Sunday, August 31, 2014

a super day

Where but in England can you start your Saturday morning with a bicycle-riding group of rugby superheroes?

I guess I gave away the answer.  It is England.  Fleetwood, England to be exact.  A fishing port where my friend Dr. Bob grew up.

Because he did not fall far from the tree, Bob suggested that the three of us should take the short tram ride from Bispham to Fleetwood to spend part of our day.  We could then return to Blackpool to let me reacquaint myself with that peculiar tourist town whose reputation has returned from its basic ropiness to a somewhat respectable seaside holiday town for British families.

Part one went as planned.  We met up with a friend of Bob's, Stewart, at a Fleetwood pub -- where we encountered the boys in not-so-tights.  I have yet to meet an Englishman who could not hold forth in interesting conversation in the confines of a neighborhood pub.  And Stewart was no exception.

He had sent something like 50 years sailing out of Fleetwood to various parts of the world -- primarily as a navigator.  He now lives half of his year in Thailand.  That gave us some common ground to launch our conversation.  With a nice mixture of politics, weather, travel, and favorite authors, we whiled away our time until Stewart left for a local football match.

While we were sittig at the table, we noticed a sign that the Fleetwood Folk Music Festival was underway.  And, best of all, it was mainly free.  So, we decided to spend the rest our daylight hours in town going from public houses to hotels to experience some very good local music.

My favorite was the annual competition between Lancashire and Yorkshire to determine who had the best music.  Solo vocal music.  Instrumental music.  Poetry.  All in a folk style.  And all quite good.

The first performer up sang a song that could have come right from the pages of Tolkien.  His short height and sharp features added to his quasi-Hobbit performance.  But isn't that the reason we like Tolkien?  Because his songs speak with the tongue of the country?

As is true for all these venues, some performers were better than others.  A British band, who attempted to perform American folk and popular music, did not fall into the good category.  But they served a purpose; they sent us scurrying out of Fleetwood on the tram.

Sunset was our cue to head into Blackpool to see something I have never seen on my previous visits -- the illumations.  The local businesses have discovered they could extend the holiday season past the August bank holiday by dressing up the city light poles with lights, and lining the seashore with various electronic tabaleaux.

I started to call them cheesy.  But that would not be fair.  It would be giving in to a bit of snobbish churlishness that tries to masquerade as sophistication.

The illuminations celebrate the naivete of childhood -- in the same way Disneyland does.  They are often nothing but spinning lights.  But they let that child who lives in all of us to stand in awe at the magic of electricity.

Of course, the real purpose of all this activity is for me to spend as much time as I could with Bob and Fon.  And the fact that I was pleased to experience a bit of Lancashire folk music along with a slathering of Blackpool light magic was merely a bonus.

I would tell you what we are going to do today.  But I have no idea.  Other than catching a train in the afternoon to Oxford, all I know is that circumstances and necessity will guide us to another adventure.

And the three of us will have a great time.  We might even run into a new group of superheroes.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

we're not in mexico any more, toto

"I really must apologize for this weather."

It was my friend Dr. Bob allowing his English genes to run rampant -- apologizing for circumstances that were well out of his pay grade.  We were standing on the beach at Cleveleys just north of Blackpool.

If you have never been to Blackpool, I am not certain that any of my writing skills can convey the spirit of the place.  But I am safe for at least one more day because our trip yesterday took us north on the carbuncle of land on the west cheek of Lancashire that juts into the Irish Sea.  The same sea that Bill Bryson called "tobacco-colored" and James Joyce labeled "snot green."

That may be why the English are somewhat apologetic of its more turbulent moods.  And turbulent it was yesterday.  Blustery.  Cloud-covered.  Misty.  A 9 on the Steve Cotton scale of weather, where a 10 is 55 degrees, overcast, and drizzle. 

And there I was in my shorts, short-sleeved cotton shirt, and sandals, as if I were walking the sweaty streets of Melaque.  The difference being that I was comfortable in Cleveleys.  The few people who were out and about on that Friday afternoon, most likely locals, were bundled up as if they were going to accompany Roald Amundsen to the south pole.

But, just as I did not move to Mexico for the weather, I did not come north for the weather.  I am here to see friends of longstanding and to meet new ones.

I have known Bob and Hilary for almost 40 years.  We met on a trip to Spain and Morroco -- the same trip that spawned the myth of Steve Cotton on a camel.  Even though they divorced years ago, I never miss the opportunity to spend time with them whenever I am in England.

Both of them have remarried.  I met Hilary's husband Ernie and Bob's wife Fon for the first time on this trip.

Fon treated me to several Thai dishes upon my arrival -- some traditional, others of her invention.  I love Thai food, but my experience has been limited to restaurants.  Her cooking was far better.  It was so good, I had the remains for breakfast today.

Yesterday was a day to enjoy where rural England and the sea transition into one another.  Today will be a variation on that theme -- riding the tram along this portion of England's coast.

But, better than the scenery, is the opportunity to share it with old and new friends.  And that is why I am here.

No apologies required.  Enough said.  End of story.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

first things first

For some reason, I slipped into an Agatha Christie mode last night.  Not that 9 of the passengers in my cabin disappeared in seriatim as they wandered from their seats.  As far as I know, everyone who embarked disembarked.

My suspicion is that I knew I would soon be boarding a train that would speed me from London to The North through the paddocks and fields that create England's distinctive countryside.  The very landscape that fed Dame Agatha's thirst for bucolic mayhem.

And it does not strike me the least bit odd that I am able to dump whatever pops into my head directly onto your monitor.  Technology's advancement has come on us so quickly that it seems as if I have been able to do this forever.

What I have not done forever is fly first class internationally.  Due to my recent travels, I have saved up enough frequent flyer miles that I was able to book a first class ticket on British Airways out of Mexico City.  I won't even bother you with what the ticket would have cost if I had purchased it with pesos.  But I could easily pay my upcoming closing costs with it.

And what would I get for that type of money?  After all, everyone on the airplane gets there at the same time no matter where they sit.

There were four flight attendants who looked after the needs of about twelve of us.  Glasses seldom went dry.  And requests were often met even before the passenger asked. 

Some people lauded the food.  It certainly was better than in coach, but it was still warmed-up leftovers.  Very few of the dishes were prepared fresh -- leaving most of the food tasting like Denny's with pretensions.

What makes all of the difference on these overnight international flights is that seat you see at the top of this post.*  Not only would it adjust electronically to every contour of a body, it folded flat as a bed.  With the addition of a linen duvet, it is as comfortable as many a bed I have slept in.  And, of course, British Airways provided individually-sized pajamas to each passenger.

Arriving refreshed at the end of a trip is worth a lot to me.  But at the cost of losing the equivalent of income for two months?  I don't think so.

On the other hand, if I had not use my miles in such an extravagant fashion, how could I tell you about it?

* -- I apologize for the framing of the photograph.  It was a forced shot. 
Airlines have become very concerned about the privacy of passengers -- especially those in first class.  On my flight to Paris last spring, a flight attendant confiscated the camera of a coach passenger who had wandered into first class.  But he was attempting to photograph a "celebrity." 

A flight attendant asked me to put my camera away.  Apparently, one of the passengers was a former Mexican movie actress traveling with he family.  I had no idea who she was.  I still don't.

Setting aside all of that, running around with a camera in the first class cabin strikes me as being just a trifle gauche.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

still in the black

What do you do at an airport for 8 hours?  Especially, when you cannot check in for your flight until 3 hours before it leaves.

Those of you who pride yourself with your arithmetic skills are already taking me to task for that first sentence.  I can hear you all the way over here in England: "That means you only had 5 hours to kill."

I wish that were true.  But once I got rid of my luggage and got through security, I would still have had three hours just waiting to be strangled. 

And no matter how interesting some airports are (Mexico City's is not one of them), there are only so many Calvin Klein ties and questionable humor post cards a sane soul can take.  That is doubly true for me.  I tend to lose interest in almost everything after 20 minutes.

So, I surrendered.  The fellow sitting next to me on the flight from Manzanillo suggested I get a room at the airport hotel.  It sounded good to me.  After all, I could take a nap, use the internet at a proper desk, and read the current issue of National Review in the bathtub.

Of course, I could have done all of that (except the bathtub bit) in the first class lounge.  But it struck me as a capital idea.

Underline capital in that sentence.  The airport hotel is a Hilton.  I stayed here a couple of months ago.  It's nice enough if you like your style sterile.  And expensive. 

I told the desk clerk I needed the room for only a few hours.  She raised her eyebrow.  A few more details had her eye back in nonreactive clerk mode.

"$299," she said.  "US?," asked Steve.  She then added that phrase that serves as a coda to all check-ins: "Plus tax."

Killing time didn't need to cause collateral damage to my peso supply.  So, I did what any bargain hunter does.  I booked the same room through while standing at the desk -- for about one-half of her quoted price.

I don't think I made a friend. 

While the reservation was being processed, I headed downstairs to one of my favorite Mexico City restaurants: Bistrot Mosaico .  I told you about dinner at the original eatery in Condesa -- when I was last in Mexico City.  The airport version serves almost all of the same specialties.  Especially, my favorite: squid risotto prepared in the ink of the squid.  It is sinfully delicious.

It is listed as an appetizer.  But it always makes a full lunch for me.

But it is time to bring my stay with the good people at Hilton to a close.  In just under an hour, I will be on my way to London.  And, as you read this, I will be on the train to Blackpool.

That, however, is an entirely different story.  One that will most likely include a crime mystery writer, a Belgian sleuth,  a countess, a lapsed missionary, and a discharged chauffeur.

And we may even hear something about it.  Or not.

punching my ticket

The folklore is that if you try to do too many things in one day in Mexico, you will get nothing done.  Like most folklore, it is often wrong.

Take yesterday, as an example.  What type of guy starts the process of buying a house within four days of taking off on a long trip to Europe?

Well, we know the answer.  The type of guy who is Steve Cotton.  The combination of the house purchase and the trip meant I needed to do a lot on my last day in Mexico.  Starting with contacting my investment house to transfer money to my bank to transfer money to the "escrow" account as a 10% deposit on the house.  That turned out to be easier than I expected. 

A telephone call let me sell the shares.  In two days, the money will be on its way to the bank.  While riding the train to Blackpool on Thursday, I will then try the second step -- bank to escrow.  All of this, of course, is a dress rehearsal for the money transfer at closing.

Having discovered the time needed to do the transfer, I asked the realtors to move the closing a few days later.  The initial closing date would have been the first business day after I returned.  That wasn't going to work.  So, we drafted an addendum to the sales agreement.

I then found a friend who was heading north.  Instead, of using DHL or another courier service to deliver a request to disperse retirement funds, Bill will take my letter to Phoenix tomorrow, and drop it in the post.  I hope that a former fellow employee is correct.  90 days turns out to be more like 30 to get my money.

The next task was to get some information from my brother (including a copy of his passport information page) to get the bank trust process started.  Setting up the trust is one of the more expensive costs in this sale.  Well, the various transfer and VAT fees add up quickly, as well.

I also had a long conversation with the realtor about the closing process.  There were a few questions I had neglected to ask.  He thanked me for reminding him of a couple things; others were already happening.

Much to my surprise, I had most of my long list completed by noon.  That allowed me plenty of time to pack.  Too much time.  I dawdled around until well after midnight.

For some reason, I decided to check in for my flight online last night.  I usually do that at our small airport on the day of my fight.  But I am glad I started the process last night.

I could not find a confirmation code for my flight to Mexico City.  I had a seat number, but no code.

That wasn't a big problem.  I decided to simply call AeroMexico to get the code.  I am not certain how it happened, even with all of the information in my calendar, including a seat number, I had not booked a seat on that flight.  If I had not called, I would have been standing in the airport tomorrow waving good-bye to the plane.

That little mistake about doubled the cost of the ticket.  But why should I worry?  I am on my way to cloudy England to enjoy myself in the Old Country.

And I trust the internet will be sufficient to bring all of you along.  I hope you remembered to buy your tickets.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

at the altar

Well, it was bound to happen.

I have spent so much time whipping up dating analogies in my search for a home that I now feel a bit like Alfred P. Doolittle.  My offer to buy the house I told you about on Sunday was accepted on Monday afternoon.

That means I am getting hitched.  Tying the knot.  Jumping the broom.  Ashing up my little black book.

Early Wednesday morning, I start my flights that will eventually drop me off in London.  That gives me today to get packed, drop off the initial money for the notario (an office I really must tell you more about in the future), and arrange to have the 10% down payment transferred from its current resting point with my investment company to its new home in a New York City "escrow" account. 

I also need to search out one of the courier services we discussed on Saturday (bring me the pigeon).  One of the investments I intend to use as part of this sale is a tax-deferred retirement account. 

When I last talked with the very helpful woman at PERS, she told me it would take 90 days to see the money.  I hope that was simply bureaucratic caution.  Like when Scotty would tell Kirk that it would take 2 days to repair the Enterprise when he knew he could do it in 2 hours.

It is going to be a busy day.  But I am getting spiffed up for this wedding.  When I return from my overseas trip, I am ready to have my long-delayed wedding ceremony.

And then I can officially announce that Mexpatriate will be coming to you from a new corporate headquarters.

Monday, August 25, 2014

check mate

I should use this as essay material for tomorrow, but I hope to have other news for you then.  More important news.

One of my tasks this morning was to deposit the Tricare check in my Mexican checking account.  I stopped at Rooster's, my usual breakfast haunt right across the street from the bank, and placed my order.  While it was cooking, I decided to walk over to the bank and deposit the check. 

After all, what could take much time?  The check was in pesos.  The greatest variable was how many people would be in line on a Monday morning.  Usually, a lot.

But, not today.  I walked right up to the cashier window and presented the check (along with my account information) to the teller.  He looked at it as if it was a piece of trash I had found in the street.

I told him I would like to deposit it in my account.  Same look.

He called over another teller who usually deals with customer service matters.  Same look.  She then told me I would need the manager's approval before she could process the check.

No problem.  I know Gregorio well.  He was one of the first people I met when I moved down in 2009.  But he was busy with another customer.

One lesson I learned long ago was that everything has a sequence.  In this case, I needed to return to Rooster's to eat my egg sandwich.  Once that was done, I headed back to the bank.

I mistakenly believed getting Gregorio's approval meant his initials on the corner of the check, and that would be that.  But not so.

Mexico is still very much a cash society.  The fact that I call my bank account a checking account would be a matter of amusement to most Mexicans.  It is more like a non-interest savings account.  The bank has never bothered to send me checks.  Why should it?  No one in town accepts checks for payments.  Thus, there is a great deal of mistrust when a check is presented for payment.

Gregorio was in the vault when I returned.  The teller took the check to him.  I did not look at my telephone, but she must have been gone for close to ten minutes.  When she returned, she asked me to have a seat -- telling me that the process would take at least 30 minutes.

It did.  Actually, it took almost 45 minutes. 

I am not certain what she did during that time.  Maybe she contacted the other bank to ensure the funds were there.  After all, the United States government is know to be quite the debtor. 

A darker version of that tale would go like this.  She actually deposited the check on my first encounter with her.  All of the rest was merely street theater to see how any tricks she could get the old Gringo dog to perform.

What struck me as odd was that she never asked for my passport, something the tellers have done with every prior deposit or withdrawal.  And she did not require me to sign the back of the check.

But this is Mexico.  Banking regulations are a lot different than the habits I learned up north.  In this case, I am not certain one process is better than the other.  I simply know one better, but I am learning this new one.

The good news is that the funds are now in the bank, and I had an adventure (plus a great breakfast sandwich) to start my day.

And I now know something new.  I am going to request all future Tricare checks be denominated in dollars.  That way, I can deposit them using my telephone.  That is, of course, until the regulators in Washington discover another practical bit of life to spike.

drugs and dollars

I owe someone an apology.  And because I am an American, I will apologize for almost anything -- even if I have had no personal responsibility for whatever trendy fad cries out for an apology.

And then there are other times.  When I really am responsible.  This is one of those times.  Well, in part.

Last May, while I was gesticulating madly atop my moral high horse in opposition to extending Medicare's bureaucracy to Mexico's American expatriates, I told you about a crazy example imposed by my military retirement medical insurance -- Tricare.  I had just filled out a claim form requesting reimbursement for my rather expensive prescription medication.

Tricare will reimburse 75% of my out-of-pocket expenses less my deductible, co-pay, and other deductions that seem to fall in the "sleeping with the window shut" fees.  After sending in my May claim form, I noticed a rather unsettling warning:

Prescription claims require the name of the patient; the name, strength, date filled, days supply, quantity dispensed, and price of each drug; NDC for each drug if available; the prescription number of each drug; the name and address of the pharmacy; and the name and address of the prescribing physician. Billing statements showing only total charges, or canceled checks, or cash register and similar type receipts are not acceptable as itemized statements, unless the receipt provides detailed information required above.
I thought I would never see a penny of drug reimbursement.  Drugs are not dispensed with that type of detail here.  Until I requested it, my local pharmacy didn't even provide a receipt.  There is no cash register.  We are talking small town here.

My discussion caused distress from other Tricare patients in Mexico.  Like me, they had not been submitting documentation even close to the requirement for prescription claims.

About a month after I wrote that essay, Tricare sent my claim form back to me.  I was not surprised to see it in my postal box.  But I was surprised at the contents of the letter I received.

Tricare noted that I had not included the address and telephone number of the pharmacy.  It actually was on the hand-written receipt I had submitted.  But, never mind.  I could easily write both on the letter.  Back the form went to Tricare with heightened hopes that I may actually see some bucks.

And two reimbursement checks showed up here early this month.  I told you about them in my piece about using my mobile telephone to make bank deposits -- dialing for dollars.  From submission to payment took about three months.  Not really a stellar response time.  But it is the government.

Then, Saturday morning, I had a real shock.  There was another Tricare envelope in my postal box.  Since I had just asked a friend, a week ago, to mule my most recent claim form north, I was shocked to see such a short turnaround.  In fact, I was about to laud Tricare for its administrative professionalism.

But that would have been premature.  The envelope did contain a check (denominated in pesos) -- but for services in June.  Still, that was just a two month turnaround.

Thus my half apology.  It turns out that Tricare is far more flexible in its reimbursement process than its form would indicate.  And that is good.  I suspect Mexico is not the only country where detailed receipts are rare.  Sheedy's Rexall in Powers during the 1950s probably fell into that same category.

So, I will continue to pay for my drugs out of my pocket knowing that I will eventually get some reimbursement.  At some point.

It is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp crocodile.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

on the rebound

We all know him.  The guy whose relationship goes down in flames.  He then shows up the next week with a young beauty claiming: "She's the one."

Well, I am that guy.

Just over two weeks ago in i bought a house, I told you the tragic tale of losing a negotiating battle on a Mary Poppins house -- practically perfect in every way.  It would have made a great house for my extended family.

It was the second short-end-of-the-sick experience I have had within the last year.  For whatever reason, it appeared that I was not going to find happiness as a home owner in Barra de Navidad.

But I had not taken into account the effect of true love.  During my search for a house, I had noticed a house that had extremely interesting lines.  But, for some reason, I had bypassed it.  At four bedrooms, I thought it was too large for our needs.  As illogical as that now sounds.

Four bedrooms would be perfect for us.  One for each of our groupings -- with an additional guest room.

The area where most expatriates (and a lot of middle class Mexicans) buy is called Pueblo Neuvo ("New Town").  With its equally platted lots, it resembles a suburb of Miami.  With a Mexican twist.

The new house is not in the expatriate area.  It is located in an area where most of Barra's permanent Mexican residents live.  A neighborhood where expensive and simple homes can reside side by side without any obvious judgment being made.  For those of you who live in Mexico, you understand the mix.  You undoubtedly live somewhere similar.

The moment I looked at the place, I had an emotional connection with it.  And I did not understand why.

Certainly the place is very functional.  Its lines are almost Bauhaus -- with a bit of Mexican modernism thrown in.  Very little ornamentation. 

The relationship between the first and second levels is evidence of its provenance.  A neo-classical design would create a golden ratio between the first and second stories.  The architect-owner opted for a more functional equalization of the stories.  The effect pulls the second story lines downward, putting the visual emphasis of the construction on the inner courtyard.

The courtyard is the visual center of the house with its geometric pool and entertainment area.  The house itself is built around the perimeter of a double lot.  A bedroom in each corner, and the living room and kitchen on opposite axes from each other.

As I was leaving, I realized why this house had such an immediate impact on me.  When I was helping my mother move to Bend from her house in Gladstone, I found the basic outine of a house I had designed in the sixth grade.  A house built around a central atrium with each of the rooms opening onto it.  I was in a Roman Empire phase.

I have fallen in love with my junior high sweetheart.  And far enough in love that I signed an offer to buy the house yesterday afternoon.

Once again, I will wait to see if my bride leaves me waiting at the altar -- fiddling with that ring in my pocket.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

bring me the pigeon

We expatriates often go on and on about the things we miss up north.  And, in my case, I often just assume that some services simply are not available in our little village.

Several months ago, someone asked me if the northern delivery services (FedEx, DHL) were available here.  She needed to get some tax documents delivered to her house in Barra de Navidad.

I had no idea.  It occurred to me that if someone had asked the same question of me in The States, I would have no answer.  In Salem, I used certified mail for documents like that -- and packages almost always arrived at my house from Amazon through the good services of the man who drove the UPS truck.

Well, I now know the answer.  Melaque is replete with choices.

When the FATCA regulations caused my Banamex USA account to go the way of the Rosenbergs, the certified check representing the balance in my account was delivered by DHL.  It was just a matter of days after the bank dropped it in Los Angeles that it showed up at my house here.

On Monday of this week, I ordered a BritRail pass.  When the sales clerk in Canada told me it would be shipped here within 3 to 5 business days, I chuckled.  Only out of ignorance.  I should have taken the DHL experience to heart.

The agency gave the package to FedEx on Tuesday, and it showed up in my hands just before noon yesterday.  I was quite impressed.  FedEx packages are delivered to an office in Manzanillo -- with deliveries to our area on Tuesdays and Fridays.

There is a point to this anecdotal rambling.  Each February, I fly north to Oregon to execute tax documents for a trust.  It gives me an opportunity to see family and friends.  But visiting Oregon in February is a bit like seeing your girlfriend without her makeup for the first time.  The state is not at its best in the winter.

If I can arrange receiving and returning the trust tax documents through DHL or FedEx, I can go north when the weather is better, and not in February.  I need to do a bit of investigating on where to drop off the package in Manzanillo for its return.  But I know the general area.

The Mexican postal service also offers a special delivery service called -- I believe -- MexPost.  That is another possibility.

I am looking at as many alternatives as possible this year.  Because, if every everything goes as planned, I may be on that long-touted road trip through Central America.  And options are going to be welcome.  I may even discover how those delivery services work in Nicaragua.

At least, I now know the answer to the question of how to use services I have never used in my life.

Who says that travel is not broadening?

Friday, August 22, 2014

sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar

There are many disappointments in life.  A small one is that Sigmund Freud most likely never made the comment above -- that symbols often are nothing more than the thing they are.  Making them, well, not even symbols.

That is too bad.  The cigar quotation is about the only thing I find the least bit interesting in what Freud was supposed to have said and written.

Whatever its provenance, I thought of the pity observation yesterday as I was shopping my way through the delivery of fresh produce at Hawaii -- my favorite local grocery.  And the pickings were good.

I grabbed a box of cherry tomatoes, a couple of onions, a brace of peppers (red, yellow, and jalapeño), and some incredibly aromatic garlic.  Looking at my basket, I started thinking what I could whip together out of this vegetable trove.

Whenever I start this process, I usually have one default: pasta.  I knew I had a packet of boutique spaghetti that I purchased a couple of weeks ago in Manzanillo.  We do not get Italian pasta around here regularly, and I had grabbed it when I saw it - knowing that it would most certainly be gone on my next visit.

Pasta is not a good choice on hot, humid days.  The boiling water adds exactly the same ingredients to the air that we have an overabundance of in the summer.  But, for a good pasta dish, I will even put up with a spike in humidity. 

It is fortunate that a recent rain storm has kept our humidity down in the 60% range.  That is almost heaven for this time of year.

The great thing about vegetable pasta is that they are a snap to make.  While the pasta was boiling, I
sautéed the chopped vegetables (without the tomatoes) until they were tender.  I then poured the drained spaghetti into the pan and added the tomatoes.  Plus a couple of healthy handfuls of kalamata olives I had in the refrigerator.

The result was superb.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been some Greek feta.  And, because I have enough spaghetti to hold me until I fly to London, I will head to Hawaii later this afternoon to spruce up the pasta with a bit of cheese.

Last Saturday in what you dig is what you eat, I claimed to be an inadvertent
"locavore" -- a person who will only eat food grown within 100 miles of the dining table.  I was rather smug in the belief that I had fallen into a new trendy foodie category without even trying.

When I bought my produce, I asked Alex, the owner, where the vegetables were grown.  I thought he was going to say around Melaque.

He didn't.  He told me that they came from all over Mexico.  Guanajuato.  Zacatecas.  The environs of Guadalajara.  Other than the pineapple and bananas, nothing was local.  Apparently, the summer is our "winter" season when it comes to vegetables.

In truth, I would not have cared if they had come from Huron, South Dakota.  They were delicious. 

One of my best discoveries here has been the cherry tomatoes.  They are sweet and juicy, and taste like tomatoes once did.  Unfortunately, the skins are a bit liked popped balloons.  But we all need a little latex fiber in our diets.  In this case, that there are no perfect tomatoes.

And, as far as that cigar goes: "No, thanks.  I don't smoke."  Not even, symbolically.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

tongues on the line

This is about as non-newsworthy as a story can get.

I have a photograph -- and I have no facts to go with it.  Worse, I have a running stream of rumors, none of which can be confirmed.

Wherever I have traveled in the world during the past few years, if there are overhead utility wires, a pair of shoes, usually expensive running shoes tied together, will be draped over the wire.  It does not matter if I am in a city or in the country, there will be at least one pair of flung shoes suspended in the air -- in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe.

My prime theory was the shoes were the proud trophy of some bully who, after divesting a bespectacled schoolmate of the mark's prized shoes, managed to get them out of the permanent reach of their former owner.  Rather like the government's shakedown for taxes.

And I guess I am not alone in supporting that theory.  But there are a lot more.  The shoes appear to have dozens of potential meanings.  Crack house or heroin dealer nearby.  Boundaries for gangs.  School children starting their summers.  Almost any form of celebration.

Am I the only person who finds all of those explanations just a bit odd?  What modern civilization could be that uncouth?  Of course, we live in an era where grown women can whoop at a chamber music concert with as much gusto as if they had just consumed their seventh beer at the rodeo.

I shot the photograph about four blocks from my house.  When I asked the clerk at the grocery store on that corner why all of the shoes were in that particular spot, he responded: "I don't know." 

My guess is that he did know.  I was simply not an interesting enough person with whom he wanted to discuss the topic.  I get that now and then.

But I think I know where we can get an answer.  And from reliable sources.

Over the years, I have learned that my readers are full of worthwhile information just waiting to be shared.  And I suspect at least one of you can write The Truth of the Shoes.

It is a fitting topic.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

painting with red oils

Mexico is on the cusp of a major change economically.

That sentence is filled with several landmines.  Any time a nation veers off of its customary economic course, there is political Hell to pay.  Britain's industrial nationalization after the second world war.  America's de-regulation of airlines during the Carter years.  Red China opening its markets to western companies.

For Mexico, the issue is oil.  I will write an historical piece on how the political issue of oil has become so explosive.  That can wait.  Suffice it to say that most Mexicans see their country's oil assets as a matter of national pride.  Messing with it is like throwing a match on tinder.  And there are plenty of politicians standing around flicking their Bics.

Mexico has long been an oil producer.  But, after a major find in 1976, it became a major oil player.  Sixth in the world.  Second in the Americas -- after The States.  And since 1938, the whole process has been nationalized and is now completely controlled by the government company PEMEX.

That 1976 discovery changed Mexico.  By selling its oil on the open market and providing subsidized low-cost oil to its internal businesses, Mexico launched itself into the ranks of middle income countries. 

The revenue from oil sales made up a large percentage of the Mexican federal budget.  Without the sale of its oil, Mexico would now be a far more-impoverished country.

But oil, like any other natural resource, will come to end when it is used up.  And that is what is currently happening with Mexican oil reserves.  Less oil means less revenue -- and less taxes to run the central government.

Experts suspect that Mexico has vast reserves of oil.  But they are in the deeper portions of the Gulf of Mexico.

That is where the dilemma comes in.  Mexico does not have expertise in deep-sea oil exploration.  It has never needed to seek that option.  And because PEMEX is a government monopoly, it has no competition to make it innovative.

The Mexican government in that last year has passed a series of amendments to the constitution to allow foreign companies to assist Mexico in finding these deep-sea reserves.  I will confess that I am a bit confused about what the amendments allow.  The press reports are contradictory.  And none of the politicians can be trusted to fairly describe what the language does.

But something big is happening.

You can tell that because the political opposition on the left has come to life.  Not surprisingly.  Opinion polls show that a majority of Mexicans are opposed to the changes.  For Americans, it would be like tampering with the Second Amendment.

Last month I told you that San Patricio was visited by one of the favored leaders of Mexico's left (dr. l
ópez obrador has a cure for you) -- AMLO.  He was here to announce his new party.  Morena.

AMLO would like to be president.  He has been running continuously for the position for at least eight years.  And, even though the presidential election is still four years away, his party has already indulged in a political tradition here in Mexico -- painting the sides of buildings with party slogans.  Think of it as Mexican muralism on the cheap.

If there is any doubt what AMLO is up to, the slogans make it clear.  He intends to ride barrels of oil into the presidential palace.

And it will be a contentious fight.  I showed this photograph to two Mexican acquaintances.  The first said: "Finally, someone is fighting for the people."  The second hissed through clenched teeth: "Communist bastard."

It appears that Americans are not the only people in the world whose political views are severely divided.

I am going to enjoy reporting this one from the front lines.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

it's not your father's b&r

I do not like ice cream.

Well, that is not quite true.  I am not fond of ice cream.  With the exception of one flavor:  Baskin-Robbins Cherries Jubilee is as good as life gets.

I have been eating the Bing cherry-bejeweled ice cream since the late 1960s when it was called Burgundy Cherry.  I suspect that focus groups were then unaware of the classy moniker "Burgundy," at least when associated with things French. 

Back then Burgundy was a jug wine made by Ernest and Julio.  Thus, the switch to the festive Cherries Jubilee.  A name to invoke linen napkins, silver eating utensils, and high octane flames.

Whatever B&R called it, I was hooked.  Whenever I returned to Oregon from my travels abroad, I would always grab a double scoop.  When I settled in Salem, I simply bought a 3-gallon container now and then to have my habit close at hand in my basement freezer.

I knew I had become a junkie when the young man at the ice cream store pulled out my purchase and asked: "Would you like a spoon with that?"

Or, at the same store, when my brother, while driving through Salem, walked through the door and was greeted by the clerk with: "Two scoops Cherries Jubilee.  Flat-bottom cone.  Right?"  There was no way I could deny making regular stops.

When I left for Mexico six years ago, I knew ice cream would be a thing of the past.  Some people love the ice cream down here.  Not me.  It is far too sweet.  And there is no Cherries Jubilee.

Or, so I thought.  Last winter two acquaintances from San Miguel de Allende were staying in Villa Obregon during January.  They told me one thing we have here, that they do not have in the highlands, is a Thrifty ice cream store.  I had seen the sign before, but I thought it was a hardware store.

I went inside with them thinking I would sit out this round of snacks.  Then I saw it.  The name was different (simply Black Cherry), but it looked like Cherries Jubilee.  Better yet, it almost tasted like Cherries Jubilee.

A bit sweeter.  Less creamy.  But it was all there.  Cherry-flavored ice cream chock full of Bing cherry chunks.

Black Cherry is now my occasional treat.  No 3-gallon containers to take home.  After all, my tiny freezer compartment would not be up to that task.

But once a month or so, I wandered in to talk with my pusher.  Fortunately, my visits are not frequent enough that he knows my order.  When that happens, I may need to switch to a different treat.  Or, at least, to the Thrifty store in Barra.

After all, a guy has a reputation to uphold.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Yesterday I wandered through town looking for something to add a bit of spice to Mexpatriate.  But nothing seemed to quite suit my camera.

Until I stopped across from one of our local grocery markets.  We have had a small bit of rain over the past two days.  That means lower humidity.  But it also means standing water in the street.

Usually, that is a nuisance.  I wear leather sandals.  Wading through ankle-deep water is not a good match for my footwear.

But costs often creates benefits.  As I stood looking at the obstacle between the store and me, I noticed something odd about the water.  It was not an obstacle, at all.  It was a mirror image of my little village.

So, out came the camera.  Right next to me, an older Mexican couple were sitting on the sidewalk in front of their house.  When I angled my camera toward the ground, her face took on the type of confused look I get anytime someone tries to explain the difference between sine and cosine.

I showed her the result and made the bold pronouncement: "It's beautiful."  I may as well have added tangent to my list.  She scrunched up her face and said: "Nothing beautiful here."

Her husband took a long look at the screen on my camera, and agreed with me.  "Very beautiful," he said.  Maybe a bit too kindly.

Which only goes to show that even though there may be objective factors for beauty, we can find its Platonic truth in some of the most unlikely places.  My love of Donatello's Mary Magdalene, for example.

I am not certain what spurred me in that exchange to think of The Princess Bride.  But that was my movie fare for the night on Netflix.  I had hoped to watch the only Robin Williams's movie that I thoroughly enjoy -- One Hour Photo.  But it was not in the inventory.

Instead, I spent the evening eating home-made chocolate pudding and re-acquainting myself with the Princess Buttercup, Westley, and Inigo Montoya.  Without doubt, it must be the most quotable movie in Christendom.  When Roy and I presented our periodic legal updates to our fellow employees, we would regularly pepper our performances with lines from the movie.

Such goodies as:

  • "Hello!  My name is Inigo Montoya!  You killed my father!  Prepare to die!"
  • "You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means." 
  • "I just work for Vizzini to pay the bills.  There’s not a lot of money in revenge."
  • "Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something."
  • "When I was your age, television was called books."
With everything that has happened this past week, it was fun to watch a film as clever as this.  I had almost forgotten that I have an acquaintance here who is a dead ringer for Carol Kane's character.   When the credits roll, it always leaves me with a sense of joy.

In fact, let me share them with you.  Try to remember, and smile.
"As you wish."


Sunday, August 17, 2014

a stalk on the wild side

Living in the tropics is like being an extra in a road show of Little Shop of Horrors.  There are nascent Audreys at every corner.

When I was out playing Sherlock Holmes in the compost pile the other day, I stepped back with my camera to get get a shot of my volunteer corn stalk, and nearly was toppled by the spike in this photograph.  I thought the garden had been invaded by a gargantuan asparagus stalk.

The spike was not there a day or two ago.  And now it is almost as tall as I am.  Mind you, that is a bit like saying it is world-famous in Poland.*  I do not hit the towering scale in height.  Even though I am taller than most of my neighbors.

Unless I am mistaken, the plant is an aloe.  It has some cousins on the other side of the garden that put up giant candelabra of flowers that are visited nightly before the spike and the plant pass on to the great plant composter in sky.  For these plants, the act of reproduction is a climax without a second act -- just like being a male praying mantis.

I hope that I am going to get to see another tropical flower show before I head across the Atlantic to see the old country.  With two weeks left here, there are undoubtedly plenty of goings-on to share.

I guess we will find out when each day gets here.

* -- Why do I always think of Rula Lenska whenever I use that line?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

what you dig is what you eat

Welcome aboard the serendipity express.

Yesterday, I had a post in draft stage, but I bumped it in favor of my black dog of summer piece.  As luck would have it, my blogger pal Al beat me to the punch.  In a way.

Al and Stew live just outside of San Miguel de Allende in one of the most beautiful spreads I have seen in Mexico.  You met them two years ago in peace center.

On Thursday, Al posted an essay about the abundant produce they are harvesting from their garden.  Locavores, eat your heart out.  "Lemon cucumbers, a couple of types of squash, five or six kinds of tomatoes, including three heirloom varieties, along with various types of beets, radishes, carrots and a seemingly endless cavalcade of different lettuces plus Swiss chard and kale." 

It is enough to turn a guy to thoughts of vegetarianism.  Well, with a bit of chicken thrown in here and there.  Here on the beach, chicken is considered a vegetable.  Just like bacon.

By the way, if the term "locavore" is new to you, you are undoubtedly not one of America's elite foodies.  A locavore is a person who will only eat food grown within 100 miles of the dining table.  The type of person who would vote socialist, as long as it did not adversely impact their 401K plan.

When my niece worked in a foo-foo produce shop in Bend, Oregon, a local woman brought a hand of bananas to her at the checkout counter and asked if the bananas were locally grown.  You do not need to know much more about locavores than that.

I suppose I am one, though.  At least when it comes to fruits and vegetables.  Almost all of the vegetarian fare we eat here in Melaque is grown on our narrow flood plain between the ocean and he mountains.  Easily within 100 miles of my casa.  And that has its benefits and costs.  We get great-tasting vegetables -- with the notable exception of tomatoes.

The tomato dilemma has prodded me to find a solution.  The most obvious is to grow my own.  And that would be great if it were not for the deadly tobacco blight that tends to turn most tomato plants into a back goo overnight.  Or the army of leaf-cutter ants that have an almost pregnant-obsession with potted plants.  Or the fact that I am away from my place for longer periods of time than any farmer in good conscience could ever be.

So, I have no vegetable garden.

I do have a compost pile, though.  Well, it is a vegetable and fruit dumping ground.  I seldom tend it as a compost pile should be tended.  Not regularly, at least.

A recent trip to the compost pile convinced me that it may be time to take a stab at emulating Al and Stew.  The first thing I noticed was a vine of some sort.  Squash, I assumed.  Whatever it was, the next day it was gone.  The victim of my nemesis the ants.

The most unusual volunteer was a stalk of corn.  Not a Kansas stalk, mind you.  It looked more like a Rhode Island size.  But there it was.  Unplanted.  Untended.  And with an ear forming.

I have no idea how it got there.  I certainly did not put out seed.  And the only corn that has gone in the pile was of the cob variety.  Boiled corn does not babies make.

As far as I am concerned, it was a mystical sign that it is time for Mexpatriate to put down roots.  Buy a dog.  Plant a garden.  And fight the leaf cutter ants on a daily basis -- rather than on my infrequent visits.

Chicomecoatl, the Aztec goddess of fertility and corn, just might smile on my efforts.  Though, I am not certain I would like the Orozco version hanging around my garden.

Friday, August 15, 2014

roof with a view

I am up on the roof today.

When there are no renters in the upper unit of my place, I come up here now and then to enjoy the view.  Now that the flamboyant tree has been put to the axe and the ficus has been sheared, we can actually see water from up here.

But I did not come up here for the view.  I needed a place to sit and organize my thoughts.  The garden would usually work, but the breeze on these hot, humid days is better on the third floor.

And, somehow, I feel a bit lifted up from our little burg.  I love living in small towns.  But with every benefit there comes a cost.  And in small towns, smallness is almost free on the open market.

There is no need to bore you with the details, but every decade or so, the black dog comes for a visit.  And this was the day.

Actually, it has been building for a couple of days.  I can always feel the symptoms.  Sleep is elusive.  I stay in bed until noon.  Meeting people slips from a pleasure to a chore.

I have been mulling over some thoughts for an essay on the deaths of Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams.  In a way, I will miss her more.  She was one of those screen presences whose work will survive -- even when her role was nothing more than supportive.  Seeing her twice on Broadway in terrible vehicles was still a treat.

But she is one of those celebrities who I had thought died years ago.  Fame is fleeting.

Robin Williams is in an entirely different category.  Whenever a celebrated person commits suicide, people are baffled.  One of the most common responses is: "How could he do that?  He had everything."  Of course, most people who say that have been sucked into the cult that wealth and success buy happiness.  And we know that is not true. 

I was still in law school when I first saw Robin Williams on television.  I believe it was the summer of 1978.  My classmates Bill and Doug were watching late night television.  One of the summer midnight specials.  This one was from San Francisco where a young new comedian was about to take America by storm.

The three of us knew we were seeing something new.  For some reason his impression of Superman on speed struck us as hilarious.  I still remember what I said: "This guy is nuts."  Over the years, I discovered I was correct, but in darker ways than I had thought. Williams was one of those celebrities who almost wore "tragic ending" on his forehead.

Watching him on stage was like watching a mental patient who was barely managing to keep his fingertips wrapped around the throat of reality.  No tight-rope walker made audiences hold their breaths hoping that the unexpected would not happen.

It usually didn't.  Usually, he left an audience behind still wondering if they had actually experienced what they thought they had.  It may be why some of his best acting roles cast him either as a therapist or as a mad man.

I recently lost a talented friend to the vagaries of alcohol and depression. All of us around him could only stand helpless while he took one tragic step after another. It was like watching someone standing on a frozen lake while the ice broke up around them.

My blogger pal Shannon Casey just posted a very touching essay on the topic of depression: The Thin Line.  She recounts a series of famous people who have been toppled by depression.  One of her commenters added that some gentle people who suffer depression may commit suicide because "they are too gentle for this world."

Both of them are correct.  But there are other people who suffer depression, and their condition drives them to face their demons with violence.  We have seen a series of bouts worked out throughout the world where someone suffering from mental illness decides to commit suicide by killing others and letting the police kill him.

All of that has very little to do with me and my reverie on the roof, however.  Even though some of my family members have used knives and baseball bats to work out their own mental problems.

But I am not one.  For starters this mood is not clinical depression.  I am simply indulging in the type of childish revenge musings that pull small towns apart.  And rather than continue the cycle, I have decided to stay up here until the mood passes.  Staying away from company is always a good idea when my mind treads these corridors.

Well, to be honest, it already passed a couple of hours ago.  To celebrate, I walked over to La Oficina to enjoy some of Juliana's spinach pasta.  It was good to be in the company of people again.

At least, for now.  This may be the sign I was waiting for that it is time to move on to something new.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

signs of the time

Well, this is something you are most likely not going to see in Canada or The States. 

Not the sign to the left.  That is a product of the American Old South.  I am talking about the advertisement below -- an advertisement that would cause the claxon of propriety to sound a warning.

The advertisement is for an apartment in Morelia -- I believe.  It sounds quite attractive.  Even with the requirement for a six month lease.  The surprise comes in the third to last sentence. 
Fully furnished, remodeled two bedroom apartment in el centro, one block from the Mercado San Juan and close to downtown restaurants. Extra large living room, dining room, kitchen, one bath. Private entrance, completely secure. Main level features two patios and a separate storage room.  An upper level offers sweeping sun-rise views, a new built-in barbecue, bar area and patio big enough to hold a dance on. Cable TV and Internet provided.  Owner prefers male renters or mature women. A small, well-behaved pet is acceptable. Six months minimum lease required.

"Owner prefers male renters or mature women."  One can only imagine what the walls of that apartment have seen to result in that odd restriction.

I remember seeing similar advertisements when I was growing up in Oregon.  "Single gentlemen only."  "No children."  "No single ladies."

A long line of legislation has erased those restrictions from the classified advertisements -- well, at least, where classified advertisements still exist.  I suspect they have almost all migrated to the internet these days.

Of course, the sentiments survive.  If a landlord is reluctant to rent to young men, she can simply not rent to them -- always risking a visit from the fairness police.  And a subsequent fine.

Mexico simply skips the hypocrisy step.  If you own a piece of property and you don't want to deal with your own prejudices, you simply put them out in public to be read by all.  And, if someone gets offended, they just need to learn to deal with it.

It makes those of us from the north just a bit uneasy.  After all, "male renters preferred" does not create the same visceral reaction as "No coloreds."  And, even though there are huge historical differences between the two, they still strike northerners as -- well, wrong.

And if I find the advertisement offensive?  What can I do?  Here's an idea.  Mount your moral horse and don't bother responding to the advertisement.  Even if you are a preferred male or mature woman.

Who knows, after a few snubs, we northerners may conform Mexicans to our particular brand of hypocrisy. 

Who says cultures can't learn from one another?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

the seasons turn

The streets of Melaque look as if John Ford has stopped by to film the climax of a western.  The big shootout could happen any minute.

In the early afternoon on a Tuesday, our streets were almost devoid of human activity.  Even our homely town square was empty.

For the past six weeks Melaque has been awash with tourists.  Mexican students get a relatively short vacation during the summer, compared with students north of the Rio Bravo.  But their families use it wisely.  Often at the beach.

During my first four summers here, the tourists came mainly on buses from Guadalajara or the surrounding towns of Jalisco.  Two years ago, there was a noticeable change.  Middle class families started showing up in expensive SUVs -- the type of families who previously spent their vacations in Puerto Vallarta.  It has been proof positive that the middle class continues to grow in Mexico.

Last Saturday, I had lunch at a restaurant across the street from the only bank in town.  When I first sat down, all I could see was a field of cars and SUVs double-parked in the street.  I assumed most were using the ATM.

By the time I had finished my meal, the street was empty.  The bank parking lot was empty.  A better writer could have conjured up a tale of pestilence and plague.  Of course, the families were on their way home to get the kiddies back in class.

These six weeks of summer vacation are incredibly important to the economy of Melaque.  Even though the largest revenue source, by far, is agriculture, the Mexican tourists bring in the second highest amount -- during the summer, on weekends, and the ever-important Christmas and Easter vacations.

I will confess that my revenue numbers are anecdotal.  They have to be.  We have no Chamber of Congress and there are no readily-available statistics from the Mexican government.  But my business sources are all unanimous in their assessment of the importance of Mexican tourism to Melaque.

And they are just as unanimous that northern tourism comes up third in overall annual revenue.  There are plenty of businesses that cater almost solely to one trade or the other.  For instance, several of the restaurants I enjoy are open only during the winter season.

But that is changing.  I have a friend who has run a high-end hotel here for years.  In the past, she would close in the summer.  She now stays open through the year and has found the Mexican trade in the summer to be very lucrative.

The same goes for the restaurant I was sitting in at the beginning of this essay. In the past two years, it has become a regular summer haunt of middle class Mexican families.  It gives me an opportunity to practice my Spanish by eavesdropping on conversations.

And that is why I often have to ask followup questions when someone asks me about the "season" in Melaque.  The only thing that is constant is that the tourist year has it own life cycle -- just like the laguna.

In truth, I will miss the tourists who have just left.  I know the waiters will.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

grampa is reaching for his wallet

Duck!  Here comes Grampa Steve with his baby pictures.

One of the thrills of living on Villa Obregon’s laguna is witnessing the cycle of life.  And it is as raw as jungle life can be -- with death, birth, and struggle served up with daily shows,.  Matinees on Wednesdays.

Of course, my favorite act is the hatching of the crocodile eggs.  I have learned a lot about the maternal instinct from this little drama.  Who knew that mother crocodiles could be so nurturing?

The best part of the cycle, though, is watching the hatchlings do their best to survive in a hostile world.  Last year, I took a series of great photographs, if I do say so myself.  (LINK)  I had hoped that this year would be even better with my relatively new camera.

But circumstances are different this year.  Very different.  Last year there were over 40 babies spread across a large portion of our arm of the laguna.  This year I have counted only five.  And they have remained secluded.

For good cause.  A wave of hungry birds and avenging neighbors bent on molesting the young has washed over the small beach where the babies try to hide and survive.  Two nights ago, two older women were throwing large stones at the babies, calling them “bad.”

Now, how could that face be "bad?"  It might even be smiling.

Any wildlife that moves around here is subject to a shortened life throw stoning, stomping, or hacking.  And most of those things that slither, scurry, or scuttle are either benign or helpful to the ecosystem.

Trying to reason that there has not been one reported injury of a human by a crocodile in Melaque will only fall on deaf and fearful ears.  Even I admit these large reptiles knot the stomach.  Especially at night when I am expecting to see only ants.  But crocodiles are in far more danger from us than we are from them.

I suspect I will not get many shots of this hatching.  So, indulge a proud grampa.  After all, the babies will move on in one fashion or other.

And here is a bonus for indulging a sentimental old man.

Monday, August 11, 2014

maybe frida had the right idea

I have vowed several times that "this is my last post on crime in Mexico."  But the topic just keeps coming back for another visit.

This time two different incidents (one involving neighbors; another involving an acquaintance) have caused me to start re-assessing how to live with one of life's realities.  You know the one: as good as life is, there is a lot of evil in the world, and some of it is very close at hand.

Here are the two stories.  A Canadian couple owns a house on the beach about four blocks from my house.  Last Thursday they suffered a burglary -- the type of burglary that gives most of us goose flesh when we hear about them.

They had retired for the evening to their air-conditioned bedroom -- with their door shut.  During the night, a burglar entered through a second floor bathroom window and wandered through their house for almost 75 minutes, stealing some valuable items along the way.  He had also armed himself with several knives.  They know the details because the whole incident is recorded on their security cameras.

The cameras managed to catch several good images of the burglar.  The homeowners copied the photographs and provided them to our local police.  Within two days, the police had arrested a suspect.  Based on his interrogation, he is the guy.

That tale had a good outcome.  At least, so far.  I have often doubted that a security camera photograph would be very helpful in nabbing a crook.  I was wrong.

What is disturbing about the story is that we have had a series of nighttime burglaries around here -- while the occupants were asleep.  I will confess I have spent more than one restless night after listening to those tales.

But the second tale is a bit more alarming.  And, so far, it has not come to a good ending. 

On Saturday, an acquaintance went to the bank in Melaque.  When she returned to her house, she was confronted by a couple of thugs, who pistol-whipped her, and relieved her of her money, her credit cards, and her passport.  When I saw her Sunday morning, she had the stitches to show for it.

The matter is now in the hands of the police.  Her friends are offering her their support.

But both of these incidents reminded that, wherever I am in the world, I need to be aware of my surroundings.  Even here in Melaque.

After hearing about the first incident, a friend emailed me asking: "So much for your theory that there is no crime in Mexico."

I was a bit surprised that I had such a theory.  Because I don't.  I have previously commented that Mexico has crime, just like any other place in the world.  Including Bend.  Just ask my mother.

What has changed for me is that I am tired of being afraid.  To quote one of my favorite cheesy movies: "We will no longer tolerate and we will no longer be afraid.  It's your turn to be afraid."

And what does that mean?  I am not exactly certain.  There are all forms of self-defense methods people can use to take back some control over their own lives.

Several expatriates I know in town have legal firearms in their homes.  And individual local police officers have advised sevdral of us to purchase handguns.

I have never been an advocate of that approach.  But I have read a couple of works recently that give due credit for many of the advances of the American civil rights movement -- from emancipation until 1964 -- with the number of individual blacks who armed themselves within their homes to protect their families.  Colt, the gun manufacturer, played off that sentiment in an early advertisement: "Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal."

Mexico is not the United States.  The laws are different here.  The culture is different here.  But there has long been a tradition in Mexico of protecting one's family.  And, when a family can afford to own a gun, they sometimes do.  Legal or not.

I most likely will not take that course.  Everything I own is just stuff.  And I doubt I could kill a total stranger merely for taking a few trinkets.  Human life is too important to me to waste it on trifles.

But armed nighttime burglars and thugs who pistol-whip women are not merely the gatherer of trinkets.  It is they who are changing the picture.

And some of us are willing to take up the challenge.

Maybe I need to marry a modern-day Frida -- without all of that Commie angst.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

big moon and shooting stars

Get outside tonight and look up.

You are going to be witness to two -- count them, two -- big astronomical events.  A super moon and a meteor shower.  The fact that one will overpower the other is just the way nature works.

The term "super moon," of course, is one of those media abominations.  Nothing can be just what it is.  It needs to be extraordinary.  Especially, in the northern land where everybody is above average.

You may recall the last time Mexpatriate talked about, and gazed at, the last super moon in Bend was the night of my mother's unintended starring role in "Evil and the Night Visitor" -- (COPS comes to bend).  That was July.  And the moon was reported to appear larger than it had since 1993.

Here we are, a month later, and the astronomers tell us that tonight's moon will seem even larger.  In the polling business, we would call it within the margin of error.  That means: "not that you would notice." 

I took a look at the moon on Saturday night.  It was bright.  It was beautiful.  After all, it is the moon.  That chunk of rock that we have all built dreams around.

But "super?"  Not so much.

Having said that, here is my advice: don't miss it.  Go outside tonight when the moon coming over the horizon (just about sunset), and you will swear it could gobble up a good portion of the horizon.

The other spectacular scheduled for tonight is a heady show of the annual Perseid meteor shower.  The earth will pass through a debris cloud left by the comet Swift-Tuttle.  At its height, 100 meteors per hour will streak across the sky.

That is, 100 meteors can be seen under optimum viewing conditions.  A super moon hogging the sky stage is not optimum.  In Sunday school, we might sing about letting our little lights shine.  But, the little lights will go unnoticed tonight.

Astronomers predict the show rate will be 15 to 25 per hour.  That should be good enough to spend time on a warm summer night with someone you love.  I am going to see if Mama Croc is available.

After all, a super moon and shooting stars are a free show not to be missed.  Even though one steps on the other's lines. 

Maybe it is a Mexico thing.  Trying to accomplish two things in one night is simply indulgent.

So, enjoy the timpani rolls of the moon.  And consider the meteors to be the harp accompaniment.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

popping into the future

I love popcorn.  It is the one snack I have allowed myself, now that I have given into the nagging of the food fascists.

Popcorn requires two major components.  Good popping corn.  And an even-better popping kettle.

Over five years ago, I told you how disappointed I was with the quality of the popping corn in Melaque (popping memories).  Once popped, it looked and smelled like popcorn, but tasted like packing material.

Several of you told me I must have bought an old bag of corn.  The defenders of the local product claimed Mexican popping corn was usually of the highest quality.  After all, it all started here.  Corn, that is.

It turns out the commenters were correct.  My subsequent forays into the world of Juan Redenbacher have resulted in popcorn that is as good as any I have eaten -- even at my grandmother's house.

And that brings me to my popping kettle -- the subject of this little essay.  When I moved south, I brought along a set of high quality pots and pans that my employer purchased as a retirement gift.  After all, what use would I have with a watch in Mexico?  And I knew that the odds of finding quality cookware in Melaque was about as good as finding temperate weather at the beach.

The pots are great.  The one I selected to pop up my corn is the perfect size to produce a one-person bowl of snacking pleasure.

Of course, no story is told unless the writer is willing to add a bit of tension.  It came in the form of the glass lid having a hard date with the kitchen tiled floor.  The floor was unscathed.  The lid shattered into a myriad of shards that I still find from time to time.

I thought that was the end of my popping kettle.  But, as luck would have it, I had noticed a glass lid to a long-ago deceased round Corning Ware bowl.  It was the perfect size for the kettle.

Better yet, its transparency reminded me of the electric popper at my grandmother's house.  It is not often that utility and nostalgia vacation together.

That union lasted about two years.  Until early Thursday last week -- while I was rushing in the early morning to get on the road to Guadalajara.  Dishes needed to be put away.  As I moved the popcorn kettle to the lower shelf, the glass lid slid off and had the same date with the same kitchen tiled floor.  With the same result.  There were not as many shards, but the lid has now served up its last snack.

Mexicans are well-known for improvising -- just as I did with the replacement glass lid.  So, off I went through the shops in my little fishing village seeking a reasonable replacement for either lid.  Nada.  And then to the tianguis -- a weekly market that can best be described as a garage sale on steroids.  Nada.

Somewhere there is a single lid in Mexico looking to hook up with a kettle that enjoys walks on the beach in the rain and listening to Kenny G albums. 

Until I act as the perfect matchmaker, I will truly improvise.  And that is why you are looking at a photograph of a plate atop my pot.  Dora, the woman who cleans my house, offered the perfect Mexican solution.

I suspect the popcorn will taste good despite the kettle's Rube Goldberg heritage.


Friday, August 08, 2014

i'm not a doctor; but i play one on the internet

One of my favorite internet pastimes is to lurk on Mexican message boards -- just for the fun of reading what some people write. 

And I am seldom disappointed in some of the gems I find in the usual dross of complaints about roosters, church bells, and loud music.

Yesterday offered up an uncut diamond that still has me chuckling.  A British psychologist is on her way to Pátzcuaro, and she has announced to one and all that she is willing to offer her services "1:1" -- a code that usually shows up primarily on paid dating sites.

I am not certain what the good doctor's true name is, but the information was posted by one "Pammie Willis."  I kid you not.  So, for the sake of this essay, let's just call her Dr. Pammie.

And, because Mexpatriate is a forum where everyone is allowed her say, let's turn the floor over to Dr. Pammie and let her have it.  "Her say," that is.  After all, this is a kind and gentle site.

By the way, I have made no change in either the grammar, sentence structure, or spelling that Dr. Pammie chose to use in introducing herself to all of us.


I'm a Psychologist from the UK and I'm going to be living in Patzcuaro for 6 weeks from 15th August to 27th September.

As a psychologist I work with adults and anyone involved in the lives of children and young people to learn to grow and to change.  I provide psychological, advice, tools and counselling to help you make the changes for a healthier, happier and more fulfilled life.

I currently work online but if anyone wanted to access this service 1:1 in person then please contact me at: [there is an email address here, but you don't think I am going to pass it on, do you, after what you have read so far?] to discuss further details.

My Qualifications include:

Doctorate in Psychology
BSC (Hons) Psychology
Certificate in Counselling
Level 1 Narrative Therapy

Studied as part of my Doctorate and applied knowledge of:
Psychological Consultation
Motivational Interviewing
Solution Focused Therapy
Approaches in Human Givens counselling
Personal Construct Psychology
Restorative Approaches
Cognitive Approaches to Learning
Narrative Approaches
Person Centred Planning

Registered with Health and Care Professionals Council UK
Practitioner Psychologist
Registration Number: PYL25109
I did not post a response on the message board.  But, if I had, it would have gone something like this.

My dearest Dr. Pammie --

We are all so thrilled that you have announced your plans to come live in
Pátzcuaro for six weeks.  Most people would call that a visit, but, by reading your message, I can understand why someone with such earnest breathlessness would consider six weeks to be a long, long time.  Almost like becoming absolute best friends with everyone -- and I mean everyone -- who lives there.

From your message (with its drifting from third to second person and its haphazard spelling), I am going to assume that English is not your first language.  But, don't worry. 
Pátzcuaro is in Mexico -- and English is the first language of only a handful of people.

I mention that
Pátzcuaro is in Mexico because you may be in for a rude awakening.  If I understand your quaint rambling style, you are a psychologist, and you are seeking paying clients for your particular style of therapy.

You would think that Mexico would be ground zero for psychologists.  After all it is the Kingdom of the Oedipal Complex.  (I capitalized those nouns because you seem to enjoy that sort of thing.) 

Fathers regularly tell their sons that they will not amount to anything.  And mothers tell their sons that they are perfect princes, unlike their scoundrel fathers.  (Families here try not to leave any brooches lying about the house.)

Here's the problem for you, though, dear Dr. Pammie.  Mexico is a country based on relationships.  People have families and friends who they actually talk with and share their problems.  I guess you would call that "Narrative Approaches" in your particular patois.

Unlike the the developed world (where everyone is called a "friend," but hardly any are), Mexicans do not need to waste their time and money on therapy.  In Canada and the United States (and I suspect in the exotic land of the UK -- which really has a full name and does not need to go by a nickname), people used to pour their hearts out to family or friends -- or even bartenders.  But the only people who accepted money for their advice were the nice young women you would find under street lights at night.

Come to
Pátzcuaro.  Enjoy your time there.  It is a great place to visit.  But if you are planing on raking in the moola, the Mexican immigration folks may have something to say about that.  They are likely to pack you back into your snake oil wagon and send you back to Dear Old Blighty.

I hope you have an enjoyable trip.

With best wishes, I am

As always,

Dr. Stevie

PS  You do not need to respond.  I know my readers.  I am about to get a "talkin' to."  And that is better than any therapy in the world.