Friday, October 31, 2014

day of the dread

A week has passed since Darrel and Christy arrived at the Manzanillo airport -- a bit shocked at how hot and humid late October can be around here.

Darrel, of course, has always been fond of this area.  He was ready to move down here when he stayed with me on the beach for the month of May back in 2009.  His periodic subsequent visits have not cooled his ardor.

And, even though Christy is not quite as enamored with the place, she has become fond of it.  It has "grown on her," as she said the other day.  Her only major complaint has been the amount of plastic that is burnt around here.

Overall, it has been a very successful visit for them.  When I bundle them off to the airport tomorrow, I expect to have the pleasure of their company soon.  There certainly will be a room waiting for them whenever they want.

Both of them have helped me work through a series of house projects.  Replacing broken toilet seats.  Coming up with methods to take the shower over-splash off of tiled bathroom floors. 

Getting my internet up and running.  Raising my patio umbrella to its optimum height. 

Repairing my Escape tire.  Schlepping my rather ratty internet table into my bedroom until a suitably-decorative substitute can be found. 

Installing new high-
security locks on the garage doors.  Restoring as much of my lost computer data as could be expected under the circumstances.  And letting Mexican Immigration know I have a new address.

I may have accomplished all of that on my own -- even though I doubt it.  But it was far more interesting being a problem-solver in conjunction with family members.  It will be good to have them here more often.

Our wrap-up day was a day of eating and relaxing.  Starting with an incredibly creative breakfast.  We drove over to the Grand Bay Hotel to experience what I have been told is one of the best breakfasts in town.

Certainly, the view is as good as it gets.  And that was a bit worrisome.  But my good view-mediocre food rule found an exception.  All of our breakfasts were excellent.

I must admit, though, it paled in comparison with our dinner.  We drove over to La Mazanilla to help Alex and her business partner Leia celebrate with the ongoing opening of their new restaurant -- Magnolia.

It was a perfect night.  The service was efficient and cordial.  Alex and Leia are perfect hosts.  The new courtyard restaurant has a perfect balance of intimacy and casual elegance.

And the food?  It could not have been better.  The description (dinner salad, pork chops, meatloaf) do not do justice to what the kitchen can do (and does) with food that is simple and good, and, thus, simply good.

I believe the two of them have a hit on their hands.  Or, more appropriately, a home run.

When Darrel and Christy return, I know where one of our first stops will be.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

adventure comes knocking

Any day the hook for an essay comes knocking on my door, I count it lucky.

Last night, the three of us talked about striking out in the morning to see the coffee plantation at
Cuzalapa during a drive to Villa Purificación.  You know both sites -- having joined me on several previous trips (ticking me off; purity of sacrifice; putting the sore into sorry).  I thought Christy should be introduced to a bit of colonial Mexico.

Because we are all in vacation mode, our morning was a bit slow.  A nice breakfast whipped up in my fancy new kitchen.  And a lazy float in the pool.

That is when our visitor arrived.  I heard frantic scratching on the screen to the living room.  While cleaning the house, I had discovered some mysterious spoor in that room.  I had my theories.  Now, I knew.

It was an iguana.  What appeared to be a young one changing its skin color.  The markings were almost serpentine.  And it was so intent on getting beyond the screen, it allowed all of us to get quite close to it.  Before it dashed off under the garage door.

Talk about symbolic.  Adventure had come to us to let us know it was time to get moving.  So, move we did.

Darrel and Christy are mountain people.  So, I knew that a trip up through the foothills of the Sierra Madre would be a perfect fit for them.

Like most coastal areas of Pacific Mexico, there is a steady climb through stunning views back toward the coast until travelers reach a broad flat valley hemmed in by a series of mountains.  In our case, the valley starts at La Huerta.

Cuzalapa is located in the hills of that valley.  The coffee roasting center was closed when we arrived, but that did not stop us from hiking through the coffee trees.  I had hoped to see them in flower this year, but we missed that.  The green berries were just setting.

On my last trip to Cuzalapa, I was surprised to find fields of strewn boulders.  Huge boulders.  In this particular case, there was no possibility of clearing this portion of a field.  So, the corn is planted around the rocks.

I have a theory why they are there.  Up north, they would have been deposited by glaciers.  But the Ice Age did not approach Mexico.

To me, they look like volcano bombs.  The type of rocks that volcanoes throw out in eruptions.  The Wicked Witch of the East could probably fully brief us on their dangers.

Our drive was also enlivened by wild flowers.  They are not as showy as the flowers around San Miguel de Allende and
Pátzcuaro, but they were beautiful -- nonetheless.

And Villa Purificación?  We never made it there.  Christy will have to wait for another visit to see our bit of colonial Mexico in this part of Jalisco.

But we did stop in
Cuautitlán de García Barragán.  The town is best known for its prize bulls.  We now know it for its taco stand that served up what were most likely very ordinary tacos, but they tasted like ambrosia to three travelers.

All in all, it was a day filled with enough adventure for now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

mouthing the words

The pull date on my promises seems to be approximately nine hours -- if today's experience is any measure.

Yesterday I swore I would try to see Melaque through the eyes of a first-time visitor.  And I did.  But not quite the way I had originally imagined.

Christy was interested in buying a Mexican sun dress.  She looked through the local tourist shops, and found nothing.  Worry not, several expatriates told her.  You can always find what you need at the tianguis -- our weekly traveling flea market.

I kept my mouth shut.  My experience is that the tianguis is nothing more than a garage sale with egalitarian pretensions.  In my six years of living here, I cannot recall buying anything of value there.

But I had a promise to keep.  To see my world through new eyes.

It didn't work.  Even though, I tried.  I chatted up the vendors.  I fingered the merchandise.  I even tried on a rayon Hawaiian shirt.  But it was the same garage sale experience that has left me cold in the past.

Fortunately, Christy saved the day for me.  She was disappointed with the whole experience.  It was not the market experience she had anticipated.  I suspect she had Oaxaca in mind. 

Other than talking with a silver jewelry salesman, she picked up nothing to examine.  A sure sign of a disinterested shopper.

But, we also agreed that feeling disappointed was fine.  Not all travel experiences are equal, and I managed to end up in the same place she did.

All was resurrected with a new adventure for me.  I had never taken the lancha -- water taxi -- across Barra's lagoon to

Isla de Navidad is home to our local area's only luxury hotel, the Grand Bay, and to the far less-luxurious village of Colimilla -- famous for its seafood restaurants.

We ate at Mary's.  Said by some to be the best of the village's lot.  Its food was good.  But probably no better than seafood in most of the seafood eateries in Barra and Melaque.

What was superb was the view.  I have a theory that excellent food and outstanding views simply do not exist.  Nowhere in the world.  And the view here was great.  It was absolutely traquil to be sitting on the edge of my dinner's former home.

Even though I would not make Colimilla a habit, that trip across the water is something to save for future visitors.  Of which, I hope there will be many more.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

touring with new eyes

Now and then, it is good to let a little humility into one's life.  Especially, if that one is me.

Somewhere along the way of living here in Mexico, my view of my personal role morphed from tourist to resident.  I cannot tell you when.  But it did.  And I have been recurringly guilty of turning into one of those expatriates who put on fancy airs and look aghast when someone delights in calling me a "tourist."

There is another essay embedded in that sentence -- one about what it means to be an expatriate.  And I will get around to writing it one of these days.  But today's essay is a bit more limited in its scope.

I realized just how much joy I miss with my snootiness whenever I am in the presence of someone who finds everything in Melaque to be intriguing.  Today, that was my sister-in-law, Christy.

This is her first visit to this area of Mexico.  Most of her prior Mexican experiences have played out at the series of resorts we could all tick off.  So, the life here is entirely new to her.

Tuesday was the first day that we have gone 100% tourist.  Or almost.

We started the day not in tourist mode.  I took Darrel and Christy to what I have previously referred to as my secret breakfast spot for huevos rancheros.  The best I have ever tasted.  And both Darrel and Christy concur with my rating.

But this was not really a tourist stop.  We were the only people in the little restaurant whose first language was not Spanish.  Special spots like this often make me wonder how people who refuse to learn any Spanish can fully enjoy the offerings of our little beach villages.

Unfortunately, my restaurant could not meet all of the needs of my guests.  They have been both jonesing for a cup of good coffee.  Nescafe was on offer, and Christy tried it.  But it was not what she needed.

So, off we went to La Taza Negra -- an excellent coffee shop run by two friends of mine.  Darrel has spent some time with Ben and Alexa on prior visits.  Whatever it is that they put in their coffees, it got Darrel and Christy off to a great start.  And me?  Well, "coffee" starts with a "c," doesn't it?

Duly fueled, we headed northwest to La Manzanilla -- the little village that first drew me to this part of Mexico.  Tenacatita Bay has to be one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world with its wide mouth and sandy beaches.  "Tropical paradise" quickly rolls off the tongue of even sardonic observers like Mexpatriate.

As nice as the beach is, my reason for taking guests to La Manzanilla is easy to guess -- the crocodiles.  When I first went there, the crocodiles were free to (and did) wander the streets and beaches near their mangrove swamp home.

They are now fenced in.  But guys this size are still intimidating to watch, knowing that what separates his jaw from my right foot is a slat of wood no thicker than what once kept oranges from spilling out in the back of a truck.

I realized just how much I miss my nightly strolls behind my old house to inventory the life of crocodiles.

And what is a day at the beach without spending a day at the beach?  Having met our reptile quota, we drove up the highway to Boca de Iguanas to visit a bed and breakfast where Darrel and I stopped for lunch with the Moodies on his last visit earlier this year -- when I was looking at buying a completely different house.

Chantli Mare is one of those boutique hotels that could easily host a tropical thriller about midnight mayhem and murder.  The "bed" portion of the operation is exquisitely outfitted.  But it is the beach that draws the trade. 

For walks on the beach with the owner's energetic dog, Rusty.  Sitting in a lounge chair.  Enjoying a drink on the patio.  Or lunching on some of the best food in the area.

We did all of that.  And were happier for it.

I am not certain the Chantli Mare experience qualifies as a tourist day.  Our fellow diners and sunners were local businesspeople and permanent residents.  It gave the place far more of an insider feel than a visitors' refuge.

No matter how I label the day, Christy and Darrel had a great time.  And I learned to see many things with new eyes -- things I have taken for granted.

I guess it is not a bad thing to be a tourist from time to time.  Even travelers do that.


Monday, October 27, 2014

back in the swim again

Mexpatriate is up and running.

And it feels great.  With the exception of the late publication date.  But we have been a busy family the past two days.

On Sunday, we found an open shop to repair the Escape's flat tire.  That was our first priority. 

Even though my neighbors feel comfortable driving around on a spare, I am not quite that sanguine.  And I have a lot of Mexico to show Darrel and Christy before they head back to the Land of Work and Cold.

Today was a buying trip to Manzanillo.  We came up with a list of things we needed to buy to make their stay a bit easier -- and to make the house a bit homier.  Like new toilet seats.  Two of the six needed immediate attention.

Darrel and I also worked on the internet.  It is up and running. 

Last night, I conjured up a method to restore a few of the files that disappeared with my computer.  With the exception of the photographs I shot in Washington and Oregon before I headed back here earlier in the month, I have managed to resurrect seven years of my work.

That will now free us up to see some of the treasures of the area.  La Manzanilla tomorrow.  I think.  Unless a better alternative presents itself.

As soon as I get settled, I will start sharing shots from my replacement camera.  You can see the first at the top of this piece.

It is fresh out of my camera.  And when I hit the publish button, my body will join the rest of the family in that inviting pool.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

don't tread on me

I moved to Mexico primarily because I wanted to awaken every morning and not have the slightest idea how I was going to get through the day.  I have said it before -- and I am saying it today:  Mexico has lived up to its end of the bargain.  In spades.

Yesterday was a perfect example.  I had one big item on my agenda -- to drive out to the Manzanillo airport to pick up my brother and our special guest star for the week.  The house was in perfect order to show off its lines.

If you have not already guessed, our special guest star is Darrel's wife, my sister-in-law, Christy.  It turns out their adventure began a little earlier than they anticipated.

They had gone to bed early on Friday night to be ready to catch a pre-dawn flight from Bend.  Around midnight, they received a text message that their flight to Portland had been canceled due to fog.  And that was the only flight that would allow them to catch the once-a-week flight to Manzanillo.

So, they jumped into their car and drove the multi-hour trip to Portland to catch the flight.  And catch it they did, arriving in Manzanillo right on time. 

With greetings all around, we piled into the Escape.  I was telling Darrel I thought I had a malfunction in one of my dashboard lights.  The low tire pressure was on, but all of the tires seemed to have adequate pressure.

We were passing a Pemex station as I said that.  I am glad I stopped.  The front left tire was well on its way to being flat.  The reason was immediately obvious.  There was a hole in the tread that looked as if Kojak had shot it out.  I suspect I had picked up a nail and the head had finally snapped off.

Being the take-charge guy that he is, Darrel changed the tire.  But it was late Saturday, and there was no hope of finding a repair shop -- or to order a new tire, which is probably my option.

That didn't bother me because I knew the day's centerpiece would be Darrel and Christy getting their first glimpse of the house.  I threw the door open -- and immediately in front of them was my swimming pool doing a St. Patrick's Day impression.  When I left it was clear.  It was now an interesting shade of pond scum.

The fact that the house internet has not been working for a couple of days seemed like an afterthought.

So, here we are at Rooster's having breakfast.  My brother has handed over my new computer (the platform for this essay), camera, and Kindle.  Within a couple of days, all of the circumstances of Saturday will be grist for tales.

What matters is that my brother and his wife are here to investigate what I hope will be part of their retirement plans.

And, as soon as I buy a memory card for the camera (something Sony does not seem to provide any longer), I will have some shots of the coming week.

After all, I need to start sharing the house with you.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

knocking out the stuffing

Some of you think I went to finishing school on a pirate ship.

But you would be wrong.  My finishing school was the United States Air Force.

I learned a lot of useful skills.  Comradeship.  Loyalty.  Orderliness.  Sewing.  The same skill set other young men learn in prison.

The sewing skill could have come in handy the other night.  Last week, I bought two large pillows at Sam's Club for my new bed.  When I woke up after my first night in the new place earlier this week, I was startled to find the bed was strewn with stuffing.

Not the type that comes out of a turkey at Thanksgiving and gives each member of the family an equal opportunity of losing the food poisoning lottery.

This was some sort of pillow stuffing.  Cleverly called "down artificial fill."  My brand new pillow had made an offer I could not refuse.  But it was better than waking up with a severed horse head in my bed.

Today I needed to drive to Manzanillo to complete a couple of tasks before Darrel arrives.  I have had several "returned merchandise" events in Mexico -- with mixed results.

So, I gathered up my unstuffed pillow and my all-important receipt, and rolled on down the road to Sam's Club.

With all of that build-up, you might think the clerk suggested I could simply sew up the seam that came undone.  If I had had no other reason to go to Manzanillo, I probably would have pulled out my sewing kit to do just that. repaired pillow.

But the young lady I talked with immediately saw the problem, took my receipt and club card, and asked me to retrieve a new packet of pillows.  Just like Salem.  But, in Spanish.  Even though I am not even certain there is a Sam's Club in Salem.

My shopping is going far better than my internet access.  After working for a couple of days, the connection has decided it has no interest in carrying my words to you.  So, I will let it be churlish until the arrival of my sainted brother -- who can fix anything.

Maybe, tomorrow.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

as the fan turns

Tuesday night was the last night I will spend in Casa Nanaimo -- the house that has been my base in Melaque for just under five years.

I doubt I can adequately sum up the experiences of living there.  It was where I transitioned into my new life in Mexico -- in many ways.  From broken ankles while ziplining to building relationships with my neighbors to touring some of Mexico's more exotic offerings.

Of course, moving house does not stop the experiences.  But it will be a bit different being a homeowner.  Simply running off for a month or two or three at the drop of a sombrero will not be possible.  I may actually be forced to deal with that adult obsession -- planning.

The old garden gave me a fitting sendoff.  I have been waiting for over a year for one of the orchids to bloom.  During my farewell walk-through, I noticed that it had put out not just flower spike, but two.  And one had started its bloom cycle.

For send-offs, I can't think of a better one.

But, that is the old world.  I now live in a new one.  A new one where I slept last night.

Or tried to sleep.  I always have trouble sleeping in new places.  At least, for the first three nights.

There was an extenuating circumstance, as well.  I could not find mattress pads in Manzanillo yesterday, so I slept on top of the mattress sans sheets. 

It was almost as good as camping.  If the couch in the living room had been a bit longer, I would have slept there.  There is nothing as comfortable as sleeping on a couch.  (The Man Union may expel me for disclosing that gender secret.)

Today?  A bit more shopping for odds and ends before mi hermano arrives on Saturday afternoon.

At some point, I assume, the new place will simply become home.  But it will take time.

Maybe I need a blooming orchid.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

gassed and ready

The troops are moving on the Western Front.

I have been waiting for one event to start moving my stuff to The House.  Re-keying the locks.  With new keys in hand, I completed part one of that action-packed thriller: "The Move to Barra." 

My choice on Tuesday morning was to either drive to Manzanillo to buy some items before Darrel arrives or to schedule a fill-up for the new propane tank.  Because we will need propane this weekend, I opted to stay in town.

While I waited for the gas truck to arrive, I sampled the full depths of the new pool.  Whoever is responsible for designing this pool got it absolutely correct -- in both aesthetics and practicalities.  An hour in the cool water made me forget all about air conditioning.  (Of course, some unplanned expenses have also played a part in stalling consideration of that project.)

I wish I could tell you if I have been able to comply with the Escape Rule, but I can't.  I decided it would be simplest to move my few goods in room-size bites.  Because I have no furniture, most of what I have are mere nibbles.

And I have tossed quite a few items.  Most of my white clothes have managed to contract a farther nasty red mildew.  I have tried bleaching the stains out to no avail.  But I have a lot of new cleaning rags.

Then there was the bag of canned goods that have hurtled well past their pull dates.  Most of them four years past. 

That alone would not have been enough for me to dump them.  But the rust covering both the top and bottom of the cans was.  I will eat old food.  But I am leery of eating anything that may have been exposed to the nasty vagaries of an unsealed can.

Moving out always seems to be far easier than moving in.  For some reason, items that once looked appropriate in the living room no longer have that same allure.

To avoid the inevitable piles-to-be-sorted later that start accumulating in houses, I decided anything that is not immediately put away will be placed nowhere but my bed.  That way, when Wednesday or Thursday night come, I will not have a place to sleep until I have found a home for everything.

I say "Wednesday or Thursday" because I will be completely moved out of my rental on one of those days, and Dora will prepare it for a new tenant.  I hope he enjoys the place as much as I have.

But that still leaves at least one more trip to Manzanillo to top off my shopping list.

On Friday, my new life as a Mexican property owner will begin.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

putting it together

I am constantly re-learning life's little lessons.

Here is one.  Setting up house is like solving a jig-saw puzzle where the top of the box is missing.  You are not quite certain what the outcome will be.  But you know it is challenging.

Monday was a puzzle day.  The day started and ended with a new propane tank.Lou met me at one of our local hardware stores.  After two stops, we had wrestled a 180 liter tank into his Pilot -- along with the necessary gear to assemble it.  Jaime showed up in the evening to put it together.

Now, I just need to get the gas company to stop by to fill the tank and to relieve me of a fistful of pesos.  Jaime will then return to ensure gas is flowing to my cooktop, the oven, and the two outside grills.  The Cotton boys can then cook up their hearts starting on Saturday evening.

My realtor and I then stopped by the regional CFE office -- our electric company -- to switch names on the account.  After about a half hour of shuffling forms, my name was substituted for the former owner's.  The clerk told me to stiop by a Banamex to pay a $570 (Mx) deposit.  As far as CFE is concerned, I am a brand new (and untrustworthy) customer.

Interestingly, when I tried to pay the deposit at the bank, the clerk would not accept it because the computer still shows a $1,757 (Mx) balance due on the account.  I will need to check with my realtor and CFE today to see how this will be resolved.  I certainly know one way it is not going be fixed.

I tried setting up my internet yesterday -- to no avail.  And for good reason.  While my realtor and I were looking at the hydra-like internet and telephone connections, the woman, who formerly held the position Dora now holds, showed up with the missing modem and several attached cables. 

They were the missing link that allowed the realtor to get the internet working.  Unfortunately, by the afternoon, half of the system had stopped operating.  That may turn out to be Darrel's first project.

When the former maid handed over the modem, I told her her services were no longer required.  The former pool guy showed up later.  He got the same speech.  I almost felt like Carl Icahn.

The day's next project consumed what was left of the day.  The house locks (all eight of them) needed changing.  The town locksmith (and two assistants) showed up to replace the old locks and carve new keys.  They must have been at the house for at least three hours.  But I now have a re-keyed house.

It is now time for my stuff to start making the two or three mile trek to The House.  My goods are stacked primarily in the living room at the old place -- just waiting for an opportunity to prove that Steve has held true to the Escape Rule: I own nothing that cannot be fully packed in the Escape within one hour.

Of course, sometime between now and Saturday, I need to drive down to Manzanillo to buy padlocks for the garage door, mattress pads, sheets, more towels, more pillows, a toilet brush, fertilizer, pruning tools, more toilet accessories, LED lights, and a case or two of light bulbs.  (The house has more light sockets than a Las Vegas casino sign.  That is one of its attractions.)

The best thing?  It is all coming together.  Just as I have been showing you photographs that show the house bit by bit, I am starting to see the big picture of my puzzle.

And my wallet is starting to feel the big squeeze.

Monday, October 20, 2014

pooling my projects

Sunday was a big day in the move project to Barra de Navidad.

When I showed the house to Michael on Saturday evening, he labeled it a "mini-convention center."  I prefer "boutique hotel."  But I immediately understood his point.

When my brother Darrel was here on one of his visits, he suggested we should buy an old Mexican hotel and use it as a family compound.  I think I did him one better.  A new Mexican hotel.

Yesterday after church, I met up with the new "staff."  Lupe will be the pool guy.  Several people I know have used his services -- and they are uniformly pleased.

Jaime has worked -- and still does -- as an electrician and handyman for my landlady.  I had a special project for him.  To install a propane tank where the cylinders once were. 

He can do it.  Today I will meet Lou at the hardware store, and buy a tank, stand, regulator, and some line.  Jaime will then set it up.

The majority of the day was spent with Dora and her sister cleaning the house.  When we started, it looked like a house that had not been occupied for a bit.  When we were done, it was, as the realtors say, turn-key ready.

Well, turn-key ready if you overlook the lack of linens.  But I will fix that with a trip to Sam's Club -- probably on Tuesday.  Monday is dedicated to the tank project, getting the electricity put in my name, and re-keying the locks (or, at least, getting that step scheduled). 

I now have a target day for moving.  Everything has to be in place by this Saturday when my brother (and perhaps a surprise cast member) shows up at the Manzanillo airport.

But, best of all, I finally did what I have been waiting to do for six years in Melaque.  I slipped into a pool of cooling water.

The pool in the courtyard is truly the womb of the house.  For about an hour, I enjoyed its embrace.

The photograph at the top of this post is a "point of view" shot.  You may soon see more variations on that theme.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

another day closer to moving

Saturday was one of those days where everything seemed to turn out better than I could have expected.  Well, up to the end of the day.

After spending almost an hour on hold on the telephone, and then 20 minutes with a Telmex technician, my modem at the rental is up and running.  That was a great way to start my day.

And, of course, because I will be vacating my home of the past five years, the internet speed now seems better than it ever was.  I hope the new tenants enjoy it.

Even though I have the modem for the new house, I have not set it up, yet.  I will do that on Sunday during The Big Cleanup after church.  By the time the sun sets, I should be ready to start moving my worldly goods to -- I have no idea what I will call the place.  The House will do for now.  I am not fond of the cutesy naming convention that has been imported south.

I had planned on driving to Manzanillo yesterday to buy sheets and the final flourishes for an early move-in.  But I can do all of that later in the week.  Instead, I stayed in town and bought a few more items for cleaning -- like a ladder.

Michael, my next door neighbor when I first moved to Villa Oregon, invited me over for the evening.  We started by chatting about politics, family, and music while watching the sun set.  I just do not watch those sunsets as often as I thought I would.

He had not yet seen my house.  And I had not yet seen it in the dark.  It is quite stunning with its accent lighting.  I think you will enjoy it, as well.  As soon as I get my camera and computer back in operation.

That may be a week later than I last thought.  I just received a notice from Amazon that my two-day shipping may take two weeks.  Apparently, my camera and computer are rare retail critters.

Michael and I ended up eating a very decent pizza at Ambar in Barra de Navidad under the efficient and effusive waiting talents of Oswald -- formerly of Rooster's. 

As good as the pizza was, my conversation with Michael was something to be cherished.  I am not certain with whom I could discuss such varying topics as jazz harmonics as they relate to commercial music, the personality quirks of a 1989 Pinchon Baron, the vagaries of developing a war policy that takes into account all of the interests in the Middle East, and why hacienda-style furniture is a non-starter in The House.

The only fly in the ointment was Amazon's announcement.  I will talk to Darrel today to see how flexible his travel plans are.  I would like to see him as soon as possible.  But I would also like to see my replacement equipment.

Here's hoping Amazon is more pessimistic than the facts on the ground will prove.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

the great modem switch

Happy Saturday, readers.

I am coming to you live from my favorite table of La Oficina -- a favorite eatery in Villa Oregon.  Well, it would be live if I didn't schedule it for publication in the morning.

As I write, it is Friday night.  I am eating lasagna.  And we are discussing the proliferation of moose and wild rabbits in Canada.  Amongst other arcana.

There is a reason I am writing from here -- and not from home.  But all things in good time.

I had two major projects in mind today.  Both of them once again in Manzanillo.  I needed to switch telephone and internet connections between my old place and the new house.  And, while I was in The Big City, I could get the goods necessary to set up house.

My landlady was in Manzanillo for another project.  I drove her over to Telmex to (1) transfer the new house's telephone service to my name, (2) transfer my telephone service to my landlady's name, and (3) switch out a friend's burnt-out modem.

I am glad we presented each as a separate transaction because the process seemed to be rather daunting for the clerks.  So daunting that the first passed us off to a second.

The only glitch was not of our making.  The previous owner of my house failed to leave behind her modem.  That meant I had to spend about $80 (US) for a new one.  The next question will be whether it works when I hook it up.

I took my current Modena from the rental with us -- just in case I needed to return it.  I didn't.  When I hooked it back up (just as it was in the morning), everything worked except for one small detail.  There was no internet connection.

And there is still none.  That is why I am flogging the good services of La Oficina.  Thanks, Juliana and Aaron.

While I was in Manzanillo, I stopped at Sam's Club, Soriana, Office Depot, and Walmart to buy some basic necessities for the house.  You know the type of stuff.  Dishes.  Towels.  Kitchen doo-dahs. 

I had spent decades gathering all of that stuff in my Salem house.  But it all went to Goodwill or to friends when I moved south.  I had forgotten just how much all of those small items cost.

Late Friday afternoon, I walked through the house with Dora, the woman who currently cleans my house.  She is looking forward to taking on the task of cleaning this one.  Of course, it will take her more hours.  And I will appreciate every minute of her time.

This day is done, and I will confess I am glad the day is done.  I have taken several major steps closer to moving in.  Dora will spend a good portion of Sunday making the place sparkle.  Probably on Monday or Tuesday, I will start setting up house.

If all goes well, my bother Darrel will show up on Saturday afternoon next week with a cornucopia of replacement goods.

And I can then start sharing some photographs of my latest venture.

Friday, October 17, 2014

late night meals

"Most friends fade
Or they don't make the grade
New ones are quickly made.
Some of them worth something, too.
But us, old friends?
What's to discuss, old friends?"

So, who says Sondheim can't be sentimental?  Or, that I can't, for that matter?

I stopped by to see my friends Lou and Wynn yesterday afternoon to catch them up on my house closing.  They were good enough to accompany me last Sunday for the pre-closing inspection of my new house.  Both of them had some very helpful ideas.

They were even more helpful yesterday.  They had read about my wandering electronic backup.  I had stopped by their house to use their computer to call my brother to arrange for an emergency muling.  As soon as he makes some arrangements, he will be down to get me back on the electronic highway.

Wynn and Lou did him one better.  Until Darrel gets my new computer to me, Wynn and Lou have graciously lent me a tablet -- and that will allow all of us to answer the question: "What's to discuss, old friends?"

Several months ago Jennifer Rose asked her readers what they eat when they return home, following a trip.  And local eateries are closed.

I am not certain I participated in the discussion.  If I remember correctly, I simply did not have an answer.  But I do now.

Because I knew when I returned on Saturday that I would be moving very soon, I did not bother to unpack my suitcases.  (That is one reason all of my goods were still in my backpack.)  And I have not bought any fresh groceries.

This last trip took me out of Mexico for almost two months.  When I left, I cleared the refrigerator.  My first meal here was at a restaurant on Saturday.  For Sunday dinner, I rummaged through my shelves and found nothing.  But, tucked in the back of the freezer, were two bags of my famous bean soup.

So, that is my answer.  I try to leave one of my specialties in the freezer compartment for these "return home late" moments.

And, just as Jennifer did, I will put the question to you.  What do you eat when you arrive home and have no option but what is on offer in your larder?

And don't just talk amongst yourselves.  Pull us all into your conversation.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

everything is new again

That drum roll you hear is the announcement we have all been waiting to hear.  Mexpatriate is opening a new corporate headquarters.  In Barra de Navidad.

My two realtors and I drove down to Manzanillo yesterday morning to complete the transfer.  Our first stop was at the bank to ensure the funds were ready for disbursement.

We then headed over to the office of the notario where he explained, in detail, his title search, how the bank trust operates, and what the tax clearance documents mean.  Then it was signature after signature.

At the end, I was a few thousand dollars poorer and a bit property richer.

Now, you are probably wondering where the photographs of this great event are.  It is a fair question.  

While we were in the bank, someone decided he needed my backpack more than I do.  He is now the owner of a computer, a camera and lenses, a Kindle, a pair of binoculars, and the portable hard drive that contains 6 years of my photographs.

But it also means I get to buy a lot of new stuff to go with my new house.

Unfortunately, it may also mean that I will be offline for a bit until I can figure out a way to share my new adventure with you.  Internet cafe computers just will not do.

I do know one thing, though.  It feels good to build up from the bottom.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

changing my galoshes

It is amazing how one small thing can taint an evening.

Take restaurants, as an example.  When I flew back to Mexico on Saturday, Lou picked me up at the Mazanillo airport.  Only a true friend would do something like that.

We started a conversation on our way to my house and decided to recess it until Wynn could join us for dinner.  Because I am about to join the Barra de Navidad set, we decided to have dinner at a restaurant there that has been a rather inconsistent food and service experience for me.

And Saturday was no exception.  The service was indifferent.  I always find that unusual in Mexico.  In Paris, I have come to expect being treated as a painful reminder to the waiter that life is simply a meaningless existential exercise.  But, in Mexico?  Where the closest translation for angst is fiesta.

The food was fine.  However, because my schnitzel was a bit dry, I requested a bit of the restaurant's celebrated goulash sauce.  That night, it was a bit greasier than usual, but, for the first time, I noted a subtle underlying flavor.  Wynn thought it was worcestershire.  I thought it was sherry.

It didn't really matter.  Whatever it was, it did not cut the sauce's oiliness.

On the way out, I saw the owner.  Merely out of curiosity, I told her I thought I tasted a hint of sherry in the sauce, and asked her if I was correct.  She looked at me as if I had asked her for her bank account numbers and her PIN.

She responded: "There is an ingredient" -- in the same tone that an indulgent mother tells an autistic child that it is time to gather up his crayons.

Of course, I had no intention of trying to duplicate her rather pedestrian sauce.  But I would have been very interested in discussing the art of cooking (or the art of managing customer expectations) with her.

I know there are some people who guard even the fact that pork is used in the goulash.  But, for a restaurant, it is self-defeating.  Unless, of course, your idea of haut cuisine runs to the secret herbs and spices found at KFC. 

I am now left with the plausible possibility that "the ingredient" is either ketchup or peanut butter, though, I know it isn't.  But she did nothing to stop such wild speculation.

Hers is the only restaurant where I have ever encountered that secretive response.  Alex in La Manzanilla loves to discuss the ingredients she uses.  A neighborhood cook in Melaque was a bit reluctant to tell me that one of the main ingredients in his Diabla sauce really is ketchup.  But he told me.  And I still eat there, and enjoy his sauce.

There are plenty of places to eat in this area that offer good food, good service, and even better conversation.  I will probably hang out in those places more often.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

slipping into the routine

We expatriates love living our fantasies.

Just read a few messages, comments, or blog posts, and you will hear all about how we are gypsies or adventurers or non-conformists.  You would think we had all attended finishing school on a pirate ship.

But it is all a lie.  Or, at least, a lot of posturing.

Certainly expatriates are a bit different than a lot of their stay-in-the-old-country neighbors.  But it is a difference of degree; not of kind.

All you need to do is read a little further in the writings of these self-proclaimed Marco Polos to discover that their new life is about as routine as if they had never left Windsor or Sioux Falls.  And I am not talking about "them."  I am talking about me.

Here I am.  Back in Melaque for two days and I have already reverted to behaviors that have been developed over the past six years.

Now, there is nothing wrong with routines, even though you hear people railing against them.  Routines are how we fool ourselves into believing that the world is an orderly place -- and our very beings are what cause the crystal spheres to sing.  It is a bit like slipping into a pair of twenty year old underwear.  They may not be very utilitarian, but they are comfortable.

My routine begins with the early morning.  Because of the night heat, I usually do not even bother with sleep attempts until about 2 AM or so.  That means that my morning ablutions are not complete until 9.

Washed and shined, I head out the door for brunch at Rooster's.  Along the way, I stop to talk with Olga, the owner-cook of La Rana (The Frog), about her family and her day.  To Lucy and her daughter Jennifer at the Red Lobster about the summer season.  To Ben and Alexa (of La Taza Negra), and their young children Ayden and Willow, who always brighten my day each time I talk with them.  To the guys at the post office about soccer and mail delivery in the rain.  To Dan of MexEco Tours about town happenings during the past six weeks.  To the new girl at the Telcel counter to introduce myself.  To the cleaning woman at the bank about her day.

All of that before I even get to brunch at Rooster's.  The cast changes on each visit.  But there are regulars.  Just like a well-produced situation comedy.  And I guess that is a better description of my life than "great adventure."  But, at least, I do not need the crutch of a laugh track.

When I was deciding where to live in Mexico, one of my prime considerations was a place where I could "live outside of a car."  Yesterday was a reminder that I need to get back on the sidewalk and leave my car keys at home. 

The heat of summer is dissipating.  There is too much joy to be celebrated with people living their daily lives.  Even if it takes on the characteristics of a dog following his routine from hydrant to hydrant.

One reason I decided to buy a house here, even though it is far from a perfect place, is the relationships I have established.  Of course, new relationships could be created wherever I decided to go.  I knew no one when I moved to Melaque, after all.  But I cherish the relationships I now have here.

I started wandering down this sentimental cul-de-sac when thinking about the new house.  When I returned home from dinner last night, my neighbors were in front of their home soaking up the last rays of the day.  They each greeted me.  I went over and greeted them by name.

That is about to come to an end.  But there will be new neighbors to meet.  And there will always be the revolving cast of Mexpatriate to keep all of us critiquing the routine that is my life.

And I am happy to share it with you all.

Monday, October 13, 2014

the pace slackens

My little house-buying adventure was speeding right along.

With the exception of trying to figure out how to move money from my checking account to the "escrow" bank in New York was the only tope on my road to being a manorial baron.  The offer and acceptance took less than 2 days.  The nortario had the closing and bank trust documents ready a week ago.

When I wired the money on Friday morning, I thought it would show up in the New York bank that afternoon.  It didn't.  Even though the last wire took only a day, I seem to recall that a bank personality once told me a wire can take up to three days to transfer funds.  That is what happened with my car purchase just over a year ago.

The money needs to be in that account before we can schedule the closing.  So, Monday does not look like it will be the day.

That did not keep me from walking through the house yesterday -- along with Lou and Wynn.  The place look a bit bare stripped of its accessories.  But it is still as attractive to me as it was on my first visit.

Lou and I tested out the electrical outlets.  Kim will be happy to know that everything appears to be properly grounded.  My laptop will no longer be an instrument of assisted suicide.  Unless I drop it into the pool.

My first project will be to install a propane tank.  The house is currently set up to accept propane cylinders.  I would prefer a tank.  The first house I rented had cylinders, and I hated wrestling with them. 

My current landlady and I discussed the steps for installing one, and I am convinced that I would prefer the convenience of the tank over the periodic shift of cylinders.

When I finally sign the closing papers in Manzanillo, I will need to stop by the Telmex office there to have the telephone and internet shifted over to my name (and to do something similar for my rental telephone line).  On the way home, I will stop in
Cihuatlán to set up an electricity account.  Then it will be on to Melaque to the Immigration office to report my change of address.

The longer term project is to re-decorate the place.  While I am in Manzanillo, I will buy a set of sheets and some towels to tide me over until I can develop an overall plan.  I suspect that may take a year or two.

But none of that can happen until the closing takes place.  And that should be some time this week.

You will be the first to know when it happens.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

back in the funny papers

After almost two months of wandering, I am back where I began.  In Melaque.

My great-grandfather was quite the traveler.  He actually died on one of his travels at the age of 100 -- or something like that.

His travels came at a cost.  Trains and buses were slow.  But the traveler could adapt to changing environments slowly.

Modern travelers have gained the luxury of speed.  Our cost is being subjected to drastic changes in culture and weather in tight time frames.

Friday night, I was resting in Bend on top of the covers in a cozy 58 degree room.  As I write this, the temperature is 81 with 88% humidity.  Amazingly, I am adjusting quite fine.  With the help of three fans.

My friend Lou picked me up at the Manzanillo airport.  And we (including Wynn) then had dinner on the beach of Barra de Navidad at Marlene's.  I am not certain there are any better hours than sharing dinner with friends on the beach.  Especially, when the food is good.

My return signals some big changes.  The first being the most obvious.  The new house.

On Sunday afternoon, I will walk through the house with Lou and Wynn to determine if it is ready for closing.  If it is, the closing is scheduled for Monday.  I can then tell you when I will be moving in.

I tried to capture a mood photograph for this essay on changing times, but the best I could do was to capture what appears to be a cavalcade of cartoon characters.

That may sum it all up.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

bending the light

As you read this, I am most likely somewhere between Bend, Oregon and Manzanillo, Mexico.

It has been an incredibly interesting trip.  I have been away from Mexico for almost two months, and I am ready to be back in my garden in Villa Obregon.  At least, temporarily.

Yesterday was a great day to say farewell (for now) to Bend.  Christy suggested a drive and short hike through the Cascades southwest of town along with Mom and Darrel.

I had not been up that way since my long-lamented ski days on Mt. Bachelor.  Where I would have turned into the lodge's parking lot, we turned right.  (Please excuse the bugs on the windshield.)

In less than a month, that branch of the highway will be closed.  And eventually under about twenty feet of snow.   

Yesterday it was the entry to an endless string of photo opportunities.  I finally had to force myself to put the camera down and just enjoy the lakes and mountains.

When Darrel and Christy can spend more consecutive time in Mexico, I will need to share the mountains and lakes around Pátzcuaro with them.  They may even feel as if they never left Bend.  With the obvious exception of the lack of snow.

But it is time for me to get to bed.  That flight is going to leave whether or not I am on it.


Friday, October 10, 2014

wiring the future

I am awarding myself the George Aiken Award.

You remember him.  The Vermont senator who suggested that America should declare victory in Vietnam -- and then withdraw.

Well, I am declaring victory.  And withdrawing to Mexico.

You already know the parade of financial frustrations I have run into with the unfounded belief that I should have been able to transfer my money from my various accounts to an account in New York to buy a house in Barra de Navidad. 

The most frustrating part, though, was waiting for the state retirement system to transfer my money to my bank account.  That is the reason I stayed in Oregon an extra week.

The people I dealt with on the telephone and in the PERS office were exceedingly helpful.  The problem was the 30-90 day waiting period to get what I foolishly thought was my money.

Last night I bet my brother that the money would not be in my bank account by Friday.  I was wrong.  It had been transferred on Thursday and was pending final approval.

When Darrel and I went to the bank this morning, the full amount was ready to be wired.  With one swipe of my bank card, it was on its way.

And that is what I will be at 3 AM tomorrow morning.  On my way.  In my case, though, I will be off to the Redmond airport for a flight to Manzanillo.  By tomorrow afternoon, I will be swinging by the new house, inspecting it on Sunday, and closing the sale on Monday.

Other than the transfer of funds, the process has been rather painless.

But, like George Aiken, I may well be declaring victory too early.  There are plenty of opportunities for Mexico to slip in a few surprises before I declare the house mine.

Undoubtedly, there will be more to come.

peeling off the label

Susana Martínez is running for re-election as governor of New Mexico.  As you can probably deduce from her name, she is both a woman and Hispanic.

Her opponent, Gary King, a middle-aged white guy, is running against her.  Recently, he lowered his rhetorical gun and fired off a salvo that is evocative of almost everything that is wrong in American politics.  "Susana Martínez does not have a Latino heart."  I suspect he was not accusing her of having an organ transplant.

Of course, what is wrong with American politics is all of those adjectives in those two paragraphs.  Americans are no longer referred to as individuals -- as a woman or as a gay or as latino.  We are now lumped into categories devoid of any personal characteristics.  Adjectives have now Germanized into collective nouns.  And we are plumped into our respective ticky-tack boxes with the other nervous passengers as Woman, Gay, Latino.

The trend is not new.  I can recall when Jeane Kirkpatrick was considering a run for the presidency.  Gloria Steinem  called her a "female impersonator." 

Now, that was witty.  But the charge was evident.  Because you do not think exactly as we do, you cannot call yourself a woman. 

Naomi Wolf didn't bother with the wit (or the fact that Jeane was a mother), when she pulled out her scalpel and declared Kirkpatrick was "a woman without a uterus."  Ouch!

When President Bush was considering a justice to replace Thurgood Marshall on the supreme court, a reporter asked Justice Marshall whether he should be replaced by a black.  Marshall responded that it should not be just a black man, but the right black man.  In other words, a black who thought Black.  He meant, not Clarence Thomas.

At least that was a bit more subtle than Congressman Bennie Thompson, who had no trouble in slicing a thick slab of racial slurs by calling Justice Clarence Thomas an "Uncle Tom."

Now, it is perfectly fine for people to disagree about policy.  That is the very essence of a liberal democracy.  But it is not OK to reduce policy discussions to school yard name-calling.

Rush Limbaugh was wrong to call Sandra Fluke a slut.  Just as Congressman Thompson, Gloria Steinem, and Naomi Wolf should have been ashamed of themselves for their grade school mouths.  Just as Gary King should be -- but won't.

John O'Sullivan recently wrote an interesting article about the various definitions of the term I used two paragraphs ago: "liberal democracy."

Liberalism is, of course, a protean set of ideas.  Its three most common meanings are (1) the broad tradition of constitutional liberty of freedoms of speech, inquiry, association, etc.; (2) classical liberalism (a.k.a. neoliberalism), or a broad reliance on free-market economics; and (3) "progressive" state intervention, initially in economic policy, more recently in educational and social mores, sometimes enforced by cultural coercion, a.k.a. "political correctness."
It is an interesting division.  And one that came up during a lunch conversation.  I had with a friend who I mistakenly referred to as "liberal."  She corrected me.  "I am not one of those fascist brie-eaters who live their lives lock-step with National Public Radio."

I understood her distinction instinctively -- even though I doubt O'Sullivan would appreciate it.  She reminded me of something that happened about two years ago in the highlands of Mexico. 

A friend told me that two of her gay friends, and acquaintances of mine, were going to a political party meeting.  When I asked her which party, she looked at me as if horns had just grown out of my head.  "Democrat, of course.  What else?"  When I talked to the guys and told them the story, their reaction was the same.

I am still a bit confused.  When I was growing up, the only homosexual men (that is the term we used in my youth) I knew were registered Republicans -- some of them very active in the party.  I am not certain that it is written anywhere that a gay man has to be a Democrat and that the only issues a gay man can bother himself with are gay issues. 

But I may be missing the point.  I suspect that some people would claim that a gay man who is not a Democrat is not Gay.

When I ran my theory past a gay friend who is very active in Republican politics and is personally ambivalent toward same-sex marriage, he told me: "When I decided to live as a gay man, I had no intention of returning to a bourgeois life of marriage and children.  It doesn't interest me.  If it interests other people, they can try to persuade me."

And I guess that is what liberal democracies are all about.  As individuals, we cannot be reduced to a list of Capitalized Nouns that will capture who we are.  We simply have to learn to live within our individual lives and stop the dehumanizing reductionism.

That is my response. 

Susana Martínez's response was far more gracious.  Maybe because she is a woman -- but there I go again. 

We certainly have different views on the issues.  But I know what's in my heart and I won't question what is in his.
With a heart like that, I wish she could be my governor.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

coasting along

Traveling through Oregon without visiting the beach is a bit like going to Paris and skipping the pâté de foie gras at Maxim's.

Being the hedonist I am, I was not going to let one of life's great pleasures pass me by.  So, off to the beach I went on Monday.

When Professor Jiggs and I were thinking of retiring on the beach, we had Oregon, not Mexico, in mind.  The dog loved the place.  Being rolled by the waves.  Walking in the drizzle.  Chasing seals and sea gulls.  It was a perfect spot for him.

I relish my annual stops.  Even if the price of the place I like to stay has zipped past the tariff I left at the Hiltons in London.  And, come to think of it, when did simple meals at the beach start costing $20 per person?

But that is not the reason I go to the beach.  This is.

Days like that are what refurbish the Oregon soul.  Even when the next day can look like this.

Usually, this shot would show miles of Oregon coastal scenery.  But fog is just another element that gives the beach its flavor.

And so does the sign humor.  My room was on the third story of a converted beach house.  It overlooked a bluff of almost that height.

This sign says it all.

Go ahead.  Smoke.  You need to walk ten feet across the five foot balcony.  That is what happens when the nice and political correct elements of Oregonians crash together.  Oregonians are often mistaken for Minnesotans.

What was not so amusing on this trip was the food.  Lincoln City once offered three very good restaurants.  A French bistro that has now been downgraded to a fish house.  The Salishan dining room, once the most highly-praised restaurants on the northwest coast, and now a place to buy dishes reminiscent of the Salem senior center.  And the Bay House.

Unfortunately, I did not look at the Bay House's schedule before I headed to the beach.  It is open only Wednesday through Saturday.  And I was leaving on Wednesday morning.

But my disappointment was tempered when I heard that the Rogue River Steakhouse had some of the best food around.  Tempered, that is, until I learned the steakhouse was located in the Chinook Winds Casino.  My skeptic meter pegged.

I should have heeded it.  It is hard to ruin a prime rib dinner.  But the restaurant lived up to the "rogue" in its name.

The salad was nothing but a pile of lettuce with a few orphaned grape tomatoes and a vinaigrette that would have felt at home in a crank case.  I suspect its last home was in a Kraft bottle.

The dinner plate was delivered by a highly indifferent waiter.  That was fine.  Because the food was even less engaged than he was.  I suspect that the meal was dished out of the casino's buffet line.

The baked potato was burnt on the outside and hard inside.  Its condiments were housed in little plastic containers giving the presentation the distinct feel of a low-budget picnic on the beach.

The meat was not aged.  No.  That is not fair.  It was aged.  The problem is that it was aged under a heat lamp after it was slapped on the plate.  And there was nothing redeeming in the taste.

By far, the worst portion of the meal were the vegetables.  An odd assortment of asparagus, carrots, summer squash, and zucchini cooked until they were as limp as a Joe Biden apology.  The only imagination that went into the dish was trying to figure out how to open the Birds Eye frozen bag.

But that sounds like carping.  It isn't.  The trip to the beach, as always, was a success.

It did remind me, though, that I have no regrets for not moving there.  It will always remain a great to visit, but not a place to live.

And I still have those memories of Jiggs doing his best to bring back a trophy to Salem.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

lost video discovered

Last Sunday, I told you about the two tightrope walkers who entertained us during our hike in Tumalo State Park.

I thought I had lost the video.  But, with some help from a friend, I found them in private file. 

Where it was, doesn't matter.  Where it now is, is here.

I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, October 06, 2014

signing out for a few days

I am heading to the wilds of the Oregon coast for the next few days.  "Wilds" because there will be no internet connection.

So, while I am enjoying myself away from the electronic buzz, the rest of you can talk amongst yourselves.

See you on Thursday or so, when I will have riveting tales about financial wire transfers.

sticking together

Once upon a time, a showy horse and a practical mule set out on a journey.  They were each to deliver a bag of goods to a village on top of a mountain.
In the horse's bag were silver cups, golden bracelets, and squab ready to be stuffed with pomegranates and Turkish hazelnuts.  In the mule's bag were wooden bowls, plastic beads, and a cockerel freshly-killed from a farmer's garden.

The journey was along a straight, narrow path with a steep grade.  Along the way, they encountered a bear.  And a rabbit.  And a rattlesnake.  But they steadily climbed higher.

When they arrived at the village, their bags were handed over to the welcoming culturally-diverse shining village on the hill.  Both had heightened esteem because they had accomplished their given task despite their disparate backgrounds.

The end.

There you have it.  The plot for The Hundred Foot Journey

I see your puzzled faces.  "Isn't that movie about the owner of a fancy French restaurant who encounters competition from an Indian-run restaurant -- with 100 feet separating the two cultures?"

Yup.  But the concept is the same. 

My family went to see it late last week.  We enjoyed it -- in the way that people enjoy those After School Specials on television.  A film that purports to be about the dynamics of clashing cultures that lacks a gram of  plausible tension is -- well, it is what it is: an Oprah Winfrey co-produced project.

Anyone who thinks the wisdom of the universe is hidden in such limp clichés as: "Food is memories" or "To cook you must kill; you must make ghosts -- ghosts that live on in every ingredient" will shelve this experience right up there with Aladdin and Pocahantas.

And speaking of diversity, this is how the movie handles one of its most intense cultural climaxes:

Papa:  Indian cannot become French, and French cannot become Indian.
Madame Mallory:  Mr. Kadam, I believe I just spent the entire day wiping those words off your walls.

However, the movie did serve one purpose, it kicked the Brothers Cotton into a creative mode.  During my stay in Bend, we have primarily been taking our meals in local restaurants.  For the most part, it has been good food.  But it is not home cooking.

For the Cotton Boys, food is the stuff that holds us together as a family.  Yeah, I know.  That is just as bad as
"Food is memories."  But I didn't charge you $8.50 to hear it.

Rather than pulling out the
Larousse Gastronomique to find the perfect venison recipe that we could modify and turn into our own, we went an entirely different direction.

I have been having a discussion with Leslie over at La Cocina de Leslie about macaroni and cheese.  One of the world's best comfort foods.  And one that is ready-made for innovation. 

Years ago, I developed a recipe made with chicken mango sausage, sun-dried tomato penne pasta, and a three-cheese sauce.  I thought I had told you about the genesis of that concoction, but I cannot find it in past posts.  It will be a good story for the future.

But that is the past.  And Darrel and I were programmed to make a bit of the future here in the present.

Our first rule of cooking is -- no recipes.  Recipes are merely guides to trigger ideas.  Cooks who use only recipes follow what I refer to as Stalinist cooking.  It is all about someone else's plan.  As a libertarian, I simply buy ingredients and then determine the way to mix them together.

So, off we went to the market with one idea in mind: to whip up the best macaroni and cheese that has ever graced a table.  Bar none.  We aim high.

And we had a hit.

On its face, it was a simple meal.  Macaroni and cheese.  Brussels sprouts
with bacon and infused with a balsamic and Dalmatian organge-fig reduction.  Baguette with dipping sauces of tzatziki, and balsamic-olive oil.

Like most of life, though, nirvana was in the details.

The "macaroni" was tomato-spinach fusilli.  The "cheese" was a béchamel sauce enriched with extra sharp cheddar, Gruyere, and blue cheeses.  Filled with a melange of
sautéed chicken-apple sausage, garlic (lots), and onion -- and topped with a mixture of bread crumbs, butter, Parmesan, and fresh basil.

Perfect?  Not quite.  One of the joys of cooking with my brother is the deconstruction session following the meal.  In this case, Christy and Mom helped taste-test our production, and were more than willing to add their suggestions.

It was one of the best macaroni and cheese dishes I have ever eaten.  But it needs a few more adjustment sessions before it is ready for publication -- if that point ever comes.

After all, even if we do perfect it, it will be off of my eating list almost immediately.  I tend to like eating my food creations four, maybe five, times.  Then, it is time to move on to a new culinary treat.  (Those three sentences are explanation enough of why I am not fond of church hymns.  I have simply heard them too many times.)

And that brings us back to our showy horse and practical mule tale.  My family is about to start its own hundred foot journey.  Food will play a part.  Not because it helps us cross cultures, but because it is the gluten in our lives.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

wallendas in the woods

It started out as "into the woods" -- another of my recurring Sondheim references.

And that would have worked, as well.  At least, for most of yesterday's adventure.

The day was one of those perfect central Oregon fall days.  Clear.  Sunny.  A crisp start to the day, heading toward the low 80s.  And what could be a better outing than a hike in the foothills of the Cascades?

Tumalo State Park is one of Bend's most popular mixed-use recreational areas.  It centers around Tumalo Creek, fed by ancient springs at the base of Broken Top -- an extinct volcano sitting amongst its kin in the Cascades. 

There has been a state park here since the 1950s, I believe.  But it has not always looked as it does now.  In the 1970s, a forest fire burned all of the standing timber.  Freed of the trees that restricted its bank, the creek simply split up into rivlets further eroding its former bed.

With a bit of help from the forest service, and a lot of help from Old Mother Nature, the creek developed a new and restricted bed.  To look at it now, it is hard to imagine that the place was a mess a mere four decades ago.

Looking around, it appears that the accumulated wind and winter damage is setting up the forest around the creek for a reprise of the 1970s.  This hill is merely a pile of kindling just waiting for an errant lightning bolt.

We decided to take about a four mile hike (at least, that is the story we all agreed upon) along the creek.  It was well worth the steady grade increase.  The scenery is exactly what I expect of this part of the world.  Practically perfect.  There were photographic opportunities at every turn.

Such as this rather disturbing image offered up the creek.

All of that would have played into my original title.  Sharing an afternoon with family on a hike has to be one of my favorite ways to spend time.

But the afternoon was to take a quick turn.  Christy urged us on to get to a higher set of falls. 

We could hear them in the distance, but I was not prepared for what appeared behind a rocky promontory.

The mixture of forest and rock and water were stunning enough.  But what caught my attention were two lines strung high above the creek.  One green.  One blue.  You can see them if you increase the size of the photograph.

At first, I thought someone had set up an illegal zip line.  But I was wrong.  We were about to be entertained by a bit of street (or steam) theater.

A young man, theatrically dressed in lederhausen and an alpine cap, edged out on the bottom line.

Then he walked the full length of it.

When he got to the other side, he climbed to the higher line and his buddy walked the lower line while he took the high road.

When we started the hike, I left my long lens behind.  It was just too heavy to lug on the climb.  But I could have used it for these shots.

For some reason, this cameraman had no trouble lugging his video camera.  I shot him just as he was shouting directions to the tight-rope walkers, who, as most talent does, simply ignored him.

I thought I had shot a series of interesting videos on my own camera that I was looking forward to sharing with you.  Unfortunately, I can find none of them on my storage card.

But that is just a photography disappointment.  It doesn't matter.  What does matter is I shared one magical moment where an entertainer grabbed moonbeams in his hand and shared them with us fortunate few on the cliff.

Moments like that do not need a camera.

Even though he wrote these lines over 70 years ago, T.S. Eliot may as well have composed them for our adventure yesterday.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.