Tuesday, June 30, 2015

target sighted

I swore I was not going to do this.  But, since I did not tell you I wasn't, I am going to do it any way.

Tracking someone else's package as it wends its way through the shipping channels of The States and Mexico does not make for interesting reading.  But it is keeping me entertained.

The last time, we talked, my DVDs and book from Amazon has wandered from San Bernadino to Ontario to Los Angeles.  From Los Angeles, I thought it would make the jump across the border.

Not so.  DHL whisked it off to its central processing hub in Cincinnati -- where it spent the weekend.  Doing what?  I am not certain. 

After all, there is plenty to do in Cincinnati on a free Saturday and Sunday.  But for a package?  Maybe Truman wanted to take in a play at the Playhouse in the Park.

Having been refreshed by its respite, the package took an express route on Monday.  It flew to Guadalajara in the morning.  Customs then did what customs needs to do in a matter of minutes.  By early afternoon, it was shipped out of the Guadalajara DHL processing center for delivery.

Now, I have been around the package delivery world long enough to know that we are only in the second act of a three-act play.  Undoubtedly, there will be stops in intermittent DHL processing centers.  Colima or Manzanilo.  Maybe both.

The DHL tracking page claims the package will not arrive until 6 July.  Amazon is more optimistic with its prediction of 2 July.  But the Amazon page also contains a rather ominous warning: the dreaded "Delayed" notice.

Maybe someone finally noticed the package is to be delivered to a postal box.  Or it could mean almost anything -- or nothing.  I will simply wait patiently to see where the package seems to be tacking.

I may even head down to the post office once the DHL page indicates the package is out for delivery.  Even if it means spending the day at the post office, I really enjoy chatting with the clerks there.

And I won't bother promising this is the last post on this delivery.  I almost feel Magellan -- if it were not for the fact Nancy has been doing the same thing for years.


Monday, June 29, 2015

taking out the trash

Garbage collection fascinates me.

Of course, it is a necessity.  Modern civilizations could not exist without it.  Otherwise, our living areas would be buried in trash.

In Pátzcuaro, several times a week, the garbage truck arrives to the sound of a bell that any colonial town crier would have envied.  At the sound, residents run from their houses carrying bags of garbage -- along with a tip of pesos for the garbage guys.  Mexicans cannot stand garbage accumulating in their houses.

I suspect that is why our local garbage men show up early almost every morning to pick up the neighborhood trash.  That was one of the rhythms I needed to learn at the new house.  I usually put out my trash twice a week after Dora pays her visits tidying up my life.

In Villa Obregon, most houses have a very interesting apparatus on the sidewalk -- similar to this one in my new neighborhood.

It is a clever device.  It keeps the dogs and other scavengers from ripping through the garbage bags in search of scraps.  I do not have one at the new house.

Instead, I bought a garbage can to comply with the notice at the top of this piece.  It is painted on the wall of our local football pitch. 

The message is very clear.  I understand the residents of my neighborhood traditionally would gather up their garbage, put it in the type of plastic bags you would receive at a convenience store, and then deposit it on the street corner for the garbage men to collect on their regular rounds.

But custom is a hard thing to break.  Even though the garbage is supposed to be left in front of each house, my neighbors still drop their bags on the street corner.

And because no one on my street has one of those raised garbage containers, the dogs treat the bags as the equivalent of a Sirloin Stockade buffet.  The result is that the contents of the bags are strewn in the street.  The mornings do not paint a pretty street scene.

The garbage men will pick up any undisturbed bag on the corner, but any of the torn bags in the street are on their own.  That is why I bought a heavy garbage can.  I tote it to the curb twice a week.  The next morning the contents are gone, and I roll the can back into its resting place.

And what about the trash in the street?  It will sit there until the rains come and sweep most of it into the sewage system -- where it will damage the pumps.

Or it will sit there until either my neighbor, Mary, or I get tired of the eyesore.  It usually takes only about a half hour to gather everything up and prepare it for the next pickup day.

For some reason, it does not seem to bother the neighbors who put it out.  I have seen them watch me cleaning up the street.  Their looks are something between bemusement and comedy.

Mexicans are quite fastidious in the hygiene of their homes, their clothes, their vehicles, and themselves.  Getting the garbage outside of the house is just one example.  For some reason that attitude just does not square with the garbage issue.

A Mexican friend once told me, when we were discussing litter: "Once a piece of paper leaves a Mexican's hand, it s no longer his concern."  I do not know how valid that statement is, but the empirical evidence on my street would support the postulate.

Things are changing, though.  Local students regularly hold litter cleanups in the villages, as well as promoting more litter barrels in public places.

Maybe that is the answer.  Perhaps in another generation, when I am getting around with my walker, my Mexican neighbors will join me in cleaning up the street.

I had written an entirely different ending to this piece.  I decided I would play litter patrol on the street last evening.  As I worked my way to the corner, I noticed my neighbor, Israel, who I met when I first moved in, was also cleaning up the mess on the corner.

We re-introduced ourselves and chatted a bit.  He has a store in Melaque, where I have seen him numerous times.  Both of us laughed at how we had failed to make the connection that we are neighbors.

We commiserated over the dog problem and the number of times trash barrels have been stolen from the corner.  But, most of all, he undercut the entire premise of this piece.  Mexicans do care about trash.  At least, Israel does.

And, even if he is the exception, it is nice to put a neighborly face on a shop owner I see almost every day.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

the forbidden fruit

One of my failings as a traveler is when I am behind a steering wheel.

My idea of driving is to go from point A to point B.  There is nothing in between.  If I see something interesting along the road, I believe it will be there when I return.  When I do return I , of course, drive right by it.

I come by the affliction naturally.  My brother is the same way.  We blame it on the Y chromosome we inherited from our father.  My mother can (and will) tell stories about the absurd lengths he would take to avoid stopping on road trips.

On my drives to and from Puerto Vallarta, I have noticed some odd shrubs along Highway 200 south of the Tomatlán turnoff.  The plants are not that noticeable.  They are no more remarkable than creosote bushes -- which they resemble.  Lots of branches with no discernible trunk.

What caught my attention were the grapefruit-sized fruit that appeared to grow from each of the individual trunks.  Almost as if someone had taped green Christmas ornaments to them.

I cannot count how many times my curiosity has been tweaked -- and I would keep on driving.  When I drove my friend Jack to the Puerto Vallata airport, I pointed them out to him.  And I am glad I did.

He told me the tree and the fruit have the same name -- cuastecomate.  Interestingly, that is the name of a beach village just over the hill from Melaque.  And for good reason, the trees grow there.  Until recently, there was a giant version right in the village.  Before it was cut down.

On the return trip, I stopped to look closer at the fruit.  They look like a type of gourd.  A very hard exterior with an almost hollow interior.

Most trees around here have been imported.  The cuastecomate is a Mexican native.

When the gourds are dried, the local Indians found them very useful for carrying and storing water, as drinking and eating utensils, and the foundation for decorative pottery.  The Huichol make beaded maracas from the gourd.

I am told a local naturopath creates a medicine from the gourds inside the pulp.  When the gourd turns brown and falls from the tree, the top is removed, and the interior (including the pulp) is filled with alcohol.  After a curing period that sounds as if it might rival that of kimchi, the fermented liquid is used to control respiratory conditions -- including asthma.

I have never tried it.  But, then, I do not have respiratory troubles.

What I do have is a bit of new information about a naive Mexican plant.  And in an area filled with mango, tamarind, coconut, and other foreign plans, that is rare enough for me. 

I need to stop and enjoy those moments more often.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

the amazon flows

I told you I would keep you posted on the progress of my recent purchases from Amazon.  And so I am.

Just to refresh your memory, I ordered a book and some DVDs from Amazon last Sunday (floating down the amazon).  The amount was over $150 (US).  I was told that orders over that amount were shipped free.

But I was misinformed -- o partially misinformed.  Free shipping is for just some items.  And I do not know whether the DVDs or the book kicked me out of the ship-for-free club or not.  But I learned something.  Watch the shipping costs tab when adding items to the cart.

Yesterday morning, I received an email from Amazon chirpily informing me: "It's on the way!" -- as if I were a 12 year old girl.  But it was exciting news.

The package is not coming from the touted warehouse in Mexico City.  It is slipping across the border from San Bernadino, California.  I guess the warehouse is not ready for my requests. 

But the notice did contain an interesting piece of intelligence.  The carrier is DHL.  That is important because it will test the one flaw that make exist in the address I chose.

My friend Nancy has had Amazon ship books to her through the post office we both use.  Felipe commented that his experience is that when the express carriers receive a package with an ADPO Postal number, they will return the package to Amazon.

I asked the postal clerk this morning (in my terribly broken Spanish) what would happen if DHL delivered the package to him.  He said he would accept the package and put a notice in my box.

I hope that is how it works.  The only cockroach in the soup is the possibility that duty or taxes may be owed.  I am certain the clerks will not front those costs.  They have trouble making change for a twenty peso note when I buy postage.

But this is all performance art in the works.  The delivery date is slated for 2 July.  We should soon have an answer.

And the answer will be pertinent only to this shipment and to me.  Just one more thing to love about Mexico -- and to provide essay fodder.

Friday, June 26, 2015

look for small pleasures

Yesterday, fellow blogger Joanna left the following comment: "I have always thought that the sky is like a huge ever-changing canvas. Sometimes the cloud formations, the light, the alignments of stars and planets are so beautiful they seem unreal."

That is exactly how I felt on Wednesday evening after enjoying a plate of chicken Marsala.  Not your usual Mexican fare -- even in La Manzanilla.

This is what greeted me when I stepped out of the restaurant.

Now, I know I have posted a lot of sunset photographs.  But not very many pre-sunset shots.  This one struck me as being rather unusual.

The color played a big part, obviously.  Our sunsets around here tend to run toward shades of mango or apricot.  The tints that enliven the umbrellaed drinks of the cocktail set.

But it is far more than just the color.  Everything that evening conspired to say: This is one special tropical place.  The sea.  The palm trees.
  The fishing boats at rest for the night.

I live for these moments in Mexico.  Where a group of circumstances come together for one, brief magic moment.  Only to quickly fade.

The number of amazing sunsets I have seen here must number in the hundreds -- if not the thousands.  But each one of them has been special.

But no more special than watching the children on my street just being kids.  Or the older woman with leathery skin I saw walking along the street the day before yesterday, whose eyes belied the fact that she had captured some beautiful secret of the cosmos.  Or the waiter who had just had one of the best days of his life and wanted to share it with me.

Why do I live here?  Because I am thankful that each morning I will arise to some conflict that must be subdued -- and that will be outweighed by a little miracle.  A place that keeps me stimulated -- and content.  Every day.

I'm certainly not trading in this "ever-changing canvas" anytime soon.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

lights in the distance

I have no idea what the American press is covering -- or uncovering -- these days.  Even with the internet, it is easy to feel beautifully isolated from northern politics down here.

But this is not a politics story.  It one of my look-up-in-the-sky-and-enjoy-life stories.

For the past three weeks, I have been fascinated with the little dance that the moon has had with Jupiter and Venus.  Each night, the two planets are the most obvious objects in the western sky, other than the moon.  And they will be putting on a show through July. 

We are about to witness one of those interesting astronomical events that happen periodically, but are nonetheless worth seeing.  On the nights of 30 June and 1 July,  Venus will appear to overtake Jupiter.

But that is not the most spectacular event this summer involving Venus.  I was walking the main street of San Patricio earlier in the week and noticed this conjunction of the moon, Venus, and Jupiter against the foreground of the swallows I discussed earlier.  [You may need to enlarge the shot to see the detail.]

Remember that shot on 18 July 2015.  It will be re-created when Venus is higher in the sky -- almost in conjunction with the bright star Regulus.  Jupiter will be close behind.  As will a crescent moon.

The true hobbyist (not me) might (and has) described the arrangement as "the crescent moon, Venus and Jupiter will all fit within a circle sporting a diameter of less than four degrees."  Or this breathless offering: "Don’t miss out on this close-knit celestial grouping on July 18, featuring the moon, Venus and Jupiter -- the brightest, second-brightest and third-brightest orbs of nighttime, respectively."

Suffice it to say, they will all be amazingly close.  It will be a night for you photographers to break out your equipment.  If I shoot from my courtyard, the cell tower will offer framing.

I intend to be there.  My suggestion?  Put it on your calendar right now.  I say that because unless I do it, I will completely miss the night light show.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

crossing my fingers on the border

"The Mexican population is already aging rapidly, as fertility and birth rates have been dropping precipitously, and continue to plummet, for over twenty years now.  By 2015, regardless of other circumstances, particularly economic ones, the pool of potential immigrants will have shrunk dramatically: only the young emigrate, and those over forty-five, a speedily growing share of Mexico’s inhabitants, do not."

That little gem appears near the middle of Jorge Castañeda's  Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants -- his take on the history and the future of Mexican immigration to the United States.  As Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 2000-2003, he was on the front lines of the negotiations between Mexico and the Bush administration concerning immigration reform.

The history is very interesting, and I highly recommend it.  Too often our positions on immigration are formed outside of the issue's historical context.  Castañeda fills that void.  From a Mexican's point of view, of course.

I should point out that the following is a list of rather disjointed thoughts.  I have spent the last year trying to develop my own position on the special relationship between Mexico and the United States -- especially, immigration.  Consider this a work in progress.

What is often missed is that Mexican migration heading north has a long history.  Mexicans would leave home for a season and return home to tend their crops or perhaps a local store until the next trip north, and then head north for another season.  The immigration academics give that process a fancy name: "circularity."

Very few Mexicans stayed north.  While they were there, Mexican migrants gained the personal and economic admiration of American businessmen and farmers.  Economic downturns in The States were the only impediment to the flow.  That is, until the 1990s.

The Clinton administration became concerned about the flow -- pressured mainly by labor unions who feared that wages were being depressed (especially in construction jobs).  And they probably were.  Up went the first of many fences.  This one protecting the border around San Diego and further east in California.

Border controls were beefed up, as well.  The result was that it became more difficult to get into the United States.  And a lot of Mexicans who were part of the circularity flow decided to stay north rather than risk being shut out on the return trip.

Ironically, in a desire to control illegal migration, the United States government created a large class of resident illegal aliens.  And that group, of course, is the very core of the current political debate over the "dreamers" and the impossible task of sending people who are in The States illegally back to their country of origin.

I have been following the immigration reform debate in The States quite closely.  It was an area of interest for me in law school.  My doctoral thesis, if you will, was on immigration law and its reform.

But I had never encountered the 2015 tilting point in the Mexican population.  I knew it had to occur.  A country that can reduce its birthrate from 7.2 to 2.2 in a couple of decades will inevitably suffer a demographic decline of people who are willing to risk the dangers of getting across the border.

If Mexico has reached that point, the whole "secure the border" debate may be shooting at the wrong target.  I was once a big advocate of the "security first" argument -- an argument that the Fox administration helped promote. 

But I have put less stock in it when I started asking myself what does it actually mean.  A nation that is based on imports and exports and promotes education and tourism visitors will find it impossible to close its borders to the world. 

The events of 9-11 have made my countrymen very fearful of another similar incident.  And we all know it will happen again.  It certainly did with the Boston bombers.

Wouldn't it be interesting if allowing some form of circularity would actually resolve the problem of illegal immigration?  What if the border was opened and nobody came?

Illegal immigration dropped off precipitously during the late 2000s.  Most people blamed the recession and the expanded border controls.  But what if Mexicans were not coming because the pool of potential crossers had dwindled?

I have always been an advocate of freer economic movement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States.  For various reasons, NAFTA did not include clauses for the free movement of labor (in the same way that NAFTA allowed the free movement of capital) or the free movement of energy (even though the Mexican government was willing to entertain the idea if an immigration clause could be negotiated).

Time killed both options.  Governments in each of the three countries knew the proposed NAFTA treaty would be politically problematic without immigration and energy being included.  With those two clauses included, the treaty would not have been enacted -- in all likelihood.

One of the big rubs for the United States was the danger of depressing wages.

During my freshman year in college, I took a US History course from Dr. Whitney K. Bates.  On the first day of the class, he asked the students if they considered themselves in the wealthy class.  No hands went up.  The middle class?  All hands, but one, went up.  The poor class?  One hand shot.  (It belonged to a fellow named Richard who would become a good friend in college.  A true radical, he ignored the fact that his family was probably the wealthiest in the class.)

I relate that anecdote to underline a point.  Almost all Americans consider themselves to be in the middle class.  Even the working poor (who would easily be middle class in almost any other country except The States).  That is why illegal immigration is such a time bomb amongst the lower middle class.

A lot of the people in that income group are working very hard to better themselves and their families by working at jobs that do not pay high wages.  A high proportion of legal immigrants fall into this group.  They are just starting to work their way up the greasy economic pole.

There are enough economic studies to assert that the group hurt most by high levels of illegal immigration are the very people who immigrated through legal means.  It is a rather cruel reality.

That point has kept me from being an advocate for increasing the pool of workers that will undermine new immigrants.  Of course, the United States will need immigrants if its economy is to expand.  Native Americans are producing children only at a replacement level.

I do not have an answer to the ever-building layers of contradictions that arise when immigration is discussed.  Interestingly, none of the questions now under consideration are new.  The Bush and Fox administrations listed each of them.  And they thought they had an answer in the McCain-Kennedy immigration reform package in 2006.  They didn't.

Maybe if everyone started with the assumption that the pressure for illegal immigration from Mexico has diminished, the politicians could actually come up with a reform package on which they agree.  But listening to the current presidential candidates from either party does not give me much hope.

Hope.  It is a rather rare commodity in Washington these days.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

death in the pool

Eight months ago, I moved away from the wild kingdom to my concrete courtyard.

I gave up quite a bit in the bargain.  No crocodiles.  No crabs.  No scorpions.  No turtles.  No leaf-cutter ants.  All of the life that enlivened my evenings for six years.

But the bargain was not quite that one-sided.  You may recall that I early on discovered that the Eiffel Tower in my backyard is a roost for turkey vultures.  That's pretty cool.  And I have the usual lizards, geckos, butterflies, dragonflies, bats, and cockroaches that visit most houses and yards in this part of Mexico.

Flying life was rather rare, though.  Birds fly across the house paying little notice of my sparse vegetation.

But I have one frequent flying visitor.  A hummingbird.  At least, I think it is just one hummingbird.  There is never more than one at a time.  That is not rare.  Hummingbirds are not very fond of competition.

He always announces his presence with a little beep after he sips from each cup of gold flower.  And it does not matter what I am doing in the courtyard, he will swoop around clockwise to each of the four corners to taste the vine candy paying little attention to me.

I think it was Friday when I noticed something different.  Instead of his junior road runner beep, he started chattering after each blossom.  I thought there must be a different type of bird in the trellis.  But it was just him.

Maybe he was just adding his personal commentary on sharing air space with other flyers.  Not birds.  Insects.

The day after the Carlos rainstorm hit, I noticed a lot more insects in the air.  Rain tends to do that.  To hatch out new swarms of insects.  Often, of the biting variety.

And most of them end up in my pool.  Take that beauty at the top of this piece.  At first, I thought it was a wasp.  But, it isn't.  She is a wasp cousin.  A queen ant.  She was on her way to start a new ant colony before crashing in my pool.  A leaf cutter ant colony, if I am not mistaken.  My sworn enemies.

But there is something about a creature drowning that touches my heart.  Probably, because I cannot stand to have my head under water.  So, I saved her.  She dried off, and headed off to do what queens do.

The surface of my pool is covered with the bodies of all variety of flying ant queens -- large, small, tiny.  And small wasps.  I watch the wasps collecting water on the edge of the pool.  Some drown.  Some fly off with their trophy.  To where?  I had no idea.

After last night, though, I do.  I still do not know why I was looking at the top of the vines in front of my bedroom door Sunday night.  But I was.  And then I saw it.  A wasp nest.  Covered with those little black wasps.

A local friend told me I should get rid of those nests as soon as I see them.  The wasps are small, but with a nasty sting.  Ironically, I have saved several of the wasps from drowning.  Sunday night, I blasted the nest with Raid.  (I am far too aware of the irony.)

Monday afternoon, I finished off the nest with another chemical attack.  When I opened it, it looked just as I expected.  A breeding ground for future wasps.  And quite beautiful in its construction.

Before you lecture me that the wasps have a large role in pollination and they are beneficial in controlling the caterpillar population, I already know that.  And even though I am not allergic to bee stings, my brother is.  So, my house remains a sting-free zone.

OK.  It is not as exciting as a story about crocodile babies, but it is life,  And it is the life I now lead.  In my pool that entombs more royal blood than Westminster Abbey.


Monday, June 22, 2015

floating down the amazon

I may have discovered a way to replenish my DVD library without subsidizing Mexico's narco terrorists.

A new pen pal (I think in the Chapala area) has been forwarding some handy local travel hints to me.  He has convinced me to add several towns around Guadalajara to the Escape's next multi-day adventure in Mexico.

Yesterday morning, though, his tip was a bit different.  He forwarded extracts from the Chapala message board about Amazon shipments to (or within Mexico).  Those who have used the service says it is reliable, the shipping is reasonably priced, and, so far, no one has been charged duty fees or the 16% IVA tax.  (I suspect because books and DDs have constituted the shipments).

That sounded like a good deal to me.  If I can actually rummage through Amazon's full DVD and book library, and then have the accumulated treasures shipped to me in Barra de Navidad, I will be one happy expatriate.

The problem is shipments.  I had the same problem up north.  I am seldom at home when the usual shippers show up.  And there is nowhere to stash a delivery on my stoop here.

So, I raised the question at church yesterday.  Certainly someone must have an idea on how to deal with the absentee owner issue.

I got an even better solution.  Nancy, who owns and runs a hotel on the beach in San Patricio has been receiving shipments from Amazon for years -- mainly books.  Even though she has a hotel with full-time staff, she has all of her packages delivered to her Mexican post box.  At the same post office I use.

With that information in hand, I did a little shopping.  The one limitation on shopping is that the order must exceed $150 (US).  And that is not difficult.  With a DVD set, two separate DVDs, and a hard cover biography, I rang the bell.

According to the confirmation email I just received, my new goodies should arrive at my post box between 6 July and 9 July.  There was a small ($17.95 -- US) charge for shipping.  Otherwise, I paid the same price a shopper in Des Moines would pay to get the same merchandise.

At least, that is the advertised drill.

Did I need any of the items I ordered?  Not really.  But they will certainly be used -- and they are materials I have thought of buying in the past.  Most importantly, it is far less intrusive than asking friends returning from The States to reduce themselves to mules.

I put this in the investigative journalism basket.  I shall share how the process works.  Frankly, the weakest link appears to be the involvement of the local post office.  I love the service my post office provides me.  But there have been some rather odd temporal lapses lately.

But you will be the first to know.  Just don't press me on the accuracy of those early July dates.  I am going to cut Amazon a bit of slack, as well.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

my friend janet

This time the news came suddenly and unexpectedly. 

My friend, Janet Meloy Freiling, has been fighting cancer for some time.  We all knew the chances were that it would take her life.  But we did not know how quickly it would happen.

She faithfully posted on Facebook about her tests and treatments.  So, I was not too surprised when she matter-of-factly checked into the hospital on 3 June for "a partial bowel blockage" -- in Janet's always blunt and accurate reporting.

Over the next few days, she kept us informed that nothing seemed to be changing.  Other than the fact that she was very tired.  In the midst of all that, she took time to praise the jewel of her and her husband's life -- her daughter, Caroline.

On Thursday, I received a Facebook message from Kelly Fuller (a mutual friend) informing me that Janet's condition had seriously worsened, and she was slipping fast.  It did not seem possible that death could intrude that quickly.

I have known Janet and her husband, Steve, since the 1980s.  Politics was our meeting ground during those heady days when we made the fundamental error that life could be made better through political organization.

We were young -- both of them younger than I.  We were balls of energy.

Especially, Janet.  She had to be one of the most optimistic people I have ever met.  In political meetings, where the worst sides of people inevitably emerge, her smile and joy of life were always a rallying point for those of us who considered politics a joyous crusade rather than a battlefield to leave the wounded to deal with their own fate.

That is not to say that she was not capable of moral dudgeon.  Her Irish blood would rise whenever she encountered injustice or boorishness on the part of people she opposed -- or, for that matter, supported.

When I ran for the legislature in 1988, Janet and Steve supported my opponent in the primary.  When I won that battle, they were there beside me in the general election.

And it was the start of a great friendship.  For several years, we would share dinners and telephone calls to keep up with our respective lives.  And, of course, there were the recurring political meetings.

They were dog people.  Janet was raised around Labradors, and shared a lot of hunting tales with me.  My life with Professor Jiggs (my golden retriever) sprang from those roots.

At that point, their dog was Winston.  Whenever we would let the dogs get together for a play date, they would have a grand time -- as would we.  One evening, while we headed off to dinner in Salem, we put the dogs in my basement. 

When we returned, we learned why most people do not own two dogs.  Being bored, they decided to strip off the hot water tank insulation.

But Winston was soon to take second seat to a new family member.  Caroline, their daughter, completely changed their lives.  I remember the day they told me she was on the way.  We were at dinner.  I have never seen such joy.

And that joy has continued all these years.  I have followed Caroline's life at some distance.  But Janet's Facebook postings have kept me in their lives -- even though I now live far away from their home.

Kelly notified me yesterday evening that she died just minutes before.  "
She was with a room full of family and us, and passed peacefully."

The driving force in Janet's life was her Christian faith.  It is where she found her joy of life and her unending ability to share it with us.

Anne Lamott once wrote: "[A] basic tenet of the Christian faith is that death is really just a major change of address."  In our faith, we believe that death is merely a continuation of life.  That, through death, we enter into the presence of our creator.

In that we take comfort.

Even so, I am going to miss you, Janet. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

who wants to be a millionaire?

Hankering to be a millionaire?  Move to India.

At least, that is what you would believe if you listened to recent stories in the popular press.  Once again lazy reporters have misled us.  It turns out the rub is in that term "millionaire." 

But I will come back to that.  Let's look at some numbers.

Each year, the consultancy of
Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management releases its "World Wealth" report.  According to the 2015 edition, the subcontinent's contingent of "millionaires" increased by 26% -- faster than any other nation last year.

Even so, the number was relatively small for the nation with the second largest population.  In raw numbers, its 198,000 millionaires rank just above the Netherlands's 190,000 and barely below Italy's 219,000.

The big winners in the worldwide sweepstakes?  You already know the first.  The United States, of course, with 4,351,000.  Rounding out the top four are: Japan (2,452,000), Germany (1,141,000), and China (890,000).  Those four countries contain 60.3% of the world's millionaires.

As a side note, Mexico with 125,000 is 21st on the list -- below Norway (127,000) and tied with Taiwan (125,000).

The Mexico number is what caught my eye.  I know people living in Mexico whose net value exceeds one million dollars.  People with assets in Mexico who are not Mexican citizens. 

Where are they counted?  And just how would a consultancy be able to gather reliable numbers on the large number of people who hold assets throughout the world?  What is the consultancy's methodology?

A closer look at the report answered my first question.  I use the term "millionaire" to mean a person's total assets (everything they own) exceed one million US dollars.

At least I was correct in using US dollars.  That is the standard for international comparisons of wealth.  Where I went wrong was believing that all assets are included in the equation to determine who is a millionaire.

They are not.  The report uses a different concept: HNWI -- which sounds a lot like the cable that goes from my Blu-ray player to my television.

HNWI stands for high net worth individual.  That is how the consultancy uses the term "millionaire."  But the one million US dollars, to qualify for that designation, must be available for investment.  And it does not include the value of a primary residence.

The popular press failed to note that distinction in any of the stories I read in the newspapers I read online.  But that is what come from reporters writing about topics on which they have little background.  (I am far to aware of that failing in my own writing.)

Stripping out the primary residence dumps most of the people I know out of the list.  It does not matter whether the consultancy is measuring their assets because they simply are not candidates for inclusion.

I am not one of the elite -- either in The States or in Mexico.  But I suspect I am just as fulfilled as most of the people on the list.

As I write this piece, I am sitting in my courtyard enjoying the warmth of the day, the breeze rustling high in the palms, and listening to the inevitable rooster in the distance crowing his defiance that wealth does not matter at all when you have found peace and joy.

Friday, June 19, 2015

what happened to carlos?

What kind of writer am I?

I had a story right under my nose the day before yesterday (a story that you have shown interest in and I have access to the facts), and I let it pass by unnoticed.  Well, I am about to fix that.

As happens with 95% of the hurricanes and tropical storms that come our way each summer season, Carlos was exactly what all of my Mexican neighbors said it would be: a rain storm.  And I was not surprised.

Our large storms usually form this time of year in the Gulf of  Tehuantepec, off of the coast of southern Mexico.  Because of prevailing weather patterns and the effect of the rotation of the earth, the storms usually take a northwestern route.  Because of the horizontal slant of the Mexican coast, that means the storms often stay off the coast of Mexico before veering out over the Pacific.

Not always.  Sometimes they head inland.  Poor Acapulco has suffered that variation several times.  And the storms that miss the mainland often hit Baja California.

Carlos stayed true to form.  The storm did hit landfall around Melaque early Tuesday morning.  By then, it was decreasing in velocity almost below tropical storm stage.  By the time it got to Puerto Vallarta, it was a depression.

I got up early that morning (very early, for me) to watch the rain.  It was more intense than an Oregon rainstorm: I have heard estimates varying as high as 6 inches. 

I usually rely on a local weather station on the beach in Villa Obregon.  The report from there was 3.2 inches of rain with the highest wind gust of 30 MPH at 4:00 AM.

The street in front of my house floods (or turns into a stream bed) during our heavy rains.  All I had were large puddles.  So, I am inclined to accept the 3 inch report.

But not everyone was so lucky.  Along with others, I have been assisting a Mexican family (a father and three young children) in Pinal Villa, a small village just over a mile off of the main highway.  Economically, it is years away from Melaque.

Their house is made of sticks, mud, and visqueen.  Some benefactors recently built a concrete bathroom next to the house.  But, just before Carlos arrived, the house effectively collapsed.  The plan was to rebuild the place, but it could not be done before the storm hit.

For some unexplained reason (and no one really knows why), Pinal Villa (along with a large area northeast of Barra de Navidad) has been covered with flowing water.  This was during the dry season.  I was concerned what the rain from Carlos would do to the family.

My concerns were well-founded.  I bought some chicken meals for the family and headed out to Pinal Villa from Melaque.  I was shocked at the condition of the roads.  They were stream beds.  Flowing stream beds.  Twice my Escape was temporarily stuck in the sand at the bottom of the water.*

If I had not been on a specific mission, I would have turned back.  But it was the impassibility of the roads that assured me I needed to press on.  If I was having trouble getting in, there was little possibility that the family could get out on foot.

I had to park about a block away from the house.  At first, the father was a bit wary of what I was doing there.  One of the girls recognized me, though.  And the food resolved any language barriers.

A chicken will not resolve their situation.  As I wrote, there are plans to repair the house.  I need to check on when that will happen.  And I know more food will be made available.

But all of that is a start.  As I drove away from the house, I thought of Mother Teresa's statement -- one that I keep repeating at moments like this: "God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful."  To be faithful, we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty.

What I did is not to be lauded.  After all, I was able to drive away.  The family is stuck there.

* -- I was so intent on my driving that I failed to take any photographs of the road conditions.  If you are interested, take a look at Melaque on the Costalegre.  Sparks has posted a photograph of the beginning portion of the flood run to Pinal Villa.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

palming the truth

Two weeks ago, in to bee or not to bee, I shared a photograph and tale about one of the palm trees in my courtyard.

It was in bloom -- and the bees loved it.  But after an hour on the internet, I had no idea of its identity.

So, I turned to the cleverest people I know.  My readers.  And you provided a list of possibilities.  Starting with dates.

Well, it is not a date tree.  The trunk and the fronds are distinctly non-datelike.  And the fruit is not a date.

Like most trees that produce fruit, I decided to wait and see how the flowers developed.  It did not take long.  Within ten days of flowering the fruit had completely set.  And within two days, they had fallen from the former flower spike.

They appear to be a form of nut or seed -- far smaller than I thought they would be, but they are in proportion to the size of the flowers.  They almost look like ultra-miniature coconuts.

Whatever they are, they are everywhere.  Being round, they are a perfect shape for wind distribution.  The wind from Carlos yesterday morning moved them around in the courtyard.  But so did the rain water.  If the palm had been in a field, its potential children would have fallen far from the palm.

But, even after seeing the fruit, I am no closer to identifying the palm.  I remember one of the waiters at Rooster's commenting, when he first smelled real maple syrup, that it reminded him of the seed from a native Mexican palm.  I wonder if that is our unidentified tree?

Some of you had an earlier opinion.  After seeing the palm's fruit, does it prove your theory -- or do you have another guess?

An expatriate friend knows a local biologist who may be able to act as our final judge.  But, for now, the floor is yours.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

calm before the storm

OK.  It is probably the worst of cliches.

But, at some point, that observation was original.  Probably even poignant.  In my case, though, I am not certain it is accurate.

Last evening was certainly calm.  No doubt about that.  The waves that hurricane Blanca spawned here (and took four lives days after the storm itself had passed) have once again smoothed out.

When I returned from my Manzanillo tooth cleaning, I had an invitation in my inbox.  The architect with whom I have been sharing some furniture design ideas told me his wife was preparing a pozole dinner, and I was invited.

I responded immediately.  I love pozole.  And the guest list sounded intriguing.  I am always up for meeting new people -- and eating good food.

It was a practically perfect evening.  Irma's pozole was easily one of the best I have eaten.  She prepared a very piquante salsa that was the perfect complement to the chilies in the pozole.

And the company was every bit as good.  Thirteen of us.  Some whom I have known since I arrived in the area.  Others who I had met recently.  And four who were completely new to me.

The setting could not have been better.  Most of us thought by now we would have seen what Villa Obregon looks like following a storm.

As I write this at 4:00 AM, Carlos has reduced itself to a tropical storm.  It is now dumping a good deal of rain of rain on us.  Enough rain that the drainage system in my courtyard is not keeping up with the downpour.  But that is normal for heavy rain in these parts.

I am not complaining.  After all, I got a great bowl of pozole out of the bargain.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

google yourself

I am rather old school when it comes to current fads.  The use of "old school" in that sentence is proof enough of my condition.

Plenty of cultural fads pop up either in my inbox or on Facebook.  Most of them involve activities that hold very little interest for me.  You know them.  There is little need for me to list mine.

For a couple of months now, I have avoided joining the "Google yourself" crowd.  I knew the world had become narcissistic, but I have no idea how far the affliction had advanced.  I had hoped it would stop with omnipresent selfies.

No such luck.  I am not certain where I first heard of "Google yourself" -- the act of entering your name in Google and being amazed at all the sites that are aware of your existence.

What broke down my resistance was a fellow blogger who was surprised to see what other people were saying about her away from her blog.  So, I said: "Why not?"  I suspected nothing would come of the search, but what harm could there be?

If you are now expecting the remainder of this essay to be about the "harm" that inevitably came from my jaunt into "me" land, you are going to be disappointed.  I was correct.  There was no harm.  But I did run across some interesting information about myself of which I had no memory.

I first tried entering "Steve Cotton."  And I gt exactly what I expected.  A link to Mexpatriate and to my pages on LinkedIn and Facebook.  Hardly earth-shattering.

I also learned I share the same name with a radio broadcaster, the president of a watchmaking company, a "multiplayer environment artist," and a New Zealand yacht racer.  But nothing more about this Steve Cotton. 

I thought it a bit odd.  After all, I have been around for longer than Mexpatriate.

So, I entered my full name.  I didn't expect much.  I had killed that name in 1988 when I ran for the state legislature under the streamlined "Steve Cotton" brand.

I was wrong.  My legal career came tumbling out onto the screen.  As I said earlier, I had completely forgotten about each of them.

Legal careers tend to live on in appellate decisions.  And that is what I found.

In 1988, I represented a fellow by the name of Doyle Boswell.  He had been convicted of unauthorized use of a vehicle by a jury after choosing to represent himself.  After looking at the court record, I concluded that the judge erred in allowing Mr. Boswell to represent himself without first finding that he had intelligently and competently waived his right to counsel.

Those "procedural" errors matter.  They are the very basis of how our Constitution works.  In this case, the Court of Appeals agreed the record did not show a valid waiver.  As a result, the conviction was reversed, and the court sent the case back to the trial court to allow the district attorney to determine whether or not to proceed to a new trial.

And, because I do not remember this case, I cannot finish the story for you.  I have no idea how Mr. Boswell fared after this victory.

That same year (1988), I represented Kerry Barker before the Oregon Court of Appeals.  He had been convicted of recklessly endangering another person, and unlawful possession of a weapon by a judge after waiving his right to a jury trial.  The judge had failed to have Mr. Barker execute a written waiver of his constitutional right to a jury trial.  Without that waiver, the conviction was unlawful.

The Court of Appeals agreed.  Mr. Barker's conviction was reversed, and his case was remanded for a new trial.  And, just like Mr. Boswell, I have no idea what eventually happened to Mr. Barker.  That is often the fate of the appellate attorney.  We see our clients for only a brief moment during their contact with he judicial system.

Even though there were other cases, I decided to stop at the third -- a 1992 case when I was a workers' compensation appellate attorney rather than acting as a criminal defense attorney.

In 1990, the Oregon legislature reformed a large portion of the state's workers' compensation laws.  The prior law was a terrible system -- premiums were some of the highest in the nation, and injured workers received some of the lowest benefits nationally.

This case involved one of those changes.  The injured worker's temporary total disability benefits were unilaterally terminated by the employer when the worker was released to work.  Under prior law, benefits could be determined only upon a finding that the worker's condition was medically stationary.

This time, I represented the employer.  The Court of Appeals agreed that the new law had changed the playing field.  A medical release to regular or modified work was a sufficient basis to terminate benefits.

It is simply a coincidence that the first three appellate decisions were wins.  I had plenty of losses.  But, what amazes me is that these cases were the center of my professional life.  I no longer even recognize them.  That is probably a healthy sign for a pensioner.

But I cannot let one more link pass without mention.  It is not even a link to me.  The link is to announcement of the people who passed the Oregon bar examination in July 2008.  One of them is "Sara Cotton" -- my nephew's wife. 

We are extremely proud of her.  I have no doubt that when she Googles herself in a few years, she will see a lot of her career out there on the internet.

Now that I have done it, "Steve Cotton" and Google will be strangers.

Monday, June 15, 2015

little brown church in the wildwood

I must have been in high school when my family started attending Crystal Lake Church. 

The church had a log cabin feel to it.  Hewn-log exterior.  Knotty pine interior.  It looked as if it had just stepped out of a holler in Tennessee.*

Not surprisingly, the congregation's theme song (sung every Sunday morning) was "Church in the Wildwood."  It opened the weekly live radio broadcast of our services. 

The congregation was small.  But we cared for one another's needs.

I thought of that little church yesterday morning during our service under our palapa in Melaque -- our own little brown church in the wildwood.  Church attendance varies between the summer and winter. 

When the tourists are in town, our attendance soars well over a hundred.  In the summer, there are only a few expatriates in town, and have an occasional visitor from up north.  Yesterday we had six people.

For the past few weeks, we have been studying one of those Christian disciplines that we often neglect -- prayer.  A discipline that is often neglected as much as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, inviting the alien in, clothing the naked, tending the ill, and visiting the prisoner.**  We have been using Philip Yancey's book on the topic as a jumping off point for our discussions and Bible study.

As much as I enjoy our Sunday services in the winter, our discussions in the summer mean a lot to me.  The group is small enough that we can share practical lessons with one another -- the type of hints that enriches our prayer lives.  And we share our hurts -- some of which are heart-rending.

When I leave our group on Sundays, I always feel as if my communication with God is maturing.  After 66 years, it should.  But I also feel closer to the people with whom I share my life.

And we may need to exercise that sharing attitude soon.  When hurricane Blanco blew by here earlier in the month, another disturbance was forming in the Gulf of Tehuantepec.  It has now decided to become Hurricane Carlos.

Well, it was a hurricane, and then it decided to be a tropical storm -- like a transvestite who mixes up costumes at Finnochio's.  The current prediction is that it may increase its wind speed to hurricane levels before it heads north.

All of that would be academic if it were not for the predicted path of the storm.  If you look at the map [double-clicking will increase its size] and find "20" (the 20th latitude), move your finger slightly down the Mexican coast to 19.  That would be me.  And my fellow congregants.  And a group of villages with approximately 8000 or so souls.

Right now, it looks as if Carlos will pass by a bit out to sea.  But it is possible that it will trundle right over the top of us.  If we do not get hurricane winds, we will have high winds.  And rain.  And heavy surf.  And flooding. 

We always get flooding.  We are at the base of a mountain range that has a very active drainage system during these storms.

I am scheduled to be at my dentist's office Tuesday morning for a cleaning.  Carlos may have different plans.  Maybe I will just brush my teeth extra on that day.

Of course, I could pray.  That was the point of this essay, wasn't it?

* -- The land on which the church stood is now an apartment complex.  But the church was not demolished.  It was donated to a congregation, who moved it two miles away.  It is now an Eastern Orthodox church -- Church of the Annunciation.

** -- Matthew 25:34-46

Sunday, June 14, 2015

toeing the line in puerto vallarta

I love driving in Mexico.  Well, almost everywhere in Mexico.

I don't like driving in Puerto Vallarta.  Never have.

My driving experience includes a lot of large cities.  Athens.  Rome.  Paris.  London.  And I rather like the challenges Guadalajara presents.*All of those cities have their challenges to be met and savored.  Successfully threading the needle is about as exhilarating as life can get.

But not Puerto Vallarta.  Driving there is simply a combination of boredom and frustration.

And I am not certain why the place seems to irritate me as much as it does.  The main highway through town is the standard highway construction in large Mexican  cities.  The highway allows traffic to flow easily.  Lateral roads provide access to businesses or space for making left turns.

For some reason, though, I never seem to get the rhythm of crossing from the arterial onto the laterals.  And I do not seem to be the only driver suffering a Gershwin deficiency.  Long lines, waiting to find a break in the lateral traffic, clog the highway. 

On my three-mile drive to Costco yesterday, I saw at least a dozen near collisions.  I may have been responsible for a quarter of them.

Every time I visit the city where I once thought I would retire, I am glad that my eyes were diverted south along the Coastalegre coast.  My blood pressure would have been out of control if I had to constantly deal with the Puerto Vallata traffic.

But the arterial in town is not my greatest driving gripe there.  The only highway that heads north-south along Mexico's coast is Highway 200 -- the highway that runs within tire squeal distance of my house.

Once it leaves the confines of the main city, it mutates from a modern four-lane highway into what looks like a pot-holed country lane.  And that is the pleasant part of the drive.  All traffic heading south is squeezed through this improvised birth canal.

It gets worse.  Once the road twists away from the ocean, it climbs more mountains that Julie Andrews ever dreamt of.

The trick is to maneuver around any slow-moving vehicle (oil tanker, buses of any description, old pickups laden with coconuts or palm frond or old construction material) before the mountain climb.  Otherwise, the trip will average 5 MPH for several miles of highway.  Let me say it again.  In Puerto Vallarta, it is the one and only north-south highway on the coast.

Take a look at the photograph at the top of this essay.  That is the highway.  And that was the lineup in front of me.  There were at least 20 vehicles behind me.

The whole line is led by a dump truck and a front end loader.  We moved so slowly that my speedometer thought we were standing stll.

With a bit of
Sergio Pérezing, I managed to get past the lineup.  Some cars behind me, driven by men with less patience than my own, dared to pass the whole lineup on blind curves.  I did not do that.  On this trip.

Of course, I always manage to get home.  The slowdowns only slightly increase the four-hour trip.

I mentioned Costco earlier.  I stopped by to pick up some more fresh cherries, to buy ham steaks for bean soup, and to take another look at a home theater sectional.  As so often happens at Costco, none of them were in stock. 

As consolation prizes, I bought some printer ink, a bottle of high-quality olive oil, and some turkey slices for sandwiches.  Yeah.  You're right.  They don't qualify even as consolation prizes.

My primary purpose for being in Puerto Vallarta was to drive a friend north to catch a plane.  In turn, Jack showed me a store that custom builds furniture.  Near my Ford dealership.

Who knows?  If I decide what I need to furnish my house, I may have found a new resource.

All in all, the store may have been tradeoff enough to endure Puerto Vallarta.       

* -- Because someone will ask, there are giant cities (such as, Mexico City and Shanghai) where I have not been behind the wheel of a car.  I choose to be driven there.  I suspect some of those mega-cities are just not going to be on my list of challenges.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

finding financial salvation

Yesterday was a good day.  Any day that starts with a free breakfast and a resolution of financial woes cannot turn out too bad.

"Financial woes" may be an overstatement.  Let's just call them "logistical concerns."

Some of you know the background.  Others may not.  Even though I have plowed this field several times, I do not often get an opportunity to play the role of an aggrieved party.  So, I am going to weep once more.

Up until last summer, I thought I had a perfect system to get money to my Banamex account in Mexico.  My defined benefit pensions are generated in The States.  My goal was to have them deposited monthly in a northern bank where I could easily transfer dollars into pesos electronically.

I found a flawless system.  Banamex USA offered free accounts that could easily be attached to my Banamex Mexico account.  With a few quick keystrokes on my computer I could transfer pesos from one account to the other almost instantly.

All of that fell apart in July (the cash window closes).  White House-sponsored legislation (FATCA) went into effect that month.  The stated purpose of the legislation was to track the off-shore income of the wealthy (FATCA, fat cats, get it?) and narcos -- groups that have ready access to sufficient tax lawyers and accountants to make the law meaningless.

The largest effect amongst American expatriates in Mexico was to shut off their dollar transfers.  I was among a large group of people who had to scramble to set up alternatives transfer methods -- including bill payments from accounts that were now dead.

I reverted to my prior system -- an ATM card with my northern bank.  That meant I was restricted in how much I could withdraw daily.  I also started incurring additional bank fees.  I looked at some alternatives (such as a Charles Schwab account), but I decided to stick with a system that was dependent upon me not losing my plastic card.

This morning, a backup program appeared.

We have long had a branch of Intercam in Melaque.  But its services were limited to currency exchange and investments.  And even though Intercam would convert cash from personal checks, it stopped accepting US dollar checks as the result of FATCA.  That is changing.

Intercam is now a bank -- with checking accounts backed up by ATM cards.  And, best of all, Intercam now accepts US dollar checks.

That means I can open an account with a $5,000 (US) initial deposit, and then have access to pesos at Intercam's exchange rate.  I am not yet certain if that exchange rate is better, worse, or the same as I get from the ATM.  That is something I need to investigate.

But this is meant to be a backup (or top-off) system for my northern bank ATM card.  And, for that, it looks like a good solution.

I have also looked at the possibility of having my checks directly deposited to Banamex.  But there are a number of reasons I do not want to do that -- none of them germane to this essay.  If we had a choice of banks here, I might do that.  But we don't.

The bottom line is this: I have an alternative to being a captive of my ATM card.  That alone is a good reason to celebrate -- in Puerto Vallarta, where I am for just one night.

Friday, June 12, 2015

coming home to roost

For those of you who suffer from Tippi Hedren Syndrome, you might want to give Melaque in the evening a miss these days.

During the past two weeks, whenever I leave Banamex or Papa Gallo's in the evening, I am greeted by The Birds.  British regiments do not have as much order as these barn swallows.

This is not the first time I have noticed them -- or written about them (my turn at bat; are your papers in order?)  Barn swallows have been part of my life here since I arrived early in the spring of 2009.

Back then I speculated about where they lived in the winter.  Whether they migrated.  Why they congregated in the evening.

I still do not know the answer to those questions.  Last night, I realized I do not know much about the habits of these birds who have shared living space with me for the past six years.

I know they build their nests and raise their young here.  I assume they also mate here.  And I am far too aware of the messes they create in their nesting areas.  The first house I rented was a veritable swallow commune.

But I am not certain when they arrive in the area.  Or when they leave.

I do not pay that much attention to them.  I do know that when I moved into the new house, there was evidence that swallows had attempted nest-building in the sconces on the upstairs terraces.  But, by October, they were gone.

While watching the perched birds tonight, I realized that I do not often pay attention to details around here.  I can tell you what has happened today or this week.  But, trying to remember what happened last year is futile; those files are inaccessible.

Though I like to think of myself as being logical and scientific, I am not.  Mine is not a long-range vision.  My soul is less scientific than poetic.

And that is good enough for me right now.  The swallows are busy raising families.  Maybe the birds on the wire have not got around to settling down yet to raise wee ones.

I will simply enjoy their acrobatics and be glad they are not sharing my new home with me.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

trading the bitter for the sweet

"Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet."

So said that old sentimentalist Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  But he said a lot of things -- some that led to liberty; more that led to national disasters.

But his little aphorism about patience seems correct to me.  At least, the variety of patience I have developed in Mexico.

By nature, I am not a patient man.  And that impatience has led me down several paths of tears over the years.  Mexico has knocked a lot of the rough edges off of that part of my personality.

Let me give you an example.  I am in search of a notario for a very specific project.  I need some assistance in forming an association.  That will mean plenty of dealings with the Mexican government.  It is not something I can do on my own.

A Mexican acquaintance is assisting me in finding the notario that will meet my needs.  His suggestion was to start with a local notario, even though the reviews of the services provided are not outstanding.

Yesterday morning, I drove to the equivalent of our county seat.  Even though I did not have an appointment, I was hoping for a brief conversation to determine the range of costs for the notario's service.

Apparently, no one else had an appointment, either.  Even though it was late in the morning, the notario had not yet arrived, and the waiting room was half full.  It turned out that none of us had an appointment.  Our names were simply added to a list -- as if we were waiting for late seating at Applebee's.

I did not mind the wait.  I knew no one in the room.  But I soon did.  A room filled with strangers is my natural element.  I soon knew why my fellow waiters were there.

After an hour, though, I was sorry I had not brought my Kindle with me.  But I was surprised how patient I was -- simply waiting and chatting along with everyone else.

After two hours, though, and without anyone having been served in the waiting room, I decided I could return at a later date.  In the past, I would have been muttering when I left.  Yesterday, I simply walked out the door humming.

I am not certain what lesson I learned.  Better planning would not have put me in any different position.  But I will be returning.  After all, the project has not gone away.

To top off the day, I joined Gary and Joyce (the owners of Rooster's and Papa Gallo's) along with one of their managers on a busman's holiday to La Manzanilla.  Even though I had just been at Magnolia's on Monday, we thought it would be great fun to have dinner there.

And good it was.  This time I tried the Steak Alex -- a grilled peppercorn flap steak with gorgonzola butter and a balsamic drizzle.  It was a home run.

Out table discussion was what makes Magnolia's a special place to eat.  The ambiance, of course, is a big draw.  But Alex and Leia have a flair for putting together creative combinations of dishes evidencing their knowledge of building on food tastes.  Their dinners and deserts are consistently superb.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention the fellow diners that hang out there.  I have come to know some of them quite well -- and primarily through the restaurant's dining room.  That is quite a compliment to any eatery.

And how does that relate to patience?  Well, I guess it doesn't.  But it certainly relates back to eating Rousseau's fruit.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

stop the clock

Or should that be: "Re-start the clock?"

Since I returned from my China trip, I have repeatedly told you I intend to stay inside the border of Mexico for the next two years.  All of that has to do with my desire to obtain Mexican citizenship.

The two years of internal exile is actually one I have imposed on myself.  The official requirement is that people who apply for citizenship are allowed to leave the country a limited number of days two years before applying for citizenship.  If any of those days are spent outside of the country, the applicant has to submit a certified letter explaining the absences.

I decided it would be far easier to simply have zero absences to explain.  Thus, the two year stay-in-place rule. 

And that did not bother me.  There are plenty of places for me to visit within Mexico.  I certainly discovered that with Dan and Patty this past January on our trip through southern Mexico.  And there are all of those upcoming furniture-purchasing trips to Guadalajara, Pubela, and Mexico City.

It turns out I may have started my two-year clock a bit prematurely, though.

One of Mexico's government sites gave me the impression I could use all of my time in Mexico to satisfy the five-year residency requirement.  When I moved to Mexico, there were two types of residential visas: FM2 and FM3.  The FM2 was designed for people who had an interest in citizenship.

There were some advantages for me in having an FM3 visa -- the most obvious one being that I could keep my Oregon-plated vehicle in Mexico.  And, at the time, I had not yet decided to become a Mexican citizen.

Just over two years ago, the FM2 and FM3 visa system was abolished.  On 25 March 2013, I converted my FM3 visa to a permanent resident card.  (In a sardonic international twist, the card is green.)

I give you the back story because that brings us to that government site I initially used to establish my steps to citizenship.  The site clearly states that an applicant must have been a resident of Mexico with a certain type of visa for 5 years prior to applying.

On my first reading, it appeared that the time spent on an FM3 visa would now count toward the five years.  If that was a correct reading, I would have qualified to apply for citizenship in April of last year.

It turns out my reading was incorrect.  I have found other sites that clearly restrict the five-year requirement to time with a former FM2 visa and the current permanent resident card.  I suspect the government's attempt to be a bit too lawyerly led to my confusion.  That failing is familiar to me.

If I cannot use my FM3 time, I will not qualify to apply for citizenship until 25 March 2018 -- and my two-year in-place requirement will not start until 24 March 2016.  A full nine months from now.

That recalculation also means my travel plans can be a bit more flexible than I originally planned.  Our local travel group, Mex-eco Tours, is putting together a Guatemala tour in early 2016.  I thought I would be precluded from participating.  I can now go.

When I bought the house, I decided I was going to drive to Oregon this summer to retrieve a few boxes of books and household goods that I had left at my brother's and my mother's houses.  They are not much.  But the books would be a rather classy touch to help decorate the new house.  It will also be another opportunity to tempt my brother into another road trip.

I am disappointed that I will now be drawing very near to 70 when I become a Mexican citizen.  But re-setting the clock will give me some freedom to enjoy life in a different way than I had planned.

And that will be just fine.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

nailed in the road

Yesterday evening was supposed to be a festive evening.  And it was.

Roxane, Ed, and I decided to drive over to La Manzanilla to help the co-owner of Magnolia -- one of my favorite restaurants in the area -- celebrate her birthday.  Let me quell the suspense by telling you that Alex the birthday girl produced a meal we raved about on the drive home.  My chicken piccata was delicious, as was Roxane and Ed's tuna.

It was the ride over that started out just a bit off.  I had given myself plenty of time to drive over to Villa Obregon to pick up the Gilliams.

Or so I thought.  I am not certain if it was the heat -- or what.  But I locked and unlocked the front door three times.  Each time thinking I had locked the door when I had actually unlocked it.  Maybe I was auditioning for the lead in Rain Man.

That put me a little behind schedule.  Then, from the moment I pulled away from the house until I arrived at Ed's place, I ended up behind a series of the slowest drivers in Mexico.  It was almost as if someone was telling me to slow down.

And someone needed to.  When I got in the car, I was so fixated with my front door lock obsession that I did not notice one of the handy warning lights Ford was good enough to add to my dashboard.  In this case, it was the tire low pressure light.

Sure enough.  My right rear tire was seriously deflated.  Not quite as bad as the Japanese economy.  But it was down.

I told Ed and Roxane I would take the Escape to my tire guy in Jaluco after I stopped at the Pemex station.  They decided to follow me in their car -- just in case. 

This is the third tire on the Escape that has suffered a puncture wound.  So, I know the drill.  I backed into the tire shop to allow easy access to the tire -- and pulled out the lug lock tool from my glove compartment.

Up went the car on one of those portable lifts that are no longer as common as they were when I was a lad in Powers.  But there is no need for fancy technology for something as simple as a flat tire.

The fellow who repaired my tire last time was not there.  But my new acquaintance was every bit as efficient.

After the tire came off, he took it for a quick dip in the tire bath.  A quick rotation found the culprit with the telltale stream of Jacques Cousteau bubbles.

Out came the tire.  You can see the culprit at the top of this essay.  A nail.  Obviously pulled out of a board and discarded where an unwary Gringo could drive over it. 

That bend was at a perfect angle to embed it into what was one of my two undamaged tires.  Then, there was one.

Roxane asked an interesting question.  If I had been in Salem at this time of night, could I have found anything open to help me?  I am not certain.  I do know, though, that finding service in Mexico is rather simple.

In this case, I used 10 minutes of my time and spent $50 Mx ($3.20 US) to be on my way to La Manzanilla for dinner at Magnolia.  But you already know we had a pleasant evening.

Some people ask me why I live in Mexico.  Last evening was about as good an answer as I can provide.

By the way, happy birthday, Alex.