Saturday, August 31, 2013

dengued if you, dengued if you don't

If I needed a reminder I am in The States, watching the evening news would easily qualify.

The local television programs and newspapers are abuzz with headlines that southern Florida is awash in a Dengue fever epidemic.

Now, Dengue fever is a nasty piece of work.  Vomiting.  Diarrhea.  High Fever.  Rash.  Immobilizing joint pain.  Anybody who has ever had Dengue would never treat the topic lightly. Two years ago, the fever swept through Melaque.

But there is a vast difference between taking a topic seriously and becoming irrationally hysterical.  And hysterical is where the local press is these days.

Of course, it is hard to tell that it is hysteria because the stories are served up at the same high pitch as illegal immigrants on the beach, toxic algae in the lake, impending war in Syria, incompetent cosmetic surgeons one county over, and rainy weather.

And the reason for the hysteria?   The first two cases of Dengue fever in Dade County for this year were reported earlier in the week.  Now there are something like 11.  You would think that AIDS is ravaging South Beach.

The States had serious outbreaks of Dengue fever before World War Two.  After the war, communities started serious vector control that wiped out the Aedes aegypti, mosquito, the chief Dengue carrier.

All went well until the last few years when Dengue started appearing in The States for two reasons.  Vector control programs were cut back --allowing the carrier mosquitoes to return.  And a full generation without exposure to the disease left Americans susceptible to outbreaks.

So, I guess that is the good news.  The good people of Florida and Texas may suffer through a generation of lost work days and a lowered gross domestic product. The result? They will be immune to another outbreak of the same strain.

The bad news?  They will now be more susceptible to one of the other three strains -- of which, the worst strain results in a death rate of  20%.

And one of the suggested solutions?  Florida has considered releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild to interrupt the reproductive cycle of the disease-carrying population.  I am certain there will be no controversy with that "genetically modified" appellation.

Read more here:

Maybe there is a basis for the hysteria.  It is just a few strains too early.

Friday, August 30, 2013

the "e" in mexico stands for e-book

Jennifer Rose will not be very excited about this.  But I certainly am.

Kindle news always interests me -- especially when it involves Mexico.

Yesterday Amazon announced two big developments.  The first is the launch of the Mexican Kindle Store.

Now, to we Kindle users who imported our e-readers, that does not sound like a big deal.  After all, we have been buying electronic books online for years.  It took Amazon a bit of time to work out the kinks, but anyone with an Amazon account could buy books no matter where they are in the world.

But that was the problem. Not everyone could open an Amazon account.  As of Thursday, my Mexican neighbors can sign up for electronic book purchases at the Mexican Kindle Store.  70,000 titles in Spanish.

Buying books is only half of the formula.  Electronic books can be read on a number of platforms, but I prefer reading mine on a dedicated reader.  There are a lot of Kindles in Mexico.  But, until Thursday, they all were shipped across the border.

No more. 
Librerías Gandhi, Mexico's largest bookstore chain, will sell the Kindle line -- for prices close to those above the border.  Even my beloved Paperwhite with its side-lit screen.

It will be interesting to see how this business model works.  Most Mexican villages -- and a number of its cities -- do not have bookstores.  I am certain some wag will point out that is because Mexico is not a reading country.

The stock market believes electronic reading is the wave of the future for Mexico.  Amazon's stock was up 1% on the announcement of the opening of the Mexican Kindle Store.

It would be nice to see more readers in my village.  Even if they are reading on their smartphones.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

accustomed to her face

It is always nice to see a familiar face in a new place.

You may recognize this one.  You met this particular spider sixteen months ago in
calling commissioner gordon.  Well, not this particular spider.  I doubt the spider in my Melaque garden flew north to Miami.  If it did, it stopped at one of Miami's numerous spas for a makeover.

And a good makeover it is.  Take a look at those red spikes.  Classier than the Sex Pistols.

Since my last post, I have learned a bit about these spiders.  They have several common names (spiny-backed orb weaver for one), but they are formally known as Gasteracantha cancriformis.

And if you live anywhere from the southern United States through South America, you probably have several of these spiders in your garden.  They are small.  If you are not looking for a ceramic piece of jewelry, you are likely to miss it.

But, if you do find one, treasure it.  It may be a familiar face that lets you find your way in a new place.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

icing the bedroom

Frailty, thy name is air conditioning.

At least, in the crammed corners that are my mind.

When I talk about the temperature of Melaque in summer to my American friends, they inevitably ask about the air conditioning in my house.  There is an easy answer.

I don't have any.  Not even in my bedroom.

After two days in Miami, I am re-thinking that decision.  Because of the heat in Melaque, I have not had a good night of sleep since April.  Well, maybe one or two nights after rainstorms.  Otherwise, being sleepless in Melaque was the norm.

After staying up all Saturday night flying to Miami, I was very tired.  On Sunday night, I slept.  And slept.  Slept well.

I thought it was exhaustion.  I am now convinced it was the availability of air conditioning.  And there is the dilemma.

My idea of a perfect bedroom temperature is 55 degrees.  That is about the temperature where I no longer sleep on top of the covers.

Well, 55 is a temperature I will never see in Melaque.  And, even if I had air conditioning, I wouldn't see it.  For that, I would need a refrigeration unit -- and a house built to seal out the outside outside , instead of allowing it to flow through the house.

So, I am going to enjoy the Miami air conditioning in the condominium, the car, the shopping mall, the movie theater, and the restaurants.  And in my bedroom.

When I return to Melaque in three weeks, I will deal without.  Actually, I will deal without Melaque.  I am going to head to the cooler highlands of San Miguel de Allende.  No 55 nights, but far closer than tropical Melaque can provide.

But air conditioning?  Naw!  I don't need no stinkin' air conditioning.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

the tribes of miami

"If you really want to understand Miami, you got to realize one thing first of all.  In Miami, everybody hates everybody.”

So says a citizen of this city by the sea in Tom Wolfe's Back to Blood.

That may be true.  I don't know.  I have visited Miami occasionally since 1968 as a tourist, and not often enough to have a reasoned opinion.  But if two events are even tangentially representative, the city is filled with impatient, self-involved people.

When I arrived early Sunday morning, I gathered up my luggage and headed out to a very narrow island to await the arrival of the hotel shuttle.  Unlike most airports, the island is not designated solely for shuttles.  As a result, hotel shuttles, parking shuttles, taxis, and waves of private cars, trucks, and SUVs all wedge their vehicles against the tiny strip of concrete.

I am accustomed to systems like this in Mexico.  And I am always amazed how well they work down south.

Not so at Miami International.  I heard more bleating horns than I have heard in Manhattan.  In Melaque, you wouldn't even know that horns are installed in cars.

The "me first" pushing mixed with the uncertainty of older drivers pulling into traffic had cars backed up like airplanes over Atlanta.  Impatience permeated the air. 

A car stopped beside my luggage and me, and an older man (my age) got out of the car yelling at me for standing on the island.  When he cocked his arm back, his son yelled at him: "Dad.  Dad.  Stop it.  Not today."

I thought the airport was an aberration.  Until we went to Costco yesterday.  When we drove past the front of the store, we had to pull around a young woman talking on the telephone -- waiting for a car to pull out.  You can probably guess why.  The parking spot was right next to the entrance.

We parked further down the lot.  When we came back, Miss SUV was still sitting there.  Talking on her telephone.  But she had pulled forward enough that she had blocked the car trying to pull out, a car that was trying to exit the row, and traffic coming both ways behind her. 

People were honking at her and telling her to back up.  She ignored them.  Roy and I stood there for a few minutes, along with several other people, enjoying what could only be called street theater. 

A nice-looking blonde standing next to us said: "A gun-toting Republican like me could put a stop to this."  As tempted as we were to see this plot twist, it didn't happen.

Considering the fact that everyone here seems to be at war with one another (with the exception of those who are too busy rushing down the freeway past the almost-stationary Cadillacs being captained by the crest of a white head), we were simply lucky.

In two days, I have been introduced to most of the tribes of Miami.  It has been like visiting inside Tom Wolfe's head.

Monday, August 26, 2013

the last thing james hook saw with two hands

If you think Mama Croc is sinking in this photograph, you are wrong.  She is rising in defiance.

Last week, I walked out onto the anadaor and heard splashing.  Recently that has meant children are throwing things into the pond in an attempt to kill or disturb the baby crocodiles.

This time was no different.  Three children.  The youngest child -- maybe a 4-year old girl -- was screaming in terror and then throwing stones.  Her target?  Mama Croc.

The little girl would scream at the crocodile to come back.  When Mama surfaced, the girl would shriek, and lob stones at the crocodile.  Often making direct hits that would scare her away.

The girl's brother and sister tried stopping her, but she kept on screaming and firing.  Until Mama Croc surfaced.

Surfaced -- with an attitude.

I do not speak Croc.  But I have seen that same look across a restaurant table.  Usually on first dates.

As of Sunday morning, I am in Miami.  No more crocodile tales for a bit.  But we do have alligators here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

unusual mexican foods

"5 Unusual Foods To Try in Mexico" trumpeted the email in my inbox.

What caught my attention was not the eccentric grammatical error in capitalization, but the promise of some food adventures.  I have taken you along on a couple of my own.

But, right from the start, I knew the list was not going to be much more adventurous than my Aunt Matilda's meat loaf.

Number one on the list was
jugo verde, which, the author helpfully tells her audience, means “green juice.”  What then follows is a disclaimer that the green juice can be almost anything, but usually contains celery.  In other words, the the of drink you can buy at a juice bar anywhere in the world.

That choice made me take a closer look at the source of this "unusual" list.  It comes from one of those travel magazines that hires writers with little life experience and even less writing talent (with such wise sorority observations as "
this stuff may look like green slime").

If you think that is a bit harsh, take a look at the rest of the list:

  • Chili Powder on Fruit -- OMG, they are putting spicy stuff on sweet stuff.
  • Grasshoppers -- OK.  This one is unusual.  But it is rather cliché.  (flying food)
  • Dried Mango Coated in Chili Powder -- Even more chili.  Oh no!
  • Ostrich -- Encountered in Baja.  Probably at a southern California restaurant.
All summed up with a breathless "Next time you venture to Mexico, make sure to seek out a few of these delicious—if slightly eccentric—foods!"

I would like to be charitable, but the author of this fluff piece would not know unusual or eccentric if an ostrich kicked her in the head.  Any American could encounter anything on the list (with the possible exception of the grasshoppers) in his home town. Or nearby.

If you want unusual food, how about
huitlacoche -- the Mexican corn smut that tastes a bit like truffles when wrapped inside chicken?  Or pig-head-infused pozole?  Or cow eye tacos?

All Mexican.  All unusual.  And all worth a second serving.

So, here is the question.  If a friend asked you to suggest an unusual and tasty food that is essentially Mexican, what would you include on your list?

The floor is yours.  You get an additional point if you have actually eaten a full serving.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Remember the young Chilango who stopped me to ask where the Starbucks was located in Melaque?  (starbucks no aqui)

It appears I indulged in a bit of Soviet disinformation when I told him we did not have one.  We do.  And I should have remembered it.

For the past few months, a local farmer has set himself up as a barista (or should that be "baca-ista")* on the highway at the Barra de Navidad junction.  There is no mermaid with fins akimbo.  But the fauna is every bit as exotic.

At first, I thought he and his wife were simply selling milk on the hoof.  He always has a cow and her calf tied to his trailer.  As well as either a steer or a bull.  (I did not notice the defining distinction.)

I was half right.  He is selling fresh milk.  But in the form of a "coffee" drink.  The perfect way for a driver to get a little jolt on the morning commute.

The drink is called parajete  -- or palomo -- or chereka.  Just like at your local Starbucks.  Drinks with the same ingredients, but more names than Elizabeth Taylor.

As Kurt Vonnegut would say: And this is how you make one.

Spoon a large measure of crushed chocolate in a glass.  Add a good measure of either sugar -- or honey.  And, as a customer told me, just "a touch of alcohol."  To my eye, it looked like two shots worth of pure sugar cane alcohol -- the type of fuel that could power a Saturn rocket.

I almost forgot.  You add just a pinch of
Nescafé.  I suspect that ingredient is to give plausible deniability to drivers stopped by the police.  "Really, officer, I only had three coffees."

Then comes the true art of the cowpuccino.

After swirling the ingredients in the glass, the baca-ista places the glass under the cow and squeezes out enough milk to top off the glass.  Giving steamed milk a whole new meaning.

And, just like Starbucks, the drink comes in various sizes.  Priced at 10/20/25/25 pesos.  Or 75 cents (US) to $1.90.  Try walking out of your local Starbucks after slapping down three Washington rounds.

OK.  I know you are waiting to hear how it tasted.  After all, Omnivorous Steve, who has downed grasshoppers and ant eggs certainly is not squeamish about a bit of unpasteurized milk.

I'm not.  But I am not an alcohol consumer.  So, I passed. 

I will leave it up to one of you to report on the virtues of parajete.

* -- Three readers have emailed me to ask if I am aware that vaca -- the Spanish word for "cow" -- is spelled with a "v" (but pronounced as a "b").  I am.  "Baca" simply works better as a visual pun.  There are times where punnery trumps purity. This is one.

Friday, August 23, 2013

color and light

I had seen that look before.  But never from the gardener.

Yesterday I ran across a CD I have not played for a long time.  And I don't know why. 

Color and Light
.  It combines two musical styles I enjoy.  Jazz and Stephen Sondheim's music.  Or, more accurately, several jazz giants (Herbie Hancock, Grover Washington, Holly Cole) have taken Sondheim themes and worked them into their particular jazz styles.

I slipped it into the computer and cranked up the speakers to Mexico neighborhood volume.  And reveled in the sound.  Barely noticing the gardener was trying to clean up the garden. 

My experience is that these cross-over concepts albums -- especially of these two genres -- are seldom successful.  For good reason.  Show tunes come from a completely different tradition than jazz.  The product often comes across as Julie Andrews tarted up as Ella Fitzgerald.

But that is not true for this album.  Sondheim's careful harmonics are suited to jazz treatment.

Herbie Hancock's working of the title song is a perfect example.  The song is from Sunday in the Park with George -- a musical about the work of pointillist painter Georges Seurat.  It is a perfect match for Hancock's style.

Hancock has sifted out the basic theme and then gives it his characteristic Debussyesque lyricism -- retaining Sondheim's underlying punctuated percussion (evocative of pointillist brush strokes).  And he runs with it.  It is all color and light.

The piece is the best on the album.  Probably because I have always considered Seurat's strokes to be a visual manifestation of jazz.  Not jazz in its rather austere intellectualism.  But a far more approachable jazz where ideas remain abstract while still taking noticeable form.

The gardener did not agree with my taste.  His look was exactly the same as Herbert Greenleaf's in The Talented Mr. Ripley: "To my ear, jazz is just noise -- just an insolent noise."

I wish I could share the "Color and Light" track with you.  But I cannot find it online in a form that retains its subtly.  Instead, here is a far simpler Hancock version of "They Ask Me Why I Believe in You."



Thursday, August 22, 2013

hissing in action

Don your camouflage thinking caps.  It is is snake identification time.

This little beauty is just that -- little.  Probably no more than a foot long.  If I had not been clearing away leaves to look for termites, I would have missed him.  And he appeared to be very happy for me to do just that.

I am not quite certain what it is.  But it looks similar to the snake we discussed last February in name that snake.  There were plenty of suggestions, but my niece, the snake lady, came up with what I think is the correct answer: genus Leptodeira -- one of the cat-eyed snakes.

I apologize for the amateurish focus.  But I was doing my best to get close enough without engendering threat fears in the snake.

While locking up, it occurred to me that I will undoubtedly meet my end photographing the wild kingdom that is my garden.  There are certainly worse ways to go.

Anyone want to toss in any suggestions?  For the snake, that is.  Not my demise.

un-fast at any speed

Now and then I hear from a reader who thinks I romanticize Mexico at the expense of life in The States.  The comment often takes the tone of:  "Mexico -- good.  America -- bad.  Blah blah blah."

Come to think of it, that is almost a direct quotation of a comment about one of my posts while I was in Bend.  About organic food markets, if I recall correctly.

I suspect I do talk a lot about what I enjoy in Mexico.  But it is certainly not a perfect place.  And it is certainly not paradise. 

That thought was highlighted for me yesterday while listening to a song from A Chorus Line -- where the performers discuss their lives at ballet class.  "It was not paradise/But it was home."

That is how I think of Melaque.  As a place to live, it has many positives and many negatives.  Just like living in The States.  But, after weighing everything in both countries (especially the current circumstances in The States), the balance tilts to Mexico.  At least for me.

And "balance" assumes that there must be some negatives to living where I do.  There are, and I have been contending with one over the past few months.  Internet speed.

Let me start with the obvious.  I am happy there is internet where I live.  In 2007, when I was drafting my list of potential nesting sights, I ran into a recurring theme.  There was either no internet -- or the speeds available were glacial and the cost stratospheric.  (I would add another cliché, but I think I have shot my wad.)

I settled on Melaque -- on the representation that the area was served by "high-speed internet."  I should have asked just how fast that "high-speed" was.  In the same way that "lovely dancing girls" is not necessarily a description steeped in fact.

When I left Oregon, I had become accustomed to fast internet both at home and at work.  Just recently, I was receiving up to 50 Mbps in Oregon.  And that speed builds certain expectations.  Expectations that Melaque could not -- and cannot -- meet.

Take a look at the speed test at the top of this post.  It is from Wednesday night.  A download speed of .36 Mbps.  To put that in context for most of the world that does not track this sort of thing, that is slower than the normal internet speeds in American homes two decades ago.

Or try these practical examples.  It is so slow, it will not allow me to use my internet-based telephone system.  I can hear the people I call.  They cannot hear me.  It also means no YouTube (though that is not a great loss).  And no Netflix (a sightly worse outcome).

I am paying for an internet package of speeds up to 10 Mbps in Melaque.  The "up to," of course, is the qualifier.  It is not a guarantee I will receive that speed.  And I don't.  And there is no other competition with faster speed.

My problem is the system is ADSL, and I am at I am the very end of the copper telephone wire that brings me my signal.  If I go into the central village at one of my favorite restaurants, I can regularly find speeds of 3 Mbps.

Until the lines are replaced or until internet cable shows up in Melaque, I will just need to deal with it.

And, yes, this is one issue where Oregon beats Melaque hands down.  But it is not enough to convince me  I need to move north.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

shacking up in manzanillo

When I was in middle school, I ran with the electronic crowd.

One friend was a short-wave radio buff.  The rest were the type of guys who built their own electronic gear.  From scratch.  And dreamed of building their own robots.

They introduced me to the Valhalla of Electronics --Radio Shack.

In those days, the employees at Radio Shack were the high priests of Electronic Gnosticism.  They held the secret knowledge of how to become something more than an amateur radio man.   They could teach you how to soar with the lightning.

That was a longtime ago.  Radio Shacks in American malls have now turned into the type of place where you can hear an indifferent twenty-something yell: "Hey, Bill.  Do we sell these electronic plug things?"

I told you about the death of my modem, cordless telephone system, and backup hard drive in last week's storm (death on line).  The modem has been replaced.  But there was still the hard drive and telephone to deal with.

Commenter "Sparky" suggested that both of them might still be alive.  Perhaps only the chargers blew out.

I had thought of that possibility and tested them with a charger I had on hand.  Nothing.

Then, it occurred to me that I had no idea if the test charger worked.  So, off I went to see my neighbor Omar -- the local computer guru.  His rest results?  Sparky was right on point.  When I asked Omar if he could order a charger, he seconded Sparky's suggestion -- go to Radio Shack.

And that I did today -- right after my last dental appointment for the next seven weeks.  The Radio Shack in Manzanillo.

I have repeatedly written about how much Melaque reminds me of my 1950s childhood in the mountains of southwestern Oregon.  And I had hoped that this would be another installment.  It would have been nice to walk into a 1950s Radio Shack.

Or maybe not.  I suspect none of the parts I needed were available in the 1950s.  But you know what I mean.  I was looking for that 35-year old with the taped glasses who knew everything about electronics, but had trouble finding his way home -- where he still lived with his parents.

The Radio Shack in Manzanillo is in no danger of falling into that type of cultural stereotype.  Gone are the little drawers filled with diodes and pins.  In their place are a few rows of electronic parts packed in plastic.  The type of merchandise you see in the electronics section at Walmart.

The young lady who waited on me had no trouble understanding what I wanted.  She was simply uncertain on how to meet my request.

I have often wondered why almost every box and package in local electronic stores have been opened and then resealed with packing tape.  My initial impression was that a lot of merchandise was returned in Mexico.

I now know why.  Rather than matching up my charger pins with a parts chart, she started opening up package after package to see if the pins would fit my two chargers.  That process took almost an hour.

At the end, I had a new charger for my hard drive -- for just under $40 (US).  That was a bit more than I expected to pay.  But it was cheaper than a new hard drive.  (The hard drive is currently busy backing up what it has missed over the past week.)

But I was out of luck on the telephone.  She had a charger, but not a pin that would fit. 

And that may be just as well.  I get almost all of my calls on my mobile telephone, any way.  And while I am away in Miami and San Miguel, I do not need a lot of unanswered messages piling up.

When I go north, I always like to visit Fry's.  Its computer parts are what Radio Shack once was to electronics.  I guess I will need to get my nostalgia fixes there.  Radio Shack certainly is not going to do it in Mexico.

I believe it was Frank Burns who said: "I didn't come here to be liked."

To which, Hawkeye replied: "Then you came to the right place."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

costco is coming

It had to happen.

The purveyor of 100-roll toilet paper packages and 55-gallon barrels of genuine Italian olive oil could not let expatriate consumers slip through its corporate fingers merely because they moved to a little fishing village on the Pacific coast of Mexico.  You can bet your bottom peso that fate would heal everything.

For several months now a large building with some rather snazzy architecture has been under construction.  A block off of the main square in San Patricio.  Right behind the Oxxo -- the very symbol of upwardly-mobile Middle Class Mexico.  That should have been a clue.

Mystery surrounded the building's existence.  It looked like a giant two-story warehouse from the outside.  Just lots of empty space.  In the middle of a retail district.  Who would build a large warehouse surrounded by retailers?

Then a sign went up on the large empty lot next door that usually houses the carnival when it comes to town.  All of a sudden, it was a large parking lot, instead.

The answer is obvious, isn't it?  Costco is coming to Melaque.

Or maybe not.

It turns out that the place's function is following its form.  Well, its warehouse form.  Not it's love motel architecture form.

A warehouse with opportunities for someone to open a shop in front and live above the store -- just like Margaret Thatcher's family.  Actually, two someones.

There are twin retail spaces on each side of the warehouse door.  Our very own Pillars of Hercules.  And the sign says they are now available to rent to some aspiring entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, if you go to the front door and show the workmen your Costco card, I suspect you will not be walking away with a $45 bag of pine nuts and two sets of snow tires.  We are just going to have to use our imaginations to figure out what kind of merchandise requires that much space in little, old Melaque.

Of course, this does not kill the rumor that a Mexico blogger is opening a McDonald's in Villa Obregon.  In the near future.

But you didn't hear that here.


Monday, August 19, 2013

pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man

American school children will be enjoying the lazy days of summer for a couple of weeks.

Not so Mexican schoolchildren.   The days of "no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks" are over.

Today was the start of school.  For the past few weeks, Mexican parents and their children have been lining up at Walmart, Soriana, and Office Depot to buy the paraphernalia of school days.

It was not always so.  I was in Barra de Navidad the other day -- along with a group of tourists keeping the gears of commerce greased.  And ran across this interesting tableaux.

The local baker had set up his cake-baking equipment outside of his shop.  Apparently, the children were about to learn what we called in the workers' compensation field "transferable skills."  In this case, how to bake sugar and flour into the type of treats that will fuel the nation's growing diabetes epidemic.

Health issues aside, they were having the time of their lives.  Nothing makes a kid feel better than to succeed at adult tasks.

Today they are back in school.  Learning how to be good citizens of the republic.  If all else fails, they can sell cakes.  And wear very cool hats.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

on the run

Wasn't it P.J. O'Rourke who said: "Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys?"

Something similar applies to earthquakes and Pacific coastal towns in Mexico.  The combination can be disastrous.  Japan has not only given us an example of what tremors and seaside folk can suffer.  They have given us a word.  Tsunami.

This part of the Mexico coast is not immune to either earthquakes or tsunamis.  The earthquake of 1995 is still legend around here.  Well, "legend" is not the right word.  It was the real deal.  An 8 magnitude earthquake.  With collapsed buildings.  And dead,as well as injured, people.

Because of that history, the state of Jalisco (where I live) implemented a rather sophisticated tsunami warning system just before I moved to Melaque. 

Each village is outfitted with a rather space age, solar-powered speaker system.  If the need arises, Big Brother announces to all of we sitting ducks that a giant wave is headed our way.  And because we are not ducks, our option will be to flee like Russian refugees in front of Napoleon's army.

One of my first posts from Melaque (the tsunamis are coming;the tsunamis are coming) told the tale of an early test of the system.  With some rather tragicomedic results.

That may be why we have heard no recent tests of the system.  At least, not while I was in residence.  I am ignoring the possibility that the whole system may have slipped into disrepair.

But the concern over tsunamis has not receded.  During the past few months evacuation signs have popped up around town.

The sign at the top of this post offers advice on which way to head if an evacuation is ordered.  And when we refugees get where we should be, we will be welcomed by this sign.  No passing go.  No collecting $200.

Before letting out for the summer, all of the schools held an evacuation drill for the students -- letting them know where they needed to go in case of a tsunami.  Even though Melaque rests on a narrow flood plain (a rather distressing adjective if you give it much thought), there are plenty of hills that should provide adequate height for the type of tsunamis that might rush through our streets. 

I have two plans.  If time is of the essence,I can climb to the patio on my roof.  That may be good enough. But I need to remember I live right on a large body of water subject to the whims of the ocean.

My secondary evacuation route is to drive up to the mirador above Melaque.  You have been up there with me in prior posts.  (wet posts

Not only would it put me above any wave -- other than a planet-destroying asteroid hit, when I will not really care how high I get.  But it would also give me an opportunity to witness just how destructive nature can be.

I was up there yesterday testing out my theory.  And it struck me how ironic it is that the major victim of the 1995 earthquake -- the luxury Melaque Hotel, that is it at the left -- still sits as a ruin on a stretch of beach that is a prime candidate for a future tidal wave.

At least, we all now have signs to guide us to safety.  When it happens.  And it undoubtedly will.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

natural shapes

I have been hanging onto three photographs that I thought would make interesting posts.  But I could never come up with an original hook for each of them.  So, I will let them share a single hook.  Shapes.

For a photographer (amateur of professional), Mexico offers a wealth of material.  Colors.  Light.  Motion. 

But, what fascinates me are the unusual shapes I run across in my walks.  Sometimes within feet of my house.

That shape at the top of this post, for instance.  I found it on the gate post leading to the laguna.  At first, I thought it was nothing more than a glob of mud.  But it was too high on the post to be mud.

Take a closer look.  You can make out what passed for eye spots on the left.  And there are segments.

At one point, this was a caterpillar.  It was now a pupae.

Unfortunately, I never saw it emerge.  I forgot to tell the gardener to let it be.  I suspect he washed it off the wall.

Or how about this shape?

At first, I thought it was another pupae.  Similar color.  Similar shape.

But any resident of the Pacific Northwest could immediately identify this mass by the antennae.  A slug.  The first one I had seen since my last hike in Oregon.  And that was years ago,

It was small by Willamette Valley standards -- where we grew slugs the size of buffalo.  And, on this Mexican variety, I could not see the usual tell-tale slime trail. 

But a slug it was.  It made me feel right at home.

For shape offerings, though, nothing surpasses the laguna.

I knew when I snapped this photograph that it would have an Oriental feel.  Almost like a Japanese woodblock.  The overexposure of shooting into the sun with a reduced exposure on the camera was bound to create a shadow effect.

But the circles of the lily pads, the straight lines of the tule grass, and the delicacy of the wading bird, evoke the simplicity of Japan.  Especially, the squiggle on the right.  As if a calligrapher added a personal stroke with his brush.

at the ancient pond
a bird moves upon the pads
a rippled echo

Friday, August 16, 2013

mama rose in leather

I know.  I promised no more baby crocodile photographs.

But this one was too good to pass up.  Mama Croc as a bodyguard and a float toy.

The mother crocodile has amazed me.  She has been out there every day since these babies were born.  Even while the boys and girls are tearing up paving stones and tossing them at her -- like some Palestinian ruffians.

Last night I heard splashing in the pond.  Usually, when the sun goes down, the children of the stones disappear.  Probably realizing that the odds shift greatly in favor of the crocodiles in the dark.

But the splashing was not boys bent on mischief.  Papa Croc had returned to court Mama Croc. 

And that really surprises me.  I thought crocodiles laid eggs only once a year.  Maybe the crocodiles have decided it is time to produce some crocodile reinforcements to counter the stoning brigade.

One thing I know.  When I am gone, the crocodiles will still be here.  They do not need my guardianship to thrive.

Not witha protective mother llike this.  She gives the term "stage mother" a whole new meaning. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

is he a cypriot -- or merely a cretan?

Mary Martin is trilling away in the living room.  Something about how she is a cock-eyed optimistic.

Well, I could tell Nellie Forbush a thing a two about optimism.  Cock-eyed, or otherwise.

You already know my dialectic theory of Stalinst-Jeffersonian cooking.  (vegging out)  I have always placed myself smack dab in the Jeffersonian school of libertarian dishes.  But we all slip the surly bonds of grace now and then.

Usually, I cook what is fresh in the market.  Combining it with whatever I find in my refrigerator and pantry.  But, now and then, I crave something completely irrational (something as irrational as governmental command economies). 

On Wednesday, it was halloumi cheese.  "What is that?" is a perfectly good response.  It would have been mine several years ago. 

It is one of the most versatile cheeses I have ever used.  A goat cheese with a structure that is perfect for grilling or frying.  I have used it primarily in salads and appetizers.  But it works just as well with vegetables and meat dishes.  It is a natural combination for any food that works well with mint.

I wanted to throw together a spinach salad with grilled halloumi.  Spinach I can get in Mexico.  Even though Mexico is famous for its cooking cheeses, this is not the land of halloumi.

That land is Cyprus.  And it is a bit of a drive to stop by the local Cypriot shepherd's hut to pick up a bit of halloumi.  It was difficult enough finding it in Salem. 

When I asked my favorite import grocer in Melaque if he could get some for me, his response was: "What is it?  First you want arugula, now you want Mediterranean cheese?"  As good as he is at conjuring up treasures for my cravings, I suspect there will be no Cyriot cheese in his queso case in the near future.

But I may have a solution.  I have already hinted that I will be in Miami for the last week of August and the first week of September to celebrate a friend's 60th birthday.

Miami would be a good solution.  Bringing the cheese back to Mexico would be the difficult part.  The solution may be closer to home.

When I return to Melaque, I am heading up to San Miguel de Allende for the remainder of the month.  Babs, Todd, and Shannon keep taunting me with the availability of exotic cheeses in the highlands. 

I am going to put them to the test.  If I can find a pound of halloumi there, I may have to re-think where I want to spend my next few years.

The ante is on the table.  The cards are dealt.  It is time to start placing those chips in the center of the table.  Chips that would go well some grilled halloumi.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

a bisket filled with taskets

Any blog that originates in Mexico and starts with any variation on "Today I planned to do three [or four or five or anything but one] things" is going to be a tale of woe worthy of the pen of Sophocles.

Oedipus is about to get another brooch-job.

Being a slow learner, I decided to stuff a lot of things into my trip to Manzanillo yesterday.  I was already going to the dentist, so, I did not count that.  And the modem replacement was not so much a task as a necessity.  As were the purchase of a new telephone, hard drive backup, and new voltage protectors for my replacement goodies.

I justified -- to myself -- that  I really only had one task on my list-- to spend a leisurely afternoon at the movies.  The other fiver were -- well, other things.  You can probably see what is coming, can't you?

My dental appointment was at noon.  I knew there would be some waiting at Telmex.  Being a wise fellow, I left Melaque early.  But not early enough.

I will spare you the details.   I waited almost two hours at Telmex and I was fifth in line.  That did not sound bad.  But in the two hours I was there, not one additional number was called.

No problem, said I.  I will come back after my dental appointment.

Ah, the dental appointment.  Once again, we discovered infection.  A lot of it.  Back I go on antibiotics.  Not even that task could be marked off.

Off to Telmex to wait for another two hours.  Same situation.  But many more people.  I am now number 15 in a non-moving line.

The country in which I live is not known for its efficiencies.  Especially with monopoly businesses.  Whether governmental or private.  And Telmex is no exception.  In fact, it may be the rule.

But the head guy saw a problem building.  He asked the waiting group how many of us were there to replace modems. (I guess the entire Manzanillo area must have suffered the same type of surge that left me unplugged.)  A vast majority of us held up our deceased infants for this Solomon, who strode before us, hoping he could send us off with something more than half of a baby.

He took our numbers and very efficiently worked his way through the group -- swapping out old for new.  My exchange with him must have been no more than 10 minutes.

Then I was off to Office Depot for a telephone, backup disc, and voltage regulator.  The voltage regulator was easy.  But I had had enough shopping for the day.

Off I went to the theater.  By then, it was getting late in the afternoon.  And the Disneyized Lone Ranger movie (Pirates of the Sonora, I think it is called) did not play until 7. 

On the drive down I saw a dead horse along the road.  It was enough to remind me why we do not drive -- or ride -- afte dark around here.

Home I went.  Overall, it was not a bad day. I did keep my dental appointment. And I wandered home with a new modem and a voltage regulator to protect it.  The rest can wait for another day.

After all, it looks as if I may be making a few more trips to Manzanillo to visit the comely dentist.   And there just may be a good movie playing in town one day soon.



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

driving her bats

I love bats. 

murciélagos as we say in these parts.  Well, I would call them that if it were not for all of those tongue-wrangling vowels.

I simply call them bats.  And, as I already told you, I love them.

What's not to love?  They are as cute as mice.  More effective at mosquito control than a tub of Raid.  And, best of all, they can do what every human with a scintilla of imagination has lusted after -- they can fly.

When I lived on the beach, I hosted a guest bat. (calling commissioner gordon
Señor Lugosi would stop by on his nightly dining trips.  His roost was just above the outdoor bar.  I knew that from the circumstantial evidence.  It was either a bat or a well-Exlaxed rat.

One night I managed to catch
sight of him before he darted off to meet the other children of the night  -- and most likely end up in some sappy teenage drek like Twilight.

The day I moved into my current house, I knew I had at least one nightly bat.  My entryway is regularly decorated with bat guano.  But it took me almost four years to see what was doing the donating.

It turns out that a matched pair are hanging out here.  I like to think of them as
Señor and Señora Murciélago.  (I say "think," because I am better at thinking in Spanish than I am at speaking it.)

My landlady is as fond of bats as I am.  In fact, her fondness for animals dwarfs mine.  What she is not fond of is their "batroom" habits.

The guano is not a problem.  It sweeps up easier than spilled rice.

Take a look at the wall.  Her newly-painted walls.  If you have not guessed already, the white streaks are urine stains.  And stains they are.  Caustic stains.

I have read enough woes on other blogs that denying bats their rest stops is a Sisyphean task.  Or, if the rare victory is declared, it is Pyrrhic.

So, the bats will stand on mosquito guard.  And me?  I may have another clean-up task added to my list.

The title of my memoirs just floated past my eyes.  Ants and Bat Urine.

It could be worse.

Monday, August 12, 2013

death on line

What do the Rosenbergs have in common with my modem, backup hard drive, and cordless telephone?

They all have fallen at the hands of an electrical executioner.

While I was at church yesterday, we experienced a mild seasonal thunderstorm.  Rain.  Thunder. Lightning.  One of the electrical discharges sounded as if it was part of our weekly sermon.

When I got home, I checked for telephone messages.  Or, I tried to check for telephone messages.  The face of the base unit was as blank as teenager’s when asked to name the capital of Kentucky.

Rather than troubleshoot right then, I powered up the computer to check my email.  But there was no internet signal.  There was no signal because the modem had the same blank look as the telephone.  No lights, at all.

The fact that I immediately started troubleshooting the modem is a rather good indicator that the internet is far more important to my life than is the telephone.

I have lost at least two other modems to power surges.  When I call Telmex, the clerk sends me through a series of exercises that would make Jane Fonda happy.  Check the power outlet.  Check each cable.  Look for a light on the power converter.  Turn the power switch on and off.  Push the cryptic reset button.

Rather than wait for the Telmex drill sergeant to send me through my paces, I did all of that on my own.  The result?  As we say in this neck of the woods -- nada.

It turned out that the only time-consuming part of the call was getting a human being to answer the telephone.  The young lady who eventually responded was very professional.  She did not make me repeat the steps when I told her what I had already done.

So, I now have an incident number.  With it, the modem, some form of identification, and , of course, a copy of my latest telephone bill (because nothing can be done in Mexico without a utility bill in hand), I will be off to Manzanillo tomorrow to pick up my new modem.  I was heading that way for my next dental appointment, any way.

Being without an internet connection for over 24 hours has been rather liberating.  I read several chapters of Tom Wolfe’s outstanding book on modern art (The Painted Word) and took the time to really watch Lawrence of Arabia -- one of the best epics ever filmed.

And then I went up to the roof to watch an even better show. The annual Perseid meteor shower.  Our home planet is crashing through the detritus of the comet WASPishly-named Swift-Tuttle. Last night the show was outstanding -- with a meteor about every minute.   Tonight should be almost as good.

With offerings like that, I have no urgency in getting myself hooked back into the matrix.  But I will.

No matter how nice it is to have an occasional break from the internet, it is still a marvelous tool.

No matter what the lightning thinks.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

going vegetarian

I am a prisoner of restaurant dining.  A willing prisoner, mind you.

Our local restaurants offer up food good enough to keep me fueled through the day -- and at a price I can easily afford for my daily two meal intake.

But I enjoy cooking.  On Friday, I decided enough was enough.  Even though our local markets do not seem to receive the first quality produce, it is a lot better than anything my Salem Safeway offered.  So, I went in search of vegetables to make a pasta dish.

We are one season late for primavera spaghetti.  But that is what I eventually set my mind on.  Onions.  Garlic.  Carrots.  Little zucchini.  Tomatoes.  Poblano peppers.   I even found a couple of eggplant, but they were so far gone, they would not make a good neighbor to the rest of the culinary neighborhood.

Some basil, celery, and squash would have been nice.  But what I found would do.  So I thought.

I toted my trove to the house.  And rinsed them with full intention of cooking them up that afternoon.

That was not to be.  Friends invited me to dinner.  And the vegetables (now dry) went into the refrigerator.

On Saturday afternoon I pulled everything out to continue where I left off.  When I opened the vegetable bag I re-discovered one of the constants of storing vegetables in the tropics.  The carrots and peppers were fine.  The tomatoes and zucchini had evolved into an unappetizing puddle.

That was easy to resolve.  Tomatoes and zucchini are almost always available.

So, with a rinse they joined the other chopped vegetables, several anchovy fillets, and a lot of diced Kalamata olives to create the salsa for my spaghetti.

You have already guessed it is featured at the top of this post.  And it was mighty good.  Especially with the shaved Parmesan.  Good enough that I need to remember how much fun putting together a good meal can be.

If you stop by, I have a couple servings left.  And spaghetti is hardly improved by freezing.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

pesos on the barrelhead

The owner of our local tour company told a story the other day about a northern tourist who wandered into his shop and tried to purchase a tour with a 1000 peso note,

If the story stopped there, it would be unusual.  A 1000 peso note is a rarity in our little village where businesses struggle to find change for a 100 peso note.  But there is more to the tale.

The owner rejected the note.  Not because of its size, but its value as currency.  That series of note had been withdrawn years before.  Its value?  Only as a souvenir -- like a ceramic burro wearing a sombrero  manufactured in China.

Of course, the woman tourist attempted to persuade the owner to accept the note and he could then deal with the local bank because she had received it from a Canadian bank.  The plaint of every monetary loser standing without a chair when the music stops.

That tale has prodded me to pass along this public service announcement.  Since May, Mexico has a new 50 peso note.  That is it on top.  The old 50 peso note is below it.  For now, both are legal tender.

But it is also an opportunity to talk about Mexico's currency.  People often refer to Mexico is being some sort of financial backwater.  That is certainly not true of its currency.  Mexico was one of the first countries to switch over to plastic money.  Or, in the parlance of finance-speak, polymer banknotes.

And plastic the notes are.  The switch was a bit controversial.  Few things symbolize a nation's character more than its currency. 

As it turned out, the plastic does not detract from Mexico's proud historical heritage.  You barely notice the small man with the top hat and monocle printed on each note.

The plastic also turns out to be quite efficient.  The notes last longer than paper notes.  They are less likely to jam ATMs.  And they are more difficult to counterfeit.

That last point is the reason for the new 50 peso notes.  If you look at the two notes, you can see that the top one has more detailed graphics, additional colors, and new transparency windows. 

The two butterflies, for example.  Apparently, those windows are incredibly difficult to duplicate.

You might ask, who on earth would counterfeit a 50 peso note?  After all, it is the equivalent of less than $4 (US).  
Counterfeiters find little value in forging American currency any lower than a Jackson.  It s not worth the effort.  

But that is the danger of thinking in dollars in Mexico.  A 50 peso note can buy a full grocery bag of local vegetables and fruits.  With change to go in my pocket.

I found that when I thought of prices in dollars, I was far too ready to pay too much for everything here.  It took me about three years, but I have now adjusted to thinking in pesos. 

That is why the security measures are needed on the 50 peso note.  It is real money.

And you can use several of them to buy yourself a nice tour in Mexico.

Friday, August 09, 2013

break out the hack paddle

Wasn't it Socrates who, as the hemlock drew nigh his lips, said: "I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member"?  Or was that Groucho?

I guess it really doesn't matter.  Because today's chat is not about either one of them. 

It is to welcome a new member to the Republic of Blogdom.  If blogging is anything, it is egalitarian.  All you need is a computer and a bit of bandwidth.

It also helps if you are witty, a good writer, and one of those personalities for whom people will carve out a bit of their day to spend a bit of time with you.  My pal Kim meets the bill.

You have already met him.  He comments as "Kim G from Boston" on my blog.  I call him Mr. P.S. -- because of his signature sign off that could give Oscar Wilde a run for his pounds sterling.

Kim has launched a blog.  And it is about time.  You may have already noticed it in in my blogroll on the right.  It has been there several days.  El Gringo Suelto: Musings from Boston, Mexico City, and Beyond!

He is in the process of finding his voice.  I understand what he is going through.  I was still in Salem when I started writing my blog -- even though I knew I was soon headed to Mexico.

Kim is in the same position.  He is in Boston -- but well on his way south.

I appreciated the bloggers who gave me a kick start several years ago.  And I gladly carry on the tradition with Kim.

Visit his blog.  Comment.  You will enjoy the trip.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

a tale of two sittings

Wednesday was a Charles Dickens day.  The best of times; the worst of times.

After a month-long hiatus on my root canal treatments (while my dentist was visiting her family in Durango), the fracking re-commenced at noon.  It has now been three months since the treatments began.

Unfortunately, my dentist once again struck oil.  The infection is still there.  That means at least two more visits.

Because it has taken so long, I insisted that my dentist take at least half of her payment for the treatments.  She reluctantly agreed.  The final payment is due when she is finished.

And the total price?  For three months of treatment and in excess of ten hours of her professional time?  $3,000 (Mx).  Or about $235 (US).  The reasonableness of medical costs in Mexico never cease to amaze me.

That was the best of times.

On each of my dental visits to Manzanillo, I treat myself to a movie.  Yesterday, that was the worst of times.

The offerings at the multi-screen theater are usually quite spare -- the type of anemic offerings that populate cineplexes north of the Rio Bravo.  Time constraints left with with one option -- the latest X-Men series: The Wolverine.

Now that I have seen it, you need not bother.  Consider it my gift of serving time on your behalf.

It is one of those movies based on a comic book series.  And it gives comic books a bad name.  Enough said.

I was surrounded by young Mexican women.  The movie held their interest for about the first twenty minutes.  After that, they texted, had loud small group conversations, and slept.  They would have made a perfect non-focus group.

During the coming attractions, the were a perfect cultural barometer.  The new Steve Jobs biography movie drew yawns.  (I wonder who the "genius" was who thought
Ashton Kutcher would make a good Steve Jobs -- or that he could even act?)

The second preview was for a movie where a young woman can see the invisible monsters that plague our world.  The young girls in the audience were rapt.  A wave of empathy traveled across the auditorium.

After all, the movie has all the elements of a successful Mexican woman fantasy.  Strong young woman with mysterious powers defeating super-natural evil -- in the form of merciless men.  Think Our Lady of Guadalupe with a blaster by Uzi.

To round out the day, I stopped at Scooby for three of Octavio's tacos.  Where better to practice my Spanish while slathering my tacos with the best pineapple-habanero salsa I have tasted?

Even with terrible movies, it was a good day to be alive.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

moonbeams in my hand

It looked like the goal of an unsought quest.

Huge.  White as a wizard's tower.  Looming in the distance.

I was up on the mirador above Melaque indulging in one of my favorite sights.  The crescent bay hugging its Gemini children -- Melaque and Barra de Navidad.  And the ocean stretching all the way to the shores of China.

The day was Barbra Streisand clear.  You could almost believe seeing forever was possible.

Off to the east was a new sight.  That white talisman in the distance.  Because the air was so clear, it was hard to judge the distance.  At the maximum ability of my zoom lens -- as you can see by the pixelization.

When I lived in Greece, I played a little adventure game.  Greece is very similar to coastal Mexico.  The mountains range off into the sea leaving isolated stretches of narrow coastal plains.

From our Greek air base, I could see a single bare peak in the mountain range.  Every weekend I would strap myself into my 240Z and sally forth to find that mountain.  To set the mood, I named it Dulcinea.

Just as in all good quests, the closer I would come to it, the further it would recede from view.  Grasping moonbeams.  I never did find it.

So, off I drove yesterday to find my new stone monument.  But this was the only stone hill I could find.  Not quite the same.

Back to the mirador I went to get my bearings.  And right next to the white hill was the clue I needed.

See the water vapor plume to the left of the rock?  It comes from the power plant to the southeast of Manzanillo.  The only hill of that size is a huge stone rock in the ocean just off of Playa de Oro -- the Gold Coast.

We have gone there together before.  (gold on the beach; stairway to change)  The beach is the site of a famous 1862 wreck of a gold ship.  It was on that rock --
pena blanca -- that many of the survivors of the sinking sought refuge.

Yesterday I thought I had found a new quest.  But that rock has earned a history of its own.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

not everything comes up roses

An Air Force friend lives in South Dakota.  During the 80s and 90s, I would fly out there to visit him and his family each year.

So, I was very interested when I saw a column in the Aberdeen News entitled: "Mexico, air conditioning and unexpected joys."

I am always interested in hearing the opinion of others concerning my adopted place of residence.  Especially, hearing opinions from the American heartland.  The kind of people whose "yes is "yes" and who do not drop arcane names as if their audience was educated at Eton in 1857.

The columnist, Gerald Krueger, sounds as if he has added a few sophistication notches on the handle of his pistol.  Educator.  Coach.  Commercial pilot.  Farmer.  The type of guy with whom you would like to share the blue plate special at the Woolworth's lunch counter.

The theme of his column was an admission that he had suffered some misconceptions about Mexico.  That the country was "a violent place where lawlessness abounded."   Misconceptions that were set straight on a family vacation to a luxury resort in Cancun.

These were his breath-taking revelations:

  • "Cancun is a thriving metropolis and appears to have a very lively economy"
  • The van ride from the Cancun airport to the resort was "air-conditioned"
  • The accommodations were "exquisite"
  • "The grounds and amenities" were "utterly squeaky clean"
  • The heat was a drawback, but was bearable because "our rooms were so nicely air conditioned, and the restaurants and buffets were all air conditioned"
  • The beaches were "heavenly"
  • The pools were "wonderful"
I am happy the Krueger family enjoyed their trip to Mexico.  The resorts here are first class.  And I am happy to read a newspaper article where Mexico comes off as a great place to visit. 

After all, I have been pounding that drum for years.

But I do not want to imply Mexico is perfect.  It isn't. 

It is far more than Cancun luxury resorts.  Like the rest of the world, it is not Disneyland.  It is a real place with real joys and real problems.

Take Melaque.  It is a prosperous village providing support for the local farmers and serving up fun and sun for tourists.

But it certainly is not Mr. Krueger's vision of squeaky clean grounds and amenities.  It is rather dirty.  And there are pockets of poverty throughout the village.  As for air-conditioning, it is a rare commodity.

Taking all of that into account, those of us who have chosen to live here enjoy what the village offers.  And many of us are willing to be part of the answer in attempting to find a way to alleviate local poverty.

As for the dirt and the heat?  We learn to live with it.  After all, it is where we choose to live throughout the year.

Monday, August 05, 2013

starbucks no aqui

I am stuck in a Fellini film.  At least, I thought so on Saturday.

I was leaving the post office empty handed when I saw him walking toward me.  You know the type.  Young.  Good-looking.  Dressed as if he had just completed a Liverpool model gig.  The type of middle-class preppie look with world-wide currency.

When he saw me, he put on that look of "I-don't-know-you-but-we-belong-to-the-same-fraternity" cockiness that inevitably leads to a question.  His completely took me off guard.

"Where is the Starbucks?" 

This he asked in Spanish.  Even with my fingertip grasp of the language, I knew what he was asking.  The question is akin to those other language school gems.  "Where is the red pencil box?"  Or "The green fountain pen is stuck in the roasted chicken."

You would have to live in Melaque to understand my response.  The town makes is living off of Mexican, not northern, tourists.

Without thinking, I said: "You've got to be kidding!" 

I am certain it was in English because I do not have the foggiest idea how to translate a double colloquialism into Spanish.

And then shocker number two.  He said, as if it was the most startling thing in the world: "You speak English!?!"

Take a look at my photograph at the right.  I look as if I could be the AARP cover boy for Boy's Life.  What language would you guess I spoke?  Well, maybe German.  Or Norwegian.

It turns out he was from Mexico City after having lived in California for 10 years.  He was visiting Melaque with his parents, who came here when they were young.  His take on my little village?  It is boring and dirty. 

I told him the nearest Starbucks was in Guadalajara -- a bit of misinformation: the nearest one is an hour away in Manzanillo.  And, not being a coffee drinker, I had no idea if there was a decent substitute here.

I would not be surprised to see a Starbucks in Melaque before too long.  The village has long had a reputation of being a tourist stop for working class tourists -- who still arrive in caravans of buses from the highlands during the summer.

But the trade is changing.  SUVs filled with middle class couples and their average 1.9 children have become quite common during the past two years.  And where J. Crew and Izod travels, Starbucks cannot be far behind.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

catch me if you can

"See the arrow?  Officer, I didn't even see the Indians."

It is the punchline of an old joke.  Spoken by a driver stopped by a policeman for going the wrong way on a one way street. 

I lived the setup to that joke on Friday. 

Our town square in San Patricio has had two-way streets around it as long as I have been visiting and living here.  Friday morning I drove into the village to pay my telephone and internet bill.  To avoid the rather slow bus in front of me, I turned left at the square.  And stopped.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted something new.  The signs at the top of this post.  I think it was the rather battered and confusing international symbol for "no entry" that caught my eye.  And then the arrows indicating I was going the correct way if I were a spawning salmon.

Since I am not, I turned around and went the correct direction.  That bit of ovine compliance surprised me.

Apparently a large number of my fellow drivers were not in a bleating mood.  While I stood in line to pay my bill, a steady flow of cars and trucks (especially trucks) were not in the least bothered that the new signs informed them they were violating the law.

My favorite was the middle class young woman driving a 2012 Explorer.  She saw the sign.  Paused.  Looked down the street to see only two cars coming at her, and decided to drive against the arrow.  And then parked in a no parking area.

That got me to thinking about driving in Mexico.  A well-meaning northerner told me when I first arrived that I needed to learn to drive defensively.  Within a day I knew that was the worst advice I had ever received.  Defensive drivers are dead drivers.  (I think I remember my father telling me that in my youth.) 

Driving in Mexico calls for every instinct ever taught to a fighter pilot.  Mexican streets are filled with more targets of opportunity and obstacles than the skies over Hanoi in December 1972.  And I have developed my own coping mechanisms.

Take speeding.  Speed limits fall into that category of laws that the public often treats as suggestions. 

You know the type of law.  Where some group, lacking the power of moral suasion, relies on the brute force of the state for compliance.  Laws like attempting to control the use of recreational drugs, smoking in restaurants, or prohibiting people of color from using white water fountains.

Speeding here is exactly what is in Oregon.  Drivers treat the signs as suggestions.  Finding the speed that the conditions of the market will bear.  Knowing full well that enforcement is spotty and that the financial penalty is minimal.

Of course, when it comes to one way directional signs, failure to comply is not necessarily an act of liberty.  Most of the signs are rather difficult to see.

Take this one on the same corner.  Until a couple days ago it had a point on both ends to indicate a two way street.  It has been there a long time.

But I have never noticed it.  It is painted well above eye level.  If my postman had not pointed it out to me, I would have completey missed it.

What amazes me is that, even during the height of our tourist season (and we are currently deep into it), our streets are a good example of how a free people can live their lives without a lot of external regulation.

We may need to dodge a cornucopia of cars, trucks, baby strollers, pedestrians, scooters, bicycles, dogs, cats, goats, horses, and umbrella-wielding grandmothers (along with streets clogged from double-parked cars and trucks), but it all works.

Several years ago I was driving on an autobahn just outside of Frankfurt when a German driver cut me off without signaling.  The driver behind me began flashing his lights and motioned for me to pull over.  I did.

We got out of our cars.  He was German, but as is often the case, his English was better than mine.

Him:  "Did you see that driver not signaling."

Me: "Yeah.  He cut me off."

Him:  "I have his license plate number.  You will come with me now and report this to the police."

Me: "Really?"

I followed him.  At the first exit, he turned off -- and I continued on my way.

It made me feel very Mexican.  The kind of guy who would never have corrected his own error on a one way street.