Sunday, August 30, 2015

tanned, rested, and -- resting some more

I had intended to post some observations conerning my hospital stay.  But circumstances have intervened.

The doctor removed my bandage this afternoon.  The good news is the swelling and redness are receding.  That means something is working.

There is a good deal of uncertainty of what caused the condition.  My white blood cell count is not elevated.  It should be if I have cellulitus -- even though all of my other symptoms are consistent with that diagnosis.

The doctor offered the postulate of an insect bite.  However, there is no obvious toxin ring anywhere on my leg or foot.

Whatever is causing the condition, the combination of anti-inflammatories and antibiotic cocktails seems to be working.  Slowly.  I add that "slowly" because the doctor suggested I may need several more days of hospital rest to fight off the remnants of the condition.

Amazingly, I am not yet bored.  But I am tired.  I have been sleeping rather than reading.  As a result, I have not been able to answer all of the very kind emails and comments you have been sending.  An opening for correspondence assistant needs to be posted. 

Thanks for all of them.  Please do not feel slighted if I do not respond within the coming week.  I will get around to them soon.

Right now, though, I intend to nap.  The joys and woes of hospital life can wait for another day.

And appears I will have that day -- and more.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


Just a quick note.

I am off to the hospital to kick this infection. To no one's surprise (including my own), I have proven to be constitutionally unable to stay in bed if left alone.  I have the discipline of a golden retriever puppy.

My hope is that the antibiotics delivered by IV will work far better than the tablets and injections. We can debate whether I made the correct service choice when I am discharged.

The prospect of being bound by IVs to a bed for longer than 20 minutes has already made me bored and claustrophobic.  I am taking reading material.  But the moment I get bored, I can't read.  I call it my Airplane Syndrome.

I would be the world's most ungrateful person if I did not tell you how much I have appreciated your input. And I promise, we will all soon get off of this boring topic of Steve's health. And get back to interesting subjects -- like the most amazing sighting I had in my courtyard this week.

See you on the other side. I am assuming the hospital will be without internet.

Friday, August 28, 2015

my left foot

OK, class.  Take out your medical diagnosis etch-a-sketches and give them several sharp shakes.

Make certain you have removed all prior diagnoses of dengue fever, typhus, or chinkunguya.  Steve has none of those.

After my temporary doctor took a look at my foot yesterday, he knew why the blood test results were so anomalous for dengue fever.  I simply did not have it.  But the symptoms I had -- symptoms associated with dengue fever -- (chills, fever, joint pain, shaking) are
the same symptoms of another common local condition.  Erysipelas.

Those of you who are classically trained in Greek already have an idea what the term means.  I had to look it up.  (After all, I am a Latin grammar school boy.)  It means "red skin."

I guess that describes the condition.  With subtle understatement.  It is a streptococcus-caused infection.  The bacteria are ubiquitous here.  All they need is a cut or abrasion to get inside the skin to set up housekeeping.

The result is a brief 24 to 48 hour display of the symptoms we have already discussed.  The infection then spreads rapidly.  That is why I woke up on Wednesday with no more "dengue," but with my new foot condition.  It turns out there is no new condition; it is only one problem.  Erysipelas.

The doctor started me on the correct treatment regimen on Wednesday.  Large doses of clindamycin
plus an anti-inflammatory.  One benefit of all these other medications is that I do not need my blood pressure medicine.  My pressure has dropped since the condition took up residence on Tuesday.

The remainder of the treatment plan is up to me.  Rest.  Elevate my foot (of course, it is not elevated right now as I type).  And probably a couple of other things I have forgotten.  Everything I have read says the rash condition can last two to three weeks.

I head to the doctor's office later this morning to get the third of my antibiotic injections.  On Monday, the doctor will request further tests, if necessary.

Several of you have raised the possibility that I should get a second medical opinion.  (Yes.  I know, for some of you, that sentence suffers from euphemistic editing.)  I very well may do that.  After all, I have become rather fond of my left foot.  Well, as fond as I am of the rest of me.

My return to blogging has taken an odd turn.  When Jiggs was dying, I promised this was not a medical bulletin site.  I hope I don't run the risk of turning it into one.

As for those etch-a-sketches, just put them on your desks.  We may need them again.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

best-laid plans

Yesterday Cat asked: "Okay Steve, this is one of those issues that does not require a long, four hour compilation essay, but I have been wondering how that blister on your foot is doing?"

I just saw her comment today.  And that is the theme of this short essay.

When I left the daily-posting ring, I had two projects in mind: to get regular exercise and to get serious about learning Spanish.  My friend Leo was the impetus for the exercise program.  During one of our conversations he said, "Life is divided into five year segments.  And the next five years will be the best years of the rest of your life."

I am not certain I agree with the predicate, but the sentiment embedded in the second sentence appealed to my hedonistic nature.  So, I joined him on his 4-mile morning walks on the last two days he was here.  And I really enjoyed myself: walking was my primary mode of transportation when I first arrived in Mexico.

If  you read the comments on my last essay, you know I developed a very nasty blister on the ball of my left foot during one of those walks.  The cause?  Probably improperly tied laces.  But we will leave the tale of the blistered foot for a moment.

Monday night I went to bed feeling quite normal.  In the early morning, I started shivering with one of the worst sets of chills I had ever experienced.  And my mind was stuck on one of those thought loops that keep me from sleep.  I kept thinking: "I am parking a car in Canada where there are two spaces; in Mexico there would be three" over and over.

That was tied to a very bad headache.  None of that worried me too much until I started having sharp chest pains.  As far as I knew, I was having a heart attack.

I called a taxi and went to a local clinic.  I woke up on Tuesday morning with all of my joints hurting.

After a blood test, my temporary doctor (my treating physician is in Canada until winter) diagnosed either dengue fever, typhus, or
chinkunguya.  He would not know until I return after another blood test at the end of the week. 

Whatever it was, I had no strength; walking was difficult.  I could not eat.  I could not even drink water.  All he could offer was a bushel of drugs -- and sleep.

When I woke up this morning, I felt amazingly well.  No headache.  No chills.  No pain in my joints.

Well, that is not quite true.  When I flexed my left ankle, there was a stabbing pain.  The foot was swollen and red.  The discoloration went half-way up my calf.

To answer Cat's question, the source of trouble was the blister on the bottom of my left foot.  I have kept it clean and anointed with an antibiotic ointment.  But that was not good enough.

I am now back home after an antibiotic injection (with two more daily shots on the way) and more tablets.  (I had Air Force friends who went through less treatment for their social meanderings.)

So, that's the long answer to the question of what has become of my blister.  And as for my Spanish lessons, the answer is the same.  I have been off of my reading schedule since Saturday.

When I have something more positive to report, I will be back.  Until then, I am going to get some rest.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

toying with the story

OK.  I know I am going to be accused of playing with my food, but I need to explain a few things about yesterday's announcement that Mexpatriate was closing down.

The tone was a bit ambiguous.  It needed to be that way.  But, in doing that, I unintentionally created worries where none need be.

I do not have a life-threatening disease.  Re-reading the announcement, I can see how I may have created that impression.  I actually feel quite good.

But that answer begs the question, doesn't it?  At least, it avoids the real question: an explanation why I am doing what I am doing.

The answer is quite simple.  I regularly spend four hours each day working on my essays.  It is a lot of time I could use for other purposes.  And I have two in mind.

First, I need to start getting serious about Spanish.  Almost everyone who visits me is appalled at how little Spanish I speak.  Leo being the most recent.  They are correct.  I have been getting by by getting by.

I will need to speak Spanish fluently to attain Mexican citizenship.  And to do that, I am going to start dedicating time each day for academic studies, and then applying it on my regular walks through town.

"Regular walks through town" sums up my second project.  When I moved to Mexico, I cooked healthy meals for myself -- and I walked everywhere.  When I moved to Barra de Navidad, I started eating only in restaurants after driving there.  I have paid the price for that.

I have joined Leo on his 4-mile morning walks.  Barra de Navidad has a spiffy walkway just perfect for that task.  My idea is to walk to the fitness club (just off of the walkway), ride the exercise bike there, and then walk back to the house.  Daily.  That should eat up almost all of the time I once devoted to writing my essays.

There was another factor.  But it is personal, and there is nothing to be gained by discussing its details.  Just trust me.

I have truly appreciated your comments.  And it has caused me to re-assess whether going cold turkey is the answer.  I know several bloggers who publish on an irregular basis -- or on a limited schedule. 

Here is what I would like to try.  I am going to keep accumulating writing material.  From time to time, I will publish an essay.  Maybe it will be on a regular schedule.  Maybe sporadically.

But watch this space.  A slimmer Steve and a slimmer Mexpatriate may work out just right.

Friday, August 21, 2015


Everything has a season.

So says The Preacher.  And it is true of most things -- even blogs.

I started writing this compilation of essays in December 2007 after a brief visit to La Manzanilla in an effort to develop plans for retirement in Mexico.  I wrote about those plans and my move south with my faithful companion Professor Jiggs.  And you know most of the rest of the story.

The blog has gone through name and format changes.  And it will now go through another major change.

Our lives change.  And I have certain events in my life recently that have convinced it is time to shut down Mexpatriate to allow me to pursue other endeavors.

It has been a fun ride.  For all of you lovely readers out there in the dark who have been reading my work, I thank you.  For those who have ventured to write comments, I thank you for the conversations.

But everything must end.  And this is where it does.


pooling my lights

Any good story should have suspense and conflict.

However, modern television and movies seem to have ripped both elements from their story-telling.  So, shall I.

As you can see by the photograph, both lights in the pool are now operating.  That is the first time I have seen the pool fully lit.  As I was cropping the photograph, it occurred to me why it looks vaguely familiar. 

Te lit-up pool has characteristics similar to those memorial fountains found in medium-sized Western cities.  If I turned on the water feature, all of the elements would be there.

I should have lit up the full house -- on both floors -- to give you an idea how creative the architect was in her use of light in combination with the lines of the house.  Night-time here can be a visual feast.  But that can wait for a future essay.

I wanted to be here when the pool guys showed up yesterday.  When we left on sme errands, I left the repaired lights sitting on the edge of the pool.

Watching the re-installation would have been fun.  But knowing how electrical connections are often accomplished here, I may be just as glad to have missed it.

Instead, Leo volunteered to be the guinea pig in entering the water first.  He survived.  As did our friendship.

Now, I can share my pool with guests -- a lit pool that will be certain to attract every mosquito in the barrio.  But it will certainly be pretty.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

with crocodile you get egg roll

My guests always enjoy breakfast at Banana's in Barra de Navidad.

The food is interesting.  But the view of the bay is stunning.  Especially, on a clear day like yesterday. 

Perhaps too stunning.  I got so caught up in looking at the ocean and conversing with Leo that I forgot to shoot what had us so interested.  The photograph at the top of this essay is not Barra de Navidad.  It is La Manzanilla.

When we visited on La Manzanilla on Monday, I proudly showed Leo the main attraction of the village -- its collection of large crocodiles.  The ejido created an enclosure several years ago to keep the crocodiles from wandering the streets. 

It also built a pathway half way around the mangrove swamp -- and, just recently, a new walkway was completed to close the circuit.  We didn't have time to walk the entire loop on Monday, but we did yesterday.

If you are looking for crocodiles, there is no need to pay the 25 peso entry fee.  You can see the crocodiles congregate around the entry point waiting to be fed -- as if they were Costco shoppers crowding around the free sample demonstrators.

But if you would like to see the complexity of a mangrove swamp, the walk is a good introduction.  Red and white mangroves.  Crabs.  Small fish.  Plenty of birds.  Termite nests.  And, my favorite: two suspension bridges that are just flimsy enough to make you believe that it is possible to star in an Indiana Jones catastrophe.

Having spent the day pretending we were once again 8-years old (that would be difficult because I did not know Leo when he was 8), we headed over to one of my favorite classy dining places: Magnolia's.  In La Manzanilla. 

I have told you about Alex's restaurant several times.  Her summer menu offers three choices (a meat, chicken, or fish) for that week only.  Next week, it is always something new.

I primarily like her food because she cajoles the diner into new experiences in learning to appreciate her layers of flavors.  Not to mention the fact that Alex, Leia, and Will always put on a class social act.  They make me feel as if I am coming home for dinner.

Yesterday was no exception.  I had medallions of pork in a curry blueberry sauce.  See what I mean?  The combination is not instinctive, but it was perfection.  True cooking skills are required to pull it off.

On the way home, Leo and I stopped at the shop to see if the lights were ready to be re-installed in the pool.  They were -- and are.  The repair cost was a bit more than I expected.  We will see later today how the re-fitting turned out.

The best thing about the day was that Leo enjoyed every moment of it.  Breakfast in Barra de Navid.  Viewing the bay from the viewpoint above Melaque.  Hunting for crocodile.  Eating an incredibly good dinner.  Even picking up the repaired lights.  As you can see, neither of us are hard to entertain.

I am going to miss him when he leaves on Saturday.  We have shared some mundane activities, but all of them have had an exotic twist.

But, as is true with all good friends, it is not the circumstances that make the day.  It is the relationship.

At least, that is what I once read in a fortune cookie.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

trouble in the cement pond

My lights have gone out.

The swimming pool at my house has two underwater lights.  When I moved in, only one was operating.  No matter which switch I tripped, I brought only darkness into the world.  With its one-light effect, my pool looked a bit like the Hathaway shirt man.

This week it went totally blind.  The second light stopped working.

I have told you enough of my handyman skills to let you make your own judgment what my first action was. 

If you think I called the pool man, you are wrong.  First, I traced the wiring to see how difficult replacing the lights would be.

The answer is "very."  The light fixtures are hung in the pool on plastic stays.  The wire to the fixture passes through a hole drilled in the side of the pool and ends up at a transformer box that switches the lights on and off.  In my case, the box did nothing.

I remembered that the former owner told me the fixtures had to be taken above water where they could be opened and the bulb replaced.  She said: "Just call your pool man.  He will know what to do."

I did.  He didn't.

Lupe disconnected each unit by unfastening the wires near the circuit box.  But he had no idea how to open the fixture to change the bulb.  He suggested I take the entire apparatus to the pool store.  That seemed to be overkill, but off I went.

Usually, the store would have been closed for siesta, but the woman on the desk was working on a separate business -- constructing piñatas.  She telephoned the owner to return to the store to talk with me.

He had never opened a fixture like mine.  But he gamely removed screws here and there -- and we finally got to the bulb -- only to discover the bulb was in perfect working order. 

Curious, he ran a test on the installed lamp.  It worked.  But when removed the direct connection to the lamp and tried passing current through the wiring, the result was nothing.  Something was faulty in the wiring.  I suspect that is the fixture that has never lit up.

So, I left both fixtures with him to test and repair the wiring, and, if necessary, to order new lamps.  Like many things in my small village, inventory is limited.  But almost anything can appear magically the next day.

Later today, I will return to the pool shop in high hopes that all will be well.  Then, Lupe will return to my totally unlit pool to put the universe in proper balance.

The moral of this little tale is that a quick (and incorrect) diagnosis of any electrical problem may lead to bad decision-making.  I would never have taken the fixture to the pool store.  But, without what appeared to me to be a waste of time, I would not have new lights in my pool.

Yes.  Yes.  I know.  You are all starting a pool to determine the true date I will have operating lights.  But I have faith.  Or, at least, hope.

Mexico seldom lets me down.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

my day with leo

"We chatted as if it had not been twenty years since we last got together."

I see similar lines in blogs when old friends, long separated, have reunions.  I suppose I could say the same of the last three days with Leo.  But our conversations bear the mark of someone leaving a room and returning immediately to take up the conversation in mid-sentence.

It is a great feeling.  Knowing someone that well, it is as if we had not been separated for hundreds of miles these past thirty-some years.  Of course, we had the occasional visit.  But Leo and Theresa were in Scottsdale; I was in Oregon.

So, what do two old friends do when one friend is visiting for the first real trip to Mexico (a week in Cancun does not count)?  It turns out we do what we would each be doing at our own homes.

Yesterday was an example.  I treated Leo to huevos rancheros at my favorite secret hideaway.  Because the salsa is made from serranos, it is not to everyone's (especially, gringos') taste. 

Leo loved them.  It also gave me an opportunity to show off my nominal Spanish by chatting up the proprietress.

Then it was off to pick up the laundry I forgot to retrieve on Saturday when we went out for dinner.  The large packet was almost too bulky for me to carry.  The cost of 144 pesos ($8.84) was not. 

Leo was impressed.  Not with my strength, but the reasonable cost of laundry (including sheets and towels) for a full week.

Even though I was not expecting a letter, magazine, or package, I took Leo to the post office to introduce him to Saul, the boss of our local post office.  Saul recognized Leo as the benefactor of the two float toys that were delivered across the post office desk.

No trip to town would be complete without showing a visitor the house on the beach I rented for the first eight months I lived in Mexico -- and the house on the laguna, where I had almost six years of crocodile adventures.  Leo prefers my current house.  So do I.

Because we had no provisions for breakfast, I took Leo to Hawaii (the grocery, not the islands) to meet Alex and his staff.  Alex is one of those Mexican entrepreneurs who has found his niche market -- selling merchandise to northern tourists and expatriates, while simultaneously developing a strong middle class Mexican trade.  Leo and I found everything we needed -- and more.

Then it was an afternoon of reading in the pool before we headed to Magnolia's for my traditional Monday night dinner.  And Alex (the chef; not the grocer Alex) outdid herself again -- with the type of meals diners cannot find without traveling hundreds of miles.  Leo was thoroughly impressed.

But the star attraction for everyone who visits me were the crocodiles of La Manzanilla.  Unfortunately, they are now confined behind fences to restrain them from trundling through the streets in search of a meal.  Even in jail, they can be intimidating.

All in all, it was a thoroughly relaxed, 100% tourist day.  It is always fun to show off my home town.


Monday, August 17, 2015

why government hates cash

My friend Ron passes along articles of a libertarian bent that come his way.  That's fair.  After all, I identify myself as being philosophically libertarian.

One of the most recent was a summary of a recent article by Joseph Salerno published in The Austrian -- a journal of the Mises Institute.  As you might have guessed, the article is entitled "Why Government Hates Cash."

A cursory glance at those elements would disclose the political provenance of the author.  The unusual use of the singular plural to designate "Government."  And, of course, the reference to Ludwig von Mises, the Austrian economist who brought libertarianism to the general public.  His Road to Serfdom is an economic classic -- and had the appropriate effect on my political development as a high school student.

The thesis of the article is that government -- in almost every country -- is taking positive acts to limit the use of cash in civil societies.  Several countries have passed legislation to limit the ability of citizens to pay their obligations in cash.

We have all heard the reasons.  Or, the stated reasons.  Just as FATCA was justified in The States, governments elsewhere claim the restriction of using cash is to limit criminal activity and to reduce the ability of citizens to cheat on their taxes.

Being a libertarian, Salerno words the purpose a bit differently.  "This gives the government greater abilities  to monitor and surveil citizens' private financial dealings and creates easier means for levying new taxes."

Two years ago, in peeling the people, I discussed the economic plans of President Peña Nieto to increase Mexico's tax rate relative to its GDP.  Of the 34 member nations in the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Mexico's government takes the lowest percentage of GDP as taxation -- 18.8%.  The Scandinavian countries take over 40% -- some close to 50%.

eña Nieto came into office vowing to increase the taxation take.  Not to the dizzying heights of Denmark, but an increase of 6% -- about one-quarter of GDP.

To do that, the Mexican government took measures that would have made Salerno wince.  Cash deposits to a bank were penalized with an assumed tax.  Information of cash deposits were also shared with the tax folks, who followed up with presumed tax bills (the envelope please) to depositors.  In an attempt to encourage switching from cash, the programs merely encouraged switching from banks.

One of the biggest extensions, though, was a tax enforcement plan to collect the 16% VAT at restaurants.  For the past two years, restaurants who want to comply with the new law, have been working with the enforcers to ensure their accounting and reporting systems are working properly. 

All suppliers in the system are supposed to have the ability to produce an electronic factura (receipt).  The tax folk believe they will be able to catch tax cheats when they discover gaps in the receipt chain.

Last week I had dinner with a Mexican who owns a small restaurant in town.  He was complaining about the lack of services from the county.  He has been trying to get a street repaired.  To no avail.

I asked -- out of mere curiosity -- if he had been having trouble getting his reporting system to the tax people working properly.  His answer startled me.

"I'm not going to collect the tax.  I can't afford it.  My business is successful, but small."

When I asked him if that attitude was inconsistent with his complaint about not receiving services from the government, he just stared at me.  And when I asked who he expects to pay for those services, he just shrugged his shoulders.

Now, I know as a cardless libertarian, I should have felt empathy for him.  The history of governmental corruption in Mexico does not assure any Mexican citizen that most of his taxes will actually be put to a good purpose.

From an economist's viewpoint,
Peña Nieto's plan to increase the tax take may be laudable.  But I also understand the restaurant owner -- to a degree.  It is a bit like donating to a well-known charity whose CEO draws a salary that would make Croesus wince.  No one likes to feel as if he is the sucker in a con game.

What bothers me is that there are restaurants who intend to fully comply with the law and collect the appropriate VAT.  Those restaurants are then forced to compete with restaurants who are tax thieves -- handicapping their compliant competitors with a 16% additional weight.

For me, the equities are with the people who are complying with the law.  But if the government wants people to gain a bit of faith in the system, it might consider doing something to staunch the hemorrhaging of finances attributed to corruption.

I would be interested in hearing what the Mises Institute has to say about that.  But I think I already know.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

leo ascendant

Tancho correctly pointed out yesterday that one reason I bought my house in Barra de Navidad was to attract friends and family to visit me in Mexico.

He was, of course, correct.  Only a handful of my friends bothered to visit me when I lived in Villa Obregón -- and almost none during the summer.  Far too many are still intimidated by the fables they read in the news.

Yesterday, that changed.  My long-time friend Leo came for a visit in August -- one of our most summery months.

I have known Leo for over 40 years.  When we were in separate colleges, we worked at U.S. Bank in Portland on a check statement team. 

You may remember checks.  People once used them to make payments.  The bank would then mail the processed checks back to the customer along with a paper statement.  It seems like another era.

Our job was to ensure all of the checks attached to each statement belonged to that customer, and that the number of deposit slips and checks matched the number on the statement.  If everything was correct, we would mail the statement. 

I am a bit hazy on what we did if there was an error.  I suspect we left it for another team who had far more expertise in the ways of investigating anomalies.

We became good friends.  Good enough that I was the best man at his wedding in 1973.  He used my legal services for his home construction company.  And I was involved with Leo and Theresa, his lovely wife, in a gourmet group.

They moved to Scottsdale in the 1980s.  But we stayed in contact.  When Theresa died last year, I was determined to have Leo come for a visit.  And yesterday he arrived at the height of our summer heat and humidity.

When I warned Leo just how uncomfortable this part of Mexico can be in the summer, he reminded me he lives in Arizona.  The day before he left Scottsdale, the temperature was 117.  He survives, just as I do, in a swimming pool.

This is going to be a week of relaxation for both of us.  He brought along three novels to read while enjoying the pool pleasures on the aqua hammocks he shipped south.  I will try to finish of this week of The Economist to give me enough time to return to my Truman biography.

It is going to be the continuation of a beautiful friendship.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

cracks in the seat

I have commented before that the architect-contractor who built my house (as her dream house) put a lot of quality into the place.

That praise does not apply to her choice of toilets.

To be fair, the toilets are fine.  They are those water-saving toilets with the choice of flushes -- made in China.  The porcelain is good quality.

Not so the seats.  They are plastic -- almost translucent in their thinness.  The type of seats that may be functional for a stage play or a television situation comedy.  But not for real people who have serious business to do.

When I moved in, one of the seats (in the upstairs utility room) was already broken.  Within a week, the seat in my bathroom cracked, as well.

I was fortunate to have my brother in attendance during that week.  So, we jumped in the Escape, drove to Home Depot in Manzanillo (where we picked out two wooden seats), and headed home.

What we had not anticipated was how the Chinese fastened the seats to their toilets.  Because the toilets are almost sculptural, all of the bolts are hidden inside the back of the pedestal.  (We discovered that with a quick internet search -- an information that is turning into the fabled tree of the knowledge of good and evil.)

With the help of my friend Lou, we managed to get both of the new seats installed.  I had hoped to replace all six seats in the house, but we had purchased Home Depot's entire inventory -- two.

This week two more seats broke -- in the guest room and the pool bathroom.  With Leo arriving today, there was no time to waste.  Off I went to Home Depot.  Once again, there were only two wooden toilet seats available.

I managed to install the first one (in the pool bathroom) on my own.  And that was a sense of accomplishment.  As I have said before, I am not known for my handyman capabilities.

But the space in the guest bathroom would not allow me to hold the seat bolts in place while I tightened them with a screwdriver.  So, I had to call on the assistance of a Mexican friend.  And I was happy to share the sense of a job well done.  My Dad would have been proud of me.

With that, and a bit of work Dora will do this morning to spiff up the guest room, the house is ready to welcome Leo -- and any other guests who are willing to make the journey to see enjoy the sybaritic pleasures of the house with no name.

No name, perhaps.  But with plenty of spiffy new toilet seats.

Friday, August 14, 2015

they're back

That has to be one of the creepiest lines in horror cinema.  From Poltergeist II -- if my memory serves me.

What will serve you tonight is one of the best free shows of the year.  The annual Perseid meteor shower. 

Our little home planet by the sun has been crashing its way through the detritus of the comet that sounds as if it was named for a Victorian English woman novelist -- Swift-Tuttle.  The result is a night filled with what we romantically call falling stars.  Which makes me wonder why the comet is not named after Norma Desmond.

The show has been under way since 17 July.  And will not close until 24 August.

So, why am I writing today instead of almost a month ago?  Because last night and tonight are going to be one of the best times to catch that falling star and put it in your pocket.  For most of the night, there will be no moon trying to hog the spotlight with its own light.

There should simply be one shooting star after another.  The estimate is almost one per minute.  For those of you with patience issues, you should be able to catch at least one on a commercial break. 

Me?  I will be out in the pool gazing up from the courtyard.  At least, until the mosquitoes drive me inside.

My advice is to watch the show with someone you love.  After all, as the old saying goes: save water; meteor shower with a friend.  Or something like that.

And, if you miss this particular show, it will be re-run next year at about the same time.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

showers of blessing

Some days I feel as if I live in a fantasy.

Take yesterday morning.  Every summer we wait for the rains to arrive to help moderate our humidity.  So far, this year, nature has been toying with our affections.  Instead of our usual rain storm every three or four days, we get a bit of rain -- and then days of damp heat.

By sticking around in the summer months, I tend to build up a tolerance for the discomfort.  But tolerance can only go so far.  That is where the pool comes in.  By staying submerged in its moderating depths, I almost enjoy the heat.

I woke yesterday morning to the sound of heavy rain.  The architect of my house built a heat chimney in the shower area of my bedroom.  And, to avoid having the shower turn into a waterfall during rain storms, she capped it off with a piece of white translucent laminate.  

The birds love tangoing up there.  But, when the rains hit it, the bird tangos transform into water flamencos.  The sound is always welcome in the summer.

I had planned to drive to Manzanillo yesterday to buy two wooden toilet seats at Home Depot, to replace the flimsy Chinese seats that could not stand up to regular wear and tear, and two new sets of sheets at Sam's Club to welcome my house guest.  Nothing says "make yourself at home" like fresh sheets.

I have learned my lesson about driving my Escape in our tropical rain storms.  My venture into a rain storm last month
(shipshape in Manzanillo) convinced me that I could easily become a lemming if I wandered out into another.

But, this is Mexico.  I didn't even have time to start worrying before the rain was gone -- and so was I.  To Manzanillo.

I mentioned yesterday that Leo had purchased two pool floats to be delivered to my post office box.  One arrived on Tuesday.  The other was at the post office yesterday.  Once again, Amazon proves it worth as a shopping source.

As for the rain, the rest of the day was clear.  But I am not certain how long that will be true.  Take a look at this:

It appears those showers of blessing may be arriving along with Leo.

Of course, it is just a weather report.  During the summer, that thunderstorm icon is ubiquitous -- and recurringly incorrect.

I can hope that next week will give us enough sun to enjoy those pool floats.  With the exception of the lightning that usually accompanies our rain, a nice warm downpour shouldn't get in the way of this pool party.

Note -- The photograph at the top of this essay is one of the first sights I see each morning.  Looking up the chimney in my shower.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

pleasure in a box

My friend Leo is coming for a visit.

You have met him before several times.  Usually in walk-on roles in this situation comedy that is my life -- such as, one more day: a rumination about leap years and Leo's birthday.

Leo's wife, and my friend, Theresa, died last year (laying down the flowers).  I flew up to Scottsdale for her services, and invited Leo to come to Mexico whenever he liked for a stay at my new house.  It turned out he liked August.

I made certain he knew August was one of the -- how should I put it? -- less-temperate months for a visit to our villages by the sea.  His response was: "I know heat.  I live in Arizona."  Even when I described the additional discomfort of humidity and the complete lack of air conditioning, he was still ready to roll.

He will be here on Saturday.

But, being a good guest, he bought some gifts.  Aqua hammocks, he told me.  For the pool.  He ordered them though Amazon for delivery at my post office box.  My task was to track the packages.

And track I did.  From Bismarck to Chicago to Mexico City -- where the two boxes have been held up in customs since 4 August.  Or, so I thought.  The first one was at the post office yesterday when I stopped by to pick up my mail

The United States Postal Service web site still shows both of them in Mexico City.  Since one is here, I suspect the other must be on its way.  Amazon is a wonderful company.

I also finally have an answer to a question that has hung in my mind since Leo used the term "aqua hammock."  When I opened the box, I thought I would face the prospect of putting my hot air reputation to good use.  But no blowing was required.

The hammock is a large piece of comfortable foam -- as if an expensive bath mat had overdosed on steroids.  I have had an opportunity to use it for only about 15 minutes.  But it works as advertised. 

Reading my Kindle, I floated along as if on a cloud.  I am going to enjoy this gift.

But I will enjoy Leo's visit even more.  In a few more days, you will get to meet him. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

coasting uphill on the triglyceride

Just before my doctor left town for the hot months here on the coast, she ordered a blood test to see how my triglycerides were doing.

I have taken a series of medications over the years, but most of them simply have not worked in lowering my levels.  By chance, a pharmacy clerk in Valladolid recommended I try a statin-based drug. 

It worked.  My level came down to an acceptable number.  But I was reluctant to stay on statins.  For a lot of reasons.

When the blood test my doctor requested came back, I had a reason to drop the statin.  It was no longer working.

The generally-accepted standard for triglycerides is to keep them under 150 -- even though a physician in Bend told me no one has any idea what the correct level is, and he does not get excited if the numbers are under 1000.  I liked him.

I cannot remember my actual number.  It was somewhere around 250 or so.  (I don't remember the number because those numbers mean little to me.  They are to often the basis of the most-boring dinner party conversations imaginable.  But they do bother my doctor.  So, I comply as best I can.)

She put me on another medication, and asked me to get a blood test within the first seven days of starting the drug.  I took the medication, but the test slipped my mind.  About three months later, I remembered and had blood drawn.  The level had not budged.

When I told her by email I was planning on discontinuing the medication, she told me to triple the dosage, and to get another blood test at the end of the week.  This time I remembered.

That is my arm at the top of this essay.  Ready to donate a bit of blood to the owner of the testing clinic.

I had prepared a draft telling you once again of the marvels of Mexican medicine.  But I had to spike that portion of the story.  The results showed my triglycerides had not budged.

My doctor has tested me for all types of diseases that could be contributing to high triglycerides.  Thyroid.  Pancreas.  Liver.  Kidneys.  All of the tests have come back normal.  What throws her is that my cholesterol levels are those of a 20 year old.

So, I sit here waiting for my doctor to send me an email as to what I should do next.  I may need to wait until she returns this winter.

Until then, I will live with my triglycerides at the same level they have been since the 1970s.  When my doctor first saw my levels back then, he suggested that I not stand near any open flames.

Now, that is good medical advice.

Monday, August 10, 2015

weevil under the sun

Some of you dear readers have warned me that my aceptance of Windows 10 will simple let more bugs loose in my computer.  Maybe so.

But I still have plenty here in my courtyard.  During our last rain, this interesting guy showed up.

Obviously a beetle -- from that huge insect order Coleoptera.  Saying that does not narrow down the seach very much.  I have heard that the vast variety of beetles constitutes one-quarter of life forms on earth.  That boast obviously has some techincal biological limits.  After all, I assume bacteria outweigh them in actual numbers.

However, that is mere quibbling.  There are beetles galore out there.  When I built my insect collection for my sphomore mandatory project, the box was filled primarily with beetles.

None of them looked like this guy.  I knew a quick way of narrowing down his identification, though.  His nose.  No beetles but weevils have some an obvious Durante.

And I was correct.  Rhinostomus barbirostris, to be exact.  One of the largest weevils in the world.  I certainly have not seen one as large as this.  It was only slightly smaller than a 1958 Buick.

This one was a female.  The males sport a golden beard on that snout, giving the insect its other common name -- bottlebrush beetle.

Fortunately for her, I no longer collect insects.  I simply shoot them and publish their stories.  Some may wonder if that is an improvement.

The only question now is whether any bugs this size will start haunting Windows 10.  If so, my bug tales are not yet at an end.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

and now -- for the rest of the story

I am a proud papa.  Or, at least, I was.

Last Wednesday, I told you in hand in the bush that I had discovered where the determined caterpillar I had espied earlier in the week had ended up.  In its chrysalis stage.

I have kept an eye on it each day in the hope that I could watch it emerge.  But it would just hang there in its bright green color.  I was positive that something yellow or chartreuse-winged would emerge.

I thought that until yesterday morning.  The chrysalis had turned distinctly brown -- and striped.  At first, I thought it had died, and that rot had sat in.  I was wrong.

If I had had my way, I would have stayed there for most of the day to see the metamorphosis.  But circumstances intervened.  I spent most of the day ferrying a Mexican friend from town to town in the hope of finding someone who could give him a tetanus shot.  To no avail.

By the time I returned home, the deed was done.  But I timed it perfectly.  The butterfly was out and drying its wings on the former shell of itself.  Off I ran to retrieve my camera from the car.

As I came through the front gate, the butterfly landed on my front door and posed for a few shots before scurrying off to the sanctuary of another planter.  Knowing that the butterfly would need time to dry its wings, I took a few more shots (especially of its new-born eyes), and retired a few paces to give it some space.

Apparently, all it needed was a few moments.  Because it flew up bustling into the sky -- filled with new life.

Just in time to meet the beak of an imperial flycatcher, who duly lived up to his name.  Remember the fate of the doves released by children in the current pope's presence (give peace a chance -- maybe one in a trillion) last year?  The result was similar.

Woody Allen, in Love and Death, described nature as: "It's like an enormous restaurant."  And I guess that really is the rest of the story.

Note -- If any of you can identify the butterfly, I would appreciate any suggestions.  I spent an hour online researching it, but came up with nothing.

Second note -- It appears we have a winner.  Jack Brock pasts on a suggestion from Lisa P.  She has been watching a similar butterfly develop.  A narrow-banded owl butterfly -- Opsiphanes tamarindi.  I guess this really was the rest of the story.  Thanks, Lisa.  Thanks, Jack.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

open a new window

Yeah, I know.  I am dredging deep when I need to rely on a Jerry Herman tune for a title.  But it may be a rather serendipitous choice.

I have mentioned before I am an addict.  I lust after everything electronic.  Or, at least, I once did.

For decades, I was an early adopter of electronic equipment.  Whatever was new went into my library.

Bose 901s.  Front projection big screen television.  VCR.  Laser disc.  Premium tuners and amplifiers.  And that was just the audio and video equipment.

Computers offered a completely different high.  A new tower every two years.  All the new programs.  And, of course, the Heaven-sent internet.

When I finally sold the Salem house, Goodwill and the county dump received what must have been close to $50,000 of equipment.  At least, when it was new.

When I moved to Mexico, I surrendered from the Electronics Wars.  My needs were certainly far easier to meet in retirement than in my status-striving days up north.

And I have remained a pacifist since.  For the main part. The best example is the recent release of Windows 10 -- Microsoft's latest operating system.

In years past, I would have read every review on such a momentous release.  And I may have even volunteered as a beta tester.

Instead, this release would have passed unnoticed if Microsoft had not been generous enough to offer me a free upgrade to the new system.  That is not because my marriage to Sonia Braga put me in good stead with the Gates family.

Anyone who has a current valid license for either Windows 7 or Windows 8 will receive the same opportunity to upgrade to Windows 10.  Just as long as they take advantage of the offer within a year of its release.  After that, they will pay just like everyone else who is not married to a Brazilian star.

Yesterday I decided to take advantage of Microsoft's offer.  In less than a half hour of downloading the new operating system, I was back in the captain's chair of Mexpatriate, taking the cut of her jib.

My first impression is that there is very little to get excited about.  I apparently was one of the few consumers who was quite happy with Windows 8.  But the rest of the computer world came to the conclusion that Microsoft had experienced its New Coke moment.  The clever boys and girls at Redmond had outrun their customers.

Part of that was due to the recession.  Sale of touch screens had not kept pace with the advancement in operating systems.  And laptop users were not prepared to see functionality as being transferable between a computer screen and a smartphone.

So, here are my first takes after spending a couple of hours on Windows 10.

First, those of you who hated the Windows 8 smartphone look will be pleased with the return of a start button -- similar to Windows 7.  But, only similar.  A lot of Windows 8's reliance on applications is still embedded -- even on the start page.

Second, the very utilitarian task bar is still present as it has been for the last few versions.  But it gets a new appearance and a snazzy look that shows which programs are open and operating.

Third, Microsoft continues its push to use its cloud storage system -- including OneDrive.  I have been tempted to use that multiple access function to discuss items with the church board.  If I do, I will let you know how it works out.

Fourth, there is a handy new option: task view.  In addition to being able to toggle through all open programs, task view opens all programs on a single page.  Obviously, that function works far more successfully with a large monitor, rather than my tiny laptop screen.  Fortunately, I have a large monitor at home where these little essays are displayed during drafting.

Fifth, another nice addition is a "search web and windows" box embedded in the task bar.  I far prefer it to searching for the magnifying glass in my old Windows 8 home page.

Sixth, there is a new iteration of Microsoft's browser.  Internet Explorer is dead.  Long live Edge.  Most of my readers long ago abandoned Internet Explorer.  I suspect for the same reason I did -- it was clunky.

Edge is a slick new model with incredibly high speed.  I am retaining Firefox as my default browser.  But Edge may be back in the running.  It will be interesting to watch my statistics to see how many readers switch over to the new browser.

And there you have it.  I know there is a lot more tucked away into this beauty -- such as, additional prices to be paid for services that were once free.  But that is fine with me.  I am not very fond of paying for services I never use as part of the underlying price of a product -- just to give some people the impression they are getting something free.

There will inevitably be bugs.  (See.  Bugs even show up in computer reviews here at Mexpatriate.)  And there will be plenty of patches.

But it is nice to simply open a new window.  Life without change is no life at all.
"Open a new window,
Open a new door,
Travel a new highway,
That's never been tried before"

Friday, August 07, 2015

pacing the escape

The best adventures in Mexico are inadvertent -- even when they look like a bag of cultural clichés.

This morning a Mexican friend asked if I could drive him to a small village outside La Huerta -- about an hour drive from my house.  He had left his telephone in his friend's SUV. 

Why not?  The drive involves a beautiful, twist road through the coastal range that rings our little villages against the sea. 

I have always enjoyed that journey.  It would also be a good time to get some new photographs for an essay.  After all, there only so many bugs to write about.

So, off we went on a beautiful Mexican morning.  Amazingly, there was very little summer vacation traffic on the road.  Just a few trucks that were easily overtaken.

When we arrived in La Huerta, we started digging deeply in the cultural
cliché cache.  My friend had been to the destination ranch just outside of town several times.  And he was certain where we should turn.  So we did.

Until it was obvious to me that nothing looked familiar to him.  I have run into this syndrome several times.  I call it the "I-know-exactly-where-we-should-go-but-I have-no-idea-where-I-am-now" phenomenon.

And my diagnosis was correct. He decided to start asking strangers on the street for directions.  Two young girls (unsurprisingly) had no idea what he was talking about.  Neither did a squadron of marines.  But an agua fresca vendor was full of information.

We were in the wrong part of town, he said.  We needed to go back to the highway, drive four blocks, and turn right.  I didn't bother asking if four Mexican blocks are determined in the same manner as the number of days.  We just drove.

But you know where this is going.  Following the vendor's directions, we ended up in a virtual cul-de-sac.  More requests for information.  A man and a woman -- undoubtedly married to each other -- gave contradictory advice.

We followed the woman's advice and ended up on a road that looked like a dried-up stream bed.  More advice.  We were going the correct direction, but there was a better road.

We found it and took it.  As luck would have it, the guy, whose house we were trying to reach, came speeding by in the opposite direction.

So, we followed him.  No, that does not do justice to what we did.  We initiated a high speed pursuit.  He almost lost us on several rough patches of road on the outskirts of La Huerta.  But we caught up with him on the highway.

My friend suggested honking the horn and flashing my lights while both of us waved our arms out the windows.  We looked like a Barnum and Bailey act -- and I do not mean the trapeze artists.

Well, that procedure was bad advice.  The guy we were trying to stop took off faster than
American Pharoah at Belmont.

I have not had so much driving fun in a long time.  While he was trying to escape, my Escape raced through its paces.  I discovered is a great mountain road SUV -- with the handling capabilities of a 240Z.  Almost.  I already knew it had great passing power.

When we finally got him to stop at the beach, he was relieved that it was us.  He was convinced that he was about to be kidnapped.

The mission was to retrieve a mobile telephone.  In the process, we ended up exercising at least three cultural stereotypes:

  • An almost mystical belief that not knowing how to get somewhere will somehow ensure you will get there.
  • Asking for directions from people on the street is a great idea -- especially, since time is an asset not to be prized.
  • Anyone following a person trying to get attention cannot possibly be anyone other than a kidnapper.
And, of course, I was doing my part to live up to northern stereotypes.  
  • I was neurotic because we had no objective idea of our ultimate destination.  
  • I was disdainful of directions obtained on the street (even though we seem to have finally been on the correct road when we spotted our quarry).  
  • And I rolled my eyes at the kidnapping scenario (when some people here have a valid basis to be watchful).
The cultural mix could have been toxic.  Instead, it turned out to be one of the most exciting afternoons I have spent in Mexico.  I pumped enough adrenalin into my system to keep me on high for a week.

The next time I am asked to run a mundane errand, I will need to do a hormone possibility check.

And those photographs?  They never happened.  I never stepped from behind the wheel after we left Barra de Navidad until we got back to the coast.

Instead, you get a shot of my worthy, but dusty steed.


Thursday, August 06, 2015

fruitless in barra

I know the following sentence may get me kicked out of Mexico, but it is true.  I am not very fond of fruit.  Especially, tropical fruit.

When someone else prepares fruit, I will eat it.  Sometimes.  But it is a rare day when I will buy fruit at the market.

About a year ago, my doctor informed me I needed to watch my diet because of my high triglycerides.  I laughed when she said I needed to restrict my daily fruit intake to one cup a day.  That would be one cup more than I eat each day. 

The fruit advice was easy to obey.  What she said about pasta is a bit more hazy.

Even though I am not very fond of fruit, I am always ready to eat something new.  Odd shapes or appearances get extra points.

Last week my friend Gary gave me something that looked either like a scrub for the shower or a new German munition.  He asked if I knew what it was.  I didn't even hazard a guess.

It is a nona.  Also known as a sugar apple or a custard apple or, to some folks, a pawpaw (even though that name, to me, is an entirely different fruit found in the midwestern and southern states of the USA).

When I shot the fruit Gary gave me it was still as hard as a ball used in Mesoamerican sports.  And I had no idea when it would be ripe.

But that is where our friend the internet came to the rescue.  I was supposed to leave it on my kitchen counter for a couple of days until it was slightly soft.  Then, into the refrigerator it was to go -- to stop the ripening process.

Yesterday I took it out to give you loyal readers a taste of the nona -- or, at least, a photograph.  When I grabbed it, it collapsed in my hand.  Exposing a not-too-tasty brown ooze.

The internet promised that the inner flesh would have a sweet taste like custard.  I could not imagine the taste of what I held in my hand.  Rather, I had to imagine because I dumped the mess into the garbage pail.

Gary has promised me another.  Maybe I will have more luck next time.

But I am betting that some of you have tasted one of these carbuncley chartreuse beauties.  How do they taste?  Any serving suggestions?


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

hand in the bush

Remember the caterpillar I told you about last Wednesday (float like a butterfly, sting like a caterpillar) -- complete with a ramble through the jungle of blog statistics?

Well, I now know where he was headed with caterpillarish determination.  Yesterday I was cleaning up the fallen flowers and leaves around the planter where I had watched his slow but steady climb.

And despite my warning about sticking my bare hands into the landscaping (after all, there be stinging caterpillars there), I discovered the reason for his determined climb.

At first I thought it was only one of the many green leaves that the flowering vines sloughs off before their time.  My depth perception being what it is, it looked flat to me.  Until I touched it.

It was a firm green globule.  By its feel, I knew exactly what it was.  A chrysalis.

The caterpillar knew it was sporting its last childish skin.  Underneath was a hard body that would protect it as it metamorphosed into a butterfly.  Lepidopteric puberty.

I am still curious what type of butterfly will emerge.  If I were still 8, I would snap off the palm frond and stick it in a Miracle Whip jar to see what emerged.

Of course, the chances would be greatly enhanced that nothing would emerge.  The caterpillar picked its resting spot to heightened the possibility of a successful emergence.

I will check the chrysalis periodically.  But I will undoubtedly miss the big show.  What emerges will remain a mystery.

But, isn't that true of most things in life?  We really do not know the outcome of of the little ripples we create in the lives around us.

The most I can wish is: Godspeed, little butterfly. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

bésame mucho -- but not too much

One of the joys of writing essays is the sidebar conversations I have with readers.

For the past few months, I have been corresponding with a reader with connections to Ajijic.  In response to my "Summertime" essay, he informed me he had a favorite song: "Bésame Mucho" sung by Diana Krall.  This is the link he forwarded to me.

It is a very pleasant rendition of what was once one of my favorite Mexican boleros.  And there is a tale in that "once."

Our local area is chockablock with performers.  Some are quite good.  Others range from mediocre to painfully bad.  But no matter how talented the singer, almost all of them will inevitably start warbling "B
ésame, bésame mucho/ Como si fuera esta noche la última vez" sometime during their set.

For me, the song is right up there with "Guantanamera" and "Girl from Ipanema."  The three songs have been reduced to what should be a performer's worst nightmare:
cliché.  The equivalent of reading Hallmark greeting cards aloud to an audience.

But the songs are sung because audiences are prone to respond to the familiar.  As several performers have told me woefully: Audiences know what they like -- and they like what they know.

That is fair enough.  But it is not why I seek out live performances.  And I have heard The Big Three performed creatively. 

A local performer deconstructed
"Guantanamera" in a clever bit of progressive jazz.  Other than the chord relationships, the tune was not immediately recognizable without careful analysis.  I loved it.

But my
cliché aversion is not the primary reason I can no longer enjoy "Bésame Mucho" played straight.  Whenever I hear the opening notes, I start chuckling so hard I need to exit the room.

One of my favorite movies is the 1988 romantic comedy Moon Over Parador.  Richard Dreyfus plays an actor filming in an unnamed Latin American dictatorship.  The head of the national security police drafts him to play the role of the deceased dictator.

One of the running gags is the country's national anthem -- based on popular songs.  First, "O, Tannebaum," replaced by
"Bésame Mucho."  With lyrics hilarious in their vapidity.

How could anyone sit through a serious rendition of
"Bésame Mucho" after that?

If you have not seen Moon Over Parador, I highly recommend it.  I have it on DVD.  If you drop by the house, we can have an impromptu movie night.

And what makes it so special?  Well, it does star my wife, Sonia Braga (steve spills a secret).  Here's a sample.


Monday, August 03, 2015

summertime -- and the living is easy

I cannot hear that Gershwin tune without feeling the beads of sweat form on my forehead.  Nothing better evokes the essence of the most complex of seasons.

Sure.  There is Berlin's Heatwave.  But whether sung by Marilyn Monroe or Olga San Juan, the only image it conjures is the silver screen.  Gershwin's song requires sun screen -- and a sweat rag.

A week or two ago, the weather in our little village by the sea cranked up both the heat and humidity.  Just in time to welcome the waves of Mexican families who come to the beach as part of summer vacation.

Even though Melaque has had plenty of visitors since school let out, the crowds were nothing like they were this last weekend.  The past few weeks, families have arrived mainly by SUV -- and the occasional bus.

For whatever reason, the last two days saw bus after bus migrating into town.  Some for the full weekend.  More for day trippers who arrive early in the morning, and then board the bus for the trip home in the late afternoon.

Barra de Navidad, for some reason, had not been reaping the benefit of the tourist largesse.  Earlier in the summer, the tourist area of town (what one waggish reader labeled: "What Six Flags would imagine a Mexican village to be") was as deserted as a Fred Zinnemann set at high noon.

Not this weekend.  I could barely shoot the photographs for my mural essay because of the constant string of cars and buses passing in front of it. 

The town has had some rather rough patches lately.  For that reason alone, it was nice to see its main street crowded with tourists.

Why the big change?  Why did more people come to the beach this weekend than the previous weeks?

One reason may be that the start of school is just around the corner.  Unlike cosseted northern students, Mexican children only get a few weeks away from the classroom in the summer.

But it could be far more simple.  Maybe the idea just popped into the heads of individual families simultaneously.  Such mysteries are what make the free market work.

Whatever the reason, it is good to see our beaches being put to their best use.  Mexican families do not need all-inclusive resorts to enjoy themselves.  Instead, they remind me of my youth when my mother would pile my brother and me into our red and white Ford station wagon and drive us over to the beach for the day -- or weekend.

As I write this, a thunderstorm, with attendant rain, is moving in.  Just as the tourist families are moving out.

A perfect combination.  The tourists had the sun. Now, those of us who live here, can have a bit of heat respite.

And that strikes me as a rather good deal.  The living really is easy.

You didn't think I was going to sign off without sharing a version of "Summertime," did you?  Here you go.  The incomparable Ella Fitzgerald's rendition:

Note -- I shot the photograph from the new pergola at Papa Gallo's.  Pretty nifty, eh?  A shady table on a showy beach.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

every dog has his day

I am not certain if that is true.  But I do know every dog should have a home.

Rescue groups throughout Mexico have done a great job of reducing the population of distressed street dogs.  When I began traveling to Mexico in the early 1970s, the malnourished street dog could have replaced the eagle as the Mexican symbol -- they were that ubiquitous.

Fortunately things have changed.  But that does not mean every dog has a home.

Meet Cooper.  He is in need of a home.  Despite his tropical close crop cut, he is an Old English sheep dog.  Male.  Two years old.  Neutered.  Up to date on his vaccines.

All he needs now is someplace to call his permanent home.  Because he is playful and rambunctious, someplace with space would be a perfect match for him.

Here are my thoughts.  This is the breed of dog that would thrive in the highlands.  And I know there are several of you up that way who are dog lovers.  If Cooper is not a match for your home and family, maybe you know someone who would be.

If so, call Dave in Barra de Navidad on his mobile telephone.  315.100.1124.

I am positive someone out there would love to call Cooper their friend.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

mural, mural, on the wall

Graffiti art is the 21st century successor of 20th century Mexican murals.  So claims an academic article I read this week in one of the chi-chi journals I receive online.

Perhaps.  But the tradition of Mexican murals is certainly not dead.  And proof of that welcomes the summer tourist crowd to Barra de Navidad -- right at the gateway to town.

When I first arrived here, the wall was nothing more than a motley combination of paint patches, bare brick, and the occasional bit of tagging.  No longer.

Christine and Lee, long-time residents of Barra de Navidad, saw the same problem.  Unlike me, they did something.  Lee had the broad vision of a mural.  Christine made the vision a reality.

The murals were conceived to improve Barra de Navidad's first impression to visitors, and as a perfect way to convey its local history.  The Church employed the same technique with its history of the saintly through stained glass windows.  And the government similarly used murals to write and convey the official version of the Mexican Revolution.  (Even though several of the great Mexican muralists refused to toe the party line.)

The 17-panel mural, painted between 2011 and 2015, is the work of over 50 students from Barra de Navidad's grade schools, junior high, and high school, with the assistance of Christine and adult volunteers from the schools.  The murals are divided into two distinct sections.

The primary students painted 4 panels in what an art critic (or a doting grandparent) might label as "primitivism."  Their panels show the town as it was and as it is -- filtered through the gauze of naivete.

What first caused me to notice the work, though, were the history panels.  At the time, I was working on a brief history of Mexico lecture.  And it is all there -- for the most part.   

The tribes who lived here before the Spanish tribe arrived.

The conquistadors who absorbed them into the Spanish kingdom -- and then named the town.

The pearls that are produced in the laguna's oysters -- including the inevitable image of a princess who looks as if she has just escaped her Harlequin destiny.

The pirates who raided Barra and burned the ship yard -- making it a dangerous place for the Manila Galleon.  Not to mention the people who lived there.

The expedition from Barra de Navidad to the Philippines that established a trade route to the East -- and the even more astounding return voyage to Acapulco that opened globalization for the Spanish Empire.  The mural includes a nifty map.  I am always a sucker for a good map.

A celebration of the once-powerful fishing industry in the bay along with the current fisher tourist draw.

The Revolution -- with its eccentric emphasis on Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, proving that martyrdom is always preferred to actually governing. 

A tribute to Barra's carnival and its first King Momo, Ramon Mendoza, known as "El Jabalin."  An event I have yet to attend.  But there appears to be enough material surrounding the event to stock several future essays.

And, of course, because this is the 21st Century, a paean to the ecology of the bay -- without any inconvenient reference to the vast sewer and water problems the area currently endures.  A subject in which Lee and Christine are involved up to their knees.  Often, literally.

There is no doubt that the murals have greatly enhanced the face of Barra de Navidad.  I enjoy stopping just to look at the art work.  After all, who could be unhappy with anything that features a pirate with an eye patch?

I have noticed several pedestrians, mostly Mexican tourists, who stop to read the captions or to look at the drawings.  After all, that is why the project exists.

If nothing else, it has given the student artists a bit of pride in their community and their individual talents as artists.

"So many songs yet to be sung.
So many roads still unexplored;
We gave the world new ways to dream.
Somehow we found new ways to dream."