Sunday, May 31, 2015

blocking the "x"

The "teachers" and "students" are back in the news again.

You may recall when we last left them in corrupts absolutely, we discussed how the tragic death of 43 young protesters had highlighted governmental corruption in Mexico, as well as how rural teacher colleges, the source of the 43 protesters, had little to do with promoting education in Mexico -- due to their obsession with perpetuating their brand of continuing revolution. 

The current central government had proposed rather mild reforms that would make teachers responsible for their work.  Out of that, 43 protesters died.

Actually, that was not our last contact with the "teachers" and "students."  In land of contrasts, I told you that a similar combination of protesters had seized three toll booths on the highway in Morelia, and forced us to "donate" our time to contemplate social justice while we waited.  The stalled Mexicans accepted it -- maybe as just another example of their government's inability to deal with questions of order.

They are now back.  CNTE, a radical teacher's union that competes with the government-sanctioned union, is back in the news.  It was the leading force of the protests objecting to the government's reform.  Especially, in Mexico City.

Next Friday, CNTE is leading a march in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan state, with the stated purpose of stopping the country's scheduled elections on 7 June.  And, if the government will not comply, their call for a boycott will turn into blockades to prevent ballots from being delivered to polling stations, and to keep voters from getting to the polls.  In support of that end, teachers will walk off the job next Monday, leaving students without instruction -- if the students even notice.

The stated reasons for the boycott are a bit muddled.  Of course, they want the government to withdraw the education reforms.  CNTE is fully aware that it does not have the support of the people.  Even though, voters hold negative opinions of the four major parties (three of which supported the education reforms), polls show that the three parties CNTE hates most are far ahead in the elections.

In other words, because they cannot win democratically, they have chosen to act undemocratically.

But their second reason for the boycott is absolutely brilliant in its Machiavellian garb.  Based on the debates between the candidates for governor, CNTE has concluded the candidates have "
no substantive proposals, no government program, and no idea how they will govern Michoacan."

George Wallace in 1968 could not have said it better.  "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans."

CNTE is certainly not the only group that fails to see much choice in Mexican elections.  (For someone who grew up in a two-party system, Mexico's multi-party system gives the appearances of a cornucopia of ideological choices.)

One of the government's 2014 election reforms allows independent candidates (those who lack a party nomination) to run for office.  One of the pioneers in that movement was Jorge
Castañeda (much lauded in these pages), who was prohibited from running for president in 2006 as an independent.

It appears the reform may bear fruit sooner than most people expected. 
Jaime Rodríguez is a recent deserter from Mexico's largest party -- PRI.  He is currently running for governor of Nuevo León -- the wealthiest state in Mexico's north.

The polls have him in a dead heat with the PRI candidate.  If he wins, his lack of a political affiliation could end up affecting even the presidential election in three years.  Depending on how voters react to a governor with no political party to assist him with its agenda -- an agenda that he has made noticeably vague.

Voters in The States have had their affairs with independent gubernatorial candidates.  Though Jesse Ventura and Lowell Weicker were hardly poster boys for the best in the system.

If CNTE really thought the Mexican people were incensed with the education reforms, they could have followed the example of Jaime Rodríguez by running an independent candidate for governor.  There are many reasons why they didn't.  But not being able to win was certainly one. 

And, as Jorge Castañeda pointed out in Utopia Unarmed, the fear of losing elections is a primary reason why the Left in Latin America has been wary of free elections.  CNTE may simply be operating in its true nature by sponsoring the boycott.

I am an optimist.  Even with these setbacks, I believe Mexico's political systems are improving bit by bit.  After all, the country has had less than two decades of free elections to prove to itself that the process can work.

I wish them well.  If only because, I hope to soon be one of them.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

cherry picking

Some men like apples.  Some nectarines.  Me?  I'm a cherry man.

My plan yesterday was to take a detailed look at Costco's patio furniture.  Some pieces were fine. But I realized I was about to get caught in a trap I swore to Babs I would avoid.

I have seen far too many houses decorated as if everything had been bought at a Salvation Army thrift store between bus transfers.  You know what a mean.  No central theme.  No color thread.  I am trying to avoid that look.

Three areas in the house need furniture.  The library (formerly the living room).  My new living room.  And a yet-to-be-created dining room.  The latter two are upstairs.  The first is right off of the pool.

My first potential mistake (and I almost made it) was that I could buy a large set of outdoor furniture that would meet my living and dining room needs -- plus add a few pieces around the pool.  The problem with that technique is that it is predictable -- and boring.

I would like to create all three rooms to complement one another -- without making each room look so uniform that pieces are directly interchangeable.

Needless to say, I bought nothing.  And I am now without even the semblance of a plan -- other than the fact that I have learned a lot about what I am trying to avoid.  Better to do that than spend $20,000 and discover I have made a series of terrible mistakes.

One mistake I did not make at Costco was to forget to check the produce cold room to see if cherries had arrived.  They had.  I grabbed two cartons.

And I made myself a promise.  I never know what washing cherries have undergone before they go into my basket.  I was determined to give them a soak before I indulged.

My reluctance to eat them in the car was reenforced by the fact that my digestive system has been a bit tricky the past few days.  Cherries are usually not prescribed to settle stomach upsets.

That new-found self-discipline was strong enough to keep me out of the cherries until I pulled out of the Costco parking lot.  And I did manage to promise myself -- repeatedly: "Just two more -- and then I am done."

I told you I bought two cartons.  The photograph is my best witness of how good I am at keeping my word to myself.

My only other notable purchase was a new DVD player -- to replace the one that is eternally stuck on update.  My only criterion for a new player was the brand.  My sound bar and television are Samsung.  Thus, so is the new DVD player.

The new one looked familiar to me.  It is the same design as the old one -- only with less features, and it cost a bit more.

But my system is up and running again.  That is all that matters to me.  Once again, I had to crack the DVD region code, or I could not have watched any of my movies purchased in The States.  That would be all of them.

Last evening we had a lot of lightning and just a few rain sprinkles.  That is two days in a row with token rain.  Perhaps it is just the overture for the summer downpours.  Or maybe all we are going to get is a shower here and there. 

As our temperatures rise, the need for rain will increase.  For comfort, if nothing else.

But I am ready to face the summer.  For a week, I will have cherries.  And, for the rest of the time, I have my pool and an operating movie system.

With a bit of furniture, I will actually reside in my home.

Friday, May 29, 2015

dinner for eight at eight

I am in the land where the Mexican middle class shows its stuff.

Puerto Vallarta is not as deserted as Barra de Navidad.  After all, it is a sizable city.  But the stores at the Liverpool mall have more clerks than customers.  Even the often-mobbed Sirloin Stockade buffet was nearly empty.

Even though my primary mission was to bring friends to the airport, we spent most of the day driving from store to store to audition furniture for my library (or media room) and the upstairs living and dining rooms.  I bought nothing.  But I am starting to develop some ideas.

I thought I had found everything I needed on the Costco Mexico site last month.  While I was in Oregon, my mother, brother, and sister-in-law looked at the pieces online and signed off on my proposal.

That is, until we saw a demonstrator chair of the set at the Bend Costco.  Not only did it look cheap, it was already showing wear simply being on display.

So, I trekked north tabula rasa -- ready to look at all options. 

I may have an answer for the dining room.  That is it at the top of this essay.  We stumbled on it in Liverpool.  I would have rejected it when I had the Costco furniture in mind.  But it meets a lot of the criteria for which I have been looking.

It complements the lines of the house.  Nice flat planes.  Grayish-brown, similar to the house's color scheme.  Its Italianate style and the accompanying leather chairs will fit right in.

The table is for eight -- with a pull-out section for four more settings.  My cooking will have a great stage.

The clerk informed me that Liverpool has a free interior decorator who can assist me with all of my purchases.  "Free" on the condition that I buy the furniture from Liverpool. 

We then visited a series of rattan furniture stores.  The last place was the most forthcoming on my options.  She informed me that I would be wasting my money by buying real rattan for exterior use -- it simply does not hold up in the tropics.

She could afford to tell me that, though, because the PCV rattan is just as expensive as the real stuff.  At least, at her store.  A couch, love seat, and chair would be as expensive as the dining table and 10 chairs at Liverpool.

It appears that I need to start saving more aluminum cans.

But, it could be worse.  The line between classy edginess and questionable taste is a thin one.  I could end up with this in my living room.  It would look as if I had decided to earn income in an ancient way.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

dumping quicken

I have been waiting over a week for the email.  Three weeks if you include the onset of the problem.

While I was between Korea and Japan (if I remember correctly), my Quicken program started acting up.  No, not "acting up."  Not acting, at all.

Whenever I entered the password for my data file, I was informed it was incorrect.  When I arrived in Bend, I discovered that two updates to Quicken had created several problems -- one of them was mine.  Quicken no longer recognized my password. 

After spending hours with Quicken "agents" on the internet, I was informed nothing could be done until the Quicken team could produce a patch for the errors that Quicken had lodged in my program.

The long-awaited email arrived last evening.  I opened it and started to add the patch to my program -- until I read the following not-so-good news: 

Unfortunately, due to the nature of this lockout issue, we were unable to fix existing password issues caused by the R6 or R7 patch.  If you are currently experiencing a password issue, you will need to restore a file backup from a point prior to when you began experiencing this issue.
Stripped of its evident spin, that means even though Quicken caused the problem that has locked my data file, there is nothing they can do to fix it.  Unfortunately, their proposed solution is not very helpful.  All of my backup files have been locked by the same incompetence that caused my primary file to be locked.

I considered titling this essay
"dumping on quicken" because that is how I feel right now.  My instincts are that some class action lawyer is greasing up his printer in contemplation of filing a suit over this egregious conduct.  And I will jump on that bandwagon if it rolls by.

But I have a more immediate decision.  Because my most recent backup is nearly a year old (August 2014 -- the one I relied upon when my backpack was stolen), I will need to start fresh.  That gives me two obvious options.

The first is to pick a date (say 1 June) and start all over by creating each of my accounts.  That sounds easier than it is.  And it is easy for cash and bank accounts that have a specific balance on that day.

What is not so easy is credit cards with their billing and payment cycles that pay scant regard to second acts in financial tracking.  But with a bit of ferreting, I should be able to do that.

The second option is to stop using Quicken.  Most of my accounts are already online with my banks.  I can always check balances by opening each one of them.  The only thing Quicken does is give me a central location for each account -- much the same way my Outlook tracked email, tasks, and appointments.

But I have written enough essays on how Quicken has played Judas to crucify me on its cross of gold.  If I could have all of the time back I have spent on fixing Quicken, I would be -- well, younger.  The question is whether the convenience justifies the time and aggravation.

A nice ledger book may fill the gap if I decide to abandon Quicken.

I will give it some thought on my trip to Puerto Vallarta. 

"Trip?," you may ask.  Yup.  I am driving friends to the Puerto Vallarta airport.  That gesture will give me the opportunity to look at furniture and to buy a new DVD player.  It turns out that my current player is stuck in permanent update.  For all I know, the dreaded R6 and R7 may have caused that, as well.

In any event, I will have a fresh start -- one way or the other.  And anything new has to be good.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

where have all the young girls gone?

It happens every year.  But I still find it startling.

The villages around Bahía de Navidad have a very noticeable rhythm.  Even though the area makes most of its living supporting the surrounding farming enterprises, it also depends on pesos and dollars from tourists to survive.

Our beaches are busiest during Easter week when Mexican tourists troop here to celebrate Jesus' resurrection in their own unique sandy way.  But there are also other parts of the year when we have plenty of visitors.  Christmas, of course.  From January through February, when northern tourists show up in varying flocks.  And the six weeks of Mexican school vacation -- starting in July, I think.

As you can see by that list, we are now experiencing what folks in the travel trade call the "shoulder season."  Stripped of its euphemistic coloring, that means the tourists are not here.

I walked into town in Barra de Navidad yesterday afternoon to try my luck at ATM poker.  (I won, if you care.)  There was no line at the machine.  In fact, there were no lines anywhere.  The streets were almost as deserted as the set of On the Beach.  With the exception of the guy in the key kiosk, I could not see another living soul.

After grabbing my cash, I drove over to San Patricio for dinner at Papa Gallo's.  The photograph you see at the top of this essay is of the beach there.  That is about as deserted as I have seen a Melaque beach.  But the town was just as deserted as Barra de Navidad.

For the merchants who make their living off of tourists, it looks like a long dry spell until the middle class families of Guadalajara pile their 2.2 children into their expensive SUV for a couple of weeks at the beach.  But that will not be until July.

Until then, I am going to have no trouble finding an open table for dinner.  Instead, the problem will be finding an open restaurant.  Fortunately, I can always count on Papa Gallo's.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

undocumented housing

I have been a homeowner in Mexico since mid-October.  At least, that is what I have been led to believe.

Last October, I drove to Manzanillo with my two realtors (everything is new again) to close on my purchase of the house with no name.  As in every closing I have ever been party to, I signed my name on multiple pieces of paper.  What was not usual for me was that all of the documents were in Spanish -- as was the notario's explanation of each document.

I signed over my money, and was on my way.  What seemed strange to me is that I left with copies of no closing documents.  I am not certain I even received a receipt.

My realtor informed me the documents needed to be recorded in Puerto Vallarta.  As soon as that was done, I would receive my copies -- including a copy of my deed that is held in trust by a Mexican bank.  I am not even certain which bank that is.

I have been waiting.  But that does not mean nothing has happened.  You may recall I received a visitor from IMSS (Mexican social security) in early March (moving to mexico -- pitfalls of buying a house (part 532)).  He informed me IMSS had not yet received the wage withholdings for the workers who built the house.

I was under the impression that the former owner (and builder) of the house had handled that matter.  It was a condition of our earnest money agreement.  It turned out she was negotiating with IMSS on the appropriate payment.  I left the matter there.

A month ago, while I was at the Manzanillo airport waiting for my flight that would eventually take me to Shanghai, I received a call from the same IMSS inspector.  He was at my house and needed me to come to the house to allow him to take some measurements.

There was nothing I could do.  My flight was boarding.  So, I called my realtor.  She took care of it.  Once again, I am under the impression that the matter is still being negotiated.

But the paperwork drama does not stop there.  When I stopped by my realtor's office to ask about the IMSS situation, she briefed me.  When I asked her about the status of my closing documents, she informed me that the notario needs some additional items from me to formalize the closing.

Something showing my new Mexican address (easy; an electric bill will do -- the universal form of identification down here) and a document to show my legal address in The States (preferably a utility bill, but not a driver license).

And there's the rub.  Even though I am a legal resident of Nevada, and I do have an address, I do not pay any utilities at that address.  The best I can come up with is a federal tax statement -- and a copy of my Nevada driver license.  I have a sinking feeling this is going to be another IMSS-style request that will go unresolved for some indefinite period of time.

In the end, it does not much matter.  I have a house -- with a refreshing pool that is getting me through our early onset of heat and humidity.  And no one asks me for any form of documentation when I view one of Barra's apricot sunsets.

Am I concerned?  Nope.  I have long ago learned that everything works out well in the end.  With a bit of patience to complement my Mexican mask.

Monday, May 25, 2015


When I was still a galley slave on the good ship Workalot, I worked for a guy who carried his own anti-electronic force shield with him.  Not unlike Joe Btfsplk's cloud.

Whenever he sat down at a computer, odd things happened with programs.  The screen would go blank.  Functions didn't.  And it was not just his computer.  It would happen with anyone's computer he used.  Even his blackberry.

Our IS staff was baffled.  The problem made no sense.

I thought of my former boss while I was on my trip in Asia.  In addition to contracting a head cold, I seem to have developed an electronic virus.

It started with my personal Quicken account.  When I entered the password for my data, the program reportedly informed me I was not who I have always thought I was.  Or, at least, the program thought I was so slow-witted I could not remember my password.  Even with hours of support from Quicken "agents," I have been unable to use my own data for three weeks now.

That was the first problem.  The second was my credit cards.  According to my bank, an undisclosed merchant's files had been compromised by a data miner, and my credit cards were being cancelled at the end of the month.  (The merchant was Amazon.  I knew that because Amazon was far more efficient at informing me than was my bank.)

At least, I would be back in Mexico when the axe dropped -- effectively cutting me off from credit cards.  But, I was told not to worry.  New cards were on their way.  On their way, of course, to my Reno address.  I suspect I will eventually see them.

Glitch number three involved my trip photographs.  Well, my trip and more.  I had some essay ideas in mind supplementing my earlier posts from China and Korea.  But, when I looked in my April folder, it was empty.  Not a single photograph.

My usual procedure on trips is to transfer my photographs from the camera's memory card to a portable hard drive.  At home, that drive is then backed up on my large backup drive.

But there was no backup.  The folder was simply empty.

I think I know what happened to the photographs.  I mistakenly deleted them thinking that they were the copies on my camera's card.  That was my fault; not the mysterious aura.  At least, that is the most logical explanation.

The credit card mess is simply one of those little exercises that banks jump us through to protect "our" interest -- when, of course, they are merely protecting their own interests.  As they so helpfully informed me in the telephone message they left for me: I would incur no financial liability.  Other than for the automatic payments associated with one of my cards.

And the Quicken problem?  It turns out that one of the company's recent software upgrades caused Quicken to suffer amnesia -- and to refuse to recognize the passwords of people who wanted to access their own data.  Quicken's helpful solution?  "We are working on a patch."

A patch without a potential release date.  That leaves users (read "me" there) without access to the program we purchased to track finances.  It is a large black eye for Quicken's reputation for producing quality software.

And I thought it was over.  Not so.  Last evening the CD player in my Escape started skipping.  Apparently my DVD player, which I had just set up as part of my home theater, got jealous.  While watching a new import from the north (The Queen), it also started skipping and sticking.

I won't even bother you with the dodgy responses I have been getting from my laptop and Kindle for the past week. 

Rather than deal with the DVD and the CD players, I turned them off.  Maybe I just need a break from my electronic cocoon.

Scarlett may have provided the best advice: "I'll think about it tomorrow. ...  After all -- tomorrow is another day."

I am going to bed.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

wearin' of the blue

What a welcome home!

First, my friends Wynn and Lou pick me up at the Manzanillo airport -- an act of kindness that I greatly appreciate.  And, when the three of us headed off to dinner last evening, what should I discover but a group of placard-carrying, flag-waving revelers welcoming me back to San Patricio.

It did not take me long to disabuse myself of that center cut piece of narcissism.  The PAN emblem should have put a little bit of humility in my stride.

Last April I told you in on the street where I live that the electioneering for what Americans would call "off-year" elections had kicked off in my area.  And they are still kicking. 

Rival groups gather as many followers as they can muster.  The group then marches through town chanting slogans, showing off their partisan-labeled chests, and doing whatever they think will convince their neighbors to join them by voting for the party's candidates.

The election is 7 June.  That means two more weeks of orderly campaign parades accompanied by sound trucks (and motorcycles) that put the "loud" in loudspeaker. 

Then it will all be over for another three years.

If my arithmetic has not deserted me, I will get to vote in that election.  And it will be a presidential election.

Of course, all that means I am glad to be back home.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

buying food up north

I made a quick trip to Fred Meyer yesterday afternoon. 

While making a variety of my internationally-acclaimed (well, in Canada, Mexico, and The States) Greek salad, I came up short for some of the ingredients.  Essential ingredients.

One of the joys of shopping up north is the certain knowledge that what you need will be readily available.  Unlike Mexico, where supply is always a flexible economic ingredient.

I gathered together my meager purchases and slipped them easily into one bag at the self-checkout station -- a marvelous idea.  When I was half way across the parking lot, a revelation hit me.  I had just spent $52.58 for one small bag of food.

To be fair, I had purchased two napkins and a small plate to accompany the treats I will eat on the airplane -- apple, pepperoni, Tillamook extra sharp cheddar, crackers.  But the remaining food items were still the vast majority of the cost.

Small bottle of olive oil -- $9.99

2 honeycrisp apples -- $3.04
1 English cucumber -- $1.50
1 1/3 pounds olive mix -- $12.81
1 bottle Coke Zero -- $1.74
1 packet Boar's Head pepperoni -- $3.99
1 1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes -- $6.54

It would be hard to compare the cost of those items with what I would pay in Mexico; very few of them are available in my little fishing village by the sea.  And, if they were available, most of them would cost far more -- as imported foods.

But these are rather common items up north.  A similar bag in Mexico of salad ingredients would cost a fraction of the dollars and cents I left with Uncle Freddy.

That, of course, is one of the reasons it is far less expensive to live in Mexico than it is to live in Oregon.

Saving money was not the inducement for me to move south.  As you read this, I am on my way home to Barra de Navidad.  And, if you continue to follow these essays, you just might find out why I have chosen to make Mexico my base.



Friday, May 22, 2015

badlands rock -- yeah, man

Mark this date on the calendar.

The Cotton boys went on a road trip and actually treated it is a traditional road trip -- complete with stops and new experiences.  See the sign at the top of this essay?  Both of us have driven past it multiple times.  On Wednesday, we stopped to read it.

That is remarkable for two guys who treat driving as a way to get from point A to point Z.  Usually, it does not matter what the alphabetical treasure trove in between might offer, we stop only at point Z.

Not on Wednesday.  We actually drove and stopped and drove and stopped and -- well, we made two stops.

Other than the sign, we decided to take a hike through the Oregon Badlands Wilderness east of Bend.  The "wilderness" designation is new.  2009, to be exact.

But the "badlands" designation is much older.  The area's origin is volcanic.  What appears to be sand is eroded lava and ash.

I wish I could say the area is beautiful.  It isn't.  It is rather stark.  Volcanic rock formations.  Juniper.  Lots of sagebrush.  It looks a lot like the desert that stretches from The Dalles in the north to Klamath Falls in the south.  It is also easy to see why the homestead on this land failed.

Darrel and I decided to tackle a 6-mile round trip hike that would take us near the middle of the wilderness.  Badlands rock (which sounds like some sort of teen energy drink) was our destination.

Neither of us had read up on the rock formations.  So, we had no idea what we were expecting to see -- nor did we have any idea how we would know we had arrived.

But there was plenty to see on our hike in and out.

Juniper is the bane of farmers.  As far as they are concerned, it is a weed that sucks all of the water out of the ground, leaving the cattle little to graze.

However, they are a photographer's dream.  I have always imagined the twisted shapes of Juniper trunks to be evidence of trees that long ago escaped from Fangorn's dark recesses.

Some of them may even have been wizards during some ancient era.

The lava, though, presented just as many shots.  The day was overcast.  And that was great for hiking.  But it rather flattened most of my images.

With that caveat, I bet you can still spot the humpback whale in this swirl lava formation.

We were a bit concerned that we were going to be caught in a rainstorm at the far end of the hike.  The clouds certainly promised a bit of rain.

This time of year, Bend usually has clear skies.  While I have been here, the weather seems far more like the Willamette Valley rather than central Oregon.

I am not complaining.  Rain, mist, and cool temperatures are perfect for me.  I have worn shorts and sandals most days.

It turns out it is perfect weather for the desert, as well.  The sagebrush is putting out new growth.  The wild flowers are in bloom.  The sparse grasses are struggling to seed.  The mosses have sopped up rain water.  It is probably the prettiest stage of the desert.

But, as you can see, the beauty is rather stark.  No amber waves of grain here.  Even though we could spot the purple mountain majesties in the distance.

When we finally arrived at Badlands Rock, we experienced one of those anticlimactic moments.  That's it?

Until we climbed its heights.  Like most volcanic formations, the rocks themselves are impressive.

But it is the view through the rocks that makes the climb worth it.

I was not certain if we were up to a 6-mile desert hike.  It turns out that we made it with no trouble.  Even though we have both sought out warm bags to sooth our muscles.

This may have been one of our best road trips ever.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

mother's day -- cotton style

Tuesday was Mother's Day.

Those of you who celebrated the day on Sunday a week ago may be a little surprised by that news.  But I warned you (happy mother's day) of the Cotton propensity to celebrate holidays on alternative dates.  After all, it is the celebration that matters.  Not some sort of Stalinist cultural conformity.

We toyed with several ideas for dinner.  Darrel, Christy, and I can cook far better meals than are served in most restaurants.  At least, to our tastes.  But we decided taking Mom to a nice restaurant would be a treat for her.

And the evening was a success.  At least, the opportunity to spend time together was a success.

The dinner was not.

We ate at Greg's Grill -- an eatery that purports to be an upscale restaurant with a stunning view of the Deschutes River.  The view lived up to its billing.  We had a table right next to the river.

The food did not live up to the view.  But you know my opinion on food and views.  One or the other can be spectacular; but seldom will one restaurant excel in both.  Greg's Grill falls into the "good view" category.

Darrel and Mom had prime rib.  The portion was a bit slim and Darrel reported the quality of the beef was at best mediocre.  A local tavern sells better prime rib for about a third of the price. 

The telling point that the restaurant simply did not much care about its customers came when Darrel asked for some fresh horseradish.  Our waitress informed him, they had run out of it last night, but she would check.  Sure enough.  No one had bothered to buy any.  In a restaurant that prides itself on its beef.

Christy's seared Ahi tuna was good.  But she had the same problem.  A wasabi mayonnaise was provided on the plate.  She likes her fish with wasabi paste.  No such luck.  We were left with the assumption that the wasabi mayonnaise was not prepared fresh in the kitchen.  Otherwise, where was the paste?

I made the gravest error of all by ordering one of my favorite dishes: chicken piccata.  My friend John espouses an interesting axiom: Piccata could make an old shoe taste great.  The cook at Greg's Grill proved him wrong.

When the waitress handed me a giant steak knife, I joked that I would not be needing that for a dish that requires only a fork.  I needed it.

The chicken had not been pounded to a thin cutlet.  It was simply a hunk of chicken -- chicken that had spent a good deal of its benighted life frozen.  The meat was so tough, I could not cut through it with the serrated knife.

To the waitress's credit, she took it off the bill.  But, apparently ours was not a unique experience.  Darrel told me this was the third time he had eaten there, and all three times the food was little more than Denny's with pretensions.

Fortunately, Mom liked her meal.  And that is all that really mattered.  After all, it was Mother's Day.

Next year, I should have her come down to Mexico for dinner at my house.  I can certainly guarantee her a better experience.

For me, though, there will be no reprise at Greg's Grill.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

to catch a thief

You may as well know it.  Even though I masquerade as a law-abiding libertarian, I am basically a scofflaw.
For years, I have moaned about the quality of the tomatoes sold in the grocery stores in my Mexican village.  They are no better than the Romas you can buy at a Safeway in Ogden.

Several readers have suggested that I pick up my hoe and grow my own.  There have been plenty of reasons I have not yet followed that advice -- my travel schedule being the deal killer.

But I am about to toss out my anchor in Barra to ensure that I do not bust the limitation on absences from Mexico while I prepare for Mexican citizenship.  To fill my time, I considered two projects: (1) buying a golden retriever or (2) becoming a tomato farmer.  The vegetables won out.

As you can see at the top of this essay, I have limited my scope.  Two varieties of heirloom tomatoes and one grape tomato variety.  Miscellaneous strains of basil.  Arugula for my watermelon-goat cheese salad.  Greek oregano, to replace my rather pallid Mexican variety.  And spearmint to spruce up my Greek salads and steamed vegetables.

I need to add a packet of English cucumbers to the inventory to fill out the cornucopia of vegetables I cannot buy locally.
  That should be enough to get me started.    

The planters in my courtyard should provide sufficient space to handle the tomatoes.  The herbs can then populate a yet-to-be-purchased pot -- for the foundations of a kitchen garden.

As for the scofflaw theme of this essay?  As a German acquaintance in Manzanillo would put it: Bringing seeds into Mexico is not allowed. 

Most countries with an economy that heavily relies on agriculture are very protective of what crosses their borders.  The States are every bit as picky as Mexico is.

But I am still going to take them south.  I will also violate the speed limit when I drive.  Park in no parking spaces.  And split infinitives with impunity.

At the end of this tunnel of lawlessness will be a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes.  I hope.  Providing the blight does not take them.

If my smuggling included legumes, I would say: The end justifies the beans.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

save the baby vegetables

Someone has to say something.  It may as well be me.  At least, I can tee up the ball.

The slaughter of baby vegetables and fruit must stop.  Where is our humanity?  How have we slipped into this abomination?

I am not certain when it began.  But American produce tables are now covered with junior varieties of their larger kin.

Softball-sized watermelon.  Tiny heirloom tomatoes.  "Cocktail" English cucumbers.  Almost as if Brobdingnag had started importing its produce from Lilliput.

Last night our dinner was a Cotton tradition: Greek salad (with heirloom tomatoes, sweet onions, English cucumbers, South African peppadew peppers, feta cheese, and assorted Greek olives served with a dressing of fresh lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil). 

During the past six years, I have managed to put together a very pale copy in Mexico.  Just go through that list and draw a line through items you do not regularly find in your Mexican market.

Christy, my sister-in-law, and I were shopping at Costco yesterday afternoon when I decided to start buying the salad ingredients for our meal.  Costco almost always offers interesting twists in its produce department.  Yesterday was no exception.

Heirloom tomatoes and English cucumbers were on offer.  But only in miniature sizes.  "Cocktail" was actually used as an adjective for the cucumbers.

When I first encountered the "individual size" watermelons, I was under the impression that someone had developed fruit that would meet the shopping needs of single people.  That is, until I took a closer look at the produce.  It did not take me long to figure out that some farmer had stumbled across a brilliant marketing device.

Every farmer culls his crop -- removing smaller fruits and vegetables from the mother plant to let the remaining fruits and vegetables grow to full size and flavor.  Usually, the culls are tossed into a compost pile or simply tilled back into the field.  Someone came up with the idea of foisting them off on the consuming public as a new product.  Ingenious!

The problem is found in the last word of the first sentence.  "Flavor."  These lilliputian sizes simply do not have the flavor of the full size pieces.

With one exception.  I was surprised to discovered how much flavor the early pick heirloom tomatoes have.  But that may simply be in comparison with Safeway tomatoes.

I take my hat off (if I wore one) to whoever came up with the idea.  Whoever it was has convinced buyers they are getting a good deal for smaller portions.  And it offers more proof to me that Americans are slowly losing their ability to discern between truly fresh produce in season -- and something that looks nice.

As for sparing the baby vegetables, I will leave that to some other activist better suited to this type of thing.  Maybe one of those kayactivist guys.

Excuse me, I am going to have a second serving of my salad.

Monday, May 18, 2015

those magnificent men

There is nothing like a trip to catch up on reading.

That sentiment is a bit contradictory to my other rule of travel: learn as much as possible from new environments.  After all, I can (and do) read quite a bit at home.  It is one of life's great pleasures.

Just before I left Barra de Navidad for the Orient (book 'em, steve-o), I downloaded three of Jorge Castañeda's older books: Uptopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left After the Cold War; Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants; and Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara.  I intended to work my way through each of them on the trip.

It didn't turn out that way.  I read the Latin American Left book at home before I flew off to Dallas. 

I had a rather sound grounding in the subject matter through my academic studies and practical experience.  But, in this one book,
Castañeda added a lot of subtlety to what I thought I once knew.

His purpose in writing the book was to provide some suggestions for the Left to make its message more relevant in a world where liberal economic policies were triumphant throughout the continent.  But his prescription was hardly novel.

In effect, he advised the parties of the Left to essentially become Blairite social democrats.  At the time he wrote the piece, 1995, the solution seemed to be a bit elegant.  After decades of watching third way politicians implode, the idea has lost a bit of its gloss.

For whatever reason, I did not open either of the other two books.  The immigration book is on one of my favorite topics.  But, I do admit I am a bit reluctant to devote too much time to a praise-worthy biography of Guevara, one of the butchers of the twentieth century.

Instead, I moved some books into line in front of the
Castañedas.  David McCullough's Greater Journey -- a history of nineteenth century France played out through the lives of a series of American visitors, and Robert Middlekauff's Washington's Revolution: The Making of America's First Leader -- a biography that traces Washington's growth as a military and political leader during the Revolution, and some of the forces that developed his views on the new nation he helped create.

I read both on the trip.  In Vancouver, I purchased two new books that I have now been reading over the past week.

Today I finished David McCullough's most recent work: The Wright Brothers.  McCullough has two skills as a biographer.  He is a thorough researcher; no Dorothy Kearns Goodwin scandals for him.  And he is an engaging writer.  Some of his works have been uneven, but never at the cost of undercutting his narrative.

I thought I knew a lot about the Wright brothers.  After all, they are a major part of our national history.  But McCullough's book quickly
disabused me of my hubris.

I knew a lot about the stick figures from school history, but next to nothing about the real men who fought against all received wisdom that flight was impossible.  And, though, I knew the details of Kitty Hawk, I knew almost nothing of the subsequent years of flight demonstrations on both sides of the Atlantic, as aviation fought to be recognized as something other than a scam perpetrated by cranks.

And that brings me to the biography I opened this afternoon: H.W. Brands's Reagan: The Life.  I am a fan of Brands's presidential biographies.  His works on Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ulysses Grant are some of the best I have read.

He has now turned his attention to my favorite president.  I have read most of the memoirs written by associates of Reagan.  But most of the works capture only portions of the man's character.

Even though I have only started the book, Brands has found a psychological hook for his subject.  From his previous biographies, I expect the book to be hard-hitting, but fair.  Just as a biography should be.  I am not fond of hagiographies of people I admire.

And the
Castañedas?  They may need to wait until I return to my pool in Barra de Navidad on Saturday.  Where the sun will preside over days with plenty of time to enjoy books.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

paris in bend

Robert Preston and Benjamin Franklin may not sound like a natural match.  But one of my favorite Preston roles was his portrayal on Broadway in Ben Franklin in Paris.

At one point in the show, he advises a noble woman he is pursuing to forgo her life of luxury to marry him.

Look for small pleasures
That happen ev'ryday;
And not for fortune or fame.
Yesterday, I found myself humming the tune.  Not that it was a day of pleasures that happen every day.  In fact, even though the pleasures were small, it was their rarity that made them so enjoyable.

It all started with the weather.  Since I arrived, central Oregon has experienced overcast days.  Lots of high clouds, but only the occasional rain sprinkle.

That would be pleasurable enough for me.  But, better yet, the daytime temperatures have hovered in the mid-50s.  For me, that is about as good as weather gets.

That may be why Darrel and I decided to take a couple of hours to create one of those comfort meals I have not eaten in years -- grilled cheese sandwiches and chili con carne.  We had the time to do it right.

What you see at the top of the page is the first stage.  A cast iron skillet devoted to saut
éing the base for the chili.

And, with good chili, you need something in your grilled cheese other than Velveeta or Kraft American singles.  Instead, we used Tillamook extra sharp cheddar, a smoked cheddar, a bit of blue, and a couple of pieces of other artisan cheeses. 

Plus lots of butter for grilling.  It was a sandwich fit for the King of France.  Or at least, The Pretender.

What makes these days so rare is that I do not often get to spend much time with my mother, my brother, and my sister-in-law.  And I will see even less of them during the next two years unless they get down my way for visits -- and to eventually move in.

For now, though, I have less than a week to relish my small pleasures.  And, now that I think of it, while I am here, they will happen every day.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

working the arches

McDonald's was my on-ramp to employment success.

The year was 1967 -- the summer between high school graduation and entering college.  And, as it turned out, one of my favorite summers.

I grew up in what would become known as the sub-suburbs of Portland.  We lived on a large lot in an unincorporated area of the county.  That means we were not burdened with the taxes and services of an incorporated city.  (I believe it is still the largest unincorporated area in Clackamas County.)

As a result, our area seemed more rural than urban.  While I was in grade school, a Fred Meyer department store opened several blocks from the house.  A Shakey's pizza parlor soon followed on the highway at the top of our street.

It was not until I was in high school that our first hamburger franchise opened.  A McDonald's. 

But not the McDonald's we now know.  The franchise had three strict rules: no pay telephones; no juke boxes; no female employees.  All three would attract the wrong type of non-customers: single young men, a louche group known for empty pockets.

McDonald's was a family restaurant.  And, even though Oregon's weather is not conducive to outdoor picnic tables, there was no indoor dining.

Being an employee was not new to me.  I had held down a job since I was in the 5th grade: pulling weeds at the bank, running a lawn mowing business, delivering the local newspaper, and "shagging" newspapers for a wholesaler.

But McDonald's was the first place I worked in a job that required extensive training and then allowed me to work as part of a team.  I have never been short of self-confidence, but the work taught me that diligence and talent can have immediate rewards.

The jobs at McDonald's were very hierarchical.  I started on the potato peeling machine and worked my way up the food chain to fries blancher, and then to the glorious position of french fry frier.

If I remember correctly, I then worked in milk shakes before I was assigned to the grill where I learned the subtleties of frying large numbers of hamburger patties while deep frying fish filets.  That grill taught me that my nascent lessons in cooking were paying off -- and would give me a life of independence in preparing my own food.

But all of that paled with the star roles -- working the window.  It was a perfect way to learn a lesson I have used my entire life: Dealing with the public is just another acting role. 

I loved being the face of McDonald's.  Greeting the public.  Adding a bit of magic to their day.  Interestingly, I remember nothing challenging about making change.  Nor should I.  My father taught me change-making when I was four.

I did learn one very important lesson, though.  The seduction of power.  One of my high school friends stopped by, and ordered a small soft drink.  Rather than ringing it up, I simply gave it to him.  An act of theft witnessed by my manager.

The manager called me back to the office.  I thought I was a dead man.  And I should have been.  Theft is theft.

But the manager, who was probably 25, was wise for his years.  He asked what I had done.  I was not so stupid as to compound my crime with a lie.

He then surprised me by asking if I wanted to work for the government.  I laughed, and told him: "Not unless I want to be disowned by my parents.  Why do you ask?"

"Because that is what you just did.  Like government, you took someone else's money, gave it to another person, and then expected gratitude in return.  This is not a government operation.  Now, get back on the counter."

He may have been the most clever boss I ever had.  For the rest of the summer, I bent over backwards to be McDonald's best employee.

I must have succeeded.  At the end of the summer, I was among the two employees who were asked to stay on for the fall full-time schedule.  I couldn't accept the offer because I was heading off to college in Portland.

But I have never forgotten what that summer taught me.  How talent is rewarded.  How learning to work with others and show up on time are universal prerequisites for succeeding in life.  How providing good food at a low cost to families is one of the great accomplishments of the American free market system.

I also earned enough money that summer to pay for a full semester of school.  Not only was it an era when a fast food job for teenage guys was considered honorable work, it was a time before the governmental-educational complex had done everything in its power to make higher education inaccessible to kids like me.

I owe a debt to McDonald's.  The company provided me with the memory of an almost perfect summer -- and helped make me what I am now.

I have never had problems with self-confidence.  But you knew that already.


Friday, May 15, 2015

moses forgets his camera

Going to Walmart in Bend without my camera is about as stupid as leaving the house without my pants.

Yesterday evening, I was wearing my pants, but I had forgotten my camera.  Even though I was in Walmart as a legitimate consumer, I know that something always manages to trigger my blogging instinct.

I was headed toward the rest room when a tattooed young man walking toward me caught my eye.  Well, not so much him as the slogan on his t-shirt.  "DAMM -- Drunks Against Mad Mothers."

The American cultural wars use every tool in their desire to seduce us -- including wit.  Admittedly, the use of "Mad" instead of "MADD" struck me as a lawyer-heavy cop-out.

But a quick look through the internet reveals that DAMM is not necessarily jaunty tricksters, despite their lilting t-shirt slogans.  Here is a dose of their political levity:

DAMM is an organization that was founded by a group of responsible citizens who were astonished to learn how legislators and other politicians have created an entire DUI Industry in their quest for easy votes and increased government revenues.
 Yikes!  That sentence is as leaden as anything Paul Krugman could write -- not to mention the subtext relating to how the authors came to their "astonishing" revelation.  I anticipated P.J. O'Rourke, and found Ross Perot.

Jamela, my legal secretary in private practice, was fond of saying: "Many a truth is said in jest."  Of course, she also let loose with such gems as: "Now, you're skating on dry ice."

But she had a point.  A lot of polemic is tarted up as wit.

And the moral of my little Walmart outing?  As long as I remain in Oregon, my camera is sticking with me wherever I go.

I am a stranger in a strange land. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

road trip

Well, "road trip" may not actually be the correct term.

Yesterday, we were certainly on a trip -- and we were on the road.  But "road trip" evokes casual drives along back roads discovering quaint villages and local diners with authentic road food.

Our trip from Vancouver to Bend didn't quite fall into the misty Kerouac version of the American love affair with the automobile.  Our roads were primarily freeways and major highways interspersed with stops at gasoline stations to fill the car's tank and our stomachs -- as well as emptying aging bladders. 

At our ages, we no longer measure successful driving with "miles per gallon" calculations.  A more important metric is miles between wash rooms.

Seven hours of driving.  Not bad time for the distance we had to cover.

While we were underway, Nancy conducted two conference calls for her business.  Mobile telephones that provide internet hot spots for computers have revolutionized locations for business work.  The technology amazes me, but I am rather glad I escaped its ubiquitous reach when I retired seven years ago.

The trip would have made a perfect traditional road trip.  The roads pass through some of the most beautiful landscape in the world.  But the two cold sufferers were in no position to appreciate the grandeur of Mt. Jefferson.

I am typing this in bed at Nancy's mother's house at Eagle Crest near Redmond (the one in Oregon, not the Microsoft version in Washington).  Within a few hours I will be ensconced in my brother's house in Bend -- where I hope to kick the vestiges of this cold before I fly home to Mexico next week.

Between now and then, maybe I can create my own mini-road trips.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Our great Vancouver tour plan came to naught.

The original plan was to spend the day touring a city I have long loved.  And it started that way.

Nancy, Roy’s wife, and her business colleague and friend, Sophie, met us at the cruise terminal.  After stowing our luggage in the car, we decided to enjoy one of Vancouver’s movie experiences -- Fly Over Canada.

If you have been to California Soarin’ at Disneyland, you know the drill.  A row of seats is elevated near a domed screen that creates the illusion of flight.

Fly Over Canada comes with a bit of history.  The space was initially used as a multi-media presentation in the Canada pavilion of Expo ‘86.  You may remember the Goose and Beaver Show.

Fly Over Canada was a great success for us.  The illusion of flight had all of us.

But Roy and I had had it by that point.  Or, rather, our colds had.  With lunch and a drive to suburban Vancouver, my tour day was over -- with the exception of spending the rest of the day in bed.

We are now up getting ready to head south.  Along the way, Nancy needs to conduct a conference call for her business.  Our hope is to do it on the road.  But we may need to stop along the way to ensure a good connection for her computer.

I am back in the land of omnipresent technology.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

the art of fauxtrage

I am certain I ave told you this story before, but I am going to tell it again.  Its moral is eternal.

In the early 2000s, I flew to Cape Town to join an in-progress world cruise.  The ship had sailed from Los Angeles two months before. 

On the first day I sat down with a rather attractive woman in the buffet.  She was fascinating.  She had been an aviatrix and a journalist, and currently lived in interior Morocco -- having moved there on her own several years before.

Cruisers dream of meeting people like this.  She was almost a figure from an earlier era.  Madge of Morocco.

I learned that she had been with the ship since Los Angeles and had been through two major storms in the Pacific before arriving at Cape Town.

I was curious how she had enjoyed the cruise.  She didn't even hesitate: "It has been almost perfect -- except for one major thing.

What could a sophisticated traveler find so horrible?  Did she lose all her trael funds in Bora Bora?  Had she incurred some dread disease in Saigon?  Maybe she had been sexually assaulted by the cruise director.

Not even close.  When I asked, she puffed herself up in the type of moral outrage favored by Rachel Maddow, and announced: "This ship has no half and half."

I laughed.  It was a perfect display of fauxtrage.  I took it as a very well-timed joke.

She wasn't joking.  She was allowing the lack of half and half to ruin her trip.

Well, not just the missing half and half.  When she discovered that many of the cruisers joining in South Africa had purchased their tickets at a steep discount, she started collecting names and amounts paid.  She intended to confront the cruise line for devaluing her cruise experience.

As I worked through Monday on the ship, kicking my heels while the agriculture inspectors looked for the offending egg cases, I thought about her as I started musing about this cruise.

It would be easy to declare it a disaster.  The food has not been very good.  Our table service was terrible.  And this blasted head cold keeps sapping the life out of my chest.

But it has not been all bad.  In fact, on the while, it was a great trip.  I saw places and people in China, Korea, Japan, and Russia that I would have not experienced had I holed up in my Barra de Navidad hacienda.

I still have a couple of days in Vancouver to enjoy.  Plus a road trip and a few days in Oregon before I fly back home.

So, I sit here on the fantail of the ship watching the sun fade.  The lights of Victoria are blinking across the strait.

It will be a good night -- and, undoubtedly, a great day tomorrow.


12 may -- vancouver, canada

We are back on land.

All the way from Red China to Pink Canada.

Here's the third part of the journey -- even though, most of it is unwritten.  Roy's wife, Nancy is picking us up at the dock.  We are then driving south to Portland or Bend or Reno.  No one is quite certain yet.

But you will soon find out.

Thanks for coming along.

Monday, May 11, 2015

quarantine ship

When I looked at our itinerary before the cruise, I anticipated our last full day on the ship would be spent in the Pacific -- with the possibility of seeing land late at night as we entered the Strait of Jun de Fuca between Vancouver Island and the northern shore of Washington state.

Yesterday, we learned we would be arriving in Canada waters almost a full day ahead of schedule.  But we would not be heading to our dock in Vancouver.

Instead, we will be dropping anchor off the tip of Vancouver Island for the rest of the day.  Why?  Because we are in quarantine.

Apparently, we may have illegal immigrants on board.  Korea and Japan have recently experienced an outbreak of the Asian gypsy moth.  All ships that call there are potential breeding ground for the moth's egg.

While we are at anchor, a Canadian inspection team will boat out to us and spend the day conducting a needle in a haystack inspection.  Without the inspection, none of us will go on shore.

There is a good reason for all of this inspecting.  The Asian gypsy moth is a voracious crop eater.  And that is not the type of immigrant that food-producing nations (such as, Canada and The States) welcome.

So, search the authorities shall -- in their attempt to secure the border.  And we will wait patiently for this cruise to come to an end.

11 may -- at sea

Floating along.  Nearly there.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

happy mother's day

I would wish all of you mothers a happy day.  But, if you notice the position of that apostrophe in the title, I only have one mother.

She appears here regularly.  As a commenter or as a character in one of my little morality plays.

I was trying to remember this morning when I last celebrated mother's day in person with my mom.  Obviusly, today will not be one of them.  She is in Bend, and I am in the Pacific.

But, as she would say, it is just another day.  Our family is notorious for celebrating holidays well away from their traditional dates.  Christmas in March?  Why not?

So, I will have the honor to celebrate some time with her later this week before I fly back to Mexico.  And it will be a pleasure.  She gave me life, and she continues to add new layers to hers every year.

For now, then, let me wish a happy mother's day to Marilyn Munro Cotton.  May you have many more.


"If you had no budget restraints, what type of show would you put together to spotlight your talents?"

That is one of the questions I always ask each cast member at the dinners I sponsor on cruises.  It is designed to ferret out how the performer views his or her best talent -- and to determine what type of dreams they have for their careers.

Last Monday (casting bread on the water), I asked that question, and received some not very surprising answers.  But I received no hint that my question would actually be acted out on the ship's stage yesterday afternoon.

Three members of the cast put on a show for us.  And not a regular show. 

Most of the production numbers on board have been constructed far from the ship, and the cast are assigned roles.  They play parts imagined by people divorced from the cast's individuality.

For "Unscripted," two dancers and one singer chose material that showcased their special skills.  And each hit a home run.

Laura Mellin is an attractive redhead from Wales.  During the first production show, I noticed she had an interesting combination of classically-trained skills mixed with contemporary dance moves.

She brought that same combination to her jazzy, but balletic, number yesterday afternoon.  The sea was a bit rough, but she performed each step with the type of athletic grace that good dancers possess.

Daniel Harrison, an English dancer, told me at dinner that he would like to perform a show centered around tap.  And so he did.

The kid knows his moves.  And he knows how to hook an audience.  His "aw shucks" onstage persona is a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Bill Clinton.  To every grandparent in the audience, he was the grandson they wished they had.

Having grabbed the audience's sentiment, he won their praise with tap number after tap number that helped restore some of the vaudeville-tarnished image of the art form.  His rhythm challenge with the orchestra's drummer was a class act.

And then there was Melanie Lewin.  She is the cast's lead female singer, and has won over most of the passengers with her fluid and wide-ranging voice.

Yesterday, she shone with a Dusty Springfield medley and a Whitney Huston finale.  The danger of performing music so closely associated with another singer is that the performance often wanders off into either a voice impression or a parody.

Melanie escaped that trap by making each of the songs her own.  Twisting and teasing them into something that was distinct to her personality.

The fact that she makes an almost Robin Wright stunning appearance on stage simply complements the richness of her voice.

This cruise is almost over.  Usually, I am sad to see the cruise nearing its end.  Not so before yesterday's show.  I would have been happy if the cruise terminated at noon.  I was cruised out.

"Unscripted" literally added a bit of zest back into my step.  I am now looking forward to the cast's last production show on Sunday night.

Then, the cruise can end.

10 may -- at sea

Is that Canada I see over there?  Naw.  Just a mirage -- or a Beluga.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

food for thought

Most people who take cruises seem to be enthralled with the food served on ships.  The amount.  The variety.  The frequency.  And, for what seems to be a majority of my fellow passengers, amazement at how fancy the dining is.

It is an obvious topic, but I have been reluctant to tackle it.

My reluctance has its roots in my mother's rules of civility: If you can't say something good, don't say anything.  Of course, anyone who has hung around these pages knows that bit of social inoculation simply did not take.

A far more likely source of my style could be found on a little embroidered pillow that once adorned Alice Roosevelt Longworth's couch in her Embassy Row house: "If you don't have anything good to say, come sit by me."

And I have very little good to say about the food on this particular cruise with Celebrity.

Food is served at three quite different venues: the buffet, the formal dining room, and, in the case of this ship, at two specialty restaurants.  On most ships, the quality of the food served can be ranked just as you would expect: buffet at the bottom; specialty restaurants at the top.  But not this cruise.

Our experience in the dining room went from one mediocre meal to another to ultimate disasters.  The worst was the night most of our table looked forward to a dish listed as "Kobe Meatloaf."  What could be better?  A traditional comfort food constructed out of a premium meat.

What arrived at the table looked as if it had been pushed out of an Alpo can.  It was three small rounds of -- indistinguishable provenance.  To my surprise, it tasted even worse than the presentation.

The next night I looked forward to one of my favorite dishes: prime rib.  It was left extra rare (my preference), but it was cut thin, and had almost no taste.  I tried to resurrect it with fresh horseradish, but the the preparation contained so much water that there was no zest left.

That was our last night in the dining room.

But starve we did not.  We found solace in the arms of an unlikely substitute -- the buffet.

There is not a buffet I have encountered that rises above the level of school cafeteria.  Steamer tables and sterno burners cannot begin to disguise the fact the food on offer was prepared long ago from processed foods.  There was the usual melange of mashed potatoes, pork loin, and over-boiled vegetables.

Fortunately, there was more.  Early on, I discovered the Asian table.  Sushi.  Red Thai curry beef.  Chicken tandoori. Lamb masala. Curried vegetables.  Plus, one of my favorites: miso soup -- which has become a staple for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for me.

Buffets are my salvation at breakfast.  My breakfast tastes are not conservative.  A plate of eggs, bacon, and toast doesn't interest me.  But watermelon, grilled vegetables, and ham proved to be my regular red breakfast (as I called it), until I switched over to a self-made ham sandwich with miso soup -- and watermelon.

But even Asian creativity has its limits.  And that is where the specialty restaurants come into play.

We had dinner at the Olympic restaurant a few days ago.  Everything about the service and food were exactly what the dining room is not.  The choices were creative -- and fresh. 

I had venison.  Roy had lamb.  The dishes were as good as any expensive restaurant on shore.

Of course, there is an expense that comes with quality dining.  In the case of the Olympic, it is $50 per person.  But well worth the cost for a dining experience that is memorable -- even without cast members being present.

One thing I am not going to miss during my two-year travel hiatus is the general decline of both the food and service on cruise ships.  But I will feel a bit sorry for people who sign up for cruises believing they are going to encounter the culinary experience of their life.

They may.  But not quite in the manner they anticipated.

9 may -- at sea

I certainly hope I have posted something else by now.

Friday, May 08, 2015

8 may -- at sea


play it again, sam

We are currently living one of the peculiarities of traveling west across the international dateline.

Today is Thursday, 7 May.  But so was yesterday.  It makes up for the day we lost when we flew west to China.

Not that it really matters.  When you are sick, one sea day starts to meld into another.

The cruise line always puts together an aggressive program of activities to amuse its passengers.  Mile walks.  Pilates.  Yoga.  Slot machine and blackjack tournaments.  A watercolor class.  Buddhism and ship engineering lectures.  Trivia contest after trivia contest.  Art lectures (of the variety to induce people to buy some very questionable art).  Shopping opportunities in the ship’s stores.  Apple classes.  Live music.  Dance classes.  Food lectures.

Of course, for those of us of a more individual palate, none of that is very attractive.  For me, sea days are usually an opportunity to catch up on reading and writing while I occasionally glance up to enjoy the ocean glide by.  Unfortunately, I have spent most of that time in bed sleeping away my cold.

Getting two Thursdays may turn out to be a great benefit.  It is nice to have a little time to start feeling myself again.

slipping into the pacific

Just a quick news flash.

The Aleutian Islands are off of our starboard.  In about a half hour, they will be off the port side, as well.  That will mean we have started transiting the gap between the islands.  When done, we will have moved from the Bering Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

Out here in the middle of the sea, I have learned a greater respect for the explorers, such as Bering, who explored this area.  And, even more, from the Indians who crossed over from Siberia (whether by boat or foot -- there is still a huge debate over that), and set up life in a very harsh environment.

The islands are beautiful -- in a very primitive way.  But, if they were 50 degrees further south, they would be as lush as the Hawaiian Islands.

But, as the realtors tell us, location is everything.  They are not tropical.  They are snow-strewn, wind-ravaged pieces of rock.

So, double good news.  We got to see some new territory -- and both Roy and I are feeling far better.  Even though most of the ship sounds like a tuberculosis ward.