Tuesday, December 31, 2013

jared leto nude (almost) in mexico

Several years ago, Nancy over at Countdown to Mexico told me about Google Alerts -- a way to discover new blogs about Mexico.

It is a blunt tool.  Like the mind of a twenty-something American, it will produce all types of information with little judgment as to its value. 

In other words, it works like a Google search.  Ask it a term, and it will give you plenty of results without regard to your own concern for relevancy.

As a result, I get a lot of dross in my in-box.  All about Mexico.  But from perspectives I did not know even existed.

Take this little gem.  It is "news" that the American C-list celebrity Jared Leto vacationed in Mexico.  And that he went to the beach.  And that he was shirtless on the beach.

At one point in our culture, we called that voyeurism.  When a photograph like this would show up, we would avert our eyes.  At least, that is what we were taught to do.

But no more.  Now, it is celebrity worship.  It is almost as if a large segment of society is so depressed by their lives, that seem to have absolutely no purpose, they try to find some meaning in looking at the half-naked body of a decidedly mediocre actor.

Of course, my answer to all this drivel is to do what I usually do when it shows up in my email.  I delete it.

But not today.  It is the end of the year, and I have shamelessly snatched Jared Leto's body and written a hopelessly shallow essay for one purpose only -- I am going to end up reeling in lots of hits through Google.  Just like all of those other blogs that mention Mexico.

Happy New Year to all of you.  I promise substance will return tomorrow.

Or, at least, something that can pass as substance.


Monday, December 30, 2013

showers of blessing

Several bloggers and commenters have mentioned that this has been a very wet December in the Mexican highlands.  When it should be cool and dry, it is cool and wet.  Some would even say cold and wet.

Because my mother raised me to show at least the semblance of kindness, I have avoided pointing out that if my fellow expatriates wanted warmth without rain, they should head down to our little village by the sea.  Most of December has felt like September.  By that, I mean it has been very hot and very humid.  But without rain.

I am glad I avoided the temptress Hubris.  Because we are once again knee deep in water here in Melaque.  The rain started on Thursday night, and it has been raining off and on each day.

You will never hear me complaining about rain here.  It cuts through the heat like relief troops at Bastogne.  Rain always brightens the locals.

But the town is filled with more than locals.  Mexicans from all over western Mexico have descended on Melaque in SUVs and buses.  All hoping to spend some Christmas time in the sun.

Instead, they are huddling in hotel foyers and restaurants, under awnings, and on the beach camping in tents that were designed for air flow, not repelling rain.  With disappointment writ large on their faces.

The rain is not that surprising.  We have had rain during the Christmas school break for the past three years.  The only surprising thing is that some of us can still be amazed at what appears to be a developing weather tradition.

But, as they do for most everything in life, Mexicans improvise.  In this case, out come the board games or the chairs to form conversation circles or the ubiquitous smartphones and their attendant games.  I suspect the tales told to neighbors when they return home will center around good times had rather than sun moments missed.

And me?  I am just being patient.  The maid hung out the towels and sheets to dry on Thursday at noon.  Each day they accumulate more water.

But the sun always comes out.  If not tomorrow.  The the day after that.  Or the day after that one.  And then I can fold the laundry and stow it away.

I do know one thing.  When the rain finally stops, my neighbors and I will be happy for the relief.  But we will then anxiously await its return in mid-June or so when our green jungle takes on the look of fire-burnt hills.

Maybe that is what keeps all of us looking forward with hope.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

cutting up my diner's card

I am moving.

Well, I may as well after my brother reads this post.  He will be on an airplane down here to cut up my charter member card in the Cercle de la Famille Cotton Gourmand.

I have had a craving for pasta with clams in white sauce for the past couple months.  When I was up north, I planned to go to one of my favorite Italian restaurants.  But I flew back to Mexico before I could scratch that itch.

The craving returned while I was shopping in my favorite Melaque grocery store.  I noticed a jar of Paul Newman alfredo sauce.

Now, I have never eaten any of those canned or jarred pasta sauces.  They all looked as if they would taste just as they are -- processed.

It had one advantage, though. It would be fast.  But where would I find fresh butter clams?  A can of baby clams answered that question.

Because neither ingredient offered scant hope of a good dinner, I bought a packet of Italian pasta.  Apparently, I failed to notice that the pasta was gluten-free.  So much for premium semolina flour.

The cost for those three items?  $175 (Mx) -- or about $13.40 -- for what should have been three or so servings of dinner.  After all, they were all imported goods.

Having acquired enough guilty pleasures for the day, I skulked home and started putting my treat together.  Rather, I opened the can of clams and the sauce jar, and tested the contents.

The sauce tasted like something that had seeped out of a New Jersey toxic dump site.  And the clams?  As tender as pencil erasers with a subtle note of aluminum.

My last hope was that the pasta would be good enough to make up for the sauce.  I was wrong.  "Gluten-free" must be a euphemism for gummy and tasteless.

Combined, there was no descriptor other than inedible.  It was so dreadful that a heavy dose of Valentina sauce didn't improve it.

With one bite, I was done with the lot.  It now sleeps in the garbage pail.

I had hoped to have some for dinner last night.  Instead, I bought two charcoal-grilled chickens and a bag filled with vegetables.  Stir fry never fails to boost both my mood and my palate.

And, who knows, it may be enough for my brother to put his shears back in his desk drawer.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

bringing the president home

Just over 100 years ago, he fled Mexico in disgrace.  Today the body of José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori (or as we know him in history, Porfirio Diaz) has returned home from Paris to Mexico to be honored as a Hero of the Mexican Revolution.

When last seen in Mexico in 1911, he was fleeing from the troops of soon-to-be-president Madero, who were in hot pursuit.  With stops in Spain and then France, he died in Paris in 1915.

Since then, there have been sporadic movements to bring Diaz home.  After all, he was a participant in both of the major movements to restore Mexico's independence and make it a liberal democracy.  He fought brilliantly against the French and helped overthrow the puppet emperor, Maximilian.  He then backed the reforms of Benito Juarez.

He eventually became president as a liberal -- and modernized Mexico as a major player in the Industrial Revolution.  Mexico developed so quickly, that she needed foreign investments to develop her national interests.  Something that European powers and The States were happy to supply -- for a piece of the pie.

But, like all reformers, he did not know when it was time to leave the stage -- believing that he personally was keeping the engine running.  Either through reelection as president (or through figure heads), he ruled Mexico for nearly thirty years.

His attempt to forestall any new leadership, the open corruption of foreign investors, and an acquired tin ear to ignore the very type of reforms that brought him to power caused the defining event in Mexico's history -- the Revolution.

With the rise of one-party control, there was no hope of returning Diaz's body to Mexico.  He was the personification of everything that the Revolution fought against.

But times have changed.  In 2000, Mexico proved that it could get by without one-party control.  Northerners were invited south to invest.  To be part of Mexico. 

And this last year, the party of the Revolution (PRI) proved Mexico was a mature power by starting a process to release its death grip on its petroleum industry.  Not to mention that politicians (other than the president) will now be allowed to run for reelection -- discarding one of the main reasons of the Revolution.

When asked what all this means, Diana de los Santos Innocentes, spokeswoman for The Committee to Bring the Revolution Full Circle, said: "It means that it is time to give President Diaz his due.  After all, without him, there would be no Revolution.  Right?  He should have a home right next to such honorable men as Pancho Villa."

An American tourist, April Loof, was heard to say: "So, this is like a parade for some old guy who died a hundred years ago?  Gross."

Apparently, the committee that arranged the ceremony did not get final approval from the government to inter the body in the Monument of the Revolution.  The body will be moved between the embassies of Britain, Canada, France, Spain, and the United States until an appropriate resting spot is approved.

Porfirio Diaz would understand.

Friday, December 27, 2013

some new spice for the pot

It is about time to add something new to my blog roll.  It's over there on the right.  Blogs I read regularly.

The list is dynamic.  Some of the blogs have been there since I first started writing same life -- new location.  What you might call the beta release of mexpatriate.  Some old blogs have disappeared.  A couple of new ones have replaced them.

Today I am adding two additional blogs.

They are not new.  But they have some elements in common.  Both are written by women.  Members of the church I attend.  Women of faith.  Full time residents of Mexico.  And they both live within walking distance of me.

But they are also quite different.

Let's start with a mama's logbook.  It is written by Alexa, who spent a good portion of her life growing up as the daughter of a missionary in Mexico.  She and her husband, Ben (you met him in border tales -- with a cup of coffee) run what I am told is one of the best coffee shops in town.

But the business is not the center of her blog.  Her family is -- as you can tell by the title.  Ben and Alexa have two of the cutest children you are likely to encounter.  Ayden and Willow.

Alexa's writing has no pretension.  She is very direct.  Whether her topic is her children or her community or her faith, it is served up straight -- a cup of black coffee.  But, always with a cookie.

She occasionally speaks at church -- especially in the summer when we all take our turn at the sermon.  I quickly learned to listen to her when she speaks.  You will enjoy listening to her when she writes.

Robin is closer to me in age.  She and her husband, Scott, moved down here from Canada.  He is a builder -- one of his houses was top on my list when I first considering buying here. 

She teaches languages.  (I keep promising to attend her Spanish courses, if for no other reason to convince her that my Spanish is far worse than I describe it.)

Her blog is insidemex -- a compilation of stories about her experiences in Mexico as a volunteer, a language teacher, a traveler.  She brings the same flavor to her writing that she brings to her summer church talks -- where she delivers her dramatic Bible writings wearing appropriate costumes.  She is an artist. 

Inevitably, she covers some of the same topics I write about in Melaque.  That would be impossible to avoid.  We travel in some of the same existential circles.

I always find it interesting to read her rendition when we write about the same experience.  Of course, none of us have the same experience -- even when we are present for the same event.

As an example, take a look at her Posada at Pinal Villa and my the gift of the littlest magi.  Same event.  But different spins.  Different perspectives.  When you finish reading Robin's pieces, you feel as you have been sitting talking with a friend.

So, there are my late Christmas gifts (or maybe early New Year's gifts) to you.

Enjoy meeting Alexa and Robin.  I am proud to call them my friends.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

do not take me for the thing I was

I don't want to shock you, but I once worshiped at the altar of political power.

And not just any power.  I was infatuated with the Whore of Babylon herself -- Washington, DC.

That is an odd confession for an aging libertarian to make.  While my colleagues in the mid-60s were protesting in the streets, I was setting out my path to the United States Senate.

When I was a high school sophomore, the 1964 election made one big decision in my life -- I wanted to be a politician.  And I knew the path.  Being a traditionalist, I would get a law degree and head down that yellow brick road to Oz itself.

That gives you an idea of my sophistication level.  I thought getting a law degree was simple.  I would go to law school right out of high school.  The military-industrial-academic complex had different ideas.  I needed a baccalaureate degree first.

It was one of my first realizations that the adult world was illogical and unfair.  So, I needed to pick an undergraduate school.

Skip forward to my senior year.  The career dream had not diminished.  And my sense of reality had not increased.  I was close to graduating before I gave any thought to applying to a college.

On the very last day that I could apply, I decided I would attend a college in -- where else? -- Washington, DC.  Thumbing through the catalogs, I decided on a school relatively near the Capitol -- Howard University.

I filled out my application and took it to our guidance counselor.  I suspect I needed his signature -- or something.

He looked at the application.  Up at me.  Back at the application.

The next time he looked up, he had a very worried look on his face.  "You do know what type of college Howard is, don't you?"

My response did not reassure him: "It's in Washington, DC."  I am certain he saw Ralph Wiggum written all over my face.

"You do know it is a negro college?"  Because that is the word polite white liberals used in the mid-60s.

"I know that," said I chirpily.  "What difference does it make?  It's in Washington, DC."

So, off went the application by certified mail.  I had my acceptance letter within days.  Undoubtedly, I benefited by some form of affirmative action -- even though I could not have cared less about the racial makeup of the student body.

For one reason or other, I never made it to Howard.  Instead, I went to school in Oregon -- one of the whitest states in the union.

I occasionally think about what my experience at Howard would have been like.  That is, I wondered until I read Thomas Sowell's account of what was going down at Howard in the late 1960s.

Howard had a very good academic record up until then.  It was one of the -- I will use the vernacular of the time -- negro schools that produced professionals that populated a growing middle class in black communities.

And then came the turmoils of the mid- and late 1960s -- especially the race riots of 1968 -- when racial politics took some very odd turns at formerly good schools.  Teachers and students became far more interested in using the school as a political platform than as a place to learn.

Of course, I was thirsting for a world of politics.  But I learned that I was thirsting for far more when I went to school in Oregon.  I discovered I was far more interested in learning than I was in wresting power from The Man.  Along the way, I discovered why western civilization was as strong as it was -- both morally and politically.  I also learned how to think critically to improve on those foundations.

According to Sowell, I would have learned all of that at Howard in the early 1960s, but not in the latter part of that decade.  He would undoubtedly argue I made the correct decision.

But it would be interesting to see what the equivalent of Mexpatriate would have looked like had I taken that alternative path through Howard.

My bet is that I would have ended up as a bitter exile with Stokely Carmichael in Guinea -- having re-named myself Menacham Tshombe in a futile attempt to build an alliance between Israel and Sierra Leone.  It would have been an interesting ride.

All things considered, the path I took was a good one.  But, as a tautologist, I know the path I took was the only one I could have been taken.  Roads may diverge in the woods, but we can always choose the path we have always taken.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

steve stuffs his stockings

There are people who cannot wait for Christmas.

I am not one of them.  Mind you, I am neither Grinch nor Scrooge.  Christmas just never spoke to me as a memorable day.

In my theology, of course, it is a very important day.  Especially for those orthodox Christians who celebrate this day as the incarnation of the Messiah.  Offering hope for a lost world.

In that sense, it is an incredibly important day. 

When I am on my own, I always do three things on Christmas Eve.

First, I celebrate God's greatest gift to mankind by attending a Christmas Eve service.  I did that last evening with a sizable turnout of our small expatriate community.

Second, I read the Christmas story out loud.  Not Charles Dickens's version.  Nor Jean Shepherd's movie script.  The original.  Usually, from Luke.

Around this time, Emperor Augustus issued an order for a census to be taken throughout the Empire.  This registration, the first of its kind, took place when Quirinius was governing in Syria.  Everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.  So Yosef , because he was a descendant of David, went up from the town of Natzeret in the Galil to the town of David, called Beit-Lechem, in Y’hudah, to be registered, with Miryam, to whom he was engaged, and who was pregnant.  While they were there, the time came for her to give birth; and she gave birth to her first child, a son.  She wrapped him in cloth and laid him down in a feeding trough, because there was no space for them in the living-quarters.

In the countryside nearby were some shepherds spending the night in the fields, guarding their flocks, when an angel of ADONAI appeared to them, and the Sh’khinah of ADONAI shone around them.  They were terrified;  but the angel said to them, “Don't be afraid, because I am here announcing to you Good News that will bring great joy to all the people.  This very day, in the town of David, there was born for you a Deliverer who is the Messiah, the Lord.  Here is how you will know: you will find a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” Suddenly, along with the angel was a vast army from heaven praising God:

“In the highest heaven, glory to God!
And on earth, peace among people of good will!”
No sooner had the angels left them and gone back into heaven than the shepherds said to one another, “Let's go over to Beit-Lechem and see this thing that has happened, that ADONAI has told us about.”  Hurrying off, they came and found Miryam and Yosef , and the baby lying in the feeding trough.  Upon seeing this, they made known what they had been told about this child; and all who heard were amazed by what the shepherds said to them. Miryam treasured all these things and kept mulling them over in her heart.  Meanwhile, the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen; it had been just as they had been told.
I then move on to the third tradition.

Some of you may think the third leg of my Christmas Eve is a bit odd.  I watch Life of Brian.  That's right.  The Monty Python movie that gets some people's briefs in a bunch.

It is one of the best faith films I have ever seen.  If you think you know exactly the correct ritual to make you Friends of The Big Guy, you might want to watch the movie with a fresh eye.  And get a good laugh at social manners along the way.

I often think that the writers knew their Old Testament prophets quite well. I can hear Hosea's warning in the film:

I'm after love that lasts, not more religion.
I want you to know God, not go to more prayer meetings.
So, having kept my traditions, let me indulge in one last rite:

I wish all of you a memorable Christmas.  And a new year filled with love for God and your neighbors.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

could you open that can of worms for me?

Gary Denness, my blogger pal and photographer consultant over at Mexile Photoblog, shared some interesting thoughts with us yesterday.

He was sorting through the photographs he shot in 2013 to find the best one to display on Flickr.  He showed us a dozen of very good photographs that were his runner-ups.  Each was good.  Because he is a very talented photographer.

As good as the photographs are, his description of why he did not choose any of the twelve was the most interesting part of his post.

The two ladies at the wedding?  And someone else’s elbow.  The photo of Mrs P was nice.  But her face needed just a bit more light and clarity.   The bird in the pond, just too little definition of its feathers for my liking.  The Auschwitz photo came out nicely, but it is oh so cliche.
And then the line that really struck me.  "The castle shots would look great in a magazine. But would they suit a gallery?  Methinks not."

"Would it suit a gallery?"  That may be one of the elements I have been looking for recently in what places the line between what is merely decorative and what is a piece of art. 

Granted, the line is an uneven one.  But some art gets past the imperfect lighting, the lack of definition -- the
cliché.  After all, every cliché was once something original.

Take my photograph at the top of this post.  It is last night's sunset.  A delightfully colorful sunset -- in person.  Not spectacular, but a good solid C+ for nature.

The photograph?  About as
cliché as a photograph could be.  Clouds.  Color.  Ocean.  All that was missing was a sailboat.

It is not true that if you have seen one sunset, you have seen them all.  But if you have seen one photograph of a sunset, you have about seen them all.

On Sunday afternoon I went to an art show at Ed and Roxanne's home.  Ed had hung some of his work around their garden and invited guests to an open house.  To look at art.  To talk about art.

Or, in the case of this particular painting, to talk about art and the art of bullfighting.

The intersection of the lives of the matador and the bull provides the artistic moment of this painting.

Just as the magical hurly-burly of the circus animates this piece.

I cannot imagine either work being used solely as a decorative piece over a couch or as an illustration in a book.  Each piece speaks with the artist's perspective on life.

As does this piece.


When I first arrived, a portrait of Frida was hanging there.  But Ed, Roxanne, and I decided, this abstract was better suited for the space.

And suited it was -- unintentionally.  The shapes and colors of the bench and canvas chair echo the geometric forms in the painting.  An art curator would have spent hours creating that effect.  But there it was -- ready to be captured by my camera.

So, does that photograph rise above the level of representational art?  I don't think so.  It was merely one of those serendipitous moments.  I did little more than report what was there.

But this shot comes close to being something a gallery might be interested in.

I would need a different location if I were serious about the subject.  Someplace with a bit less distracting vegetation.

The camera does interesting things to reflected clouds.  When captured on the surface of the water, they appear to have the same mass as their surroundings.  No surprise there.  Every element in a photograph has exactly the same mass.  I am surprised that Magritte did not rely more on cameras.

After all, the photograph is only a photograph of clouds reflected on the water.  It is not the clouds themselves.  (Put that way, it is easy to see why the post-moderns are usually left only with the tools of irony and sarcasm to flesh out their works.)

So, there you are.  Ed's works are art.  My photographs of Ed's works are not. 

Or, at least, that is how I am willing to leave this can of worms.

Monday, December 23, 2013

the gift of the littlest magi

"It is better to give than to receive."

This is the season for platitudes.  And that particular one is usually spouted by more hopeful recipients than gracious givers.

And I am not certain where I fall in that equation.  Or, at least, I was not certain this week.

For me, it was a week of tradition.  There are two events that usually excite my passion for the season of salvation here in my little fishing village by the sea.

The first was our church's distribution of despenas to local families with special economic needs.

Despensas are practical gifts at any time of the year.  Bags filled with basic staples to feed a family for several days.  Bread of life in a plastic bag.

I have written frequently about one of Mexico's astounding economic achievements -- the creation of a constantly-growing middle class.  By some measures, constituting up to 60% of the Mexican population.

But that still leaves at least 40% in poverty.  Some in desperate straits because of injuries, birth defects, or social circumstances.

The desperate are the target for our gift of food bags.  It is also the target clientele of the Mexican governmental agency that provides services to the poor -- Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF).

Our church partners with DIF when we deliver the despensas.  The theory is that the DIF agent knows the needs of her community.  And that has proven to be true in practice.

This year I came away from our distribution with a certain sense of unease.  And I was not certain why.  But I have an idea.

As the group was delivering a food bag to a family with a disabled child, women from the surrounding modest houses started trickling, then streaming, up the street to our vehicles.  Each pleading for a bag.  Each seeming as needy as the next.

The episode haunted me.  So much need.  And we had so few hands and so few bags.  The words echo.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you made me your guest,
I needed clothes and you provided them,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.
I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!
Matthew 25
Especially, at this season where we celebrate the coming of the Messiah.

And that brought me to the second event.  On Saturday afternoon I headed off to the posasda at the Indian School in Pinal Villa.

You can find plenty of well-written explanations online of the Mexican posada tradition -- I highly recommend Al Lanier's description over at Rancho Santa Clara

Here is the "Posada for Dummies" version.  Children re-enact Mary and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem.  Door after door is closed to them until they come to the final door that is opened to them and the attendant shepherds, wise men, angels. sheep, stars, and various hangers on who stream through the door to something a bit more luxurious than a stable.

In the case of the migrant worker children at the Indian school, they get a celebration that is about as far away from their daily lives as possible.

Filled with music.


A young clown.


And gifts of clothing, shoes, and toys.

For me, the night was a blessing -- because it put my week into perspective.  I have absolutely no control over the poverty in which most of the world lives.  But I do have a choice in offering some joy -- even if it is for just a moment for these children or the families who received the food bags.  For people who can find happiness within their circumstances.

The children at the Indian school are on the bottom rung of the Mexican social ladder.  Their futures are not bright.

But, for one shining moment, all of that simply did not matter.  They were Mary and Joseph asking for just a bit of shelter from the travails offered by the world.

And that they received.  With joy, exuberance, and the type of rapture that we all would like to capture at this Christmas season.

I also learned something about myself.  I realized that giving is a way of softening my own heart to make me more aware, more open to the needs of others.  The hungry.  The thirsty.  The stranger.  The naked.  The sick.  The prisoner.

"It is better to give than receive" may be a platitude.  But it is also a guide for our hearts and hands.

This is turning out to be a Christmas filled with blessings from unusual quarters.  And that is plenty of Christmas miracle for me to rest in now.