Wednesday, April 30, 2014

rumplestiltskin is the wave of the future

Well, those crazy politicians are up to it again in Mexico City.

Not the federal government.  This time it is the local government of the Federal District.

I am not certain what to make of this latest headline -- "Parents to Decide Order of Children's Last Names."  It sounds rather libertarian to me.  Shift power from the state to parents.  How could there be anything wrong with that?

But, first, a little context may help here.  Those of us who daily live in the world of Mexican names have become accustomed to their internal logic.  You can learn a lot about a person by simply looking at her formal name.

Let's say I have a friend named Maria Guadalupe Pérez Hernandez.  I know that her mother's family name is Hernandez and that her father's family name is Pérez.  Because that is the convention.  Father's name first.  Mother's name second.

And if she marries a young man named Julio César Valencia Rodríguez, and they have a son, his name will look like this: Manuel Javier Valencia
Pérez.  The last two names reflect the father's family name first and the mother's second.

Rather simple once you know the code.  But it confuses people, such as Oregon City policemen who repeatedly charged Latinos for "giving a false name to a police officer."

Now, the government of Mexico City is about to scramble the code.  Or, at least, allowing parents to scramble it.

A local legislator, Padierna Antonio Luna, is promoting a commission recommendation that parents should be empowered to breach the male-dominated name structure in Mexico.  If parents want to reverse the order of last names, they should be free to do so.

I probably do not need to tell you which party rules Mexico City's local government -- the hard left PRD.  None of my sources can give me the underlying reasoning for the proposed change other than to shrug their shoulders and mutter something about the PRD's love for change.

I come from a similar era.  When my friends began marrying after college, some of them entered into the hyphen name game.  William Locke married Mary Boxer and became the Locke-Boxer family.  George Sherwood and Melanie Forrest married and became the Sherwood-Forrests.

Of course it came to a head when their children married one another and became the Locke-Boxer-Sherwood-Forests.  Or was it the Sherwood-Locke-Boxer-Forrests.  Whichever it was, it was a wedding stationer's paradise.

There may be a solution on both sides of the border.  Parents can hope their children will ushered into the True Elite -- celebrities whose names shrink to one.  Like Thalia.  Or Beyoncé.  (Of course, Liza presents its own cautionary tale.)

I doubt anyone even cares who the parents of the mononyms are.

It could be worse.  Musically-inspired parents could name their children --

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

a cup of jasmine coffee

My pals in the Mexican highlands are often full of ideas where I can go to buy things.

Sanborns.  Liverpool.  Ermenegildo Zegna.

If I lived in Mexico City or Morelia or San Miguel de Allende, that would be good advice.  But this is the sticks.  Not only do we lack high culture on the beach, we do not have any shops those who wish to climb the greasy pole can get their little pieces of bourgeois paradise.

The best we can do is Manzanillo.  And, for high street shopping, it has some rather low roads.

But that is where I went yesterday.  I have a trip coming up, and I needed to stock up on items that may not be available in Barcelona or Venice or on a cruise ship.

Such as, prescription drugs.  Fortunately, I have escaped from taking most of the drugs that are daily downed by more than a few of my contemporaries.  I have only two medial issues these days -- slightly elevated blood pressure (as long as I do not write about politics, the first adjective is correct) and yo-yoing triglycerides (that are under control now through a diet change and a drug that has been withdrawn from the American and Canadian markets).

A quick trip to Farmacia Guadalajara (a large chain that usually has some of the best drug prices) left me $2,652 (Mx) poorer for a 60-day supply.  About $206 (US).  I am getting off a lot cheaper than friends up north.  And that is without health insurance premiums (other than the Medicare premium that is taken from my monthly check for a service I cannot use -- and do not want to use -- south of the border).

Some Raid to fight the leaf cutter ants and the never-ending invasion of mosquitoes.  Toilet paper.  And ink for the printer (even though it would have been cheaper to buy a new printer).  It was a rather mundane Monday shopping trip.

But I was in town in the middle of the afternoon with no rush to get back to Melaque.  That means -- Movie Time!  One of my luxuries on my Manzanillo trips is to stop by the multiplex theater and see the latest installment of American culture that is seducing Mexican young people.

Today, I hit gold.  Instead of the usual vapid selection of superheroes or shot-em-up cop movies, Blue Jasmine was showing.

I am a Woody Allen fan.  His good films are filled with well-written characters whose troubles and joys are easily accessible to American audiences.  (I noticed that the sardonic humor seemed a bit foreign to the five Mexicans who made up the rest of the audience.)

Comparing the film to A Streetcar Named Desire is unavoidable.  San Francisco is dressed up in Latin clothes -- as an obvious homage to New Orleans's dual cultural roots.

And, of course, Cate Blanchett's appearance as a well-to-do woman, whose reduced circumstances are pulling her down into a madness that would rival Blanche DuBois's, completes the analogy.  It is not coincidental that she played perhaps the best Blanche ever on stage recently.  And her acting in this film was as good as I have ever seen her.

The plot is all about relationships.  And those relationships are every bit as complex as a Tennessee Williams play.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) and Ginger (Sally Hawkins) are two adopted sisters who chose completely different life paths that continue to intersect with one another.  Jasmine (a name she invented for herself) is a Manhattan socialite.  Ginger is a clerk at a grocery store.  (Ginger's Stanley Kowalski-ish boy friend, Chili, rounds out the eponymous Spice Girls and Boys.)

Even though an outsider would guess that Jasmine would be the happier of the two, it would be a false conclusion.  Her world completely unravels when her financier husband is arrested for fraud and commits suicide.  She is left destitute and turns to Ginger for a place to live.

That is the setup.  But the movie is about what happens when people try to live in a postmodern world, where they think they an create their own reality, but they continue to live in a modern world of reason.  Falsehoods built on falsehoods simply provide a very handy gallows, rather than an escape from the real world.

I am not a big Alec Baldwin fan.  But when given a tightly-written part with substance (as Jasmine's financier husband), the guy can act.  He exudes smarmy charm when caught in financial misdeeds and philandering.  You almost feel sorry for him. 

Even Andrew Dice Clay, whose comedy I once despised, puts in an incredibly good performance as Ginger's ex-husband, who lost a fortune investing through Jasmine's husband and acts as a deus ex machina in exacting a terrible -- and unforeseen -- revenge on Jasmine. 

What holds the whole script together -- the deceptions, the fantasies, the primal lusts -- is that Jasmine's eventual fate was brought on by her own actions.  You need to see the film to put that piece together with this summary, but Jasmine, who continually berates her sister Ginger that she should make better life choices rather than blaming her genes for her less-than-Manhattan life, lives the consequences of her own philosophy. 

The script is worthy of Sophocles.  At least, in tone and subject matter.

When the film came out, some people saw it is as Woody's revenge against Mia Farrow.  Even if that was his intent, he has given us a great reminder that postmodern existentialism contains the seeds of its own destruction -- perhaps through non-redemptive revenge.

It would be a good question to discuss over a cup of coffee at Sanborns.  But, as I keep reminding people, we don't have one of those here.

If you stop, by, though, I promise to take you to La Taza Negra for a much better brewed cup.  I will even wear my white tie costume.

Monday, April 28, 2014

time to stick in your oar

I am starting to feel like Lord Byron.

Well, except for the fact that I am alive -- and he isn't.

What the poet Baron and I have in common is that I am about to head off on a grand tour of the Continent -- something that Byron's class did in the early 1800s in the hopes of learning culture and meeting the cream of European society who still managed to have a head upon which to place a coronet. 

There is one big difference with my Grand Tour.  OK.  Two.  Most of my tour will be by sea.  And I am not going to try to topple Turkey's rule over Greece.  I have already had my one big dabble in switching out Greek governments.

In ten days, I will be on the road -- eventually, arriving in Barcelona where this great cruise will begin.  But I have a request for you fellow world travelers.  I have looked through the 78-page booklet describing the ship's excursions.  They are -- how to put it kindly -- lacking in interest.  At least, to me.  Not to mention that they are all quite expensive.

The few activities I have chosen have a certain theme -- in keeping with the Grand Tour theme.  I want to see as much art as I can in the short time that the ship stops in each port.  So, if you have some ideas, feel free to share them.  Especially, if you know the names of perfect guides in any of these cities.

And restaurants.  If you have a favorite place that provides the type of food you can get nowhere else, please let me know.  Food trumps art even on a grand tour.

Here is the list of ports and what I plan to do.

Barcelona, Spain
One of my favorite cities in Europe, and a place I could easily retire if it were not for the crumbling Spanish economy.

I will stay there three days before the cruise begins.  The ship will be docked for an additionally two days.  My plan is to spend time in the Picasso Museum and the
Miró Foundation, and to make a closer study of the Gaudi pieces around town -- especially, Sagrada Família

And I will try to fit in a performance of the
Catalonia National Symphonic Orchestra, even though it appears they may be playing one of my least favorite pieces: Ravel's Bolero.  I will miss the opening night of Die Walküre at the Gran Teatre del Liceu.  The ship sails Marseilles on that night at 11.  The fat ladies will not have sung until midnight.  (It is a five-hour opera with intervals.)
Marseille, France
I was there a couple of years ago.  The city itself does not offer much.  I am booked on a tour to St. Remy -- the village where Van Gogh was institutionalized briefly.  There are no paintings to see.  At least, no originals.  I am deluding myself, of course, that I will see what Van Gogh saw.  In the same way Edward Kleban did in Gaugin's Shoes.

Monte Carlo, Monaco
Monaco is a yawn.  All I need to see of it is a blur of yachts in the basin as my tour heads off to Nice to visit the Mattise and Chagal Museums.  I have seen neither.

Calvi, Corsica, France
Help!  THis is ne of those ports where I have nothing planned.  I have visited south Corsica, and I cannot imagine there is much more to see in the north.  Anyplace that needs to tout itself as the "fabled" birthplace of Christopher Columbus is really scraping the bottom of the
sauté pan.

Any suggestions?

Livorno, Italy
This is the port for Pisa and Florence.  Pisa has very little to offer, but Florence is my favorite city in the world.  I will probably take a transfer from the port and spend the day at the Uffizi.  Even that will be tight.  The ship sails at 7 PM.  It is almost a felony to restrict anyone to that short taste of this practically perfect city.

It also means missing dinner at Enoteca Pinchiorri.  That is enough to make me doubt my sanity in booking this cruise.  So close to gastronomic heaven -- yet so far away.

La Goulette, Tunisia
I am a George Patton fan.  For that reason alone, I am taking a tour of the ruins of Carthage.  Maybe I will meet my former self.

Palermo, Sicily, Italy
No idea.  Other than meeting up with the Black Hand, none of the tours interest me.  Again, I could use some help here.

Naples, Italy
This one is easy.  Other than looking into the great maw of Vesuvius's crater, the place to go is Pompeii.  And I will.

Civitavecchia, Italy
Civitavecchia is the port for Rome.  The last time I took the train into Rome, it took us close to two hours in a carriage that was crammed as full as any Tokyo subway at rush hour.  With the added bulk of tourist luggage.  The excursion list offers very few options.  The Vatican tour looked interesting, but the museum tours are not expedited.  I suspect the post-sainthood crowd will still be in town, as well.

I could use some suggestions.

Messina, Sicily, Italy
Nothing has floated my boat in this port.  Ideas?

Valletta, Malta
Malta is completely new to me.  But the suggested tours could be right out of a Thomas Cook brochure.  Do any of you have anything fascinating you could suggest?

Argostoli, Kefalonia, Greece
This island has a lot of memories for me.  But I need some good ideas.  I need to visit some places that are not haunted with the specters of lost loves.

Kerkira, Corfu, Greece
I have visited Corfu enough times that I may abandon all pretenses of looking for culture -- there is very little there -- and head off on a mountain bike tour.  Any other ideas?

Dubrovnik, Croatia
I was forbidden from entering the former Yugoslavia.  So, all of the following cities will be new to me.  I have no interest in spending time at the beach.  Anyone know a good tour guide?

Kotor, Montenegro

There is a very expensive boat trip to Albania.  (Doesn't that sound like the opening line of a novel about international kidnapping rings?)  Other than that, I have no plans.

Korčula, Croatia
One of those odd little islands that look as if they would be at home in the Canadian Gulf Islands.  And I have no idea what to do.

Split, Croatia

Here, I return to my art theme by visiting the
Ivan Meštrović Gallery.  There are almost 200 of Meštrović's sculpture in the museum.  He has long been a political hero of mine -- fighting both fascism and communism in his homeland.  It should be a very interesting experience to see the collected works.

Venice, Italy
The Venice stop will be 4 days.  Two days on the ship.  Two days in a hotel.  The only plan I have so far is to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.  And there are certainly plenty of Venetian masters to see around town.  It would also be nice to see a performance in the new opera house.  It burned down when I was last in the city.

I am always open to new places to see.

So, there is the list.  It would be great to weave in some of the places you have always wanted to see or that you have enjoyed visiting.  After all, you are all coming on this trip, as well.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

all dressed up -- no place to go

This morning I will take the pulpit at our church.

It is not a good mix.  My skills lean far more to teaching than to preaching.  At least, that is one of the distinctions I have always drawn between ministers, which I am not, and Christian educators, which I am.

I am not that certain of the distinction any more, though.  I recall that one of my favorite Salvation Army officers told our local newspaper, on his arrival in Salem, that his sermons would be in a teaching mode, rather than sermonizing.  And that is exactly what he did.

That memory was jostled to life as the result of an email I received from a fellow blogger, who related two different visit to Catholic churches in South America.  Both priests delivered their sermons at mass in a conversational tone.

I had been struggling all week putting this sermon together.  I knew what I wanted to say, but there was something wrong with the tone.  After reading the email, I diagnosed the problem immediately -- I was writing a sermon when I should be outlining a conversation.

And just as I was putting the final touches on the draft, I opened a mama's logbook, written by my friend and fellow church-goer, Alexa.  Her topic was a central theme in my sermon notes -- how we tend to worry about life when we start depending on our own resources.

On that point, Jesus was the wisest of teachers.  He understood full well how worry can debilitate us and keep us from finding the joy in our lives -- when worrying does nothing to change the situation.

And my sermon?  It is based on the tendency of some Christians -- often me --to mock Jesus by dressing him up in false royal regalia.  And to then negotiate a contract with God that we will have faith if He simply does everything we ask him to do.

If you are in town, stop by!  It would be nice to have a Sunday morning chat with you.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

antonio has left the building

Publishing two posts in one day is usually not good form.

I think I just made that up.  Or I may have read it in Emily Post's Guide to Etiquette and Writing an Interesting Blog.

Either way, I usually don't do it.  But I could not pass up sharing this tidbit with you.  I must have forgotten to include it in this morning's post.

The wax museum in Mexico City contains a hall of presidents.  Because this is Mexico, you will not find Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton or Franklin Roosevelt -- or whoever your favorite American presidents are.

In Mexico, you will find the wax effigies of a lot of presidents most people (including Mexicans) do not remember.  But I could not resist snapping a shot of the very model of the comeback kid.  Antonio López de Santa Anna.  The Mexican leader who lost about half of Mexico's claimed territory.

Either a museum curator has a very good sense of humor or a terrible sense of placement.  Either way, I am convinced that the cause of that look of pained embarrassment on old Santa Anna's face is the sign over his right shoulder.  A sign that just about sums up the rascal's several turns at sitting in the president's chair.


we've got magic to do

Yes.  Yes.  I know my Mexico City trip is now history.  Just in time for my next visit in just over a week.

But I thought I would share a few photographs I found interesting -- for one reason or other.

Take that first shot.  Welcome to my 2-dimensional world.  When I first saw it, I wondered why the city had left a single wall standing on Insurgentes.  It apeared to be supporting some communication equipment.  And a small building.  A small building?  On top of a wall.

Of course, it really wasn't merely a wall.  No matter what it looked like through my eyes and camera lens.

A few steps and all was revealed.  I think I liked my first impression best.

From the beast to the beauty.  While walking around the Independence monument, I ran into this odd tableaux.  Not something I would have expected to see at a national monument.

Apparently, a fashion shoot was under way.  Even though the model was beautiful, it was the other women who caught my interest.  They looked liked the mothers of the bride at a wedding.  I can only imagine which role the boy was playing.

But there was another angel I wanted to capture.  The angel of Independence is the unofficial symbol of Mexico City.  And jacaranda is the unofficial flower.

I am uncertain if I like this shot or not.  I tried cropping and re-cropping it.  The ideal image is in my head.  I am not certain this is it.

You have seen this piano before.  It sits in a Roma neighborhood park.  On my second visit, I discovered anyone who has an interest in playing it is welcome to sit down and add some water music to the accompanying fountain.

Its color alone made it a great photography subject.  Including how the line of the hand joins the sleeve of the pianist's blouse.  I had cropped it out until I noticed the coincidence.

One day when we came out of the eye clinic, this whatever-it-is was sitting across the street.  Even though I had no idea what it was, I shot it.  Once again, I really liked the colors.

When we returned, it was gone.  At least, it operated.  I suspected that someone interesting must have lived inside.

Maybe this guy.

Not really.  He was a street clown -- part of the theater of urban life in the federal district.  Unfortunately, for him, he was a hapless clown.  As we were walking by, the first two "volunteers" he pulled from the audience turned out to be Italian -- with no understanding of Spanish.  (How can that be true?)

One of my all-time favorite optical illusions is rhombille tiling (also known as Italian tumbling blocks) -- often put to best use on floors when viewed from a second floor.

This version in the lobby of the Ripley museum did exactly what it is supposed to do.  It gives those of us with no depth perception a clue of what the rest of you see.

Before we stopped at the cathedral in Mexico City, we walked around the parish church next door.  We were lucky enough to watch students learning the catechism in the chapel pews.  And to witness a line of babies experiencing their first Catholic rite of passage, without once being asked to be a godparent.

It was a line of proud parents -- even the mother who appears to be reading her instruction sheet.

Inside the cathedral, I saw a sight I have never seen in any Mexican church -- well, any church.

It is a wad of locks all fastened together in a giant mass.  The idea is that when the lock is closed with the rest, the donor locks away all gossip for a full year.  Not unlike that old "lock the lips" sign we often make.  And probably about as effective.

And the finale is one of Mexico City's most astounding and colorful sights.  The Palacio de Bellas Artes from the 37th floor.

In a few more days, you can join me on another trip to the big city.  This time, it will be museums.

Friday, April 25, 2014

oscar hammerstein -- call your office

The streets are alive with the sound of malice.

At least, they were in Mexico City this past week.  A noticeably young crowd (because that is who shows up at these events) gathered to protest proposed legislation that would have openly authorized the government to censor internet and telephone conversations.  Or, at least that was the rap.

You would think that I would be out there with my protest sign.  After all, there were shouts of "freedom" and "liberty" in the air -- as if the Tea Party had come to town.  I even pulled out my "I am enemy of the state" button from the 1970s.  But I stayed home.

Let's step back a moment, though, to try to put all of this into context.

Last year, the Mexican government amended the oft-patched Constitution of 1917 to allow reforms to the country's telecommunications almost-monopolies -- telephone, internet, television.  Because of its peculiar setup, nothing changes in Mexico with a constitutional amendment until enacting legislation is passed.  That is why a lot of constitutional provisions have sat as orphans for the past 100 years.

The Senate is finally getting around to putting together legislation to actually do something about the three monopolies.  The constitutional amendment was passed with support from each of the three parties: the leftist PRD, the center-left PRI, and the center-right PAN. 

That unity is now gone.  All three parties have submitted their own ideas on how the new telecommunications field should be operated.  Or how the pork should be sliced.

Because PRI has the largest bloc (but not a majority) of the votes in the Senate, its proposal has garnered the most interest.  And it is that proposal that brought the protesters into the streets to clash with the police.

I have looked online in vain for the actual text of the proposal.  I cannot find it.  Without reading the whole thing, I am not certain how anyone can have an informed opinion on whether the proposal is a good solution to Mexico's current telecommunications mess.

The telephone system is a perfect example of how bad service in Mexico is.  Of course, as bad as it is, telephone service has moved from the stone age to the modern age in a mere few years.  But the current setup is stunting Mexico's growth.

Carlos Slim controls 80% of fixed-line telephone service and 70% of cellular usage.  From that redoubt, he also controls most of the country's access to internet.  A recent study in The Economist noted "[a]lthough his businesses are exceptionally profitable by global standards, the services are slow and expensive, and their uptake low, even by Latin American standards."

Television control is a similar mess -- one without the fingerprints of Carlos Slim.  Probably, to no one's surprise, the television monopoly, that coincidentally is a PRI supporter, is receiving better breakup terms than are the telephone companies.

And that is why I want to see the full text of the proposal before I stick in my oar.  The bill is supposed to address how the current set-up will be broken up.

But that aspect of the bill has garnered little attention. 
The biggest concerns center around three proposals: a new power for the government to restrict internet access at scenes of public disorder; permission for the police to use web-browsing and location data in their investigations; and the potential for internet service providers to censor content.  It is the first, using a phrase, taken out of its context, that has inflamed the hormones of the street protesters.

draft bill allegedly contains a provision permitting authorities to "temporarily block, inhibit, or annul telecommunications signals at events and places deemed critical for the public safety."

The government currently has a similar power that it uses to block telecommunications in prisons or near sensitive government operations.  But there is no doubt that the proposed language would greatly extend that authority.  If that is what the bill actually states.

The PRI leader in the Senate defended the language -- that it was never intended to do what the protesters claim.  Of course, that comes from the same party that was responsible for the 1968 student massacre in Mexico City -- a human rights violation that has not been fully explained to this day.

If that language is as broad as it seems, the protesters were well within their rights to challenge a law that would have given such broad powers to the government.  And it is easy to see why the government wanted it there.

Governments throughout the world have recently fallen through the power of the internet.  And it is why fascist dictatorships like Cuba and Red China do everything they can to control electronic social networks.

It turns out the protesters did well.  On 22 April, the Senate leader announced that the offending language would be removed from the bill.

This is where cynical Steve shows up.  Since most of the legislation had nothing to do with the snooping language, it is easy to speculate that Carlos Slim and the PRI television minions may have had something to do with stoking the protests.  Anything to slow down the devolution of their empires.

And Even-More-Cynical Steve has another take.  PRI was simply stupid to put the language in the legislation.  If push comes to shove (as it did in Egypt, Libya, and Ukraine), the government will have no qualms in
temporarily blocking, inhibiting, or annulling telecommunications signals at events and places deemed critical for the public safety, no matter what a statute says -- that is, whenever the government feels threatened.  Just as it felt threatened in 1968 under President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz Bolaños and his top cop Luis Echeverría Álvarez when a group of students were enough to panic the government into murdering a bunch of kids.

I have given high marks to President
Enrique Peña Nieto for some of the brave reforms he has proposed and enacted.  He was doing a very good job of convincing us all that a new PRI was in power.  That the liberal ideals of Benito Juárez would finally be enacted.

But it appears that Ricky and The Boys are not quite the reformists we took them to be.  And that is unfortunate.  Especially, on a topic that should be technical rather than political.

It may take years for the president to convince us he is who he claimed to be.

And those of you who were counting the days until you could burn your bank trust documents?  I would stop counting.  The steam has run out of that reform engine. 

You will be better off looking into Mexican citizenship.  I am.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

relying on the kindness of strangers

Blanche DuBois I am not. 

Though, I frequently rely upon the kindness of strangers.  In fact, I thrive on it.

Last February I wrote a post (loving the mail) explaining how I still enjoy receiving notes and letters in my postal box.  Because there is a lag between placing mail in a drop box and having it show up in the recipient's hands, there is almost something timeless about the sentiments themselves. 

Email and comments on Facebook, by their very immediate nature, seem to be temporary.  Almost ethereal.  They are stated, deleted, gone.

But cards and letters are designed to be stored in pastel-colored boxes.  Perhaps to be removed only when the recipient's hands are trembling in a nursing home.  Waiting for Emily Dickinson's Last Postal Coach to "kindly stop for me."

We bloggers often write about the interesting relationship between writer and reader.  I knew some of my readers long before I started writing the blog.  Some readers (and bloggers) I have met in person; in fact, I met one just last night.  Some we know only through comments.

The vast majority of readers remain anonymous.  They read without leaving comments.  But they are still there.

One of those readers breached the imaginary wall last month.  Early In March, I opened my postal box and found, by its dimensions, what was obviously a greeting card. 

The handwriting was new to me.  Cursive swoops that would be artistic enough to be the calligraphy on an invitation to the White House.

Barak had not invited me to a diplomatic affair to try out my new white tie and tails.  Instead, it was a reader from Duluth.  Way up north in Minnesota.  About as far away in weather from Melaque as a place in The States can be.

Enclosed was a very artistic photograph adorning a note card with a greeting.  And accompanying it was a long note.

A gentleman never reads another gentleman's mail (something the American government may want to consider), and a gentleman does not divulge the contents of his own private mail.  However, I will share some bits.

You already know the sender is a reader.  I was the recipient of the note as a direct result of my February post.  The note then went on to say some very kind things about the blog -- including a compliment for keeping a high tone when replying to comments.

Every blogger loves receiving compliments like this.  Including me.  Knowing that we daily talk with strangers we never will meet is an interesting feeling.  And, undoubtedly, there are people we tick off.  We seldom hear from them.  They just go away.

Having said that, I wish that more readers would comment.  Such as, the note sender.  Everything about the note reflected a person with taste and a very articulate self-expression.

And, of course, there is now another note on its way through the Mexican postal service to the slightly-warmer-than-February Minnesota clime.

The note did contain one question that I can answer here -- why am I so enthralled with the crocodiles just outside my gate?

Like a mountain climber, I respond: "Because they are there."  I tend to like anything that is slightly dangerous.  And the closer I can be, the better.

My neighbor told me yesterday afternoon that one of the small females has been up on the walkway looking for dry places to lay her eggs.  I guess I need to be a bit more cautious when I go looking for ants in the dead of the night.

Or I may be relying on the kindness of strangers to recover what will be left of this blogger.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

moving to mexico -- the fruit

Dora loves guanabana.

If you don't recall, Dora is the woman who comes in once a week to tidy up my place.  Just to be certain I have not acclimated myself to living in my own filth as a bachelor.

And, for those of you who do not know, a guanabana is one of those tropical fruits I had no idea existed before I moved here.  It looks like a cross between a mango and a hedgehog.  You might know it by its far less lyrical name: "soursop."

I understand they are grown commercially to sweeten ice cream.  And I fully know why.  My sole taste of the fruit almost shut down the insulin-production in my body.  It is SWEET!  And not in the complimentary meaning of the slang term.

But, as I said, Dora loves the fruit.  I have two trees in my garden that are producing a bumper crop of the prickly diabetes balls.  She looks forward to this season -- not to sweeten ice cream, but to create agua fresca.

Mexico would not be Mexico without agua fresca.  The process is rather simple.  Water.  Diced fruit.  Sugar.  All go into a blender. 

And what comes out is a drink that some people love.  I am not one of them.  They are almost always too sweet for me.  I can only imagine how cloying guanabana agua fresca would be.

To satisfy Dora's love of the sweet fruit, though, we went on a harvesting trek.  The young neighborhood boys had already climbed the fence to pilfer the low-hanging fruit.  Our prize was almost at the top of the tree. 

Dora tried using a leaf rake.  No luck.  There was nothing for me to do but to retrieve the ladder fro the bodega.  That seemed easy until I realized that the limbs from the mandarin orange had intertwined themselves in the guanabana tree.  Right in the line of my fire.

All of the citrus trees in my garden have one thing in common -- spines.  Some large enough to figure in a Good Friday crown.  With blood running down my left arm, we decided on an alternative course.

Dora ran to get the branch lopper.  It was a good idea.  But it would require me to lop and simultaneously catch the falling fruit with whichever hand was -- well, handy.  If guanabana fall that distance, they burst open like a
piñata when they hit the ground.

So, I lopped.  The fruit fell.  And I caught it in my right hand.  Those years of playing center field paid off.

Dora pedaled away with a fresh guanabana,  And I slunk back to my den to lick my wounds.  Or to balm them, at least.

And that is another reason to live in Melaque.  I may not appreciate the tropical fruit, but the people around me can be blessed by their bounty. 

Even the pilfering boys.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

stretching the rabbit

What do you do when Easter turns into Hanukkah -- at least, in form?

I told you yesterday in seasons cycle that I am agnostic when it comes to celebrating holidays on specific days.  For me, one day is as good as the next.

Well, it turns out I have a co-conspirator in letting my inner calendar run free.  While standing in line to pay my TelMex bill, I ran into my landlady, Christine.

She asked me how my Easter had been.  If I had given any thought to her past Easter escapades (crossing the border), I would have realized she was hinting when she asked if I had been visited by the bunny.

I had just been in the garden looking for ants earlier in the morning.  But I noticed nothing unusual.  "Look higher," she said.

When I returned home, Dora was still cleaning, so I created a mini-office on the patio.  As I looked up, there it was.  A robin-blue egg.  Resting on the orchid.  On the flamboyant tree.  Just where a bounder like the Eastern bunny would leave such a thing.

For those of you who ask me why I put up with the weather in Melaque, the answer is on that tree.  Or what it stands for is on that tree.

I have lived here for going on six years this month.  During that time, I have developed friendships and acquaintances that make living here a joy.  And that circle was recently widened by including my neighbors across the street.

Does that mean that I am staying in Melaque until I die?  Probably not.  Unless I die before the month is out.

But it does mean that the relationships are important enough to me that I am probably going to stick around for a bit longer than the end of the month.

I guess it is appropriate to say it again -- Happy Easter, Christine!

Monday, April 21, 2014

seasons cycle

Happy Easter!

You may think I am a day late, but I'm not.  Let me explain.

I have never been a person who takes much joy in celebrating events on set days.  Memorial Day.  Fourth of July.  Birthdays.  They are just days on the calendar.  The reason for celebration is there every day of the year. 

Are you happy that you have your independence and live in a country based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence?  Celebrate that fact each day.  Even in December if you choose.

The same goes for religious holidays.  I have never felt restricted to celebrating the incarnation and resurrection only on Easter and Christmas.  If I believe those concepts (and I do), but I do not live them each day of the year, I am living a sham.

So, I say it again -- Happy Easter!

Now, having set the tone of this essay, I need to eat a bit of crow -- feathers and all -- because this Easter Sunday -- yesterday --was a special Sunday for me.

Our church (now known as Costalegre Community Church) operates all year long.  But we only have an ordained pastor in residence for the winter tourist season. 

Because we are an English-speaking church, we draw a large group of congregants in the winter.  When Easter rolls around, our numbers have seriously diminished.  That is the point that Ron and Nancy Klein, our pastors, head back to North Dakota.

Today was that day.  After a very good sermon, the few of us who are still here, sat down to a potluck dinner and said our good-byes.  (This was also the last Sunday of the season for quite a few of the congregants, as well.)

When I left, I thought that was the last I would see of Ron and Nancy until next October.  Instead, a few of us met with them for dinner in Barra de Navidad.

There are moments that end up being stored as special nights.  This will be one.  We ate on the edge of the Barra lagoon while the remnant of the Easter crowd cavorted in or near the water.

The temperature was cooled by a constant breeze off of the ocean.  The food was good.  The company was better.  Six friends enjoying one another and another day that God has given to us.

Such days are rare.  And it would be churlish to say that I would do anything but cherish its memory.  And, better yet, know that there will be many more.

That, too, is the promise of Easter -- that we can live our lives to the fullest in the love of our God.

I hope that your Easter -- that all of your days -- will be that special.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

swinging my social mallet

Who says Melaque doesn't have class?

Well, that is the wrong question. 

The proper inquiry is whether Careyes has class.  But that is a bit redundant.  Careyes is one of a series of enclaves for the wealthy north of my little fishing village.  The string of pearls is populated with old money Mexicans and new money Americans with a sprinkling of Europeans from once-titled families.

Now and then, the high-falutin' open their gates to the hoi polloi.  At this time of year it is for the copa agua alta  (the High Water Cup -- which sounds like something on a bathing suit) polo match.

Yup.  Polo.  The game with ponies, mallets, chukkers, and poofy pants.

The sport is a natural for the upper classes of Mexico -- mixing a love for horses with a good dose of European snobbery.  The only impediment, if you listen to
Jorge Castañeda, which I often do, is that it is a team sport.

My friend Jack asked me if I was interested in acting as the driver on a polo expedition.  I have intended to attend one of these matches for the past five years.  And yesterday was the day.

The polo grounds are quite impressive -- and hidden from view from the coastal highway, as is true of most of the hideaways for the rich in these parts.  The jungle shelters wealth.

This is the 15th High Water Cup.  And yesterday was the final day of the tournament.  Participants -- if not full teams -- from twelve countries had crossed mallets during the past two weeks.  Yesterday the final four teams played for the cup.

I am not a novice when it comes to polo.  While I was in college, my friend Stan was pressed by his family to start taking on some of the accretions of old Portland wealth.  The University Club.  The Oswego Hunt Club.  That sort of thing.  And I tagged along through the membership maze.

The Oswego Hunt Club meant polo.  A one-year experiment -- including a fascinating test of Indian ponies from the Warms Springs reservation.  Mainly to attract girls.  I then revived the interest when I was stationed in English horse country.  Probably, for the same reason.

It was fun to disinter my polo strategy.  And to hone my ability to distinguish a mere bump or a line of the ball foul. 

Of course, there are the horses.  Each player has a string of them to switch out following each chukker -- something that is especially required in the tropical humidity.  Our 93 degrees was alleviated by clouds, but they then caused the humidity to spike at 88%.

The game was fast and well-played, but not really top-notch.  The Argentine team beat the Mexican team with a couple of well-thought out goals.

When it got too hot to stand in the sun watching the game, there were pavilions where drinks and food were served -- for a price.  Porsche doesn't give away its logo for nothing.  Nor does Lamborghini.

It was easy to spot the wealthy Latins from the rest of us who had slunk north with our cloth caps clutched to our breasts.  The Latins were stunning.  Handsome men.  Beautiful women.  Children that could have stepped out of a Nieman Marcus ad.

And we Americans and Canadians from La Manzanilla and Melaque?  We looked as if we had stopped by to apply for jobs in the kitchen.

But we had fun.  And that was why we were invited.  To show some interest in a local event.

We yelled.  We oohed.  We ahhed.  We cheered.  For both sides.  Sometimes for the wrong reason.  We added life to an event that already had life.

Even though there were two games scheduled, we stayed for just the first.  I told Jack:  "There are some games that are far more fun to play than to watch.  Polo is one."  Jack responded: "And boxing is not."

It was time to call it a day.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

two ideas -- one great; one silly

I love these little safes in hotels and on cruise ships.

They are really handy for important documents needed for travel, but that do not need to leave your room with you.  At least, daily.  You know.  Things like passports.  Credit cards.  Wads of cash.

Within the first five minutes in my room, I will set the code and dump the small, but important, indicia of my dwindling life into the tiny safe.  Now and then, I even manage to store my camera in its lilliputian innards.

But I seldom put my laptop in the safe -- for a very practical reason.  When my laptop is with me, I am usually using it on battery.  When I leave it in the room, I want it to be charging.  (That is, when I remember not to plug it into a socket that goes dead when I leave the room.)

If it is stored safely in the safe, it cannot be charging.  That is, until I ran across an interesting addition to my safe in Mexico City.  Take a look at this.

Pretty nifty, eh?  A power outlet right in the safe door.  A guest can store electronics in the safe while the gadgets charge.

Now, some of you sophisticates are going to tell me that hotels have been doing this for years.  But this is the first time I have seen it.  Maybe it was one of the unstated benefits for taking a room on the business class floor.

Whatever the reason, I thought it was a very clever idea.  I usually carry a small extension cord with me that would have allowed me to charge and secure my goodies simultaneously.

What was not a good idea was the little sign next to the plugin.  Does it warn of not overloading the circuit or relay some other helpful piece of information?  Nope.

The first part makes sense.  No need to bother the maintenance man who can open every safe in the hotel in less than 5 seconds.

It is the second piece that baffles.  "Suffocation danger exists."

Let's assume for a moment that my safe is not engaging me in a philosophical existential debate or that there may be someone somewhere that denies that suffocation do exist.  Instead, what we have, in its rawest form, is the blight of American litigation gone viral.

Unless you are Richard Gere who may absent-mindedly place his gerbils in the safe and lock it, I have no idea what could be suffocated in a space so small that I need to turn my hand horizontally to fetch my wares.

But it does make you start wondering if the souls I capture in my camera or the ideas I have stored on my hard drive may be in danger of being extinguished when I shut the safe door.

I shouldn't even give it a second thought -- because no thought went into the sign.  If I had seen the sign in Manhattan, I would not have even noticed it for the hundreds of other warning signs that would assault my senses up north.  But this was Mexico City.  In the land of personal responsibility.

Of course, the sign was in English and that gave away its provenance immediately.  It is just another legal alien that has made its way south into the NAFTA stream of commerce.

And that means I am free to ignore it.

Now, you can do the same.

Friday, April 18, 2014

another circus post

No matter how basic the surroundings are, there is a moment in every circus where a drab tent is turned into a house of magic.  The lights dim.  The music rises.  And we are transported to a place where children can imagine almost anything.

Hold it right there for one Cotton-pickin' minute, Steve.  Didn't you say the same thing in a post about Mexican circuses just a year ago?  You certainly did.  In bits of magic.  So, are you just recycling old material?  Or are you trying to fill Joe Biden's shoes?

If you want an apology, go over to Felipe's blog.  Because I like circuses, and this is another circus story.  I say "another," because I have trod the circus boards before with you before -- several times:
another opening; another show, llamas -- and tigers -- and bears -- oh my!, daring young men -- no trapeze.

Well, I did it again.  Last night was circus night.  I thought with the crowds in town there would be more people in attendance.  We numbered fifteen.  I guess the beach beats out women in tights.

That is too bad because Circus Atayde is one of Mexico's better circuses.  If you are looking for a New Age foo-faux Cirque du Soleil, I suggest you try Quebec.  But if you want to experience small circuses as they once were in the 1950s, this is your show.

What you will get is live entertainment with thrills and laughs.  And a lot of rough edges.  Where dropped balls and falling from a high wire are just part of the night.

Of course, there are animal acts.  What would a circus be without animal acts?  Starting with a lineup of healthy, theatrically-threatening tigers.  All under the control of a guy with a single whip.

But that is what Roy thought.  Or was it Siegfried?  I doubt the tigers could tell us.  Their nature is to burn brightly in the night, not to do a James Burke impression.

Then there was the lady with the horse act -- a giant beast and a nasty-tempered miniature horse (if that is not being redundant).  The act, of course, was for the big horse to stand there like a straight man while the pony got the Jerry Lewis part weaving back and forth through the big horse's legs.

I suspect there were more than a few of us -- even though there were only a few of us -- who would not have taken some pleasure in seeing the big horse lose its patience and flatten the pony into Friday's birria.

And then there were camels.  There always have to be camels.  First, bactrian from Central Asia -- which were eccentrically mixed in with four zebra.

And then, dromedary from the Middle East -- complete with the Lawrence of Arabia soundtrack.  More appropriately mixed in with two talented horses.

One was as talented on two legs as on four.

Those were the animal acts.  No lions.  No elephants.  But the tigers made up for their absence.

There were also plenty of people acts.  No circus is fit to call itself one without a juggler.  There were three quite good jugglers last night.

A duo that did not do anything original.  But they performed the classics adequately.

The other juggler started on a unicycle juggling bowls from his foot to his head.  And ended up on his back juggling everything from balls to rugs to what looked like carpet rolls.

There were no daring young men on trapezes.  But there was an athletic young man on a tight rope, who rode a unicycle and did back flips.  In this shot, he is pedaling in reverse.

For aerial acrobatics, we were offered a beautiful woman on a hoop -- always one of my favorites.  With daring heel hangs and spins.

The horse lady returned as the sole magic act.  Her schtick was as a quick change artist.  Whether walking through a dressing room on stage or in an up-to-the-neck bag or in a burst of silver confetti, she changed costumes in a split second.

Even though we all know the sleight of hand trick involved, it always amazes me that I am suckered into believing that the scarfy outfits are truly full costumes.  In much the same way that voters are beguiled by politicians.

Speaking of politicians, what would a circus be without clowns?  These two took their antics into the crowd and across several boundaries that would undoubtedly have got them prosecuted in Canada and boycotted in The States for insensitivity.  This jab at Muslims being the most obvious example.

I do not know why, but clowning is universal.  Or it once was.  Even when it is in a language I can barely comprehend, it is funny.  That is, unless you choose to be offended.  And that is just another universal language. 

And no one in the audience chose to be offended.  We just laughed.

For $150 (Mx) I spent an hour and a half laughing, catching my breath in my throat, oohing and ahhing, and thoroughly enjoying being eight again sitting next to my grandfather at the circus.

And what could be a better evening than that?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

tooting my buggle

Sometimes, I get an image in my mind, and I cannot figure out what I am seeing.  I observe, but I do not perceive.

The classic example is at the left.  Some people see the haggard, old woman first; others see the beautiful young woman.  But once you have seen one, it is difficult to see the other.

It can even happen orally.  Our textbook in freshman Latin would helpfully include a footnote with the English translation of newly-introduced words. 

One day in class, Bob Tyson raised his hand and asked: "Mr. McKenna, what is a buggler?"  Our teacher looked confused.  Thoughtful murmurs of "buggler" spread through the class. 

It wasn't until Mr. McKenna looked at Bob's book that he realized the word was "bugler."  Our repeated mispronunciation of the word kept us from a simple solution.

Well, that may be what happened to me on Tuesday.  We boarded a bus at the Mexico City airport to be shuttled to our ride home on Aeroméxico.

On the window were three international symbols scolding us not to be unsocial to our neighbors.  Two were easy to understand.  No smoking.  No cellular telephone usage.  But the third was a mystery.

Now, I have become accustomed to arcane signs -- like the one at the Manzanillo Soriana informing me that squirrels are not allowed inside the store.  But what was that third sign on the bus prohibiting?

Was I restricted from bringing my Uzi on the bus?  Or from using power tools?  Or glue guns?  And why is whatever-I-cannot-do wearing a cap?

Lupe and Alex had no further suggestions.

So, dear readers, I leave this mystery to you to solve.  After all, it is Easter -- the season of the greatest mystery of all.

Do you have any idea what the sign was telling me not to do?  Or have I now lulled you into the land of "buggler." 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

back to base camp

There’s no place like home.

So said Dorothy Gale.  Of course, her trip was a bit longer than mine.

I have no idea whether the aphorism is true or not.  For the past six years, I have not really had one.  A home, that is.  Or what one would conventionally call a home.

I have rented in Villa Obreg
ón for all of those years.  But it doesn’t feel like home.  It is a place where I come to rest my wings. 

Maybe it is a nest.  Or just a perch.

Whatever it is, I am back at the beach for a few weeks until I head back to Mexico City to start another journey.  And Alex and Lupe are back at their home.

I asked Lupe to pose for another photograph.  This time with her customary smile.  It is a better representation of who she really is -- rather than yesterday’s shot.

Being in Mexico City for the past ten days has had an interesting affect on me.  (Partly due, I suspect, to Kim, Gary Denness, and Christine Potters lobbying me to join them in the Mexican Oz.)  And I find it hard to believe I am even considering the idea.

But there is plenty of time to further erode my concept of home.

As I was writing this post, the airplane was on its final approach to the Manzanillo airport.  The view outside my window was something I could never find in The Big City.  Crisply-outlined mountains.  Clear blue sky.  Lagoons.  Grassland.  And that great big body of water off to port side.

Dinner with friends on the beach capped it off.  Thousands of Mexican visitors are headed our way to enjoy our little village.  The next two weeks will be one of my favorite times to live in Mexico.

Whether or not I have a home here.