Sunday, June 30, 2013

through a glass darkly

I needed to make a decision.  My usual method of choosing the first right turn was not going to work.  I was in Tequesquitlán and wanted to get to Cihuatlán.

The GPS was of no help. Neither the one built into the Escape's dashboard or my far more sophisticated Garmin. 

Neither of them are any good once I leave a major highway.  They both informed me I was lost in the middle of a giant green expanse.  Even though I was clearly enjoying the sights of a tidy little village.

And because there was no cellular telephone signal in town, I could not call in the cavalry of Google Maps.

So, I did what I have done for the last four years in Mexico.  I reached for my trusty Guia Roji atlas.  One of the best purchases I made before I headed down here in 2009.

The Guia Roji is a book form of highway maps for the full county.  Even though it lacks some detail, it has taken me wherever I wanted to go.  For people who live and die by the map, it is top notch.

But it was not in the map compartment.  Nor under my seat -- or any seat.  It was gone.

I remember bringing it back from my trip to Oregon.  And I vaguely remembering taking it to dinner to discuss a road trio with friends.  I suspect I left; and it didn't.

It may be just as well.  Mexico has been steadily improving its road system.  What was accurate in 2009 is now merely an interesting historical document.  But it is hardly the tool for a cutting edge traveler.

I stopped  by a paper shop in Melaque on Saturday where the clerk showed me a 2013 edition.  But the format was smaller.  The dimensions of a magazine, rather than of an atlas.

And it was much thinner.  That made me wonder just how small the print is.

But I will not know unless I buy a copy.  Mexican books are tightly bound in shrink wrap.  If you want to see inside the wrap, you buy the book.

So, my Mexican chums.  Do you have any idea whether the atlas format is still available?  Or how large the font is on the magazine-sized version?  The Guia Roji web site was not very helpful.

I will check at the stores in Manzanillo when I am there this Tuesday. There might be a larger selection in the Little Apple.

To appease my jonesing for a map in the car, I bought a fold-out map.  That is it above.

But, if I am going to use it in the car, a magnifying glass will need to accompany the map in the jockey box.  And a bright flashlight.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

burt reynolds is god

At least, he was in the X-Files episode entitled "Improbable."  It is one of my favorites.

The premise was about how we choose to use our free will.  How we play the cards we are dealt.

It is not Bonhoeffer-deep theology.  But it played well.  Even though the antagonist did not.

I thought of Burt and how life is often like a game of poker as I drove off into the mountains that tumble into the Pacific around my little village.  My goal was to escape the heat.  I got much more.

Gaining 1700 feet takes a voyager into a new world.  The rain has turned the mountain road, that eventually leads to Guadalajara, into a green-canopied tunnel.  All in one week.  We live fast here.  More accurately, we grow fast.

The road is old.  At least, to my Oregon eyes.  It was built by the Spanish in the 1500s to transport goods from the Orient to Spain.  With a couple of sea trips sandwiched in there.  Ironically, this is the road that finally fulfilled Columbus's original mission.  But it is a poor second cousin to the more famous silver roads in Mexico.

The mule trains are gone.  But the descendants of the cicadas who sang to the mule skinners still fill the ravines with their Philip Glass serenades performed on a table saw.

The trick to driving in the mountains after heavy rains is to see the outing as a steeplechase.  Where the next corner could offer up a few rocks, a clay-stained landslide blocking part of the road, or a large gap where air now resides in place of the highway material that has traveled out to sea.  The pavement takes on the look of the detritus of childhood on a family room carpet.

And there is always litter of the living (or once-living) kind.  Just outside of town, I spotted a large snake along the side of the road.  Road kill, I guessed.  But the snake was the largest I had seen in Mexico.

So, I turned around.  ever pass up a photo opportunity.

By the time I got back to where I had seen the snake.  It had moved.  But it was not moving very fast.  I suspect it was injured.  Even when I prodded it with my foot, it would not move any faster.

A boa constrictor of some sort, I would guess.  If my niece, she who loves the slithery, had been there, she could have identified it immediately.

Injured or not, it took ten minutes to cross a highway that is well-traveled.  Twice, cars managed to straddle the snake.  But it made it to the other side.

A few miles up the road, I came around a sharp corner to discover three turkey vultures doing their best Gordon Ramsay filet technique on another snake.  Its crossing-the-road tale had a different ending.

Because I never like doing anything twice, I decided to head home on a different route.  One of my favorite driving games is to go somewhere I do not know and randomly pick roads.  Always turning to the right to make retracing steps easy.

That is what I did yesterday.  By chance, I ended up driving through the mining and agricultural village of Tequesquitl
án I visited on my ATV spree last October. 

The road was in worse shape than it was last year on the ATV.  At times, I felt as if I were going to run into Indiana Jones riding out of Petra with the Holy Grail.

But, if I had not chosen the road less traveled by, I would have missed one of the most unusual wildlife encounters of my life.  While driving down one of the sandy gullies, a hawk swooped past with what looked like vines in its talons.

But they weren't vines.  It was one of those oriole nests that usually hang from the end of a branch to keep snakes at bay.

Apparently, the hawk had snatched the entire thing.  Taking his lunch, as we say around here, para llevar.  Take away.

The two oriole parents were in full Amber alert hot pursuit.  But even they must have realized there was no hope to be mined from the circumstances.

Like the dead snake in the road, they had been dealt a pair of deuces, and there were no more cards to be dealt.

Sometimes we are the snake the makes it across the road (even if we are hurt in the process).  Sometimes, we are snacks for vultures.

Friday, June 28, 2013

nudes on the beach

If I am going to buy a house that has the artistic splendor of yesterday's post (the witch who ate my brain), I am going to need an appropriate art collection to set off my putt-putt golf course sense of taste.

You may recall that I was prepared last year to buy some sculpture while I was in
Pátzcuaro last summer (commies, nudes, and live tunes).  The piece to the left would have cost me a cool 100,000 pesos.  Just under $8000 (US).

I passed on it.  Even though I was quite fond of it.

Of course, I had no place to put it in my small apartment.  What I needed was a large house.  In the country with a pool.  And a guest house.  All surrounded by a large wall.

Of course, that was the place we fondly labeled the narco house.  And someone else took it off of my hands before I could close the deal.

It is just as well.  After all, it would have then been unseemly if I had then developed my odd crush on the orange tribute to the brothers Grimm in Manzanillo.  And the polished wood of the sculpture would have soon been bug-infested before long.  That is the way of life at the coast.

No, if I am going to live at the beach and collect sculpture, I need pieces made of something resilient.  And pieces with less sophistication -- and a bit of local flavor.

I may have found exactly what I need.  On the street in San Patricio yesterday.

If I lived in San Miguel de Allende, these pieces would have been displayed in some gallery with price tags to let the amateur buyer know this is The Real Thing.  And crowds of brie-toting, Chablis-sipping patrons would gaze knowingly and nod ever so reverentially in the presence of Art.

But I live in Villa Obregon.  Where our art displays tend to the utilitarian.

I must admit, though, I rather like the composition of the photograph.  You almost expect Fellini to ride off on the bicycle.

The truth is a rather sad one.  The shop owner is selling the remainder of his inventory.  The remainder that the punk thieves left behind when they burglarized his shop after cutting the lock with a bolt cutter.  So, everything is on sale.  Including this ménage à trois of multiple amputees.

If you stop by the Casa de Payasos in Manzanillo, they may welcome you in the foyer.

And I bet they will not cost 100,000 pesos.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

the witch who ate my brain

Mexico never fails to find new ways to surprise me.

On Tuesday I was in Manzanillo for week number four of The Great Root Canal -- my own little miniseries.  Because I still have northern habits, I arrived a half hour early. 

Rather than sit around in the waiting room, I decided to look for an electronic shop in thought was near -- because I want to turn several thousand of my hard-earned dollars into a sparking heap of rusted metal in the tropic humidity.

The shop was closed.  So, I wandered around the Santiago neighborhood.   Everything was new to me.  But I never expected what I saw in the distance.  Up on the hill above the bay.  A flash of color.

I spent the full half hour trying to find a good angle to -- well, I guess, figure out just what the structure was.  Colorful it was.  But what was it?

I suspect that this type of thing is exactly the setup used by the brothers Grimm to snare unwary children left alone in the woods by scheming stepmothers.  It looked like a Disney set for a production of Hansel and Gretel in Mexico -- directed by John Waters.

But it made me laugh.  I suspect it is the creation of some half-crazed artist who works in kitsch the same way Donatello worked in bronze.  If the word "camp" does not appear somewhere in the name of the house, the owner's artistic license should be revoked.

Remember that night in college when you looked across that smokey, dimly-lit restaurant and saw the face that has ever since haunted your sense of self-completeness?  Well, this house has turned into my one enchanted evening.

I want it.

Of course, it is not for sale.  At least, there is no sign that it is on the market.  And I really do not want to buy a house.  Especially, in Manzanillo.

But we all make compromises in our search to escape existential gravity.

Or maybe I just want to live in a small house that looks as if Bozo would answer the doorbell.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

holes in the table

The primary sign that summer has arrived here on the beach is the rain. 

We may not get Bangladeshi monsoons, but we come close.  Sunday, we had a heavy rain.  Tuesday, we experienced our own private Iguazu.

Ed and I drove over to La Manzanilla for dinner last evening at Cafe de Flores.  On the drive over, the sky was clear.  But just as we were finishing off two of Alex's prize meals, the sky may as well have literally opened up. 

It has been a year since I have seen rain that heavy and constant.  But it was a good reminder of what summer can be in Melaque.

The photograph at the top of this post is the street in front of my house Tuesday evening.  If you look closely, you can see that it is flowing.  Just like a stream.  Which it was.

That little lake will sit there (varying slightly in size) for the next three or four months.  At least, I will get clean sandals every time I open the gate.

I started this essay by writing that rain is the primary sign that summer has arrived.  But there is a secondary sign.  And it is like unto the first.

Most of our streets are sand and dirt.  I suspect you already concluded that based on the photograph.  In winter, they are relatively easy to maintain. 

The local grader fills any holes with sand, and then levels the whole shebang.  Smoother than a billiard table.  (Or pool table, if you can avoid the ever-officious Harold Hill.)

But that type of construction is not exactly Aztec monumental.  You will find a warning about this type of construction in Matthew 7:26.  There is a good reason why you do not find many pyramids made of sand by Indians here in Melaque.

And it does not take much to undo the grader's work.  The only major road leading into Villa Obregon from the highway is Reforma.  Most of it is paved with cobblestones.  But the top of the road is sand and dirt.

Up until Sunday, it had retained most of its pool hall smoothness.  After one rain on Sunday, this is the result.

The cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, horses,  and other various forms of transportation, which make our roads look like a John Ford western, have turned about 100 feet of street into an effective tank trap.  The rain combined with the sand in the repaired potholes to create a slurry.  And wheels and hooves splashed the fill to the side of the road.

There is no need to lower the speed limit on our roads in the summer.  But the road is undoubtedly putting the children of several mechanics through primary school.

There is another sign of summer.  But I will leave that for tomorrow.  I promise: it is not another rain tale.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

seuss in melaque

A little lizard lives in the lock of my gate.

That could be a good title for a song-- or even the first line of a poem.  Well, one of those poems that teenage girls post on their bedroom door.

But it is true.  There really is a lizard that hides inside the lock mechanism of the gate that leads to the walkway around the laguna.  I see it every time I unlatch the gate -- day or night. 

The lizard has been there for the past four years I have lived in this house.  Or, at least, there has always been a lizard there.  I have no idea how long they live.  This may be Gate Lizard IV for all I know.

A gecko.  That much I do know.  Those bug-eyed, splay-toed denizens of our ceilings who look as if they had spent too much time with DNA transfers at Area 51.  And turn our kitchen counters into campground latrines.

What amazes me is that it lives right in the lock mechanism.  Like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times.  I expect every turn of the tumbler will result in gecko goo.  But it hasn't happened.

And I doubt it will.  The little lizard that lives in the lock is waiting for its Cat in the Hat moment.  Certainly the material is there.

A writer I am, but a Seuss I am not.


Monday, June 24, 2013

wet shooting

It was now or never.

I have a favorite object to photograph -- the rocks at the mouth of Navidad Bay.  The variations in light and color make them as interesting to me as a study as the façade of the cathedral at Rouen was to Monet.

But time (and the weather) will not wait for me.  I knew the rains would soon be upon us.  The two appetizers we had last week were not the full meal deal.

And when the real rains arrive, the dirt road up to the viewpoint -- where I do my shooting -- will become at least rough.  If not temporarily impassable.  As a former coastal mountain boy, I am familiar what heavy rains can do to roads.  Here today -- gap tomorrow.

My timing turned out to be impeccable. 

The skies had been cloudy all morning on Sunday.  Not that chalky gray cloud cover that is no more interesting than a blank canvas.  This was the dramatic blue and dark gray that holds promise of metal-brassiered sopranos singing of Valhalla,

And the promise was kept.  On the drive down, I stopped to take this shot.

Whenever a storm is on the way, nature goes out of her way to add special filters to the lighting.  Colors seem brighter -- with the contrasts set on maximum.

In the near distance, you can see why the light shifted.  A substantial squall was rolling in from the east.  It hit Melaque just as I was turning off the highway to return home.

"Hit" is exactly the word I wanted.  When tropical rainstorms move in, they do not simply rain.  They explode. 

It took me less than three minutes to get to the house.  The rain had already filled the street in front of my gate up to my ankles.  By the time I had unlocked the gate, I doubt there was a dry spot on my body.

And the rain was as beautiful as anything I hade seen in months.  For thirty minutes, it poured.  Ironically, driving the humidity out of the air.  But also dropping the temperature a few degrees.

On my walk around the laguna around midnight on Sunday, everything in the night sang of a new season.  The cicadas were almost deafening.  With the peepers adding a chirpy soprano counterpoint.

And, of course, just as the first robin heralds spring in The States, the first land crab on my screen door announces the arrival of summer in Melaque.  Well, the crab and the massive hatch of winged termites that have taken to the warm night sky for a quick fling to ensure that the next generation will be a continuing generation.

I may as well welcome the summer.  Because it is going to be taking up residence here for the next three or four months.  And there will be much to enjoy.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

listen up to comrade provost

Have you ever wondered where all of those Soviet economic planners went after they spiraled their country into the ground?

They appear to be managing America's colleges and universities these days.  At least, that is what I conclude from a news story about my undergraduate alma mater.

A week before the summer term is to begin, the administration at Portland State University has announced that 50 courses will be cancelled.  All in an effort to save money. 

The inconvenient truth is that at least 12 of those courses would have made a profit for the school.  The incoming tuition exceeding the university's cost.

When confronted with that contradiction, the provost responded that the classes will be offered  in the fall, and the summer term students could be stuffed into those classes -- with no additional cost to the university.

I certainly hope the provost's degree is not in management or economics (not that it would surprise me) because she has a tenuous grasp on the term "cost."  She appears to be selling spin faster than a politician's press secretary.  Facts are of no consequence.

It turns out that a lot of those students eager to spend their money in the summer will not be customers in the fall.  Most are from other schools and will be back at their home base when the school year begins.  A fact the provost knew when she performed her soft shoe routine.

In business, that is called a missed economic opportunity.  In academia, it is called business as usual.

The fact that the classes were in biology, economic, chemistry, and mathematics should have raised a few eyebrows, as well.  Whatever happened to the much-vaunted program to stuff more hard science into young American minds?  Perhaps, that goal takes second place to providing young people with another faulty economic model.

I may live in Mexico these days, but I do care about higher education in The States.  I always have.

But this is another example of how the education establishment goes out of its way to ignore market signals.  It ranks right up there with promoting subsidized student loans that leave students bound to mammoth debt while universities are free to push up tuition rates to other-galaxy levels to take advantage of all that loose currency.  But that is another tale.

I am just happy that I was able to get my bachelor degree in an era when summer terms were available -- and when a young man could work his way through college without needing a loan.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

prayer fever

The anti-dengue fever crew has been out and about for the last few weeks in Melaque.

The fear of violence in our area of Mexico has always been overblown.  But the possibility of catching dengue fever is a reality.  Both visitors and residents are potential victims.

The most common version of the disease (there are four) is not life-threatening.  But if you are infected with the virus, death looks like an easy out.

The most obvious symptom is in the name.  Fever.  But that is just the start.  The skin develops a rash.  Then come the headaches.  And then excruciating pain in the muscles and joints.  From that symptom, it gains its nickname -- breakbone fever.

And who brings this delightful package of symptoms to us?  Señora Aedes aegypti.  Now, I know that sounds like a Verdi opera (or an Elton John musical).   But it isn't.

It is the same mosquito that almost kept the Panama Canal from being built.  As the carrier of yellow fever.  These days, its favorite gift to mankind is dengue fever.

They are a clever lot.  Preferring to bite around the ankles where it is difficult for we elderly to get at them.  The fact that they feed all day and all night gives them plenty of time to search for the unguarded, toxic-free patch of skin.  The mosquito is easily identified by the white spots on their knees.

To assist us in our fight against the dreaded mosquito, the health department sends out groups of earnest young people to search each home for mosquito breeding spots.  If they find one, they will either dump the water or toss in a cheesecloth-wrapped bit of chemical warfare to keep he mosquito parents childless.

I appreciate the effort.  And I think it does some good.  But like most governmental programs, the inspectors grab the low-lying fruit. 

In my case, tipping out the water in the fountain is rather meaningless when I can look out and see acres of prime mosquito breeding ground in the laguna.  Of course, nothing is done about that.

And it is a shame.  Because I know plenty of people around here who have been visited with the disease.

I thought we had another.  A friend has been in bed for a week with terrible body pain.  She thought it would pass.  But the pain worsened enough she decided to go to the hospital.

She does not have dengue, but it is bad.  Bad enough that she is flying north for surgery.  While she is in the hospital, her friends are packing her bags and gathering her documents for a flight later today.

When I received the telephone call, the first word out of my mouth was -- Wow!  Maybe it was because I have been reading Anne Lamott's Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.  As a result, I have been thinking of how better the world would be if we actually brought glasses of water to the thirsty -- or let other people go first in line -- or simply helped a friend, even if you were having one of those meltdown days in your life, because your friend needs a hand right now and that is more important than your hurt -- no matter how real it is.

I felt one of those lumps in the back of my throat.  Guys know the feeling.  It is the early warning system that lets us throw up walls to avoid any outward signs of emotion.  But it was there nonetheless.

Because all of a sudden I felt gratitude that these caring women, who have their own concerns, have dropped everything to help.  When help was needed.

And I prayed a prayer of help (with peace and contentment), a prayer of thanks for the joy these women were spreading, and a prayer of wow! -- that all this was playing out in front of my life.

When people ask me why I have faith, I just need to point them to moments like this. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

speaking of the weather

So, there you are at dinner in Woburn Abbey.

The Countess Grey to your left, the youngest daughter of the French ambassador to your right.  What can you discuss with such well-bred people? 

Your French is sketchy.  And, even though the earl is president of the Cremation Society, death, unless it concerns the prime rib gracing the table, is not an appropriate bit of chat.

Thank heavens, there are two universally safe table topics.  Health and weather.  And even health can be dodgy, as we all learned from Alan Jay Lerner.  So, the weather it is.

Weather is a regular conversation topic here in Melaque.  Primarily because we live so close to the weather's moods.  Most homes here are built as thin lines between us and Mother Nature.  For most of us, a few fans are the most we can do to control our environment.

We are at the mercy of the weather as much as any farmer in Iowa.

But we have another reason to be fixated on what may be headed our way.  Summer heralds our wet season.  Rain here also means that we are within the hurricane envelope.

Our local message board is filled with the observations of weather hobbyists.  Most of whom have a favorite weather site or two, and are as willing to swap them as bachelors once shared little black book information.  (Well.  Sorta.  The weather sites are real.)

The experts seem to believe that the eastern coast of Mexico is facing an active hurricane season.  But not we lucky left coast denizens.  This is supposed to be a mild hurricane season for us.

But hurricanes and tropical storms there will be. That mans every day or two I will take a look at NOAA's National Hurricane Center, where I can be entertained by colorful graphics representing the freight train that could modify the value of Melaque's real estate.

Mexpatriate will undoubtedly be talking about weather this summer.  And yu can watch the pretty graphics as they roll our way.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

well, there's still the cabbage leaf theory

I doubt my mother ever told me that the stork brought me.

That is not her style as a child of the Enlightenment.  Storks.  Santa Claus.  The Easter Bunny.  They were all a lot of clutter that blocked a growing boy's access to Truth.

And being the iconoclast I am, I would have doubted that any of our Oregon birds was capable of packing around the chunks of humanity parents checked out of hospitals.  Even if I then knew the air-speed velocity of an African Swallow.  (I think that is your cue, Gary.)

If I had actually seen a stork when I was young, I might have have been persuaded by the behind-the-school Aristotles of my boyhood.  Certainly, if I had seen one of the wood storks here in Melaque.

My landlady called me earlier in the week to inform me she had spotted an entire flock of wood storks on the new bypass road to La Huerta.  She had told me the same thing last year.  But when I drove out to the the described area last year, they had already flown the coop.

This time I was not going to miss them.  I got a later start than I had intended.  Because of our stoking heat, most birds find cover well before noon.  And I was heading out around 1 in the afternoon.

I knew the area she described.  I slowed down and saw nothing.  Then I noticed a large bird soaring over the hill.  And then six or seven more soaring on the updrafts.  Vultures, I thought.  There is a black vulture rookery on the other side of the hill.

But the shape was all wrong.  Instead, of the utilitarian blockiness of a vulture, this bird was Concorde sleek.  With clearly marked black and white feathers.  A wood stork.  Lots of wood storks.

I pulled over and watched where they were landing.  That's when I saw them.  Several trees filled with wood storks.

There is something about big that attracts humans to wildlife.  We like big whales.  We like big elephants.  And, amongst the birds, we are always impressed most with birds that approach our height.

It is probably primordial.  We are in awe of anything big enough to kill us.

And primordial the wood stork is.  I lament the fact that my camera (especially in zoom mode) is not adequate to capture the odd look of the wood stork.  It could have has just winged out of a Lost World film.  Wrinkled and bald.  Uncle Fester with wings.

Big birds alone are awe-inspiring.  Big birds flocked-up are overwhelming.  I must have stood there for over an hour watching them practice their touch-and-gos -- and simply soaring for what appeared to be the pure enjoyment of flying.  I felt akin.

They appear to be itinerant.  Over the past year, I have seen one or two during the rainy season, searching for a scaly lunch amongst the roseate spoonbills, great egrets, and yellow-crowned night herons.  But this is the first time I saw them clustered. 

If the sun is not too much for them, I am going to see if I can find them again this afternoon.  And I suspect I will not find a bundle of joy tied in a blanket hanging from any of their bills.

Maybe a better camera would help.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

broken needles

I have lost count.  It was either week three or week four in the root canal chair yesterday.

It doesn't matter which.  Because I will be logging some more chair time over the next few weeks.

Nothing major is wrong.  It takes time to clear out the old root canal material.  And the dentist has discovered an infection that continues to drain.  She relented yesterday and put me on another round of antibiotics.

For two weeks, she worked on the tooth without anesthetic.  That was fine because it is essentially dead from the prior root canal.

But, because she was working around the infection in the gums, she whipped out the hypodermic needle.

I chose that verb purposely. Unlike dentists up north, who treat our fears as if we are children, she makes no attempt to hide the tools of her trade.  And there is a good reason.  Her injections, though lengthy, are absolutely painless.  The sight of the needle coming at me does not engender a reaction.

It was not always thus.  I grew up terrified of injections of all sorts.  From the health department folks at grade school.  From the dentist.  From the doctor.

During the second grade, I had the answer.  I would become the Superboy of the comic books and the evil needle wielders would be foiled by my impenetrable skin.  I was rather disappointed that my mental powers were not up to turning my frail body into the boy from Krypton.

But Superman is back in popular culture.  This time on the 3-D screen in Man of Steel (or el hombre de acero, as it says on the marquee in Manzanillo).

I went only for one reason.  Christopher Nolan was involved -- as co-producer and co-credited with the "story," but not the screenplay.  He managed to turn two of his three Batman movies into well-choreographed, and better-written, moral ballets.  And, of course, Inception is a masterpiece.

But Man of Steel doesn't even come close to the target.  And that is too bad.  Because most of the elements for a good movie are there.

Starting with the very clear message that the Superman "S" does not mean what we all think it means.  It is a Krypton symbol for hope.

And that is the raison d'être of the film.  Hope -- even if it is only the hope of surviving through the next day.

You can feel Nolan's social conservatism in the story.  A father sends his son to Earth.  In the process, the son not only teaches good and moral behavior, but lives his life by that creed.  Superman has always had a messianic edge.  But the subtext gets played on the top in this incarnation.

The movie is populated with good actors.  Unfortunately, their talented is too often wasted. 

Amy Adams is given an opportunity to break out of her ingenue personality as a potty-mouth, in-your-face reporter.  Stockard Channing, she isn't.  As a result, the romantic tension with Superman rings false.  I would have been less surprised, if she had run off with Antje Traue's Faora.  It may have made for a more interesting story.

Henry Cavill was assembled to be Superman.  He certainly has the look.  Even though that look includes costumes that he must have borrowed from his sentence in The Tudors.  He is forced to face a good measure of Nolan angst -- when diversity results in the extinction of one people in favor of another, can it be good?

But his character never flies.  He does, but not his character.  That may be because it is very hard to write an interesting story about someone who is as instinctively good as Superman.  After all, Milton's most intriguing lines in Paradise Lost are Satan's.

And that role goes to Michael Shannon's General Zod.  Just as Cavill was born to play heroes, Shannon was born to be a villain.  But a rather nuanced villain whose motivation we not only understand, but can feel his conflict within ourselves.

General Zod and his faithful few survive the death of Krypton.  The have come to Earth to retrieve the ability to reestablish their race.  Unfortunately, that will mean the destruction of he current occupants of the planet.  Thus giving us the eternal philosophical struggle.  Between Descartes and Pascal.  Between Nietzsche and The Messiah.

All that sounds interesting.  But the mixture does not work.  Most of the story plods.  And, just when the director decides the audience cannot take any more (and I would say that is usually about five minutes too late), we are treated to an almost-unimaginable level of violence that may fit with the story, but is so overwhelming as to be distracting.

The movie ends with an obvious reference that there is more to come.

On the other hand, we don't need to go.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

murder at the crab house

Life is a mystery.

And I don't mean just the Big Questions.  What is the purpose of life?  Why do the evil prosper?  Why does "i" come before "e" except after self-important "c?"

I find the small questions to be just as intriguing.  Take yesterday morning.

I was walking to the gate that opens to the walkway around the laguna.  And right there in the middle of the path was a body.  Well, not a full body.  Just some extremities.

Two claws and two spiny legs.  What a diner might leave behind at a Red Lobster franchise.

Oh, yes.  There were also ants.  Busy living up to their Solomon description.  Nature's little clean-up squad.

I knew enough that that the parts once belonged to one of the odd land crabs that has been reconnoitering the lay of the land before the rest of the crabby crowd show up when the serious rains start.

The mystery is -- what happened to the rest of Mr. Crab?  There should be a crab shell.  Somewhere.

I ruled out a body part rapture for crabs.  Crabicide sounded far more likely.

My money would be on some four-legged Hannibal Lecter.  A cat.  A raccoon.  A coatimundi.  I am giving the squirrels a pass.

Plenty of suspects abound.  Agatha Christie could have spun quite a tale.  With a denouement on the andador.

As soon as the rain begins, there will be land crabs (scuttling and scuttled) everywhere for a few days.  That should give our crab killer a shot at serial history.

And the inevitability of another crab post.

Agatha Christie should have been so fortunate.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

wet kisses

We have been kissed by the rain god.

Not a big, wet kiss on the mouth, mind you.  More like one of those pecks-on-the-cheek from your favorite aunt.  But a kiss it is.

Like most of the tropics, our little beach has two seasons.  The dry season, when it is just that -- dry.  We live the lives of the Mexico tour posters.  Sand.  Surf.  Sun.  The type of sun where you enjoy being out and about.  That is about eight months of our year.

Somewhere around June, everything changes.  Well, not the surf and sand.  They are still there.  But our benevolent sun turns as malevolent as a teenager.

I noticed it in Puerto Vallarta when I was up there a week ago.  It was as if the fat guy sitting in the corner of the sauna, who never wears a towel -- but should, had just poured a gallon of water on the hot rocks.  There was no doubt that summer was upon us.  And thus started a week where the heat index hung around or above 100.

That type of heat and humidity defeat the sandman.  I could be sleepless in Melaque for the next four months.  But I won't.  Because we call this the wet season for a good reason.

On Sunday morning, my car had a few raindrops on it, and there were some small puddles in the street.  Best of all, the air was refreshingly cool.  It was our appetizer.  A taste of what is coming.

We will soon be having periodic downpours, and our sandy streets will make anyone nostalgic for Venice feel right at home.  It will feel so good that my neighbors will join me standing in the street with faces raised skyward, like a flock of turkeys, just to feel the relief of the water.

We may even hum that shamelessly commercial tune.  Sometimes, Mexico is a kiss on the skin.  And the rain certainly will qualify.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

patiently cultured

My complaint that we do not have access to cultural events in Melaque is not absolutely true.  We have some very good live music in the local gathering places.

And I am not talking about the garden variety guitar strummer who knows nothing more than the tourist standards.  There are performers who write and perform their own work -- or who creatively resuscitate the stuff that the strummers suffocate.  Thursday nights at La Oficinia, for example.

But Saturday night, our section of  the beach was visited by a world class musician -- (Paco Renteria) and his band.  That adjective ("world class") gets thrown around far too easily.  So easily that it is what powers the humor in the Mel Brooks's To Be or Not to Be phrase: "world famous in Poland."

But Renteria is the real deal.  A serious student of flamenco guitar.  World tours.  Played with Carlos Santana and Luciano Pavoratti.  Composer and performer of the Mexican trailer music for Spielberg's The Legend of Zorro.

But enough of the appeal to authority.  The proof of a musician is in the listening.  Not the boasting.

The Cultural Center at Cihuatlán is not the best venue for subtle music.  It is essentially a concrete box.  Imagine a high school gymnasium.  Now, replace all the walls with concrete, and try listening to Mahler.

And add an evening with a heat index hovering around 100, fill the unventilated concrete box with people, and then let them wait an hour and a half for the band to show up.

Mexicans amaze me.  They can be the most patient people in the world.  I appeared to be the only expatriate in the auditorium.  If these conditions were transplanted to Oregon, the house would be empty before the band showed up.

But this audience knew what was in store.  And they got it.

Renteria plays a musical style he has tagged free play.  It is as if he had taken chunks of flamenco, classical, Oriental, and progressive jazz rhythms, and popped them in a Waring blender.  The result is a style of music that is as intellectually challenging as it is for this group of virtuoso musicians to perform.

An example.  Renteria, who plays the flamenco guitar, and the violinist got into an Annie Get Your Gun duel of who could press his instrument to the highest range.  It was not only good music, it was marvelous showmanship.  They had the audience in their respective fingers.

The band consists of three guitarists, two percussionists, a violinist, and a saxophonist.  On the jazz pieces, they glided smoothly through each of their improvisational pieces.  In the flamenco sets, they were an appropriate backdrop to Renteria's fingers.

The concert was everything he said it would be.  "The most important thing in music is the human emotion.  Woman is a muse.  I play like it is my last concert; play with all my soul, all of my emotion.  I invite the audience to travel with me on my 'bus.'"

Well, Paco, it was a great ride.  Thanks for the tour.

Now, I just wish I could hear him and his band in a venue appropriate for their talent.

But there I go again about culture availability.  I should -- and am -- happy with what comes our way.

Note -- I was going to insert a YouTube video for your pleasure.  But there are plenty to choose from.  Make your own pick.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

miss rand -- call your lawyer

"Who is John Galt?"

The question rattled around inside the stunningly intelligent Robert Langdon's infernally darkened mind. He couldn't even remember the word he slipped charismatically into his own narratives to describe his brilliant memory.  Eidetic.  That was it.

"Something terrible has happened to you," a young, but stunningly intelligent voice, averred authoritatively.  "But I can't just blurt it out because your amnesia-muddled mind will burst like a swirling amber-hued sack of plague.  --  Probably shouldn't have said that.  --  Someone shot you in the head." 

He groggily focused on a pair of doe brown eyes, a runner's blond pony-tail, and a medical smock that could only have been tailored in a certain small shop on the west side of the Piazza San Croce.

"I'm Dagny Taggart. I'm a doctor and I am stunningly intelligent with an IQ that would humiliate you if I told you only the first three digits.  And I have absolutely no understanding of subtext.  But you need to move right now. Someone is trying to kill you."

"Why would anyone want to do that?" he asked, not being ably to think of any Roget-sized words.

"Because someone has to stop Dan Brown before he writes again."

Just then, a spiky-haired, stunningly intelligent leather lesbian burst through the doors firing a Glock 17C outfitted with an after-market silencer from Neiman Marcus. 

Dagny pressed a button, that no one had guessed might be there, and she and Langdon were sucked skyward defying gravity into a curved series of tunnels (a phrase translated into Urdu meaning "Satan's Navel" -- a fact both of them knew from their MENSA examination) that took them serially through three cities and two countries.   

On his way into the claustrophobic-inducing tunnel, Langdon failed to notice that back in the hospital room, the director just yelled: "Cut!"

Along the way we will meet the stunningly intelligent John Galt, a scientist so creative and brilliant in manipulating DNA that everyone thinks he is mad until he shows them all up by letting everyone believe he is going to destroy all of humanity -- and balance the American budget with neither spending cuts nor tax increases.

Then there is the stunningly intelligent Dr. Floyd Ferris, the head of the World Health Organization, who is a woman, but in this type of novel, it doesn't matter because her underlying evil is enough to make us want to have dinner with her -- no matter which rest room she chooses to use.

And the stunningly intelligent Dr. Robert Sadler, also called the Provost, who has reduced himself to the level of a fixer and living his entire life in a yacht in the middle of the Adriatic.  He does not allow his moral sensibilities to get in the way of getting a job done.  The type of guy who could use nothing more than his body to turn a lump of coal into a diamond.

The book is Dan Brown's latest novel -- Inferno.  And it is probably the worst installment of the Robert Langdon series.  And that is saying a lot.

It is essentially the same book he has written three times before.  And each one gets worse.  I fear my satiric take at the start of this post is only a pale imitation of just how purple Brown prose can be.

But what bothered me the most was Brown's view of the world.  I have heard echoes of it in the earlier books, but it is on full display here. 

And I finally put the mystery together.  Dan Brown is Ayn Rand.  At least, he has been doing a lot of grave robbing in Ayn's coffin.

You have undoubtedly already concluded the names Dagny Taggart, John Galt, Dr. Floyd Ferris, and Dr. Robert Stadler will not be found in Inferno.  They are names from Rand novels.  But the characters are essentially the same.

Highly intelligent people living in a Nietzschean nightmare world where science and logic need only be imposed on the little people to let the supermen (and women) solve all our needs. 

Brown writes scenes where his heroes are always alone doing whatever they need to do for The Greater Good.  Even in areas crowded with tourists, some silly distraction will allow Langdon to enter a room without disturbing any of the sheep.

That, of course, is the mark of a writer who believes we really do not need relationships in this world.   All we need is our mind.  No spouse.  No children.  Certainly no God.  In the same manner as Ayn Rand's self-satisfied remark when she first met Bill Buckley: "You are much too intelligent to believe in Gott."

Tie that type of teenage philosophizing into this series of tinny sentences.

"These six words ... welled up from the bottom of the stairs like the ominous stench of death.

"Only one form of contagion travels faster than a virus.  And that's fear."

"Langdon suddenly felt a ghostly pall envelop him, as if the long fingers of an unseen hand were reaching out of the earth and raking his flesh."

Or leaden dialog like: "Send the drone back up. I'll check this cave here."  Even a Star Wars script would not be so devoid of subtext.

I have about thirty more.  But I will not inflict on you what Dan Brown inflicted on me.  What I kept asking myself was: "Where was the editor?"

What made Brown's book doubly painful is that I have just finished reading Tom Wolfe's Back to Blood.  Wolfe is such a masterful craftsman that Brown and Wolfe do not even seem to be writing in the same language.

And after struggling through all of that, Brown does what he has done in each previous Langdon novel.  He promises us answers to the great mysteries of life -- only to serve up the most tepid of gruel. 

Not only is there no there there.  There wasn't any there in the first place.  Once again Lucy snatches the football from Charlie Brown's kick.

My advice:  skip Brown; read Wolfe -- almost anything by Wolfe.  But if you feel compelled to read Brown, I suggest reading him in the Ayn Rand original.

Friday, June 14, 2013

wee the people

I really need to stop reading the newspaper.  At least, stop reading newspaper articles about legal matters.

"Choice of bathroom is at issue" is an Associated Press story about a case that was argued in the Maine Supreme Court on Wednesday.  The issue?  Whether transgender students can use the bathroom of their choice.

Let's set aside the policy debate for a moment.  I am more interested in how the reporter, David Sharp, chose to relate this story to us.

David appears to be a clever enough fellow.  He tells his readers that the court's decision will turn on an interpretation of the Maine Human Rights Act -- an act that bars discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation, but also requires separate restrooms for boys and girls.

And that is the last we hear of the Maine Human Rights Act.  Not even a taste of what the actual language of the statue requires.  As a result, the reader has no guide to determine whether the school's administration violated the statutory rights of the aggrieved student.

And what is the alleged violation?  Nicole Maines was born with the body of a male.  But Nicole had girl thoughts from a young age.  When Nicole started using the girl's bathroom at school, the girls complained.

The school administration saw the statutory bind it was in.  And offered what seemed to be a Solomonic decision.  Nicole could use the staff bathroom.

Hold on a minute, says Nicole.  "I am woman/ hear me pour."  (OK.  I made that part up.)

Instead of accepting what we call a "reasonable accommodation" in my late-lamened profession, Nicole went to court.  And lost.  She is now, as David Sharp tells us, before the Maine Supreme Court.

And what does David tell us about the legal arguments supporting either party?  Nothing.

Instead, we get a quotation from Nicole that is supposed to sum up the merits of the case.

I hope they understood how important it is for students to be able to go to school and get an education and have fun and make friends, and not have to worry about being bullied by students or the administration, and to be accepted for who they are.
Wow!  And here I was thinking this case was about what the law says about people who choose to use the bathroom of their own choice.

What bothers me most about the story is that David Sharp chose not to tell us about the legal arguments at stake.  Or maybe he didn't understand them.  What he knew is Court TV has taught Americans that the law is irrelevant; personal opinion is all that really matters in legal decisions. 

So, why should he, a mere Associated Press reporter, bother telling his reader the limitations the court faces?  It is far better to believe that this case is about having fun, making friends, and living in a world where you have to accept my impression of me.  As if we had all been transformed into unicorns.

It is shoddy reporting.  He had a great opportunity to inform his readers about an interesting area of the law and what courts can and cannot do.  Starting with: Nicole, if you want someone to guarantee your fun life, you will not find it from lawyers dressed in black dresses.

Frankly, I feel sorry for the school administrators.  Courts and lawmakers have put them in tough positions over the past five decades.  The list is long, but it includes discipline for bad behavior, religious references at school, search and seizure restrictions, and free speech issues.

This transgender debate is not going away.  I can guarantee it.

It was once an easy solution.  Depending on the plumbing God gave you, schools could classify you into two categories.  Done and done.

But objective standards are eroding.  No longer can administrators depend on such simple categories.  Now, they must make decisions on the subjective expectations of each individual.

If history is any guide, school administrators will default to an absolute position -- because it is safe.  Just as they have with the establishment and free exercise of religion clauses.  A mention of God in a public school causes pandemonium.

I can see the future.  Bathroom and locker room use will be a matter based on the sex a person claims to be.  And, if the entire football team decides en masse to be female, who is going to say them naught?

Then another Great Decider will conjure up the obvious solution.  Why are we wasting time on separate facilities?  We could save money and a lot of  time in court simply by having one giant bathroom and an even larger locker room.  Just like in Starship Troopers.

I also have another prediction, no matter how long this debate goes on, the press is going to pass along the legal story as if it is just another episode of a soap opera. 

According to David Sharp, we can stop watching Downton Abbey.  We are living it.  We just don't have the costumes or witty banter.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

put it on the main viewing screen

The House of Cotton, being a libertarian state, does not have a lot of rules.

But it does have a prime directive: I cannot own anything that cannot fit int my Escape within one hour.

I suspect the genesis of the rule was simple.  Just in case the French invaded Mexico again, and I had to take up the profession of fleeing refugee, I wanted to be able to make it back to Lukeville as fast as I could.

But circumstances have changed.  I now have a permanent resident card that gives me a vested interest in how Mexico survives -- and I have a Mexican-plated vehicle that may or may not (depending on who I talk with) be allowed to cross the border as easily as I can.

So, if the French decide that their national interests are that enchiladas should be topped with Bearnaise sauce, I am here to gainsay them.

That type of thinking has its own consequences.  If the one-hour, one-Escape rule no longer applies, I am free to pull out my wallet to buy -- Stuff.

The restrictive rule has been an effective defense against all sorts of acquisitions.  A sculpture in Pátzcuaro.  A painting in La Manzanilla.  A tapestry in Guadalajara.  Not to mention the fact I have not looked at large electronics in Mexico for four years.

That changed on last weekend's trip to Costco in Puerto Vallarta.  I stood in front of the big screen television sets for a good 45 minutes.  Comparing sizes, formats, prices.

NAFTA has effectively lowered the price of televisions in Mexico.  As has the world-wide availability of big screens in general.  When I bought my 46 inch screen two years ago, I thought it was huge.  Compared to the 80 inch screens that are within purchase range, my old set looks like a computer monitor.

But we need to take one step back in this narrative to understand why I am sudden,y talking about a new television.  I brought 400-some DVDS and a like number of CDs with me when I moved south.  They have been sitting generally unused in the spare bedroom.

This week I started listening to music and watching movies.  (And they are movies.  My films were on laser disc, and found a new home at Goodwill).

If I am going to really enjoy my movies, I need something larger than my small monitor.  And if I get a good television, I will need speakers capable of producing sound of the same picture quality as the high definition screen.  Anyone who has been down this path knows that amplifiers, cables, and stands follow in quick procession.

Before too long, the Escape rule will be dead.  And I will have a lot of electronic equipment subject to the wiles if tropical humidity.  Not to mention the inevitable increase in vigilance for items that are easy to pilfer.

There is also another consideration.  I recently ran across a proverb (a prayer, actually) that has managed to attach itself to my soul.

[G]ive me neither poverty nor wealth.
Yes, provide just the food I need today;
for if I have too much, I might deny you
and say, “Who is ADONAI?”
And if I am poor, I might steal
and thus profane the name of my God.
Its parallel construction led me to believe it was Augustinian in origin.  But I was wrong.  It is far older than that.  It is found in Proverbs 30.  A theme I will discuss in my Sunday devotional at church. 

Living in Mexico has made me very aware of how material the human soul is.  Even my neighbors, who do not own much, share the same acquisitive nature.  And that is good.  It is what motivates us to provide for our families.  Especially, when tempered with the wisdom of contentment.

But I am far too aware that it can also lead to callousness toward others.  While we acquire, we often forget that the money we use for our enjoyment might be better used in finding ways to assist our neighbors.

I started to say, I have no easy answer.  But Jesus did.  At least, for the rich young man who claimed to have followed all of the commandments.  When Jesus told him to "sell your possessions, give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven.  Then come, follow me!,”  the young man turned and walked away sad.  "Because he was wealthy."

Being a wise teacher, Jesus could see that the young man only thought he was following the Law.  In his heart, he loved his wealth more than he loved the spirit of the law.  And the realization saddened him.

There is plenty of guidance there for me.  Before I start swimming in the pool of acquisition again, I should ask myself what I am seeking.

I doubt Robert Preston will look any better on an 80 inch screen than on my 22 inch computer monitor.  But he certainly could sound a lot better.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

ruffling my ridges

I am a snacker.  Always have been.

That does not mean I do not like high quality food.  I do.  A lot.

But I also like my snacks.  And the saltier and greasier they are, the more content I am.

When I moved to Mexico, I thought it would be easy to kick the snack habit.  Almost every snack in my neck of the beach is chili-lime flavored.

That was interesting for about the first month here.  But it wore thin quickly.  And I stopped eating snacks.  Just like that.  All it took was boredom.

But i had not taken into account the power of Mexico's middle class to crave some variety in their snack life.  During the past two years, new snacks have appeared on the shelves of Soriana, Walmart, Comercial Mexicana -- even, my local little grocery: Super Hawaii.

First, it was Lay's potato chips.  Barbecue.  Salt and Vinegar.  Followed by several flavors of Pringles.  And then a flood of the full panoply of Kettle Chips (from Salem, Oregon, I might add).

All at eye-rolling prices.  But I buy them.  Along with Snyder's pretzels and bold flavor Chex mix.

When I lived in England, I was introduced to a new snack almost every week.  The British have a knack with potato chip (or "crisps," as they would have it) flavors.  Beef.  Chicken.  Prawn.  Almost as if a Top Ramen truck had crashed at the Walker's factory.

But my favorites were Worster sauce -- and pickled onion.  I probably could have eaten a case of pickled onion crisps and asked for more.  Now, I can buy them only when I slip past the IRA-sniffing customs officials.

Like most middle classes around the world, the Mexican middle class seeks out experiences that bestow legitimacy to their upward mobility.  And brand names fit the bill.  Especially, American brands.

That is why I was not surprised when I saw this bag at Comercial.  It hits a middle class bonanza.  Two American brand names "Ruffles" and "Burger King."  And a new flavor:  hamburger.  A whopper in potato chip form.

This was not my first encounter with hamburger-flavored potato chips. The first was in Beijing last year.  And the drill was the same.  The upwardly-mobile Chinese wanted something to distinguish them from their neighbors.  What would be better than an American hamburger?  (Or the very odd dill pickle potato chips>)

I tried them in China.  So, I certainly had to try them in Mexico.

The first taste was a bit weird.  But it was all there.  The charred hamburger patty.  The bun.  The lettuce.  A hint of ketchup.  A bit of mustard.  I may as well have been sitting at the Burger King in Manzanillo -- along with the gang of middle class children on their way home from their private schools to their middle class homes.

The hamburger chips rate a solid C+.  Far better than the D- that goes to the chili-lime contenders.

However, nothing will ever match the pinnacle of snack time.  The English pickled onion crisp.

That treat will have to wait until at least September of next year.  But there I go: spilling another adventure.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

i love my kindle

If you type in "Kindle" in the search bar at the top left of my blog, all of the posts containing the word will appear.  I got to 36 before I stopped counting.  Posts that star my Kindle -- or where it plays, at least, a supporting role

I bought my first electronic little black book in the summer of 2010 -- just three years ago.  I am now on my fourth.  Mainly because each new version has features I have been wanting.

I have to hand it to Amazon.  The company knows is customers.  And not only on the devises themselves.  They also know how to sell books.

If there is anything I miss about buying hard copy books, it is the ability to go to my local book store (that was once Powell's) and browse through a book to see if I wanted to invest my $25.

Amazon has an answer for that.  Electronic samples.  Similar to those little tidbits served up at Costco to customers who know how to feed their inner Pavlov dog.

My book recommendations come from various sources.  Magazine book reviews.  Suggestions from friends.  Often, mere comments on Facebook. 

Last week, Nancy of Countdown to Mexico mentioned she was reading David Sedaris's latest book.  On her recommendation, I pointed my Kindle to the Amazon site (while eating that mediocre meal at Chili's) and had a sample within seconds. 

Whoever puts together the samples has a great marketing sense.  The samples are long enough to catch the reader's attention. And then they almost always stop right in the middle of a thought.  The next box that pops us is a "purchase now" box.  I suspect most people do what I do: I buy the book right then.

The downside is that my samples tend to form a queue longer than the line at DMV.  But I always manage to get through them.

Here is what is on the list right now.

Let's Explain Diabetes With Owls -- David Sedaris

Journeys of Faith: Evangelism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism -- Robert l. Plummer

The Painted Word -- Tom Wolfe

Coolidge -- Amity Shlaes

Inferno: A Novel -- Dan Brown (I am reading it right now.  Expect a review if I can manage to finish it.)

Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers  -- Anne Lamott

The Reason for God -- Timothy Keller

Without my Kindle, it would be logistically difficult to get any of those books to Mexico.

But with my Kindle, I can sit back and slip another shrimp on the Barbie.


Monday, June 10, 2013

home is the hunter

I saw my first deer in the Mexican wild today.

A rather scrawny -- by Oregon standards -- doe.  At first I thought it was a street dog  But I was shocked to see it at all.  I keep hearing that large wildlife has been slaughtered in these parts.

Apparently, no one bothered telling that to the startled deer I had in my sights yesterday afternoon.  Somewhere between Puerto Vallarta and Melaque.

Not in the sight of a deer rifle, mind you.  The deer was in the middle of the road in broad daylight as I closed in on it with my Escape -- Ron white style.  And it just stood there.  As if it had decided to model for the statue in Memorial Deer Park in a very inopportune spot.

I nearly came to a full stop while it did an impression of a restaurant guest trying to make up her mind between the hamburger and the hamburger with cheese. 

And then something snapped -- perhaps, a little synapse fired off the "I want to live" trigger -- and the deer was off like the animals in the Bambi forest fire scene.

Even though I did not bag a deer with my Escape, I did bag some groceries.  At Costco.

I wish I could tell you that I have completely immersed myself in Mexican village life.  But the truth would come out the moment you saw me walk through the door of a Mexican Costco.  I revert to northern behavior instantly.

I grab my cart and traverse every aisle.  Look at almost every item.  Handle lots of goods, and then have the good sense to put most of them right back.

But not everything.  Today was a treasure day.  Lemons, feta, and small English cucumbers for the start of a Greek salad.  Ham steaks for bean soup -- and sandwiches.  And cherries -- for the sheer joy of living.

I put back a lot of potential purchases.  On the theory  I can get almost anything that is sold at Costco at my local grocery.  But never cherries. 

If you have read this blog during the summer months, you know how much I like fresh cherries.  You also could predict that two pounds of the cherries would not make it to Melaque.  And you would have been correct.

I know all the warnings about washing fruit before eating it.  For exactly the same reasons, people up north should wash their fruity purchases.  But some temptations trump hygiene.  And cherries top the list.  The other four pounds will be gone by Wednesday, I suspect.

For today, I am glad I passed on the venison.  Being a fruitarian for part of this week will suit me just fine.

After all, I do have the ham.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

that tempting green light

I am in Puerto Vallarta for the night.  Last night, that is.

Friends from Barra had a flight out of Puerto Vallarta yesterday, so I decided to combine a trip to Costco with a trip to the airport.

When I decided to move to Mexico, Puerto Vallarta topped my list.  Primarily because the shore activities on Mexico cruises were the best; Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas simply could not compare.

But I am glad that the ephemeral experiences of ziplining and mountain biking were not the deciding factors for my new residence.  It all comes back to me every night I spend in Puerto Vallarta.  I suppose there are party spots in town, but that is not my lifestyle these days.

Instead, I usually treat myself to dinner and a movie.  Last night the treats were not that memorable.  Starting with a decidedly mediocre chicken Alfredo at Chili's.  Yeah, I know.  Italian at a Tex-Mex restaurant.  What should I expect other than the mundane?

But I expected more of the movie.  The Great Gatsby is not a great movie.  However, it is a far better movie than the plodding  and meandering 1974 Robert Redford - Mia Farrow version.  Even though that may be praising with faint damns.

I am very fond of the novel.  If Moby Dick is the Great American novel, The Great Gatsby would be my choice for runner-up.  I know no better literary depiction of the American dream -- with its boundless hope and simmering dark shadows. 

Fitzgerald managed to captured it all with his art-deco world where any man could be great and where women could create their own paths.  And every American is free to create a new future.  Americans are a nation of second acts.  Or, we once were.

Because so many readers put the novel on a high pedestal, movie makers always approach the material with trepidation.  They needn't. 

Novels and movies are two different art forms.  Because of the limitation of movies, a movie can be, at best, a short story that bears a resemblance to the novel.  And the result can be powerful.

Unfortunately,  Baz Luhrmann decided to film as much of the novel as he could fit into two and a half hours of butt time in a cinema seat.  The result is a bloated bit of German expressionism that can be simultaneously lavish and spatially disorienting.  There are enough continuity issues in the final print that I found myself wondering if the editor was as baffled as the audience.

What Luhrmann gets right is the story and its trajectory -- and his obvious belief that Fitzgerald was correct.  The American dream is a dream of hope that can survive even the death of the dreamer.

Most of the actors do a superb job.  Tobie Maguire was a perfect choice for the role of Nick Carraway, the shirt tail relative of old money who is close enough to understand the tension between old and new money, and far enough away from it to be the American everyman guide.  His homely mugging contrasts well with the world of the beautiful people.

Watching Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby is a reminder of how wrong Robert Redford was for the part.  DiCaprio is the right age.  And his cat-faced boyishness has been replaced by a solidity that makes you believe Nick when he writes:

It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.  It faced–or seemed to face–the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.  It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.
The problem is that all these good elements keep getting buried under the weight of the production -- such as the silly letters that float around on screen while the narrator writes the story, looking like a distracting bowl of Campbell's soup.  I suspect Luhrmann was attempting to use the visual cues to underline the seemlier side of wealth.  But he did not simply gild the lily, he buried it under enough rhinestones to please a drag queen.

When The Great Gatsby was first published, it was not a success.  And, of course, Fitzgerald himself took the same career glide path that he wrote for Gatsby.

However, what he left on paper is far more memorable than this movie will ever be.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Saturday, June 08, 2013

i've got a secret

Some favorite spots are worth keeping as secrets.

Every Friday morning I show up for breakfast at the same eatery.  Sometimes, I dine with people I know.  Often, I dine with people I do not yet know.

But it is a favorite because it is different than most places I eat.  The only language I will hear is Spanish -- unless I am meeting one of my English-speaking friends.

Most of my guests will be locals on their way to work.  During harvest season, truck drivers predominate.  With a lumper here and there.  In The States in the 50s, it would be the local coffee shop where everyone in a certain sector of town would meet to start the day.

And the food is not the usual hybrid fare served in most of the tourist restaurants around Melaque.  Years ago, I devised a test to check the quality and consistency of food from restaurant to restaurant.  Huevos rancheros is my constant.

When I first tried them at my secret spot, I knew I had a winner.  The eggs are cooked at that magic moment between poached and solid.  And because the eggs here are so fresh, you can taste every subtly that some hen put into her prized creation.

But it is the salsa that is the selling point.  Chewy and filled with enough Serrano peppers to let your sinuses know reveille has sounded.

Top that off with a never-ending parade of homemade tortillas fresh off the grill, and you have a Friday morning that makes you a believer in long weekends.

I suppose almost everyone has a secret spot --  Food.  Beach.  People-watching table. -- that they would just as soon keep to themselves.  And they should.

After all, some of the best things in life can best be enjoyed with a patina of selfishness now and then.

Friday, June 07, 2013

dial o for outrage

This has been a bad few weeks for the Obama administration. 

The swirl surrounding DOJ's subpoena of reporters' telephone records and the IRS's targeting of groups opposed to the administration has made a lot of Americans uneasy.  Some of them former supporters of the president.

I keep hoping that things are not as bad as they seem above the Rio Bravo.  But yesterday morning's lead newspaper story tripped the "what are you people thinking" alarm.

"Spy agency reportedly getting Verizon records."  The headline sounded rather mundane.  Until you got to the meat of the story.

The National Security Agency (NSA) believes that millions of Americans are potential terrorists.  That is the most benign explanation I can conjure up.  Under the PATRIOT Act, NSA has collected the telephone records of millions of American Verizon customers.  Not just once, but daily -- for who knows how long. 

All telephone calls.  Within The States.  And from foreign locations calling into The States.

Mind you, there is no requirement for the Obama administration to show any basis for that request.  The law allows it. 

That is one reason I opposed the broad surveillance provisions of the PATRIOT Act when Congress initially passed it and recently revised it.  Because I feared someone would grab the power handed to him.  Someone apparently has.

This time there is no outraged president on  television telling us how angry he is at the IRS.  Just silence.

I want to be very clear about one thing.  I strongly support surveillance based on reliable information.  And I am not opposed to counterintelligence operations.

The reason airplanes have not been falling out of the skies for over the past decade has nothing to do with the comic opera TSA performance art that takes place every day in airports.  That is merely an act to placate we fearful rubes.  To make us believe our fellow passengers will leave their pipe bombs at home for fear of being found out by the Barney Fifes of the skyways.

Anti-terrorism works only if you can stop an operation long before it reaches its target.  The FBI has been very successful at doing that.

How do we know?  First, because of the series of arrests the FBI has made nipping terrorist acts in the bud.  

But, there is another piece of evidence.  Something that has not happened.  We have not experienced suicide bombers blowing themselves up in TSA lines while we are all crowded together in perfect target formation.  As happens regularly in Baghdad and Damascus these days.

The world is not a black and white place.  At times, evil must be committed to prevent a greater evil.  But the wide-net monitoring of million of Verizon customers steps over that line.

The fact that this trampling of constitutional search and seizure rights would not seem so bad if it had not followed immediately on DOJ's telephone record seizure designed to cow reporters and the IRS's Stalinesque enemy's list harassment of people opposed to the administration. 

Any attempt to come up with a non-political motivation will simply sound hollow.  Maybe that is the reason for the silence. 

Is the Verizon surveillance really for national security purposes?  Or is Elizabeth Goitein, of the clumsily-named Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, onto something?

"This is a truly stunning revelation.  This suggests that the government has been compiling a comprehensive record of Americans' associations and possibly even their whereabouts."

So, there is the evil.  And it is a big one.  Americans should be outraged that their government has forgotten its place.  Most Americans say they want a night watchman model of governance that protects us -- not one that acts as if it can do to the people whatever it chooses.

I am tempted to suggest that every Verizon customer should make friends around the world with all the Mustafs, Omars, and Husseins that they can find -- and call daily for chats with obvious code words.  Of course, that is probably a violation of some statute  on my part -- Conspiring to be Humorous on Serious Topics in the Second Degree, or some such thing.

Just a month ago, President Obama, in a commencement speech at Ohio State, declared: "[Y]ou'll hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's the root of all our problems ... . You should reject these voices. "

Well, Mr. President.  After the people's government threatens a free press, harasses its political enemies, and starts monitoring its citizens' telephone calls, you may want to re-think those words.  Because it appears that more Americans are getting paranoid. 

And, as the old saying goes, it appears that someone may actually be out to get them.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

getting to the root

I thought I was starring in Wildcat.

Which was odd because I was sitting in a dentist chair in Manzanillo for round two of my root canal.

And it wasn't because the musical's run ended badly.  Or that I had transformed into Lucille Ball.

It was the drilling.  Lots and lots of drilling.  If my appointment last week could be characterized as clearing the land, yesterday was all about drilling out the fillings from the previous root canal.

I should note my dentist was not looking for a gusher. She was a bit concerned when I told her that I felt some swelling around the tooth and wondered if there could still be some infection.  She hoped not -- because if the tooth was infected, it was too early for a root canal.

That is where the handy instrument at the top of this post comes in.  Once the filling material was out, the dentist started filing away to clean out the canal.  I was hoping that she would not encounter a renegade nerve because we were running bare.  She did not give me any anesthetic.

The machine is designed to show her where the files are in relationship to the canal.  The trick is to get in far enough without poking through the other side.  It had a beep similar to the reverse warning on my Escape.

Then we hit a gusher.

I caught a whiff of it in the air.  The scent of death -- well, at least, decay.  Then a bit of pain.  And a slight gasp from the beautiful -- and very professional -- dentista.

She showed me her file.  Just a bit of -- hey, we are all adults here; why try to bowdlerize the tale -- pus.  That is what smelled.  Then, a little more dribbled.  Then a steady stream.

During our half conversation (I was wearing a rubber dam that made keeping up with my side of the conversation a bit difficult), she told me she had considered recommending an extraction after she had cut off the crown.  Now that she was through the old fill material and had opened up the infection to drain, she was pleased she had stuck with it.

She packed the canal with an alkali powder to counter the acidity of the pus, put the temporary crown back in place, and told me to return in another week.  She will then clear the other canal to be certain the infection is gone.

Of course, that also means there will be at least two more dental visits to get a new crown.  Even we republicans are willing to take on such monarchical affections.  After the gushers stop.  And Cy Coleman stops playing "Hey, Look Me Over."