Saturday, November 30, 2013

keep those wagons rolling

What should it be called?

If tourists in Mexico get Moctezuma's revenge, what do we expatriates suffer when we come north?  President Polk's revenge?

It will have to do.  I was rather careful on my portions for dinner yesterday (with the exception of a deceptive piece of apple pie).  But I suffered most of the night and today with some type of gastric distress.  Even an incredible amount of sleep (over 7 hours) did not chase it away.

But it was not bad enough to keep me from doing something I always enjoy on these trips to Bend.  My brother lives in a crazy quilt neighborhood of pocket ranches.  Whenever I am up this way, and a bit of solitude is required, I take a two-mile hike along his road.

You can see why people have built their ranches out this way.  The view of the Cascades is spectacular.  Our own version of big sky country. 

I almost retired over here in 2009.  But I thought my mother, brother, and sister-in-law would soon be joining me in Mexico.  That didn't happen.  So I visit them on as many holidays as I can.

I have been waking up to 10 degrees mornings.  That is a bit cool -- even for me.  But the red-shafted flickers are more frustrated with those temperatures when they discover the bird bath is doing its impression of Rockefeller Center.

By the time I took my walk, the temperature had climbed to 50.   I tossed my coat back in the house and enjoyed the invigorating enviroment that only short sleeves in the high desert can provide.

There are always a few quirky sights on the trip.  Such as, these llamas.

You know you have stumbled on a gentleman's ranch when the sole livestock are a herd of well-tended llamas.

At one point, it was possible to see herds of llamas in the surrounding paddocks.  Just waiting for Americans to develop a taste for llama wool sweaters loomed in crofter cottages.  It did not turn out well.  The rump of the herd linger on as pets. 

I don't remember hearing anything about llama burgers.  I suspect that fate was reserved for the equally bad investment of emus.

Jiggs despised llamas.  That is, if dogs are capable of such a complex emotion.  He may simply have seen them as prey.

Whatever the level of emotion, the llamas shared it with him.  Whenever he would visit my brother's place, Jiggs and the neighbor's llamas would have a stare down.

He was fortunate that a fence separated them -- because the llamas instinctively knew how to deal with a canine critter.  They would walk backwards -- forming a "U" formation.  Obviously, hoping to draw him into the "U" that would then become an "O" as the llamas closed the circle.

The predator had just been invited to the equivalent of a GI blanket party.  That is why llamas are often used to guard sheep from coyotes.

Just a few steps from the llamas, I re-discovered an object that sums up Bend's western libertarianism -- as well as its artistic soul.  I laugh every time I see this mail box.

The US Postal Service (as is its east coast establishment wont) has some rather strict rules on what a mail box must be.  I suspect this metallic homage to wetlands does not quite fit those regulations.  Nor does anyone here care.

I have never been able to decipher the code for placing the saw blade -- to let the postal driver know when to stop for mail.  It is simply Bend at its best.

Thanksgiving is a traditional day for ski lifts to open.  I don't know the status this year.  But any pioneer slogging along the Oregon trail would recognize what these clouds held in store.

Snow is on the way.  The timing is not the best.

I had hoped to be on the western side of the Cascades before the passes start filling with snow and ice.  But I am not certain if I will make it.  I have some financial and dental matters to deal with here in Bend on Monday.

Until then, I can take my walks and enjoy the retirement life I could have had.  But in installments.

Friday, November 29, 2013

call me philip nolan

It was the sixth grade -- if my memory is correct.

I picked up a copy of Edward Everett Hales's "The Man Without a Country."  And I was hooked.

You know the story.  American Army lieutenant Philip Nolan is swept up in Aaron Burr's dreams of a western empire.  During his trial for treason, Nolan renounces his allegiance to the United States.  The judge, who seemingly has no sense of irony when the Barbra Streisand syndrome possesses the morally obtuse, sentences Nolan to spend the rest of his life at sea.  And to never hear a scintilla of news about America.

I knew I had found a template for my life.  Of course, it was just the opposite of what Hales was preaching.  Hales's point was that every citizen belongs to his country "as you belong to your own mother."

I took away a different dream.  What a perfect life.  To live without a country.  To not be a person of place.  To be constantly on the move.

Yesterday Jennifer Rose commented that a project that has long fascinated me is back in the planning stages.  Freedom Ship.  A ship four times longer than the Queen Mary 2 that will circle the world twice a year.

And because it is too large to enter any port, it will anchor off major cities for days at a time.  The residents can then visit dry land by boats or aircraft.  Or they could simply live out a full life on this floating city.

The cost?  This is not public housing.  A 5,100 square feet unit will sell for $9,136,600; a 450 square feet unit for $212,500.  Oh, yes.  There are the monthly maintenance fees of $14,716 to $586.

But what a great dream!  To constantly circumnavigate the globe.  With new weather every few days.  New places to see.  New people to conquer.

And a dream that will not be mine.  I suspect this mobile community will not find the financing it needs to float its boat.  About $11 billion.

Instead, I will keep traveling as often as I can.  And Melaque will have to serve as my mobile community -- one that seems to have grounded itself on a reef.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

the table of light

Today is my favorite holiday.

Despite my anti-traditionalist streak, a Cotton Thanksgiving is practically perfect in every way.

Of course, there is always the food.  This year starring prime rib.  With plenty of vegetables.  And pie.

But the food is merely a tool for one of our gatherings.  I shot the photograph of the dining table last night.  It is a great symbol of this day -- if I do say myself.

No matter how dark the surrounding world may be, our family gathers at the table, in its circle of light, to spend a day of sharing our better natures.  And creating new memories upon which we can build to beat back the dark.

It s a day to celebrate our faith.  To celebrate our love.  To celebrate our family.

I pray your day is similarly blessed.

moving to mexico -- the questions

"I have convinced my husband we should retire in Mexico.  Where do you suggest we live?"
Every month I receive several email asking the same question.  Or a variation on it.

And I understand where that desire for certainty comes from.  When I was looking for a place to live in Mexico to start my retirement, I bought (and read) a shelf of books.  Some helpful.  Some not-so-helpful.  Others just plain wrong.  (lamps unto my feet)

When I was in San Miguel de Allende in September, two message boards lit up with requests for an article that had been posted earlier by an expatriate.  The reason for the high interest?  Because the author purported to answer the question: "Where should I retire in Mexico?" by asking the reader to answer 21 questions.

And, yes, I am going to let you see all of them.  Otherwise, this little sermon will not have a scripture on which to build.

  • Are you or do you intend to become somewhat fluent in Spanish?
  • Do you intend to integrate yourself into a Mexican community or mostly hang out with other expats or others who speak English?
  • Do you intend to travel much by car or bus in Mexico?
  • Do you intend to travel by car or plane outside of Mexico frequently?
  • Do you expect friends and relatives from the US/Canada to visit?
  • Do you have medical needs and can those needs (current and future) be met locally?
  • How long do you intend to stay in Mexico?  Short term, long term, forever?
  • Do you already have friends or acquaintances in a Mexican town or area?
  • Can your body adjust to higher elevations or to tropical heat and humidity?
  • Do you prefer living near a large body of water or the ocean?
  • Are you (and maybe your partner) mostly a stay at home body, or someone who prefers an active social life?
  • Do you like to participate regularly in the arts, live music, and other forms of entertainment?
  • Do you have other interests and hobbies that are supported in a community?
  • Have you visited or lived for a while in several places in Mexico already to experience the diversity?
  • Do you want to walk places in your community, or depend on a car or bus?
  • How important is it to have "big box" stores and other shopping convenient to your new home?
  • To what degree is a safe, secure neighborhood important to you?
  • Are dependable electrical, computer, postal service, water, and sewer facilities important to you?
  • Do you intend to be employed while living in Mexico?
  • Do you understand what type of home and lifestyle you can afford in various places in Mexico?
  • How well can you adapt to another culture?
Your reaction is probably the same as mine.  The author could have benefited from the services of a ruthless editor.  But, to be fair, his commentary provided more guidance.  It would not be the list I would use.  In fact, it doesn't even resemble the list I did use.

My approach was a bit different.  After reading the books listed above and making a couple of trips to Mexico, I came up with what I called the 13 suggestions.

  • university nearby
  • archaeological sites within driving distance
  • central location for other archaeological sites
  • warm, sunny days; cool nights
  • new acquaintances -- some with a love of food
  • the challenge of a new language
  • time to read; time to learn; time to rest
  • daily learning to survive
  • facing mountains of difficulties -- and being repeatedly crushed
  • long walks with Professor Jiggs before breakfast and after sunset
  • living outside of a car
  • offering help to others
  • graciously accepting help from others
There is an obvious difference between the two lists.  And that difference is how I respond to the email I receive.

Deciding where to live in Mexico is about as personal as who you decide to marry.  No one can tell you what you like.  (I occasionally give away my single status.)

So, my answer?  Decide what you like and what you would like to do.  And then visit the places you think you would like to live.

Personally, I am still auditioning places.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

all things come to an end

-- even improvisational acts of rebellion.

If I have counted correctly, my last haircut was seven months ago.  In Salem.  When Darrel and I drove the Shiftless Escape up to Oregon.

That may be the longest I have gone without a haircut.  Even in law school when I would indulge my hirsute side by forgoing shaving and haircuts during finals.  I call it my not-so-Nazarite period.

Looking through some old photographs, it was obvious this late 20s version of Steve managed to avoid barbers even when finals were not pending.

On Monday, Darrel had an appointment with his "hairdresser,"  Debbie.  His term; not mine.  He asked if I wanted to be squeezed into her schedule.  My needs outweighed my apprehension.  But I needed to qualm my mother's fears that I was about to join a commune -- or vote Democrat.

And I need not have had any qualms -- knowing my brother.  Debbie works in a barber shop.  A barber shop that would have felt right at home in Mayberry.  Four chairs.  Four barbers.  Guys waiting for their hidden behind a newspaper or magazine lest anyne talk to them.  Haircuts topped off with a shoulder massage using an-old fashion hand-mounted vibrator.

The only tip of the hat to modernity was that three of the four barbers were (and are) women.  That did not keep the barber shop conversation from being almost as masculine as the banter I heard in Powers during the 50s.

Darrel told me Debbie, could cut hair with the best of them.  And he was correct.  I had almost forgotten how good a fresh haircut could feel.  Not to mention that my coiffed head will bring peace to our Thanksgiving table.

And if I want to try another bout of long hair lunacy, it will always grow back.

In one form or other.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

dog-gone dogs

Yesterday, it was "Memories are what make us who we are."  Today, it's "What we cannot recall make us who we are."

Now, I am not getting all Freudian on you.  Freud's template is not my own.

But there can be little doubt that there are many things that happen in our lives that hardwire the way we live.  Even the events we cannot remember.  Like where I put the Quicken CD I was just using.  Peter Hall's quip may be true:  "The older you get, the more like yourself you become."

Darrel and I were talking about my Sitkum story yesterday morning.  He asked if I had ever shared this photograph with you.  I don't think I have.

That photograph sums up a lot about me -- even though I have absolutely no memory of the event itself.  And that is understandable.  I was only 2.

But this is not about me.  Well, not solely about me.  It is about the dog that appears in today's and yesterday's photographs.

Meet Uncle Jiggs.  He was not the first dog of my youth.  But he is the first one I remember.  And he is the standard by which I judge all other dogs.

He was my constant companion in those early days.  And my family knows story after story of my exploits with him.

The year after that photograph was taken in Powers, we moved to Myrtle Point.  My father would try his hand at being the owner of a truck tire store.  A venture that led to a pile of burnt rubble.

We lived in a house on a hill above a hollow that the main highway ran through.  More Ken Kesey than William Faulkner.

The Powers house had a fence around the yard that stopped me from indulging my inner Lewis and Clark.  The Myrtle Point house had none.  So, when I would come to the edge of the property, I would keep on going.

On one of those adventures, my mother looked out the front window to see Uncle Jiggs walking down the center of the highway.  But the dog was not alone.  I was in front of him.

At 3, I had no sense of danger.  Not that I have developed one since.  But there was danger.  I was walking near a blind corner where unloaded logging trucks would speed back to the hills for another load of dead trees.

My mother's version of this tale is that Jiggs was keeping in the center of the highway to avoid danger.  If that is true, he was endangering himself to protect me.

Now, I have no way of knowing the facts of the story.  But I like that version.  It built an almost inseparable bond between boy and dog.  Photographs of that era almost always include him nearby.

Our family gave him up to the neighbors before we moved to Portland.  He lived a life of luxury with them.

And, ever since, we have had many dogs -- each measured by the golden standard of Uncle Jiggs.  And all fell short.  With the exception of the eccentric Professor Jiggs.

So, why don't I continue my dog ownership?  For the same reason I am not married.  My current lifestyle is based on going where I want, when I want.  That 3-year old boy is still looking for adventure over the next hill.

Maybe, when I tame him, I can settle down with another golden retriever.  And I will be content to stay in one place.


false memories

"To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night.  It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously."

Felipe and Jennifer have recently regaled us with answers to a common question: "What is your first memory."  Both of them related some very early memories in their inimitable styles.

I fear, though, that most of my early memories carry the same precatory language in which Dickens ensconced David Copperfield's early memories.  I am convinced that a lot of what I think I know, I was told by my parents, friends, or relatives.  The restored memory of my jallaba being only a recent entry in the "not-in-Steve's-head" contest.

But there is an early memory that I am convinced is my own.  Whether it is the earliest event I could pull out of the archives, I have no idea.

It was the summer of 1954.  I was 5 -- one of those ages where memories seem to start sticking. 

At the time, we were a logging family.  And logging required some mobility in those still-wild days of felling timber.

That summer we had parked our trailer in Sitkum on the shores of the East Fork of the Coquille River.  It was a perfect place for a boy of 5 to wander.  A forest alive with birds, caterpillars, and large carnivores.  And a river filled with water dogs and fish.

It was along that river that I found my first big treasure -- an abandoned tackle box.  The details are a bit vague, but I knew enough that it once belonged to a fly fisherman because it was filled with an assortment of feathered lures with barbed hooks that easily drew blood from young fingers.

At the time, I did not realize a fisherman was undoubtedly not too far away.  But certainly far enough away not to notice the light-fingered Hobbit lifting his tackle.  Even though I did not keep the tackle box (I am certain my parents found the rightful owner), it left a lasting fondness for the artifice of fly fishing -- with its tarted-up lures and their hooks artfully hidden from the eyes of fish far more greedy than wise.

But that summer contained an even more magical memory of my father sitting with me at our kitchen table teaching me the magic of making change and telling time.  With a stack of coins and a clock face, he initiated me into the rites of fractions and the relationship between numbers.  How addition and subtraction play yin to the other's yang.  And how a 10-base number system can hide a 4-base system when money is involved.

Did I understand all of that at 5?  Of course not.  But he planted the seeds that led inexorably to the knowledge of what it was like to live in an irrational world with a matrix of logic laid across the chaos.

What amazes me is what I do not remember.  I do not recall much other than the woods and the river behind our trailer.  And, for some reason, my mother and brother (he would have been 3 at the time) do not play parts in this particular memory.  I know they were there.

But that is the way of my memory.  For whatever reason, the tackle box, the river, the clock face, and, of course, my Dad are center stage in this set piece.

What I do not doubt is that the memories are mine.  The snow suit story, my reluctant introduction to Santa Claus, my wry comments to Aunt Bessie.  Those memories are so mixed up with tales repeated by relatives that I have no idea whether I was even a conscious participant.

That summer is my own.  A summer that somehow reminded me of Woody Allen's closing lines in Radio Days.

I never forgot that New Year's Eve...
when Aunt Bea awakened me to watch 1944 come in.
And I've never forgotten any of those people...
or any of the voices we used to hear on the radio.
Although the truth is...
with the passing of each New Year's Eve...
those voices do seem to grow dimmer and dimmer.
So, I raise my glass to memories.  They are what make us who we are.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

new blog machine

Radio Free Content is back on the air.

Yesterday's post was composed on my brother's computer.  Today's post is coming to you from my new blog machine.

Yeah.  Yeah.  I know.  You have heard it all before. 

First, there was my Sony Z Series laptop that died in a briny death after four months of beach living.  Then came the HP laptop that simply wore out after two years.  Followed by another Sony Z series that died on the Baja trip of a broken hinge, frayed wiring, dysfunctional keyboard, and failing wireless connections.

But here we go again.  This time with Samsung's much-vaunted new ultrabook release -- ATIV Book 9 Plus.
I won't bore you with the specifications.  After all, this is not a computer blog --  merely a blog composed on a computer.  But it has the characteristic I most need for a blog machine.  It is incredibly light at 3 pounds.  And sleek enough to attract me to the keyboard.

And it means I am on the road to electronic recovery.  As you can see by the photograph at the top of the post, my camera is still on the fritz.  But not for long.  A new lens is speeding its way to Bend.  If all goes well, I will have it to get some shots of Thanksgiving dinner.

Or some of the stunning scenery in Bend.

It is good to be back.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

signs of our time

There is an old joke that goes something like this:

A man is flying in a hot-air balloon and realizes he is lost.  He lowers the balloon and shouts to a man on the ground: "Excuse me, can you help me?  I don't know where I am."

The man below says: "Yes, you're in a large red hot air balloon, hovering 30 feet above this field between 40 and 41 degrees North and 120 and 124 degrees West."

"You must be a lawyer," says the balloonist.

"I am," replies the man.  "How did you know?"

"Well," says the balloonist, "everything you have told me is technically correct, but it's of absolutely no use to me, and I still don't know where I am."

Trips north often leave me feeling that way.  Take this sign from a Denny's restaurant in California.

It is posted right behind the cashier -- a perfect place to see it; but on your way out, not on your way in.  And that is exactly what happened to me.  I never saw it until I was paying my bill.

"Kafkaesque" has become a cliché.  But it was the first term that jumped to my mind when I read the sign.

The good folks at the California Department of Public Health were concerned enough for my health that they wanted to be certain I knew there are chemicals that cause "cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm."  And some of those chemicals may be present in the food or beverages served at the Denny's in Carlsbad.

When I saw he sign, I chuckled and asked the cashier if they had been serving a Love Canal special to the early bird diners?

She responded that the signs are in every restaurant she knew in California.  But she had no idea what the death-dealing chemicals might be.  Nor whether that precatory "may" morphed into an "are" on the actual plates that are slapped down in front of Denny's diners.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not a Pollyanna about the negative (and positive) effects that chemicals have on our lives.  I am just not certain that these broad warnings do much other than to raise the already-high level of hysteria that Americans seem to be living under.

Most scientists would probably shake their heads at the "causes cancer" portion of the sign.  Few chemicals "cause" cancer.  At best, chemicals contain a risk factor of being implicated in health concerns.  But that subtlety is missed in today's reductionist world.

Yesterday, I read an article in the newspaper that gave the impression that eating nuts would prevent both cancer and heart disease.  Due to my recent heart episode, I am always looking for things I can eat -- especially things I like. 

Despite what my doctor told me, nuts went back on my list.  Until I got to the end of the article.  Buried deep in the story was a disclaimer that the effect of nuts on preventing either disease was something like 11%.

So, what did I learn at Denny's?  Well, the first thing I already knew.  Don't eat at Denny's.  Not because of those ethereal death warnings, but because the food is terrible.  It always has been.

From the sign I learned, don't take your health advice from sign-writing bureaucratic lawyers.  The information may be technically correct, but it will be of absolutely no use to anyone. 

And you will still not know where you are.

Friday, November 22, 2013

try these red shoes

Well, I am in Bend.  But I have many a tale to tell you about Baja -- and a few leftovers from Melaque.

At this rate, I will be writing about Mexico until I head back south.

I started my search for a new computer yesterday.  Right now, a 13 inch Samsung is far ahead of the other candidates.  But there is a 14 business day waiting period for it to ship.  I may be in Melaque by the time it gets to Bend.

My brother has been good enough to let me slip into his business station for this post.  But it is a temporary solution. 

Until I have a computer in hand, I suggest you step over to Jennifer Rose's new blog Red Shoes are Better than Bacon.  Yes, the iconoclastic, tightly-composed pieces of The Rose have returned to blogdom.  And, I am certain she will share her particular Weltanschauung with us all.

And I will soon be back with you.  I hope.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

steve is taking a siesta

Well, Steve's computer is. 

The Sony has lost its screen.  That means I cannot post anything more while I am in Baja.

But that will not be for long.  We drive to San Diego early tomorrow morning for our flight through Seattle to Redmond, Oregon.  Late tomorrow night we will be at Darrel's place in Bend.

That means a new computer is on my horizon.  And maybe a new camera if a camera shop cannot work a miracle.

All of that consumerism will wait, though.  For the next two days, I will simply enjoy living life.

See you on the other side.

calling stirling moss

Yesterday was day two of the Baja 140 -- now renamed the Baja 307 to take account of our return mileage.

And it gave two of my inner personalities a chance to battle for which would be king for the day.  My racing spirit of Mario Andretti or the photographic muse of Ray Atkeson.

I will cut the suspense for you.  Mario won.  I know from past experience that taking photographs from a moving vehicle is a less than satisfactory experience.  And when that vehicle is racing over bumpy terrain, no photographs are going to be blog-worthy.

There are at least three problems.  Speed causes blurring.  Two foot bounces prohibit framing.  And the dust.  The dust simply ruins cameras.  So, I apologize in advance for the lack of photographs.

Having said that, yesterday has to be one of the most exhilarating days of my life.  Darrel decided we should retrace as much of the Baja 1000 course as we could. 

The bottom line is that we were able to drive about 10% of some of the roughest portions of the course.  As a result, I have nothing but admiration for what the racers.  They overcome some very dire circumstances at amazing speeds.

Let me give you two examples.  The course is filled with dry silt.  Not sand. Not even dust.  Finer than dust.  About the consistency of talcum powder.

And thick enough that even the most-experienced professional could easily high center his vehicle.  I told you yesterday that the Meyers Manx -- the car John and I were assigned to -- lost its brakes before we left the Pacific coast.

That made driving down the chutes of silt very interesting.  It was almost like a toboggan run.  With the exception that the “snow”would suddenly burst into clouds of vision-erasing clouds.

We took the silt at a fast, but reasonable, pace.  The Baja 1000 drivers blast through the stuff -- often completely oblivious to what may appear in front of them.

But the silt was nothing compared to the rocks we encountered -- the second example.  The mountains on the portion of the course we ran are made of solid rock with very little top soil.  That means that any roads cut through are going to be strewn with loose rock and have an exposed foundation of boulders.

In some areas, it looked as if we were descending a river bed.

In others, passage seemed next to impossible.

But we did pass.  Overall, we spent about eleven hours on the road.  Most of the time was spent working our way through the torn up course.  And it was more fun than I could ever have imagined.  Or did I already tell you that?

One benefit of the trip was a quick stop at the famous Mike’s Sky Ranch -- where we had a pleasant Mexican meal before we started the most exciting portion of the descent to the Pacific.

I suspect my new camera may have become a victim of this little adventure.  It was not designed to withstand repeated clouds of silt.  And it is not very happy.

But it was happy enough to send this photograph along to you.  Proof positive that this was a great trip through the Baja mountains.


Monday, November 18, 2013

sea to shining sea

Welcome, folks, to the Baja 140.

Since we were but mere spectators for the Baja 1000, our intrepid group decided to sponsor our own race.  Two teams.  Two cars.  From Punta Cabras on the Pacific to San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez.  A bi-coastal run.

The course would join together segments of past Baja races along with our own improvisations.  And rather than a timed event (because our vehicles would be in two separate classes), the event was more like a rally.

So, off we went on Sunday morning.  Gary and Darrel in the RZR 900XP,and John and Steve in the Meyers Manx.  A bit later than we had originally planned -- because we are in the senior division.  And leniencies are expected.  Like the early bird special at Denny’s.

Speaking of food.  We are not so foolish as to leave home base without a hearty breakfast.  John’s neighbor, Al, had recommended a Mexican breakfast place in San Vicente.  Reinforced with hamburgers, huevos rancheros, and omelets, we were on our way.

But not before marking our departure with a stop at a blowhole on the Pacific coast that was new even to John.  These things fascinate me even more than geysers. Probably because the working mechanism of negative pressure is so transparent.  Geysers are rather sneaky in the way they hide their inner workings.

Our route from the Pacific coast to the Sea of Cortez would take us through an ever-changing kaleidoscope of topography.  We thought the primary obstacle would be the mountains that form the spine of Baja California.

I have had several friends tell me that they thought Baja was flat -- like Florida.  If it were, it would most likely not exist.  Several faults have pushed what would otherwise be sea bed high above sea level.

As a result, the mountains can (and do) reach 10,000 feet above sea level.  That meant taking along a variety of clothing.  Mostly to prevent sunburn, but it also came in handy when the temperature dropped.

The mountain roads are not too bad.  They twist and rise.  And are, theoretically, two lanes wide.  In reality, they are one lane tracks that are wide enough to let the infrequent traffic coming in the opposite direction to squeeze past.  That did not keep us from ripping up the side of the mountains.

John’s car had one handicap.  Just as we were leaving, we discovered that his master brake cylinder was not being cooperative.  In plain terms, he had no brakes.

If I had the ability to hand out prizes for our little event (and I guess I do), John would receive a special award for being able to control his vehicle on up grades, down grades, and silt as thick as Minnesota snow without incident.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  Once we reached the summit of the mountains, we entered a large basin that forms the center of Baja -- a basin that is made up of rich farm land.  And a large silt bed.

We steered clear of the silt bed itself -- to avoid getting stuck for days.  But the surrounding roads are made up of silt that is far closer to talcum powder than sand.  Hitting a small pile of the silt head on is like being hit in the face with 500 pounds of talcum.  With no benefit other than losing the ability to see while hurtling down river beds.

The silt transitioned into the last mountains before we gradually ramped our way down one of the legs of the Baja 100 to the Sea of Cortez.  Just over four hours from leaving the Pacific coast, we were dipping our toes in a new body of water.

And, boys being boys, three of our members decided  to buy discounted t-shirts for the recently-completed Baja 1000.  I was disappointed that there were no Baja 140 shirts.  But, hey, this is Mexico.  If I really wanted one, there is a vendor somewhere who could find one for me.

And tomorrow?  Who knows?  We are thinking about creating another race back to Punta Cabras.  Perhaps a two-day course this time.

The nice thing about our races is that we can make them up as we go along.  And that suits my style just fine.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

watching the electrons ebb from my friends

First, let me say I have been having a great time here in Baja.  But you know that already.

But I thought I would post today about something a bit different.  My reaction to Baja California as a place to live.

For the past three days I have been headquartered at Punta Cabras on the Pacific coast -- about 6 miles north of Puerto San Isidro.  The community is a mix of Mexicans and Americans -- with most of the Americans living here as part-time residents.

When I moved to Mexico, I waned to live where I would wake up each morning wondering how I would get through the day.  If that was my sole criterion for a place to live, Punta Cabras has it in spades.

There is no electrical connection here.  The power poles end several mils south.  And the people here want to keep it that way. To keep out what cheap power would bring to the area.

Instead, each house has its own solar power hookup with a backup generator. Solar power and Baja seem to be a natural match.  But not always.  Since we arrived, we have not had sufficient sunshine to charge the system batteries.  As a result, each of my electrical travel companions has been dying -- one by one.

Another factor keeps new settlers from moving in.  Water.  Each homeowner owns a share in the community well.  And no new blood is being invited into the pool.  It would be easier to get a prime table at Noma than to buy a home here.

As a result, the group is supportive of other group members.  But they are simultaneously insular toward change.  Having said that, they all welcomed and entertained me lavishly -- as a guest.

The only aspect of Baja that has interested me is the weather.  Our days have hovered in the 50s and lower 60s since we arrived.  Perfect weather for me.  But John, our host, burst my bubble when he pointed out that summers here can easily hit 100 degrees.

Of course, Baja has built a reputation for catering to boys with toys.  There are an amazing number of trails and tracks that are perfect for our two vehicles.

This afternoon we drove on the highway to San Vicente to buy car parts and tacos.  On the return trip we took dirt tracks through the hills back to the beach.

The scenery was stunning.  And I wish I had a photograph for you.  But my camera is one of the casualties of our electricity limitation.  My hope is to get it revived with power from the generator.  If I don’t, this will also be my last bog for a bit -- because my computer battery is nearly exhausted.

The bottom line is this is a very fun place to visit, but I would not choose it as a place to live over Melaque.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

three, three, three days in one

Friday was one of those fortunate days when three adventures were delivered in one day.

The first was expected -- the reason for being here.  We drove up to Ensenada and then went fifteen more miles inland to watch each of the Baja 1000 racers speed past us in the mountains of Baja -- the technical part of the course. 

One of the reasons Baja has become home to this race is its topography.  Mountains.  Beaches.  Sand.  Rock.  Anything to create driving hazards during the 17 hour race.  This is not a Sunday drive in the country.

Nor is it a sport for the unmoneyed.  At one point in time, this was a race for guys in Baja buggies (stock Volkswagen bugs).

These days, it is not unusual to spend upwards of $500,000 on the race vehicle. The truly moneyed have multiple chase crews -- and are guided by helicopters.  You can almost feel the dollars rushing past on the course.

The only competitors we did not see were the motorcycles.  They left early the night before.  But we saw every other class come whizzing by.

The most dangerous thing I did as a spectator was eat breakfast at the local cantina.  I am still not certain what the filling was.  But I survived.

When we got back to the house, the second adventure began.  Before boys can play with toys, boys must do mechanical stuff.  No matter how well we maintain our recreational vehicles, something always needs to be done.

So, out came the tool boxes and a few accessories to get ready for our third adventure.  To spend the rest of the days speeding through the dunes and beaches near John’s house.

Of course, another rule of adventure intruded itself.  Whenever tools come out, time seems to speed up.  As a result, the sun was starting to set when we set off on our Rommel reenactment.

I guess Rommel is not a good comparison.  I doubt he really enjoyed going either way across North Africa.  We had the advantage of a long beach to ourselves.

And with only one small stuck-in-the-sand episode, we had more fun than four guys should have while being loud and fast.  Conquering he dunes is better than anything Disney can offer.  And even better the roller coasters at Six Flags.  After all, neither park offers the constant specter of death on each dune.

Some of the of the motorcycles have competed the course as I write this.  By the time you read it, some of the trophy trucks will have completed it.  The remainder of the pack will straggle back up the Baja peninsula through Saturday night.

We may go out to find some.  Or we may wait and have our own cross-peninsula adventure on Sunday.  That is the joy of Baja.  No plans.

Whatever it is, I hope I can keep sharing with you.  John does not have electricity to his house.  But we have intermittent power.  That might make a good blog post.

See you soon.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I like to watch

Our role in the Baja 1000 is quickly unfolding.

And, rather than bury the story, here it is.  We will be watching the race, but watching it actively.

Darrel has a friend (John) who owns a house at Punta Cabras in Baja North.  That will be our base of operations. 

And a convenient base it is.  We are about an hour and a half south of Ensenada.  But that puts us right in the path of the motorcycles, trucks, and ATVs that are participating in the race.

Today we are up early to drive to Ensenada to see one of the flashiest classes of racers head out on their almost 100 mile race course – the Class One trucks and cars. 

These are the guys whose approach will be heralded by the helicopters that are part of their chase teams.  The days of the gentleman amateur racer disappeared some time ago.

But do not think we are left classless as spectators.  The RZR 900XP mounted n the back of Gary’s (another friend of Darrel) truck will be the chase vehicle for Darrel and Gary.

This Myers Manx will be the steed for John and Steve to chase after the racers.  And, at some point, we will do a bit of off-roading ourselves.

However, that will be for another day.

But why do you need any other days when this is the view that greets you from your own bedroom.  I almost felt as if I had been transported back to ancestral Scotland.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

driving the dunes with darrel

About three weeks ago,  my brother called.

We had been talking about my flight north for Thanksgiving.  So, the call was not a surprise.

He started off: "I'll meet you at the Los Angeles airport on Wednesday." 

"Why?"  I responded.  "I'll be at your house in Bend [in Oregon] later that night."

"Wrong.  We are going to race in the Baja 1000."

And so began my latest little adventure.  I have never even attended the Baja 1000.  But my brother has been a team member -- along with my niece -- for several years.

So, if all goes well, I will have met my brother at the Los Angeles Airport, and we will be heading south into Baja as you are reading this.

And what will I be doing?  Well, let's put it his way.  Remember the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy's father read obscure clues from his diary?  Indy asked (with irritation in his voice): "What does that mean?"  And his father answered with laughter: "I don't know.  We'll find out."

That is exactly how I feel.  I know we are participating.  But I am not certain in what type of vehicle.  Nor do I know if I am navigating or driving or serving as cannon fodder for the course.  But, you know what?  We'll find out.

Someone is bound to ask this question, so let me answer it.  My doctor does have concerns about me traipsing off on another boy adventure.  Not because she is concerned I am going to have a heart attack or a stroke (though that could happen to any of us at almost any time), but because she has not yet found the proper combination of medication to deal with my triglycerides.  She was not impressed with my suggestion that we set fire to my blood and let the fat burn out like some abandoned West Virginia coal mine.

I will undoubtedly make some promise to her that will be physically impossible to keep.  But she will feel better, and I can have a good time with my brother.

If I can get internet hookups, I will keep you posted on the race.  If not, there will be tales to tell in another week.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

milking my memories

This may look to you like a box of Whoppers -- what Americans usually think of when they hear the term "malted milk balls."  Or, as my father called them: "malted moth balls."

But, for me, the box is crisp (sometimes damp) dark nights on the unlit streets of Oak Grove.  Going door to door with my brother telling the neighbors to cough up the candy or dire (unspecified) things just might happen.

A cross between Obamacare and the Mafiosi.  The day, of course, was always 31 October.

When I saw the pictured box at Comercial Mexicana -- one of our large grocery establishments that masquerades as a department store -- it brought back the smell, the feel, the sounds of those fun nights in the 1960s.  So, I thought I would try to resurrect the taste, as well.

As you know, I do not care for sweets -- and I really do not care for chocolate.  But I have always been very fond of the malt ball that hides under the cocoon of sugared paraffin.I grabbed a box and dug into it on the drive back from Manzanillo.** 

Have you ever found a product that you liked as a kid?  Maybe Twinkies.  Or those Hostess fruit pies sold in the high school cafeteria.  Remember how good they were when you were young?  Pure ambrosia.

And remember what happened when you tasted them as an adult?  How dreadful they were?  What happened?  Did the recipe change?  Did we develop better taste as adults?

I don't know the answer.  But that was exactly my reaction to the Whoppers.  The coating has always tasted a bit like a brown candle to me.  It is not really chocolate at all.  For me, that is just fine.

But the big disappointment was the center.  I always looked forward to the crunch of the malt ball with its yeasty tones.  Even that was missing.

It must have been the heat and humidity, but each center was reduced to a gummy caramel.  No crunch.  No yeast.  Like a box of Milk Duds that have gone very, very bad.

There is a lesson, of course, to be learned from these attempts to buy memories.  It can't be done.  We have already paid the price of memory by experiencing it the first time.

The Whoppers do not matter.  But those chilly October nights will always be a part of who I am.

And I will always have my brother to experience new things.  Like the Baja 1000.  And that is where we are headed today. 

* -- If you are fond of malted milk balls, I strongly recommend you try Maltesers -- the British version.  Far superior in all respects.

** -- Before you reach for your "what about your diet" lynch kit, all of these events happened in late October.  Long before my days of diet reform.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

splitting the difference

Lewis Carroll must have had a hand in creating Melaque.  At least, some of the sub-cultures.

While walking to the village yesterday, this sign caught my eye.  My irony radar set off its high alert.  What kind of thinking goes into a sign that announces a business as "We are Mexican," and then spells it out in English? 

Well, you know the type.  We cannot get away from labeling ourselves -- even when we come to Mexico.  The "we" in that sentence are the expatriates and tourists who seem to thrive on these divisions.

The expatriate-tourist crowd in Melaque is not very large.  We come from a handful of countries.  Primarily, Canada with both English and French speaking contingents.

The rest of us are from The States, Ecuador, Colombia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany.  I am certain there are more countries represented.  I just cannot think of them at the moment.

But the nationality labels are not what divides us -- though there is some of that.  Instead, we tend to coalesce around authenticity parties. 

Here's what I mean by that.  Everyone wants to have an "authentic" experience in Mexico -- whether they live here or whether they have come down for the short haul.

But people have varying expectations about that authenticity.  Let's take food as an example.

There are two major parties.  The Purists, who will eat only Mexican food prepared in a Mexican kitchen by Mexican hands.  And then there are the Bridgers, who will eat most any food without regard to the nationality of either the restaurant owner or the cook.

Like most reductionist theories, there are a lot of people who slop over into both camps.  I have not mentioned The Picky Tourist, who will eat nothing unless it looks, smells, and, tastes just like the early bird special at Denny's.  I didn't because The Picky Tourist is in the same category as the griffin and manticore.

If I had to wager on the provenance of the sign on the wall, I would put it down to clever marketing.  The proprietors are playing on the partisan spirit of the Purists.  Eat here.  We are Mexican.  Come be authentic with us.  We are not like those Canadians down the street.  Well, except for our menu.

It is a clever little ploy.  But I often wonder why we allow ourselves to be pandered to in this fashion?  Why do we divide ourselves up into two groups?

Maybe it is human nature.  We certainly do it in politics.

I just finished reading an article by Jay Nordlinger bemoaning the overuse of the word "establishment."  A word that had little categorical meaning, but has now become one of those terms used more as an insult than an analytical tool.  It was this paragraph that got me to thinking about our Purist-Bridger division.

In early 2003, a bunch of us were sitting around figuring out where we stood on the impending Iraq War.  A colleague said: "I know what the neoconservative position is, but what's the conservative position?"  In reality, there was no cupboard from which you could pluck conservative positions (or neoconservative ones).  You had to think: "What's the right thing to do, or least wrong thing to do?  What is the wisest or most palatable of the options?"
I wonder what our social scene in Melaque would be like if we simply asked: "Where's the best place to eat that will offer me a culinary adventure each time I visit?"

Of course, the sentence is loaded with my values.  So, what I will do is use that as my own guide.  And I will make a deal.  You don't tell me what to eat, and I won't tell you.

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls, David Sedaris handles the most difficult division amongst Americans -- politics -- with his inimitable humor.  In the process of making fun of his opponents, he does a Veg-o-matic on his fellow believers.
In the last month of the presidential campaign, I tuned in to conservative talk radio and listened as callers considered the unthinkable.  One after another, they all threatened the same thing: “If McCain doesn’t win, I’m leaving the country.”

“Oh, right,” I’d say.  “You’re going to leave and go where? Right-wing Europe?”  In the Netherlands now, I imagine it’s legal to marry your own children.  Get them pregnant, and you can abort your unborn grandbabies in a free clinic that used to be a church.  The doctor might be a woman who became a man and then became a woman again, all on taxpayers’ dollars, but as long as she saves the stem cells, she’ll have the nation’s blessing.
I couldn't have said it better.  I wonder if David would like an "authentic" Mexican dinner on me?

Monday, November 11, 2013

preserving the torch

Today is Veterans' Day in the United States.  In Canada and Great Britain, it is Remembrance Day.

It is the day we specifically set aside to remember all of the servicemen who have protected our values -- in war or in peace.  But its roots are in a specific war.  World War One.  The war that was to end all wars.  And to make the world safe for democracy.

Both phrases are now associated with President Wilson, even though the first originated with H.G. Wells.  Of course, nothing of the sort happened.  The Twentieth Century was filled with one war after another.  And the world is no safer for democracy than it was in 1918.

And 1918 is important for our tale.  Because it was on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour of that year that an armistice was declared in Europe ending what then seemed to be the most brutal war of human history.  Since then, we have honored not only the men who fought in that war, but also anyone who served in the armed forces in the pursuit of an orderly and peaceful world.

Today I joined a restaurant-full of Mexicans, Canadians, and Americans to honor the fallen and the living in uniform.  The ceremony was simple.  A playing of The Last Waltz.  A moment of silence.  A reading of In Flanders Field.  And then the singing of the national anthems of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

I was honored to be asked to read the poem and to lead the singing of the American anthem.  Even though, I managed to Robert Goulet the lyrics on the latter.

My little error did not take away from the true sentiment of thankfulness of the people who participated.  And we had the very personification of what we were honoring in our midst.  Elton Ellsworth is a regular Melaque visitor.  But more than that, he is a veteran of World War Two, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

For those who have died,  For those who have served.  For those who stand on guard today.  I salute you.

honor thy postman

Tomorrow is Dia del Cartero hereabouts.  If you left your universal translator on the Enterprise, that means Postman's Day.

For me, it means thanking the three men who sell me stamps, send out my cards and letters, and ensure that my ever-increasing pile of mail gets to my postal box.  They do a great job.

These pages have included several entries about my love affair with the Mexican mail service.  If I mail a letter to The States from here, it will be delivered up north between 10 and 14 days.  And letters sent this way arrive on a similar schedule.

The only problem I have had is with magazines.  My print issues of The Economist are once again showing up in my box -- even though I can read it through my internet subscription.  I now read The American Spectator solely online.

Babs recently sent me a card from San Miguel de Allende.  If I remember correctly she said this was her first use of the Mexican mail system.  I had it in hand within 5 or 6 days.

But all of that is merely the job.  What is more important is that I enjoy talking to Saul, Julio, and Ramon.  When I go in to check my box for mail, we stand around and talk about soccer, the weather, accidents, recent deaths.  The type of conversation you would have at a small town post office in southern Oregon.  That is, if the participants knew only a few words in each person's language.

But it works.  Guys don't need lots of words.  For me, that is fortunate.

Dia del Cartero is the day that all of this service is honored.  Patrons of the post office drop off small gifts or tips during the week (the office is closed on the day itself).

In my case, I combine their Christmas gift with my Carterois tip because I am usually out of the country for most of the winter.  And that will be true again this year.

So, I will use three of those tiny, girly cards that grandmothers use to give gift money to their grandchildren, and stuff a 200 peso note into each of them. 

Small change for three workers in an institution that is central to my life in Mexico.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

2000 -- and counting

According to my Blogger dashboard, this is my 2000th post.

2000.  It does not seem possible.  When I sat down on the evening of 19 December 2007 to tell Andee, a blogger in Chacala, about my scouting trip to Mexico, I am positive I had no thoughts of still tapping away almost six years later.

John Calypso has a program that tells him how many words he has written.  I don't have that capability.  But I know there have been a lot of words that have gone out over the internet under my signature.

What has changed most has been the number of daily hits.  Back in 2007-2008, I thought I had hit the big time with 80 hits.  That figure is now regularly close to 4000 each day.

Of course, those are hits, not readers.  All bloggers get lots of spam hits from the exotic climes of Ukraine, India, and Thailand.  And there are also the Google searches that bring up my "floating butterfly," "naked youth," and "flag of Mexico" posts.  I suspect they each represent a distinct interest group.  And they pass by without stopping.

But the core of regular readers and commenters has grown.  Living in a rather small community, people often stop me on the street to say something nice about the blog.  The people who cross to the other side of the street may have other opinions.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the past six years--  honing my observation skills.  Whether there will be 2000 more posts remains to be seen.  But you will soon see what I experience at the Baja 1000 and my road trip to Central America.

So far,it has been a great ride.  If you stay on board, I promise more of the same.

border tales -- with a cup of coffee

Coffee drinkers rejoice.  Your filled cups are at hand. 

La Taza Negra is open for roasted coffee sales.  And the full coffee shop opens on 19 November.

I talked with Ben Boyt yesterday after his arrival in town on Thursday.  His return trip was unusually eventful.  And in it lies a cautionary tale.

Ben and his dad headed south from Oregon in his dad's truck.  The trailer they were towing contained the Boyt family's personal goods, supplies for the coffee shop, and a recently-purchased coffee roaster.

They decided to enter Mexico the same way I entered five years ago -- through Lukeville.  All went well at the border crossing.  They drove across the border after showing their documents and headed south to the first customs stop.

Anyone who has crossed at Lukeville knows that nothing is signed very well.  The protocol is that all drivers are to stop in the parking lot right at the border and take care of entry issues in the office.

That didn't happen.  Ben and his dad thought it was odd that no one had mentioned visas.  But they drove on to what was once the major customs and visa stop. 

They went past the first set of offices without stopping.  That turned out to be what was probably mistake number two.

Their first stop was when they received a red customs light.  Ben opened the trailer for the inspector, who immediately honed in on the roaster.  When the inspector discovered nothing had yet been declared, the trip came to a halt.

A four day halt.  They were ordered back to the border where Mexican customs impounded the truck and trailer -- and all of its contents.  Ben and his dad waited for the officials to determine if there would be a fine or if everything would be confiscated.

It turned out to be a mixture of both.  If they would pay a fine of $12,000, the vehicle, the trailer, and personal goods would be released.  But the roaster would be forfeited.

At that point, Ben's dad needed to return north, and Ben decided to join Alexa and the kids in Dallas for a few days while Customs considered a fine reduction.  When Ben returned to the border, the issue was still unsettled.  So, he hired a shipper for the few goods that were released, and hired an attorney to assist in lowering the penalty.

And that is where everything rests right now  Ben returned by bus to Melaque to open the shop.  The rest of the family will arrive soon.

The precautionary tale that Ben passes along to everyone coming across the border is to do a bit of research before bringing anything into Mexico.  Mexico, like every other country, has regulations that it enforces -- something that those of us with a libertarian bent often down play.  As Ben says, his decision to "wing it" turned out to be a bad decision.

For me, though, the story is once again about relationships.  Ben is a member of our church.  The moment we heard there were difficulties at the border, people volunteered to do what they could to assist him -- including a willingness to take their vehicles to Lukeville to bring him and his goods to our little harbor of Melaque.  You might call it the Dunkirk spirit.

And through it all, Ben and Alexa exercised their faith.  As great mentors for the rest of us.

Years from now, Ben and Alexa will be telling the Tale of the Prodigal Roaster.  And how all good stories come at a cost.

Welcome home, Ben.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

borg bees

It fell from outer space.  Like a piece of orbiting Russotrash.

There it was in the middle of my garden path.  Big.  Dirty.  Alien.  Larger than a man's head.   Even mine.

I suppose it could have been worse.  It could have fallen to earth while I was heading down the garden path (I knew you were just waiting to hear that) and Wicked-Witch-of-the-East'ed me.

There it sat.  Just waiting for a curious hand to come examine it.  That would be me with my curious hand in the air.

And examine it I did.  Apparently, forgetting just over two years ago, a similar apparition crashed to the ground on my patio (out of the blue).  I should have remembered to show a bit more caution than I did.

I grabbed one of the sticks.  After all, the sticks looked utilitarian enough.  As if they were purposely placed to allow the mass to be easily turned for close inspection by a 12-year old mind.

While I was turning my find, I noticed a black fly land on my right elbow.  "Great!," I thought.  This thing is filled with maggots.

Then another fly.  And another.  And another.  Each of them seemed to be quite intent on trying to do something to my arm.  And then I felt something like a sting to the back of my arm.

It was at that point, I realized there were probably fifty or so "flies" on my arms, legs, shirt, and shorts.  Then it hit me, I had just disturbed the home of a social collective.  A bunch of commie bees had targeted me for their fall from grace -- or the mango tree. 

Assimilation was not their goal, stinging was.  In my, case resistance was not futile.

I dashed off with more bees in pursuit, brushing off the ones I could see.  Ran into the house, stripping all the way.  And jumped into the shower.

The mopping-up operation took a bit longer.  Quite a few bees had followed me into the house.  But a bit of grit, determination, and Raid left the place bee-free.

I have an acquaintance down here by the name of John.  He showed me a nest of black bees that had a powerful sting.  All I could think of was how lucky I was to be stung only once.

I told my land lady of the danger in the garden, and she called Civil Protection to relieve us of the nuisance.  But, before they arrived, Esteban the Gardener showed up to do his hosing.

I warned him about the bees.  When he looked at the hive, he told me these bees do not sting (no pica).  When I showed him my one sting, he shrugged as if I was whining that I could only find 12-grain bread when I wanted 7-grain.

But I trusted him.  As a rule, almost everything in nature is a potential danger to him and needs to be dispatched as quickly as possible.  Snakes.  Spiders.  Caterpillars. 

I needed to weigh that against the fact that this is the same guy who left a scorpion crawling on his arm so I could see it, and who brought me a nasty-looking yellow and red hornet (in his hands) that has just stung him.

I opted for trust.  His plan had the advantage of simplicity.  I would spray Raid into the hole of the nest (that meant I needed to get my head right over the top of the territory that had just invaded my arm).  When I thought we had sufficiently anesthetized the occupants of the nest, Esteban would pick up the whole mess by its handy handles and carry it to the laguna.

It worked like a charm.  Of course, Esteban has once again confirmed that I am just another northern hysteric who has yet to come to grips with nature.

I was about to say he may be correct. Until evening rolled around.

I almost forgot I had promised my friends Vern and Elke I would attend the grand opening of Ambar (our local French restaurant) in a new venue.  The promise predated swearing off eating in restaurants.

And I am glad I went.  The setting is perfect.  The staff was turned out in chic black -- as were some of the patrons.  All looking quite elegant for our little bay.

There is something about a good restaurant filled with well-dressed life-loving patrons that warms the heart.  Several years ago, I was talking with the maitre d' at Maxim's.  In a sweeping gesture with his hand (something the French seem to do naturally), he drew my attention to the full dining room and said: "Doesn't she look lovely tonight?"

I felt the same way about Ambar last night.  Everything had pulled together during the day in this wonderful evening.

Yes, Georges, she does look lovely tonight.