Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Yesterday Felipe suggested the absence of a Sanborn's in Melaque was "yet another reason to abandon your 'Shipwreck' lifestyle and move to a civilized area of Mexico."

He does have a point.  Our tropical coast is devoid of the culture and architecture of colonial Mexico.  In fact, there are no buildings in this village that are older than your correspondent.

But the highlands are completely devoid of one thing that makes Melaque one of the most interesting places I have lived.  Crocodiles.  Or, to be specific, American crocodiles.

I have written about the nest of crocodiles that hatched just over two weeks ago.  There are still quite a few survivors of that batch out in the laguna.  I see them basking in the sun in the morning and swimming for prey in the night.

If I were a bug or minnow, I would probably not find this fellow quite so cute.  To my eye, though, the GEICO gecko had best be looking for a new job.

Early last week, I saw some activity near the empty nest.  Another crocodile was digging.  During the day.  Completely oblivious to the few human eyewitnesses strolling by.

Within the day, her eggs had hatched and she had transported each baby in her mouth to a safe place.  And the babes needed the protection. 

A group of girls had gathered stones and pavers from the walkway to crush the babies.  As they said, to kill them before they grew up and were dangerous.

But Second Mama Croc did her duty.  And then was gone.  Unlike the first mother, who stuck around for a week with her young, this mother simply boogied back to the main channel of the laguna.

There are now two empty nests on the little beach.  From what I have read, the mothers will return next year to lay another clutch of eggs in the same area.

I suspect I will still be here -- despite the siren call of Sanborn's.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

cards on the table

I need a tube of lipstick.

Or so you would think from the love letters I have been writing about the Mexican mail service.  (let's play post office; mail lover)  But, like all relationships, this one is not perfect.

I have never had a problem with my correspondence.  Letters usually take a week or two to get to The States.

For some reason, magazines are another story.  My copies of National Geographic stopped arriving just over a year ago.  And then The American Spectator dried up.  For two years I have been without The Economist.

Telephone calls and email to customer service desks have elicited the appropriate level of concern.  But concern does not deliver magazines.

Whatever causes the magazines to cease their circulation does not stop other correspondence from the publishers, however.  In the past three months, I have received notes that obviously do not have this customer in mind.

Thank you for subscribing to our magazine.  It is time for renewal.  Just send us money.  And we will send you -- nothing.

I will renew my subscription to The Economist and The American Spectator -- because they publish the contents of their print version on their web sites.  I just need to become accustomed to reading them there.

Even though I may have given up hope of ever seeing another magazine in my postal box, I am still a big fan of the Mexican mail service.  And I proved that today by taking a stack of greeting cards and letters to the two usual guys behind the counter.

They chuckle when they see me come in with my monthly stack.  Apparently birthday and anniversary cards are not regular fare for them.  So, I went through each card -- letting them know about the friends that were receiving my greetings.  And why I was sending cards to Canada, Britain, and Germany, as well as The States.

I am going to be in Miami for the last week of August and the first week of September for a friend's birthday.  While I am there, I need to pick up a box of greeting cards for the coming year.  One thing Mexico lacks is a good supply of cards.  At least, the type of card I like to send.

Now, I will wait for my family and friends to bury me in stamped greetings.

Monday, July 29, 2013

two beau or not two beau

Clothes make the man.

I am not certain I agree with that.  But I do agree that new clothes can make a man feel new.

When I was a dashing young captain, putting on a fresh mess dress uniform made me feel like Beau Geste.  Or should that be Beau Brummel?  Whatever.  It made me feel as if the republic was in good hands.

In my little fishing village by the sea, there is not much call for clothing -- let alone new duds.  But I am certain my house feels as if its new coat of paint is as fancy as any upon which I pinned medals.

The house was in dire need of new paint.  That is the back patio before the painters arrived.

And after several days of hard work in the hot sun, this is how the new cimarron and Cascade twilight house looks.

Quite snazzy if I say so myself.  A little bit of paint and the place looks as if it has new lines.

Gone is the pink house and all its Evita aspirations.  In its place is a truly Mexican casa.  With all of its attendant wildlife.

More on that later.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

locking our hearts

I love to visit Mexican churches.

No matter how large or small, there is always something interesting to discover.  A sainted chapel.  An odd piece of architecture.  Or merely watching the faithful in prayer or at mass.  The opportunity to discover something new about my own faith abounds.

At least, some of the time.

One of my greatest disappointments is the increasing number of Mexican churches that are shuttered during the day.  For security purposes I am told.  It is sad to think that locked doors come between seekers and those God seeks.

But I understand the phenomenon.  Far too well.  Far too personally.

The photograph at the top of this blog is not of a Mexican church.  Well, that is not  entirely true.  It is a Mexican church.  The multi-denominational church I attend in Melaque.

During the winter our congregation can hover near 200 during the busiest weeks.  Not so during the summer when our numbers dwindle to the hardy few who try to survive the tropical heat.  It is not unusual for summer Sunday services to consist of 13, 9, 5, or even 3 worshipers.

Smaller numbers means more interactive.  We have been discussing Philip Yancey's book on Prayer the past four weeks.  It has turned out to be a very practical conversation.

More practical than I had intended when we started the series.  This Sunday's lesson is "Prayer Problems."  And we will have a little problem upon which to focus our prayers.

A few months ago, burglars entered the walled area where we meet and took some items out of our storage trailer.  We beefed up the locks.  But apparently, not enough.  I received a call Saturday afternoon that the front gate was open -- as was the storage trailer.

The burglars this time showed a bit of sophistication.  A bolt cutter snipped the chain on our front gate -- and on the three trailer locks.  As if they were made of


There was not much in the trailer.  Some items for fundraisers to assist in our community services projects.  Bibles.  Hymnals.

What was in there was strewn about.  I have not yet had an opportunity to do an inventory.  Whatever was taken would have been distributed to our neighbors in need.

And I had to clean up what is apparently the international calling card of burglars who are frustrated with their take or who wish to show their symbolic power over their victims.  I represented several burglars with that scatological bent  in my lawyerly days.

Today our congregation will be faced with the problem of how we react.  After all, our faith is based on a messiah who was crucified between two thieves.  The same teacher who told us to pray for our enemies and those who spitefully use us.

It will be a good opportunity to see if we can put into action what we believe and what we know is true.

Our neighbors will be watching.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

pass the tax plate

My admiration for President Enrique Peña Nieto continues to grow.  Not necessarily for his policies, but for his ability to work the levers of politics. 

Last March I wrote about the dramatic policy tack the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) had taken concerning the taxation of food and medicine in Mexico.  (peeling the people

Food and medicine have long been exempt from Mexico's value added tax -- a hidden sales tax quite common in most western countries these days.  When its rival, the National Action Party (PAN) proposed removing the exemption, PRI leaders waved the bloody shirt and disinterred the corpses of Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, and
Lázaro Cárdenas.  Betrayal of the revolution painted the breeze.

PRI's argument back then was PAN had no concern for the poor because the poor would end up paying a disproportionate amount of their income as the result of a sales tax increase.  So, the proposal died.

And then along came Peña Nieto who won the presidency for PRI on a platform that was indistinguishable economically from PAN's failed policy proposals over the past twelve years.  Increasing the sales tax on food and medicine was not part of PRI's platform during the election.  Not even the barons of PRI were quite that craven.

PRI waited until after the election to change its platform in Peña Nieto's ongoing Blairification of PRI.  In just another step of turning what once masqueraded as a revolutionary party into a liberal democrat party.  A political niche that has long gone unfilled since the death of Benito Juárez.

That was merely step number one is softening up public opinion on the sales tax increase.  The second step began this week.  With the release of additional tax increase proposals and clarifications.

The major clarification is that certain foodstuffs will not be taxed.  Milk.  Eggs.  Beans.  Tortillas.  In The States, that would be the equivalent of Mom, flag, and apple pie.

But, even after spending all the political capital to change VAT, the increase in revenue will be only 1% of GDP.  PRI wants an increase of 6%.

To earn back some of his populist aura,
Peña Nieto has leaked two potential tax rate increases.  The first is the capital gains tax rate.  The second is the top income tax rate.  37 percent has been floated.

Unfortunately, whatever revenue is gained through the sales tax increase will most likely be lost when the capital gains and income tax rates are increased.  A large portion of Mexico's astounding economic growth has come from foreign investment.  That capital can easily find a home somewhere else with better tax rates.

And Mexicans can just as easily move their investments where the rates are not as onerous.  The result, of course, will be higher rates and lower revenues.

It will be ironic if the president goes to the effort to hammer together a PRI-PAN coalition in Congress only to discover that the state's take has not increased. 

As for me, if Adam Smith is correct, my diet will soon become far more local.

Milk.  Eggs.  Beans.  Tortillas.  And I may be the better for it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

dying to tell you

I had big news on the crocodile front and the house paint job.  But they can just wait.

Something far more interesting flew into my life tonight.  A black witch moth -- as we know them up north.  But Mexico has a far more colorful appellation for this beauty.  Mariposa de la muerte.  Butterfly of death.

Fortunately, it has broad wings -- the largest for a moth in North America -- to lug around the legends associated with it.  For my neighbors, it heralds bad news.  Usually, deadly news.

It was just about midnight when I headed out to see how the crocodile family was faring with the boys and their late night flashlights.   Walking by one of the outside lights, I could hear wings fluttering in that staccato pattern adopted by all trapped animals.

At first, I thought it was a bird or a bat.  Only a closer look would satisfy my curiosity.

Of course, you know the rest of the story.  It was this magnificent moth.

I started to write that I had not seen one of these moths since 2009 (son of the witch).  But that is exactly how this legend nonsense perpetuates.

The moth I saw in 2009 is memorable because my maid Marta told me that something bad was going to happen.  The date was 2 September 2009.

That date may not mean much to you.  But 12 days later, Professor Jiggs died.

There is really no connection between the two events.  Jiggs was dying slowly before I brought him to Mexico.  The moth brought noting new to the table.  It would have been no more helpful than the IRS telling me 15 April is tax day.

I know I have seen the death moths on other evenings.  But none of the other sightings have the same temporal link with death.

And I have no death worries in this house.
For this fellow, the deadly news was its own. You are only seeing part of its beauty. 

In the time I took the first photograph until I snapped the one you see, the geckos had managed to nip off a portion of its left wing.  It was as if a pack of wolves had cornered a wooly mammoth.

I am glad it landed here.  It gave me an opportunity to read an essay about my early days on this Mexico adventure.  And to realize that not much has changed.

That is a bit comforting.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

three crab monte

Whenever you hear the strains of "Hail to the Chief," you know the president of the United States is not far behind.

In Melaque, when the rains start, you can be just as certain the march of the land crabs will follow.  Or mollos as we call them in these parts.

By now, I would normally have posted something about crabs being everywhere.  In the house.  And at least two or three days where they cover the screen door.  A movie set just waiting for the Hitchcock touch.

But not this year.  There were plenty of small crabs inside.  Usually discovered under bare feet during nighttime toilet runs.

However, there were no cinematic horror scenes on the screen door like years past (things that go bump in the night).  Perhaps all of the painting activity sent them scurrying elsewhere.

What I have been discovering are some rather odd dining remnants in the garden.  I shared one in murder at the crab house.  That was just claws left behind.  Perhaps as some kind of warning to the other crabs.

As odd as that was, take a look at the photograph at the top of his post.  The shell has been licked clean.  And after the contents were consumed, it appears as if the body parts have been re-assembled in a self-conscious mimicry of life.  Like something out of Dan Brown -- but without the irritating prose.

Whoever did it, the word spread like wildfire.  This 30 foot line of land crab were high-tailing it in the opposite direction when I caught up with them.  Probably on their way to a screen door with no paint fumes.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

better than a box of keeblers

"There are no trees like the trees of that land. For in the autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold. Not till the spring and the new green opens do they fall, and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers; and the floor of the wood is golden, and golden is the roof, and its pillars are of silver, for the bark of the trees is smooth and grey."

So says Tolkien of
Lothlórien.  Forest of the silvan elves.

Here at Casa Nanaimo, I usually lead the life of a dwarf.  A creature that feels far more comfortable with his feet planted solidly on soil.

And that is my realm.  The house has two units.  I live on the ground level -- where my garden is my kingdom.  And with quick access to my allies the crocodiles.

While the house was being painted, my ground level routine was disrupted,  So, I escaped to the roof terrace usually restricted to the occupants of the upper unit.  But there have been no visitors for months.

The terrace is on the equivalent of a third floor.  As a result, the trees that form an umbrella for me on the ground have a far different look on the roof.

It is an elvin world.  Flamboyant blossoms -- along with last year's crop of saber seed pods.  Mangoes.  Tamarind fruit.  All set off by the clashing texture of foliage.

The wildlife is quite different up there, as well.  Squirrels.  Orioles.  Hummingbirds.  Grackles.  Flycatchers.  Golden-cheeked woodpeckers.  Animals that I hear, but seldom see seated 30 feet below.

My tenure as an elf was short-lived.  The painters made the roof their secondary command post.  So, I retreated to my life as a dwarf.

Now that the painting is down to a bit of cleanup, there is no reason for me not to spend more time on the roof while it is available.  After all, spanning the gulf between the worlds of the elf and the dwarf is an art.

And, according to Tolkien, it is through such reconciliations that the earth is healed.   

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

two houses, one roof*

Meat Loaf is warbling in the background.  An old man's lament of his misspent youth and a friend who died too young.

The type of bathos we old guys are prone to indulge in.  But not me.  At least not today.  Because I am looking forward -- not looking at objects in the rear view mirror.

I have put myself in a house-buying mood again.  I found what I thought was a perfect house.  Great view of the ocean.  And with enough bad decorating taste to make me long for the narco house.

But it had more title problems than all of the pretenders to the French throne combined.  There are enough issues with Mexican real estate on the coast without tossing in a group of gringos and canucks yammering at one another.

Something else has caught my eye.  An authentic Mexican beach house.  Most of the houses in town once looked like the photograph of the house at the top of this post.

It screams tropical.  And is quite simple inside.

The place appears to be two houses.  But it is one.  With two roofs -- both thatched with palm fronds. 

The front portion of the house is the living room and bedroom.  Just one bedroom.  The roof in that portion of the house is not only decorative, but of high quality construction.  I know a bit about palapa roofs after watching the church building's roof go up.

The back portion of the house contains the kitchen, eating area, and bathroom.  That thatched roof is not quite as well-built.

The lot is quite large, but it is little more than a small coconut grove.  To cultivate my own garden would take a bit of perseverance.  There certainly would be room for a pool.

But, being bluntly honest, the whole place would take quite a bit of money to renovate.  If I purchased it, I would want to retain as much of the feel of the beach shack as possible.

Looking at it logically, there is not much to recommend a purchase.  But buying a house is more about romance than logic.

It is hard to fight the nagging sense that kismet's wiles are eaves-deep in this attraction.  Take a look at my blog profile photo and compare it to this.

And here I will be:
No phone, no lights no motor cars,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
As primitive as can be.

* - My friend Ed and I think this would be a great title for a Chinese art film.

Monday, July 22, 2013

painting outside the lines

The obsessive-compulsive should never have their houses painted in Mexico.

I have already written about the incredible improvisational skills that make Mexicans artisans at getting the job done.  (safety is a cold shower)  But there is always a price that comes with free spirits.

The absence of drop cloths, for example.  In the four years I have livbed in this house, I have noted a few splatters of paint on walkways from the last time the place was painted.  They now have company.

Red (from the sealant).  Cimarron (the color of the main walls).  And Cascade Twilight (for the accents).  The Pied Piper has nothing to match the detritus of the painters.

Paint on walkways.  Some on the shrubbery.  A bit on a crocodile sculpture.  (We tend to worship our local wildlife in our art choices).

But this one was the best of all.

I was securing the house Sunday evening and discovered that I have another little lizard that lives in a lock.  One that is apparently not fast enough to escape Benja's fast brush.

This gecko is ready to join the Navy Seals with his new camouflage.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

vegging out

My blogger pals Felipe and Calypso are vegetarians.  You have probably noted that in their comments.

I am not a vegetarian.  And you have probably noted that, as well.

But I do like vegetables.  And Mexico is a great place to build a meal out of fresh produce.

I did that on Saturday afternoon.  The store had some of the best French green beans I have seen recently.  Thin.  Crisp.  With consistent coloration.  The type of green bean you would expect to accompany an extra rare lamb chop at Maxim's.

There are generally two types of cooks.  Let's call them the Stalinists and the Jeffersonians.  I am certain no one would suspect me of stacking the categories with mere labels.

The Stalinists are the recipe people.  They cook in the same manner the Soviet Union managed its five year plans.

They start with a recipe with no regard of what is in or out of season, and trudge off with a list in hand to Safeway.  No variation.  No substitutions.

The Jeffersonians start with what looks fresh at the market that day.  They then combine the best of their finds into original creations.  Sometimes, they are glorious.  Other times, they fall flat.  But they learn.

(I suspect I lifted that categorization from the late -- and great -- Nika Hazelton.  But not necessarily with those labels.)

You will not be surprised that I am in the Jeffersonian camp.  After finding the green beans, I looked around for a complementary taste.  There were some nice looking potatoes.  A perfect marriage.  And some basil.

So, I slightly boiled the green beans and potatoes.  Saut
éed Kalamata olives (I had in the refrigerator) and garlic in olive oil and tossed that with high-end Parmesan I picked up at Costco earlier in the week.  A little fresh lemon juice, a touch of salt, and a few twists on the pepper mill gave me a great main dish for dinner.

My salad was Greek -- a combination you have seen before.  With one big exception.  Because I cannot get heirloom tomatoes around here, I tried a package of grape tomatoes, instead.  They were a home run.

So, there it is.  A full vegetarian dinner in less than an hour of preparation and cooking.  Simple food that relies on its own good taste rather than an avalanche of competing herbs.  I almost feel as if I am being sucked into the hubris of vegetarianism.

But I doubt that will occur.  All through the meal, the little voice that controls my culinary desires kept asking:  "OK.  It's good.  But wouldn't it be better with ham cubes?  Or bacon?"

I doubt I will be eating for the other team anytime soon.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

crocodile tears

Bitter sweet.

If you look it up in Wikipedia, it very well might have a photograph of Steve Cotton in his role as  godfather of the crocodiles.  Watching the birthing and growing process has been one of the highlights of my year.  Even better than selling my house on the first day of its listing.

Take a look at that group photograph.  The babies were less than 48 hours old at the time.  Each would fit comfortably in an adult hand.  As long as the hand did not mind having bits of flesh chomped off.

That was Monday.  Mama Croc had done an excellent job of keeping them hidden for a day.  And, even when they ventured out on the water cabbage to catch bugs and sun themselves, they were generally out of sight.  I needed my binoculars to spot them.

I had not taken into account the acuity of young eyes.  By the next morning, groups of children were gathering and gawking.  Some were foolhardy enough to get close to the water until they were warned that the mother was lurking beneath the cabbage.

And by the next day, the viewing platform had been transformed into a shooting blind.  Boys showed up with slingshots and a laddish eye for mayhem.  By the time I got out there, the water was clouded with volleys of pomegranates, mangoes, and rocks.  Any projectile to maim.

I didn't see any little corpses.  On the other hand, I didn't see any crocodiles at all.  This was the scene.  The pond is always pretty in the summer.  But it was now devoid of the little critters that had thrilled me earlier in the week.

Let me stop here for a moment.  I am not certain why I took the attack so personally.  The crocodiles are not my property.  And it is not as if I am morally opposed to killing all life.  My record in exterminating leaf-cutting ants, termites, and scorpions undoubted has my face plastered on a wanted poster in the Bug Post Office.

But I was bothered.  And I reminded myself of my Aunt Bessie who refused to picnic at a park because "that nice young man drowned there."  I thought it was a recent accident.  It turned out that he had drowned 40 years before.

When I went out to the pond on Thursday, I knew how she felt.  After failing to see any movement on two trips, I decided I simply did not want to go back to that section of the laguna.

I know that nature has a cruel side.  Baby birds fall out of trees.  Cats kill squirrels.  And boys kill things that move.  If every baby crocodile survived, my garden would be filled with luggage on the hoof pleading to be fed.

By Friday, the coming and going of boys waned.  For good reason, I thought.  I decided to take one last look.  And, to my surprise, I saw this.

Hidden in the shadows of the afternoon were the remnant of the clan. Reduced in number, but noticeably larger than they were five days earlier. 

Nature may be cruel.  But it is also reslient.

Mama Croc is at the edge of the water cabbage in the dark guarding her young as I write this.  We will see just how long she can hold back the ravages of time. 

I certainly haven't found a way to do it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

chewing the chicken

Enough with the wildlife.  It is time to talk food.

During the past year, I have been away from Melaque so often that I have become accustomed to to restaurant plates.  And I have the girth to prove it.

I can count the number of meals I have cooked at home during the past three months on one hand.  Actually, one finger.

That is too bad.  Because I love to cook.  And I am quite good at it.  Even when my mother and brother visited me in April, I did not cook.  That was a missed opportunity because my brother is quite accomplished around the stove.

I finally decided enough was enough.  I would enjoy a bit of home cooking. 

I visited the new butcher shop I featured in what's your sign?  He had plenty of specials.  Beef and pork feet.  Pork loin.  Minced beef.

But it was the chicken breasts that caught my eye.  If you have never eaten chicken in Mexico, you do not know how good chicken can taste.  My grandmother would kill chickens from her coop for dinner.  I had almost forgotten that taste.

Chicken is considered a special treat here because it is relatively expensive.  But it seems a bargain to me.  Those two fat breasts (boneless, skinless) cost me 45 pesos.  Or about $3.60 (USD).  I doubt there is any supermarket in The States that sells this quality of chicken at that price.  I probably could have put the period after "chicken."

With vegetables fresh from the field (onions, baby zucchini, yellow and red bell peppers, carrots, a poblano chili, a
jalapeño, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes), I whipped up a chicken hoisin that could have fed an army.  And the soldiers would have been pleased.  I now have a freezer full of my own Stouffer's meals.

I eat out in Melaque primarily to do my part to help the local economy.  But I am going to start taking more of my meals in.  After all, it is hard to find a restaurant to compare with my own table.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

soggy is my baguette

I am an air conditioning snob. 

Whenever anyone acts surprised that I do not have air conditioning in my bedroom, my response is usually a haughty: "Who needs air conditioning in Melaque?  I have a fan."

Well, as the old saying goes -- "the wages of hubris is mirth."  Or is it "pride goeth before 'e' except after 'c'?"  I forget.  But I am getting my comeuppance.

Despite all of my bravado, I do not care for the heat.  Any heat.  If the temperature stayed 55 degrees all year someplace on earth, I would declare it Eden and move in.

But that would not be Melaque.  And I like the other things more than I dislike the heat.  Or so I thought.

I was in Puerto Vallarta on Tuesday night to pick up a friend at the airport on Wednesday.  Everywhere I went, I was surrounded by air conditioning.  Shopping at Auto Zone, Office Depot, Walmart, and Costco.  Watching a movie at the Liverpool mall.  And sleeping in a motel room with the temperature cranked down to 65 -- where I still had to sleep on top of the covers.

Oh, yeah.  The rest of the time I was entombed in the cool refuge of my car.

I could never live in Puerto Vallarta.  The city traffic alone would be enough to dissuade me.  Other than some great shopping, the place is devoid of much interest.  It is the type of place that goes to Oakland just to find some fresh there.

But the air conditioning tricked me.  For almost two days I had been living under the illusion that Pacific Mexico's weather was practically perfect in every way.

That is, until I got back to Melaque and started carting my Costco erasures into the house.  By the second trip, my forehead had reached Niagara level and was going for Victoria Falls.

Not surprising, given the fact the temperature was 91 degrees with humidity in excess of 70%.

But the best evidence was provided by one of the treats I had bought for dinner.  I found some single serving tubs of tzatziki -- if done well, one of my favorite treats in the world.

I am not a purist when it comes to tzatziki.  There are those who say nothing but grilled pita should be used to scoop up the ambrosia.  I favor baguettes.

And Costco was selling baguettes fresh from the oven.  The outside was as crisp as an ostrich egg.  I had dreams of eating its crusty shell and doughy center while typing up this essay.

Well, I got two out of three.  The tzatziki is good.  Probably a C plus.  And the bread was soft in the center.

But crisp on the outside?  Make your own judgment.  The crisp crust turned into something of a humidity sponge.

That leaves me wondering whether my war against air conditioning is simply posturing.  After all, last night I had the first full night of restful sleep in months.

I am going to have to give that some thought.  In my advanced years, I would rather think of myself as crusty -- rather than as a soggy baguette. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

safety is a cold shower

The sight was nothing new.

Four boys riding on the bumper of a pickup as it sped across the quasi-cobblestones of Melaque.  I see similar sights every day.  In fact, they are so common, I usually do not even take note.

I suppose this particular truck stuck in my mind because I was telling a pickup story the other day to some friends at dinner.

When I was 6 or so, my family had been visiting my grandmother who lived about a mile from our house in Powers.  On the trip home, I was riding on the running board, and a question popped into my boyish noggin.  I wondered how the garbage men in town were able to step off of the running board of their moving truck.  While balancing a huge can of their shoulders.

Being a scientific lad, I decided to do my own experiment.  Then and there.  What I proved was that a young boy stepping off of a pickup going 20 miles per hour can be reduced to a cliché about tea kettles.

My dad noticed my pummel horse dismount, backed up the truck, and chuckled: "Are you coming with us?"  I guess I was -- and did.

I particularly like telling that story to my Mexican neighbors and to my northern acquaintances -- because I tend to get two different reactions.  Laughter in Mexico.  And, especially from parents of young children up north, horror.

That is one thing I like about Mexico.  I have mentioned it before.  Melaque, at least, reminds me of Powers in the 1950s.  No one has much, but we all know how to enjoy life without the help of government and its courtier regulators.

Take, for instance, what looks like a ragged floral centerpiece.

It is a manhole -- and the cover has gone missing.  During our heavy rains, these tiger traps can be deadly -- especially to our local buses that tend to break axles when they are pulled into these black holes.

And who needs a sign?  Palm fronds sticking up through the surface of a giant puddle is warning enough that trouble -- and not Gilligan's Island -- awaits the unwary.

But both of those situations are minor compared to the joy the painters have provided me.  During our heavy rains, the painters wisely used their time in scraping.  The house, though, presents some challenges.

Meet Jose, one of Benja's assistants.  That ladder he is on is not on the ground.  It is on the slanted roof of the patio.  A roof that is so slippery with rain, mold, and leaves that standing is a chore.

Having ridden two ladders to the ground in Salem while doing similar tasks under less-challenging circumstances, I could only stand in awe and watch him make the odds work in his favor.

This is Jonathan, Benja's nephew.  The windows on the north side of the house do not have a roof for access.  Just a steep overhang.

That was not a problem for Jonathan.  He managed to strip the old paint from the grill work while balancing in the rain.  At least in this shot, he is wearing shoes.  Most of the time he was wearing only sandals.

And then there is the maestro himself.  Painting the covering on the roof of the second story with his ladder supported (once again) by a slanted roof.  No safety harness.  No ties for the ladder.

OSHA, of course, would have a fit.  And the EPA would most likely have been very suspicious of the chemical contents of the primer.

But we don't have any of that here.  People regulate their lives with a good deal of common sense and experience -- with the full knowledge that what needs to be done needs to be done.

And they do it a lot better than a 6 year old boy in Powers who spent the rest of the day picking gravel out of his hands.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

i'm ready for my closeup, señor de miles

It took a bit of doing.  But with binoculars, the patience of a paparazzi, and a good deal of luck, here is the first photograph of Saturday night's hatchlings. 

I could see eight or so basking on the water cabbage.  All under the watchful gaze of Mama Croc.  I pity any little boys who try to capture one of these babies.

But, I must admit, it does look cute enough to cuddle in its tea cup pose.  Just before it snaps the end of my nose off.


Monday, July 15, 2013

amusing the muses

My muse is fickle.

I sat down last night to write a short essay about job thrills in Mexico.  And then I got distracted.  That is usually a sign certain that I am not ready to write.

So, I checked the pond for the Croc family.  Mama was there still waiting to midwife any additional hatchlings that may need assistance.  But no babies.  And no Papa Croc.  His role seems to be done in this cycle of life. 

But I was not ready to commiserate with Thalia.  Or is it Melpomene?  There were termites to search out.  None.  And leaf-cutter ants.  One scraggly line.

Having done my part to pretend I was controlling nature, I was locking up for the night and spotted an old friend -- a Mexican mud turtle.  Last June, in eight legs and a shell,. I wrote about the same (or a similar) turtle that was attempting to head out to the open road by way of my courtyard.

And last night I was offered a repeat performance.  Either this is a larger turtle or last year's model has grown.  It was trying to fit under the gate in my entryway.  But it was having no more luck than a fat man squeezing into a Denny's booth.

I have no idea what the turtle is doing out of the laguna.  But I have seen it several times in the past in the garden.  Last year, I found an egg that could very well have been left there by this nomad.  But it disappeared before it could hatch.  Probably eaten by the voracious house cat across the street.

I thought about giving the turtle a free ride back to the laguna.  But it seemed to have its own agenda in mind.  And I am doing my best to simply let the great nature opportunities around here take their own course.

With, of course, the exception of the termites and the leaf-cutter ants.  They are doomed to suffer my hubris.  The hubris that convinces me I can control just a small part of nature in my garden.

I am taking odds on just when the lesson in humility will have its climax.  And that certainly will be a Melpomene-inspired tale.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

babes in crocland

This may take the edge off of my disappointment in not getting to see the orchid in my garden bloom (snapping the cycle of life).  We have babies.  Animal babies.

About this time last year, I discovered -- quite by accident, and almost to my cost -- that there were baby crocodiles in the pond (weeding high; babies afloat).  It was fun watching them grow.

Unfortunately, late last July, I headed off to the Mexican highlands before I could see the young get very large.  This year, I will have another chance.

Last April, there was a good deal of loud splashing in the pond.  The large male was out there doing his best to impress the female.  She then started to hang around the pond more frequently.  In the past couple of weeks, she has been there every night.  Always in the same place.

I now know why.  She was guarding her nest.  And Saturday night was baby night in the delivery room.

My usual routine is to check on her presence around midnight.  She was there.  But there was also a giant hole she had just dug to expose her hatching eggs.

The chirping of her babies was quite distinct.  But I could not see anything other than one egg near her snout -- and the giant male waiting in the water at the end of her tail.  Dad was in the delivery room.

Landlady Christine came over to witness the births.  We determined the mother was taking each hatchling in her mouth -- almost like a mother cat with kittens -- and depositing them on the bank in an area with better protection for her young.  Mama Croc will now start a long wait guarding them as they grow.

I would have stayed longer.  But I did not want to frighten either of them in their hatching duties.  After all, I will undoubtedly see the youngsters on their first outings in the laguna on Sunday.

That also means that boys with sticks will soon be showing up to snag a baby to sell for a few pesos.

So, enjoy this natal moment.  Because I will be boring you with plenty of baby photographs in the next few days. 

I hope.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

scooby did

My neighborhood just lost one of my favorite places to eat.

For the past few years, Octavio Cruz has run what could be called a taco-plus restaurant just around the corner from my place.  (trading my mark)  He made great tacos.  But he also put out a full plate dinner of ribs, fish, chicken, lamb  -- with mashed potatoes and a
caesar salad.
During the winter, it was a waiting-line northern tourist restaurant.  Big plates with low prices.  (As a Vancouver acquaintance put it: "What more could you want?")

The rest of the year, it was a snappy local taco restaurant patronized by my neighbors.  My favorite time was the summer.

No more.  Scooby has left the neighborhood.  But not Villa Obregon.

Our local message board tracked down the new site.  On the northeast corner of Alvaro Obregon (or, as we colloquial types say -- Whorehouse Street) and Emiliano Zapata.

To those of you who do not know our fair town, Obregon is a major thoroughfare.  And not just because of the tranny bar at the top of the hill.

For Octavio it is a great business move. More foot traffic.  More vehicle traffic.  But, more importantly, it is closer to where the northerners hang out during their winter visits.  If you are goose hunting, you follow the flocks. 

And I suspect he will also serve more Mexican tourists in the summer.  That is why he is opening now in the new location.

Now, my selfish whine.  I really liked having Scooby just around the corner from me.  Even when I was not eating there, I could stop by and find people I had not seen in months.  The table talk usually made good copy.

For those of you who are in the area (or will be), you may want to know when the place is open to serve up those big plates.  I stopped for a chat yesterday.  Here is the ambitious schedule:

  • Open every day
  • From 5 PM to 1 AM (just in case you get a midnight taco urge)
And the menu is supposed to be the same as it was at the late-lamented site on Esmeralda.

I may stop by next week to try the lamb.

Friday, July 12, 2013

what's your sign?

Mexicans are carnivores.

I have met some Mexican vegetarians.  But, then, I have also met a Communist or two with a sense of humor.

When most Mexicans sit down for lunch or dinner, you can bet pork, chicken, beef, fish, or goat pieces will adorn the meal.  Even though they do not eat as much meat as we people up north, Mexicans appreciate various animal parts.

You can get a taste for how Mexicans look at animals as sources of food.  Take a look at that angry pullet from the photograph at the top of this post.  (I won't even mention that "el tunco" -- the cripple -- is essentially a gimp joke.)  All designed to elicit an illicit chuckle.  No PETA pretension here.

While I was out shooting photographs of Mexican paint the other day, I noticed the number of whimsical butcher signs in my neighborhood.

Butcher shops are almost as common as beauty parlors around here.  And that seems to be a rather natural ratio wherever I visit in Mexico.  But some flights of fancy are just plain fun about local eating habits.

Take a look at this pirate treasure chest.  Anyone who thinks the British have a sardonic sense of humor has never run across a Mexican muralist making mock of the three basic food groups.

But these are my favorites.  They adorn a new shop that is yet to open in our own Gringo Gulch (or Canuck Gulch, to be more accurate).

This little piggy has gone to market, and apparently has had some second thoughts.  "I don't remember Babe ending like this."

Whoever painted the pig had a great sense of humor leaving the beach scene floating over the head of the porcine Marie Antoinette.  Memories of frolics soon to be past.

Or how about this joyous cow?  Take a good look at the painting.  Do you see two oddities?  Other than the cow's schmoo impression.

MEAT MARKET?  In English?  In Melaque?

I completely missed that when I was photographing.  There is no doubt about the shop's target demographic.

And that makes the second oddity even -- well, odder.  A cow with blue eyes?  I will leave it to the Jungians amongst you to discern the psychological archetype at play there.

Or maybe it is just what it seems.  My neighbors finding a little humor in the grim business of keeping those plates filled.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

a tale of two sitters

In the quest for world-wide firsts, Mexico has been holding up its end.

And that end is a bit broader -- if you care to believe anything that comes out of the United Nations.

The Babbling Box on the Hudson has examined the entrails of a dove and has declared that Mexicans are as fat as a house.  Or as fat as Americans.  And that is about the same thing.

Apparently, Mexico has pushed The States off of their Lard Throne as the most obese populous nation.  But just by an extra serving of pork head on the tacos.

Note that "populous."  There are plenty of nations with a higher obesity rate.  But they are not amongst the Big Players -- so to speak.  So, Nauru's 71.1%  does not tip the news scale.

Here are the early returns.  In Mexico, 32.8% of adults are considered obese.  That is good enough for number one.  Go, Mestizos!  And it is one tight squeeze of the cheeks past the United States' respectable second place of 31.8%.

P.J. O' Rourke once noted that the United Nations' propensity for using statistics out to the hundredth is a sure sign that there is a lot of lying go on.  I suspect that restricting the numbers to tenths gives the impression of some sort of credibility.  Maybe just a little fibbing.

On the other hand, there are some parts of Mexico that bare the awful truth.  There are a lot of overweight Mexicans.  Along with the consequences of that weight.  Mexico ranks second in the world in the per capita incidences of diabetes.  And could be first before long.  70,000 Mexicans died last year of the disease.

But the reasons plopped on the table by the "experts" is what fascinates me.  First out of the box is "the rise in obesity correlates to the growing chasm between class lines."  Academics love serving up their Marxism with a non-fat layer of self-serving dressing.

It is true that nearly 50% of Mexicans live in poverty.  But the poverty level has been decreasing drastically and is being replaced by a vibrant middle class.

And, if you look at the top 10 "populous" nations suffering from obesity, none of them are the mega-poverty countries.  In fact, most of them are solid middle income countries.

So, the blame goes to the cost and availability of healthy food.  You see, poor people cannot afford vegetables and fruit from their local grocers, so, they rely on fast food.  I knew Ronald McDonald would be in the dock before too long.

Of course, anyone who has ever been to a fast food restaurant in Mexico knows the poor could not possibly afford to pay the equivalent of ten dollars for a meal.  The notion is not only silly; it is venal.  Especially, when experience shows us most Mexicans are at the local fruit and vegetable market.

And then comes the third reason: Mexico's poor lead a sedentary lifestyle. I have not seen a people work harder and walk more than my Mexican neighbors.

What is shocking is the source of this picture of poor Mexicans stopping by McDonald's to eat a Big Mac while sitting around all day doing nothing other than considering the moral imperative of class distinctions.  If anyone else had staked out a similar description, they would be branded with the modern Scarlet Letter of being a raving racist. 

Of course, the United Nations can say such things because it is -- well, the United Nations.  We don't expect much out of them.  And they never fail to not deliver.

I have my own theory.  While fit young Mexicans are headed north across the Rio Bravo, aging Americans and Canadians have headed south.  Frame for frame, the weight exchange certainly tips south.

If I were Mexico, I might want a recount.  Onthe next go around, the northern retirees cannot act as a thumb on the scale.  I will be forced to join the Nevada contingent -- not the Jalisco.

And before you Canadians get too smug, take a guess at who came in sixth place in the "populous country" list -- tipping the obesity scales at 24.2%?  Right after the Aussies and just before the Brits.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

gentlemen, start your stirring

The colors are chosen.  The preparation work is ongoing.  And the first splashes of paint are hitting the walls.

Benja the Painter was here on Monday cleaning up the exterior walls and delivering the wares of his trade.  But Tuesday was an important day.  As big as breaking a bottle of champagne over Queen Elizabeth's bow before launching her into the sea.

The painting began.

I noticed Benja had set up a command post near the washing machine.  His nine containers of The Chosen Paint were marshaled around a large garbage can.  What struck me as odd was the large paddle that looked as if it could have been a prop for stirring taffy in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

A bit of logic -- and patience -- resolved my perplexity.  Benja poured the contents of each paint container into the garbage can, and stirred it. To ensure consistency in tint from container to container.  Wise man.

He painted a small portion of the roof area today.  But I really like the new look.  You can see the new color is far less pink than the old paint.  (For The Color Challenged, the new paint is on the post.)

I am not certain how long the project will last.  But I will keep you posted. 

Especially, when the house is dressed in its new finery.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

mañana today?

Mexicans have an acute individualism and stubborn rejection of any type of collective action.  So says Jorge G. Castañeda, one of Mexico's leading social and political reformers, in Mañana Forever? 

That individualist streak -- along with a discomfort with confrontation and a suspicion of foreigners -- is acting as a roadblock to Mexico's rebirth as an open, competitive society and economy.  Or so says Jorge.

To my Lockean ears, Castañeda's use of the word "individualist" strikes me as odd.  Until he elaborates.  "Mexicans, as they came into existence as a collective entity and as a nation, sought individual, family, community, or local solutions to collective, political, or national dilemmas." 

Essentially, he is saying that Mexicans tend to serve personal and family interests over group interests -- and that attitude handicaps national interests.  He cites, as evidence, among other things, the relative absence of civil associations in Mexico.

I read his book over two years ago.  And I am still not certain whether I agree with the first point.  I thought of it again on my Monday evening drive to La Manzanilla for dinner.

As you know, Powers, the little town where I started my journey, nestles in the southern Oregon coast range.  That means plenty of mountain roads.  With their complementary landslides.

So, I was not too surprised when I rounded a blind cover and found this group of people in the middle of the road.  Along with a good portion of the abutting hillside.

And this was not a mere landslide.  It was a boulder slide -- that had just missed crushing a black jeep.

Bus passengers and car drivers jumped out and started clearing the road.  More accurately, they were clearing just enough of the road to allow vehicles to squeeze between the boulders.  Without major earth-moving equipment, the boulders would continue to demonstrate Newton's first law of motion.

As I joined in tossing rocks off the road (and once tossing myself into a ditch), I chuckled thinking how
Castañeda would view this exercise in individualism.  People confronted with a problem and joining together to solve it.

Of course, that community mindedness lasted only until the gap was opened.  The drivers on my side of the slide immediately pushed their way en masse through the hole before the other side could start their engines.  And there were no turns offered.

Reverting to driving stereotypes, our NASCAR line of cars passed one another on blind turns and cut off each other.  The derisive laughter I heard seemed to belong to someone known as a social and political reformer.

But, because this is Mexico, I had a great dinner (a Mexican-inspired gyro followed by lemon mousse) -- and topped it off with a stunning sunset.

And as a cherry on my social sundae, I arrived at my gate to catch these three children taking turns cutting public street donuts in this clutch-challenged go-kart.  Well, the boy and older girl were.  The younger girl was merely screaming in delight.  

All three were thoroughly enjoying putting their lives on the line.  While their parents and grandmother looked on smiling approvingly.

Individuals laughing at death as a passenger.  My kind of neighbors.  Even Castañeda would approve.