the same concern from a different spin:

There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.
Living in Mexico has given me a different perspective on food.  Where I live, food is merely a fuel to keep you running through the day.  Most meals made up of the three or four core ingredients of Mexican food.  But it meets its purpose.

When I come north, I really understand Lewis's point.  In most parts of the world, families go hungry every day.  Laurie at honduras gumbo regularly reminds us of that with her missionary work amongst the children of Central America. 

Whenever I watch American or Canadian adults throw away plates of food, I think of the teenage couple I encountered on the Havana
Malecón.  They were selling sex for the promise of a meal because the Revolution had failed their basic needs.

As Kurt Vonnegut would say, here's the moral. 

If those of us who have been blessed with resources would be willing to stop obsessing about our First World problems and voluntarily share our resources with the rest of the world, perhaps our lives would come into better focus. 

At least, that is what a Rabbi taught two thousand years ago.  He was correct then.  He is correct now.

the whole food

This is something you will not see in Mexico.  At least, not in my neck of the jungle.

That Barnum and Baileyesque sign is in front of the Whole Foods store in Bend.  If you have not wandered the aisles of consumerism lately, you may not know the name.  But Whole Foods is to the upwardly-mobile foodie set as Aspen is to the Hollywood set.

Food has become an American defining factor in establishing one's class status.  At least, how shoppers want to portray themselves.

The phenomenon is not entirely new.  Reagan-leaning yuppies did their best to cover up their family origins by buying BMW convertibles and flashy condominiums.

Little has changed.  Now, Obama-leaning professionals cover up their family origins through their food choices.  You can spot them with their mating calls of "my mother boiled all of her vegetables" or "I never knew arugula existed until I attended Bryn Mawr."

I know all of that because I went through both phases.  With my red BMW and now my craving for Boar's Head pepperoni.

But there is no getting around the fact that foodie Meccas lend themselves to self-parody.  I can only imagine what my Mexican neighbors would make of this sign. 

Jason satin body wash?  It sounds vaguely like a service in a San Francisco bath house.

Even when the signs are clever, they are just a bit too precious by half.

I am not a cupcake fan.  Never have been.  But, while I have been living in Mexico, something happened to the little treats we ate in grade school.  They are now the size of bundt cakes and decorated as if they were about to set foot on the Folies Bergère stage.

Where I come from in Mexico, goat milk is a food product.  In Bend, it appears to be what you use when you run out of lye.

In Melaque, a man rides by my house daily offering freshly-made tamales for about 10 pesos -- less than a dollar.  In Bend, they cost $5 each.  And I am willing to bet which one is tastier.  Even that allergy warning on the glass will not help the northern version beat out the authentic tamale.

My Mexican neighbors may be bemused by this sign.  But no more than I am.  And I am not even going to attempt any metaphors.  I can see those wave-off lights ten miles away.

Maybe Whole Foods is simply an ironic street theater created by Oscar Wilde.  It can certainly be enjoyed at that level.  But I will miss the cheeses when I return to Mexico.

Especially, the hodgepodge of fromage.  As silly as it sounds.


Monday, March 18, 2013

at the algonquin round table

Sharing time with my brother is like visiting the writers' room of The Onion.

I realize I am mixing my metaphors.  Yesterday, it was a television sitcom.  Today, it is a satirical newspaper.  But the point is the same.  Conversing with him is an E ride ticket on the Big Punder Mountain Railroad.

Yesterday I referred to "cascading puns."  Here are three examples.  All within one hour.

We were discussing how the current president had grabbed more power for the presidency during his term in office.  Darrel summed it up.  It's just more Barackracy.

My mother then regaled us with a tale of driving down a narrow logging road in our car.  I was probably four; Darrel was two.  We were riding in the back seat, and Darrel claimed I threw one of his shoes out the car window.  Mom responded: "Too bad.  I can't stop on this road."

Darrel's coda for the tale:  "You were being mis-Steveious.

But my favorite was our discussion of what types of new food we would try on our family trip to Mexico next week.  I thought Mom should try menudo by telling her it was a type of soup. 

Darrel's response?  "No.  it's a tripe of soup."

This is going to be a fun trip.

Note -- The photograph at the top of this post has nothing to do with the infamous accusation of the defenestration of the shoe.  But the cast of characters is there.  Only the Mercury is missing.  In its place is the Ford pickup that you met in another tale of near tragedy:  tres desperados.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

back on the set

"Your family is just like a sitcom."

So said my friend (and former house sitter) Jordan when he first met them.  At the time, I thought it was an odd analogy.  But he meant it as a compliment.  And I think he was correct.  In some respects.

We are one of those classic sitcom families -- like Modern Family.  Earnest.   Witty.  People who genuinely enjoy being in each other's company.

That may sound a bit egotistical on my part.  But I am calling this one as I see it.  If you want to spend a good time with cascading puns, fractured cultural references, and old-fashioned banter, this is the place to stop.

And all of that is best displayed preparing and eating a meal.

Yesterday's theme was Mediterranean.  Christy, my sister-in-law, had just experienced what she thought was one of the best pasta carbonaras she had ever eaten.  She asked what I thought about having it for dinner.  Pasta.  Cream.  Bacon.  Parmesan.  What is there not to like?

While shopping for ingredients at Safeway, I saw a display of heirloom tomatoes.  The type of tomatoes that make you remember how good the store-bought variety once tasted.

I make an outstanding Greek salad.  And I now make it only when I can find heirloom tomatoes.  They usually run around $12 a pound.  Today they were only a bit over $3 a pound.  So, I gathered up some cucumbers, sweet onions, South African peppers, Kalamata olives, feta, lemons, and mint.

We were ready to go.  While Christy made pasta carbonara, I sliced and diced my Greek salad.  With the addition of a loaf of crusty bread, we could easily have been taking a dinner break from a hard day sailing the Adriatic.

Over dinner, my brother, mother, and I decided that we would fly to Mexico on the 24th.  That will put them there on one of the busiest days of the Mexican holiday calendar -- semana santa: Holy Week.  Not many northerners get the opportunity to see my sleepy little fishing village in high gear.

Until then, I intend to enjoy a few more episodes of our little family sitcom in Bend -- before we take it on the road.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

nothing changes

I ask you -- what kind of chance did I have in life?

Here I am at three or so -- dressed up as if I am heading off to court or hitting the campaign trail.  Or, more likely, to be a Fuller brush man.

Now, there are people who claim that I was born 35 years old in a three piece suit.  Complete with an attaché case.  Maybe I wasn't three in this photograph.  This may have been the delivery room of Mast Hospital.  Cameras seldom lie.

I am now in Bend.  A moving van showed up at the Salem house Friday morning.  A few items that were headed to my mother's house in Bend (along with a lot of large items headed to Goodwill) were quickly tucked away.

Simultaneously, my house sitter and his family were loading up some of my other Stuff -- for him to use in a future apartment.

The result is that by 9:30, I had said my final farewell to Salem and the house was turned over to new buyers.  I wish I could say it was turned over clean.  But we had a short time frame to make what was once mine someone else's.

While packing away things at Mom's house, I ran across an old photograph album that includes some very interesting images.  Some I will share with you in the next few days.

But this one sums up my mood today. 

I knew I was saving up that smile for something.

Friday, March 15, 2013

last words

It is finished.

The house sale, that is.  Even with the shot of adrenalin at the start of this week when the bank financing seemed to fall apart, this has to have been one of the simplest home sales I have been involved in.  Either professionally or personally.

It certainly helped that my house and the buyers were a natural match -- even before the "for sale" sign went up.  It was the classic tale of how the free market should work.  Willing seller.  Willing buyer.  Libertarian smiles all around.

On Thursday afternoon, I walked over to the escrow office.  With only a two-minute wait, I was whisked into a conference room.  Signed here.  Initialed there.  Notarized.  Sealed.  Done.

By tomorrow morning, my fixed asset in Salem will be a liquid asset in Los Angeles.

The last time I sold property -- back in the Punic Wars or perhaps the early 1990s -- I walked away with the carcasses of several dead trees.  Papers I dumped in a file and never saw again until I dug them out for this sale.

Today I walked away with a small plastic disc.  A compact disc of Steve's greatest hits of March 2013.

And I feel as joyful as if I had just been awarded my first platinum record.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

more signs

Yesterday I wandered off on a three mile trek to take care of some errands.  If I had taken more walks like that I would not have added on 30 pounds since I started my house selling adventure.

Each year I need to file a tax return as the trustee of a family trust.  I have used the same Salem accountant for years -- and have never considered hiring someone a bit closer to my legal residence of Reno.  I suppose I have enjoyed the excuse to fly north to rainy Oregon in February to talk taxes.  Go figure.

A dentist is in the building next to my accountant's office. I do not know if the dentist is new, if there is a new sign, or if I just have not noticed it in the past.  But it is a great sign.

There is something amusing about names that are counter-intuitive to a person's chosen profession.  Chip for a dentist?  It is almost as if Louis Leakey had decided to give up archaeology in favor of plumbing.

My amusement was replaced by bemusement when I crossed a bridge over the creek that occasionally brings flood waters to my former employer.  Someone had constructed an interesting sculpture from rocks and debris on an isle in the middle of the creek.

I am not certain what the piece represents.  But it is interestingly primitive.  As if Grandma Moses had traded in her oils for boulders and brush.

My inquiries about the artist led nowhere.  No one seems to know whose work it is.  But the piece is often modified.  Some phantom Rodin has found a medium.  And it is far less offensive than the local graffiti artists.

Speaking of artists, someone must be practicing the white arts in my favor these days.  As you know from yesterday's post, the bank derailed the closing of my house sale by disapproving the buyers' loan.

Not to be deterred, we were prepared to proceed with alternative financing.  My realtor called me yesterday morning to let me know the bank had mysteriously reevaluated its earlier decision -- and the closing is now back on for this week.

That was very good news.  Because my refrigerator disappears later today.  And the movers are showing up early on Friday to pack off some goods to Goodwill and the rest to Bend.

To top it off, the day felt like a late Spring day.  Warm.  Sunny.  Clear skies.

Life is good.  In practically every way.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

topes ahead

Selling a house should not be this easy.

You know the story -- if you have been following along over the past three months.  Every character in this home sale drama has come on stage flawlessly and delivered lines as if they were Derek Jacobi.

  • Tossing out 60 years of my life accretions has not been vaguely painful.  More like scraping the barnacles off of an old hull.  I suspect my four year separation from these goodies undoubtedly helped.
  • The house was on the market for only one afternoon before it was snapped up by a mother and daughter who had been admiring it for a year.  They who are still in love with it after a month of closure preparations.
  • I sold the piano from my childhood to an Air Force friend who, out of the blue, asked if I would be interested in selling it to her daughter.  On Sunday I stopped by to listen to the daughter's young son show what he has learned.
  • My housesitter was willing to unburden me of some of my possessions -- for his prospective new apartment.
  • Goodwill has happily accepted everything we have dropped off.
  • The Oregon Energy Trust has taken away my freezer (and will take my refrigerator) -- saving me a trip to the dump and putting $80 in my pocket.
  • The "phantom kitchen" in the basement was easily easily resolved when the freezer trundled off.
If you feel a "however" coming on, you have learned well my writing habits.  Because "however" showed up Monday afternoon with an announcement from my realtor that the bank had disapproved the buyers' loan -- unless some of the windows were replaced before closure.

Let's skip all of the finger pointing of why the bank waited this long (closing was scheduled for Thursday) to reach a conclusion that all of the parties knew about when the earnest money agreement was signed and the bank knew when it received its inspector's report. 

At this point recriminations are pointless.  There are willing buyers and willing sellers ready to close a deal.

Almost every home sale has a series of topes -- those speed bumps in Mexico that effectively control traffic speed by rendering suspensions to the consistency of slurpees.  And, for most sales, they can be expensive and frustrating.  Often because they seem to be strangers to common sense.

But the buyers and I are not going to be held hostage to the vagaries of the banking industry.  We are offering a solution to the bank later today.  To set up an escrow hold back to cover the cost of window replacement.

If the bank chooses not to do that, we will exercise our free market rights to enter into our own agreement.  After all, we don't need no stinkin' branches.

And, by this time on Friday, our little set back will be just a memory.  And I can return to Mexico to apply for a permanent residence visa -- and discover what true bureaucratic topes look like.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

good news for mexico

I am not a big Friedman fan.

Well, that is not exactly true.  If we are talking Milton and Rose, I am enthusiastic.  But if it is Thomas (The New York Times columnist), not so much.

And it is not merely because he tends to be an apologist for dictators -- which he does.  His writing strikes me as being just a bit too glib -- and often designed more to posture than to inform.

But he certainly got it right -- or almost right -- in two recent columns about Mexico's economy.  His conclusion is that Mexico has an economy to be reckoned with.  

Even though it has been handicapped by an American drug policy that drove traffickers from the Caribbean into Mexico and helped create the current drug lord war.  And a political culture nurtured by 400 years of corruption that is a stranger to the rule of law.

My friends are shocked to hear that Mexico has a strong middle class (perhaps as high as 50% of the country) and that Mexico is the 12th or 13th largest economy in the world.

Friedman adds a few facts of his own --

  • Mexico has signed 44 free trade agreements -- more than any country in the world
  • Mexico has also greatly increased the number of engineers and skilled laborers graduating from its schools
  • Mexico is taking manufacturing market share back from Asia and attracting more global investment in autos, aerospace, and household goods
  • Young Mexicans are starting large numbers of technology start ups -- especially in northern Mexico
  • Mexico's economy grew by 3.9% in 2012 -- a growth rate that The States and Canada can only dream of  
  • Mexico’s budget deficit is about 2 percent of its GDP; America's is 7 percent
Friedman concedes that the Mexican government has enacted some policies that have liberalized (and liberated) the Mexican economy while simultaneously reenforcing the sclerotic monopolies of the Revolution in energy and media that stifle economic freedom and growth.

He sees two forces countering the negative weight of Mexico's leftist past.  The first is the grand agreement that Mexico's three parties have entered into to reform historical problems in oil development and education.  I hope he is correct.  PRI has begun the process by authorizing its party members to add the VAT to some food and medication.  But there are plenty of battles to fight.

But he sees Mexico's greatest promise in its young people -- who are ready to invest in Mexico's future, rather than heading north to find their fortunes.  I have seen the same thing in Melaque with young people.

Friedman's optimism is at odds with many northern tourists in our beach community.  They talk a lot about Mexico's weak economy.  But it is not true.

Our dusty little town survives on Mexican tourism.  And tourism is once again robust.  As we shall see on Semana Santa (Holy Week) when Guadalajara decamps to Melaque -- and other Pacific beach towns.

Of course, no matter how Friedman and I talk about the strength of Mexico's economy, the pessimists will see only The Troubles.  Troubles, by the way, that could quickly be resolved if Canada, but especially The States would legalize drugs.

But that s a controversy for another day.

Monday, March 11, 2013

live nude girls

Some days stick with us.  9 March 2002 is one of those days for me.

It was the night I met Elayne Boosler.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, she was ubiquitous on Comedy Central and Showtime.  With humor that was almost always based on relationships.  It was a bit edgy, but nothing like the foul-mouthed screed that passes for humor these days.  Sarah Silverman comes to mind.

But obscenity is not Elayne Boosler's style. Her humor is about the human condition.

Like insights on male-female relationships: "I know what men want.  Men want to be really, really close to someone who will leave them alone."

Or soft digs at religion: "The Vatican is against surrogate mothers.  Good thing they didn't have that rule when Jesus was born."

And, of course, a good dose of self-deprecation: "
I am thankful that geniuses and artists and good people, no matter how hard it is, will eventually be recognized.  I am doubly thankful that also goes for idiots."

Whenever she would come through Oregon -- usually playing the big auditoriums in Portland -- I would attend.  Her shopping trip with her boyfriend for a pair black pants is still one if my favorite comedy routines.

When I lived in Salem, I was a season subscriber to acts booked into the Elsinore Theater.  The type of guy who drops a check into the show business collection plate to see his name in the program.

On 9 March 2002, Elayne Boosler took the stage.  Funny as always.  I sat amongst the other patrons laughing myself -- well, silly.

Her show that night was a benefit for a local animal rescue group.  And most of her jokes centered around her relationships with dogs.

After the show, she was signing autographs in the lobby when an idea hit me -- one of those ideas where no reflection is allowed. 

I jumped in my Escape, drove home, and returned to the theater with a rather befuddled Jiggs.  He didn't know why he was going to the theater, but he knew he was the center of attention.

Waving off the usher, who futilely attempted to maintain a dog-free theater, we rushed up to the table where Elayne was just competing her last autograph.  To say that she beamed when she saw Jiggs would be an understatement.  She grabbed his leash and struck up a conversation with hm.

For my effort, she presented me with a video tape of her latest show.  Autographed it.  And gave me a kiss for each of the X's she inscribed on the cover.

That tape is now on its way to Goodwill, along with several other show business mementos.  And, of course, Jiggs himself is long gone.

But it was fun to find the tape and re-live that night when my favorite comedian fell in love with my favorite dog.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

art on the road

Today is the day my art collection goes to my nephew in Portland.

I cannot tell you why, but finding a home for my art caused me more concern than trying to find a home for my library or my LP collection.

We are not talking about Picasso here.  But the art is museum quality.
When I was ordered to Europe the first time, the wife of a commander suggested that I pick up as much art as I could.  I followed her advice.  First, with a series of Dutch oils.  Then a few British water colors (or would that be "colours"?), pencil drawings, and oils.  And a third group of lithographs and oils from Israel, France, and Italy.

I could have placed the pieces in one of our local galleries for re-sale.  But the collection is complementary.  And I wanted to see it go as a lot.  That made re-sale almost impossible.

As has happened so often with this house sale, the solution came ready made.  I was over at my nephew's house celebrating his son's birthday.  In passing, I asked if he and his wife would be interested in taking my art on loan.  They jumped at the opportunity.

I spent a day wrapping each piece in bubble wrap.  Tomorrow, I will be up early to pick up a van from U-Haul.  And north the collection will go -- with my brother's help.

One more task checked off of the list.  And one day closer to my return south.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

forbidden fruit

There are perfect days wherever I travel.

This was one of them.

My friend Beth invited me to breakfast at one of our favorite breakfast spots -- Busick Court.  The type of place that whips up an Eggs Benedict that makes you come back for more.

And if Salem had more mornings like this, I would be coming back north to spend more time. 

It was one of those mornings that could not be improved.  Clear skies.  Daffodils in bloom.  A crisp 46 degrees.  For all of the talk about Melaque being paradise, I have not experienced a single day there as pleasant as this morning.

Of course, having breakfast with Beth is what iced the circumstances cake.  We worked together as a team when I first came to SAIF.  She knows me as well as any of my former work colleagues.  It also helps that she has a jeweler's eye for cant.  That cuts down on the number of masks I can wear with her.

We had a free-wheeling discussion about friends.  Theology.  Our mothers.  American medical care.  Movies.  Plays.  The type of topics close friends can launch into without a lot of conversational overtures.

Salem is almost Rockwellian in its character.  It is easy to imagine someone picking up a village in Vermont and dropping it in the Willamette Valley.

And the analogy is not far from the truth.  The place was settled by New England Methodists in the 1800s.  Its small town character hangs heavy on the place.

Here is an example.  If you are walking the streets, you will encounter several signs trumpeting the city's history.  Like this one -- proudly proclaiming that all of the buildings in the 1939 photograph are still there.

And so they are.  As a photograph from this morning shows.

That is the strength and the curse of Salem.  It has tradition -- a strong link to its past.  But that tradition is also what gives the place a taste of Brigadoon. 

"We tried that once; it didn't work" could be the city's motto.  The fact that several of those old buildings now stand empty -- haunted by specters of businesses long dead -- is a perfect synthesis of the town's split personality.

But there are some changes.  On my walk to breakfast, I encountered this addition to the front of the old red brick YMCA building.   I had never seen it because it was installed two years after I left for Mexico.

It is entitled "River of Peace" and was constructed with the help of local school children.  Made of ceramic tile.  With plenty of whimsical pieces.

Mt.  Hood.  Faces of children and adults.  An elephant.  A panda.

And a reminder that in every paradise, there is a serpent.

In a few days, I will be exchanging ceramic serpents for the fleshy variety.  But I will store up this day.  

A day that was practically perfect in its own way.