Saturday, January 30, 2016

planets on parade

One of the best things about owning a puppy is getting up at 5:30 in the morning for a bladder break -- both mine and his.

If you fail to see the virtue in that sentence, you probably do not live somewhere with clear skies and unobstructed vistas. I do. Each morning, the crystal spheres put on a private show for me.  And, since 20 January, something very special has been added to the mix.

If you read the other adams family, you know I am working my way through the biographies of each of the American presidents. My current subject is John Quincy Adams.

I always learn something new about each of the men who have worked in the White House. After all, that is the purpose of reading biographies. To learn something new. And useful.

John Quincy Adams is still a young man in my reading. But I was fascinated with the author's revelation that "[m]ore than any other subject, astronomy excited him." In April 1791, he observed a partial eclipse of the sun from Beacon Hill in Boston.

That may help explain my own fascination with astronomy. After all, Adams is my fourth cousin seven times removed (which is about the same distance of my other cousins: Barak Obama and Dick Cheney). There must be something in those genes. Even though I can best be called a hobbyist of hobbies when it comes to such things.

That special show? You may already have heard about it. Since 20 January, it has been possible to see all five planets (six if you count Earth) -- the ones that are visible with the naked eye -- parading across the early morning sky just before sunrise. Like a line of Ziegfeld girls.

Mercury. Venus. Mars. Jupiter. Saturn. All of them in the same elliptical -- just like we learned in grade school science.

Because there is not a lot of light pollution in the early morning sky here in Barra de Navidad, I have been able to see even the dimmest of the five -- Mercury. For those of you who live around more artificial light, you may need binoculars to see the tiniest of the planets.

The show will be around until 20 February. But the best viewing (especially for Mercury) will be during this week.

Do yourself a favor and get up early to see the planets show off. The phenomenon is not that unusual. But it is a reminder that some of the world's greatest art is not located in museums.

You might even get a smile out of old cuz' John Quincy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

foolish consistency

In a direct response to the loss of her poll leads in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary to the Sanders campaign, Hilary Clinton today made a surprise announcement in a crowded press conference.

"For too long, professional politicians like Senator Sanders have taken contradictory positions on some of our most basic entitlements in the Bill of Rights. That is stopping today.

"In the spirit of bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle to build real solutions for real problems suffered by real people, I am today announcing a major initiative to register and license all news reporters. 

"Some of America's most creative ideas come from citizen politicians (such as myself).  State Representative Mike Pitts of South Carolina (one of the patriotic states where this Democratic nomination will be decided, rather than by the elites of Iowa and New Hampshire) has proposed a fascinating idea to resolve the problem of irresponsible journalism. 

"His proposal would require journalists in South Carolina to apply for registration on a "responsible journalist registry." The South Carolina Secretary of State's office would operate the registry which would be funded by fees from the journalists. Failing to register or acting irresponsibly would incur fines and criminal penalties.

"We have already seen how an irresponsible press can distort democracy. The only people who believe our campaign could possibly lose in Iowa or New Hampshire are the plutocrats of the press who spread lies about polling data and stampede good American citizens to act unpatriotically when they cast their ballots. 

"Well, someone has to put an end to this. And, if I am elected president, that is exactly what I intend to do.

"When I am president, we will establish a National American Responsible Correspondents (NARC) registry to be administered jointly by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Council. It will have several elements -- that should sound familiar to you from other of my policy positions.

"The registry will make all journalists subject to background checks. There will be no writers' conference loopholes. Anyone who puts opinion to paper, will be required to have a background check -- and to be included on the registry. The registry will be open for inspection by all law enforcement officials with an eye to preventing dangerous people from wielding their irresponsible opinions.

"We have learned in other areas designed to prevent injury to the public that a slow background check by the government should not reward potentially dangerous people. If the government does not timely complete a background check, the journalist will be prevented from reporting.  Putting the blame for irresponsible journalism on government inaction is simply blaming the victim.

"The registry must be universal. 'Journlaist' will be defined broadly, by executive order, to include anyone who offers an opinion -- whether in print or orally. The shocking ruse of using Facebook to circulate false stories is coming to an end.

"All statutes, regulations, and Supreme Court decisions that place restrictions on libel suits merely because the person defamed is a public official will be ignored. Just because someone has a family with dicey personal problems does not give the public the right to air dirty linen.

"And here is where the rubber hits the road. If anyone files an irresponsible story or fails to resister, the offender will be subject to a fine of $10,000 and a term of imprisonment in a journalist reeducation camp for up to 69 years -- for each violation or contemplated violation.

"Some of you may wonder if this program somehow violates the First Amendment. Before you journalists start whining -- and remember, 'journalist' will have a very broad definition -- you might want to look at my proposals on gun control. If they do not violate the Second Amendment, then this proposal does not violate the First Amendment.

"I am not going to take any questions. I suggest that the reporters in the audience should sit quietly in their chairs and consider what they have done to bring all of this down on all of our heads.

"On to Sioux City."

clever, but devastating

The morning email brought this gem to me. From Jack Brock, a friend of several bloggers. He thought I might see a resemblance.

I confess I do like the sentiment. A little bit of research would probably disclose that "Say something clever, but devastating" is a family motto somewhere back in the foggy swamps of time.

The fact that I find the piece funny says a lot about me, I suspect. And it simply underlines why, even though I find Downton Abbey to be boring, I continue to watch it simply to catch one of Maggie Smith's bon mots.

I am not surprised that I do not care for Downton Abbey. After all, it is nothing more than a soap opera tarted up with period costumes.  Admittedly, the stories are a bit wittier than the drivel that makes up what passes for writing on As the World Turns or any of its American cousin soaps.

That is why I have great doubts about trying to learn Spanish by watching Mexican soap operas. But the method comes highly recommended by at least two fellow bloggers -- and I respect both of their opinions in most matters.

The only question is where I will watch them. My television set in the library is used solely as a movie machine.  And I have no interest in bringing cable television into the house. I went cold turkey on it decades ago.

But Mexico offers some solutions. Almost every restaurant in town features a television blaring some program or other. Soccer. The news. But, most often, a telenovela

I should just pick a restaurant that serves up soaps with its sopa, and become a regular customer.

And, if I apply myself, I will soon have a flock of clever and devastating comments dancing around in y head -- all of them in Spanish.

Monday, January 25, 2016

back to school

David Sedaris somewhere noted that he never attends any language class unless at least one other student has fewer language skills than he has.

I know what he means. If you are going to voluntarily put yourself in the chicken coop, there is no sense in letting yourself be the bird for which "henpecked" was coined.

Back in August, I decided to get serious about learning Spanish. And I have been rather diligent in my daily studies. Between the Pimsleur Method materials and the amnesia-inducing DuoLingo, I have expanded my understanding of the language spoken around me every day -- especially verbs.

The problem is that I have an understanding of academic Spanish; I have next to no skill in understanding what my neighbors say.

That sounds contradictory, but it isn't. Because of my background in high school Latin, I can read and translate written basic Spanish. The courses I have taken on my own at home the last five months have added to my vocabulary arsenal.

My friends Ed and Roxanne, who speak very good Spanish, have urged me to join one of the local language classes to improve both my vocabulary and my listening skills. On Friday they even introduced to one of their teachers.

So, I signed up. Rather, I just showed up. "Signing up" would be far too formal for our beach-minded crowd.

The Beginner Spanish course meets for one hour each day from Monday through Thursday.  Today was my baptism by fire.

The teacher took a rather orthodox path. After asking us to introduce ourselves to the class, she listed Spanish words on the board. Most were review words for people who have been taking the classes; some were new.  (The words that is, not the returning students.  Well, other than me.)

My home schooling put me in good stead for translating the vocabulary list. I knew most of them.

Then I hit the wall. We were to relate a story based on pictographs the teacher had distributed -- by responding to questions the teacher posed.

And I re-discovered the reason I was in the class. The teacher, of course, asked her questions in Spanish. I could not understand most of what she was saying.

I knew of my limitation. For some reason, my ear hears different consonants than the speaker has actually spoken. "D"s and "t"s are readily interchanged.  Unless I see the word in writing, I am at sea.

An additional problem is that three children are attending the course. A very precocious boy shouted out answers (and usually correct ones) before I had time to process the question. The teacher was then off on the next question before I had really grasped what was asked or answered.

The most annoying thing about the boy is that he is a dead ringer for me at the same age. That thought alone was disconcerting. Mirrors are not kind devices.

My experience in the past has been that four students learning together is about the optimum size -- for me. Any larger than that and the hens start looking for stasis in the pecking order.

I considered not returning for tomorrow's class. After all, I would be lying if I said I had learned anything. If I do not have space to understand the teacher's question, I will never learn how to listen in Spanish. And if I cannot listen in Spanish, I certainly will never learn to speak Spanish.

Tomorrow I will give it another go. After all, it is only $50 (Mx) a day.  That is $2.69 in good old strong US dollars.

I can put up with a lot of irritation for that type of chump change.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

young dog, new tricks

Cathie commented on Thursday's garbage essay that a regular member of the Mexpatriate cast was mentioned in the post, but only photographs of trash appeared -- and none of Barco.

It was a point well-taken.  I have attempted to avoid turning these pages into a baby book for my little dog guy.  However, I cannot avoid mentioning him now and then.  After all, he easily eats up most of my day -- along with anything else he can get his mouth around.

But a couple of photographs are in order.  In the month he has lived in the house with no name, he has been sprouting from a puppy into a dog.

I took him to the veterinarian this weekend for a vaccination.  In two weeks he has gained more than two kilograms -- almost five pounds.  He is now 13 kilograms.  He is pushing 30 pounds.  With ever-lengthening legs.

And he puts that weight to good advantage when he goes crackers each morning and evening.  That mouth of his could find good service in a sawmill.  My arms bear proof.  I told him he needs to stop biting me or I will humiliate both of us by saying I own a cat.

There is a sports park two blocks from the house.  We visit it three times a day.  I was under the impression we visited there to take care of nature's call.

Barco thinks nature's call is hunting down every sentient being smaller than a golden retriever puppy and reducing it to lunch.  That includes rodents that have long ago made their way to the hereafter.

And we have found a great new diversion -- the beach.  The sand and surf turn Barco into Mr Crazy Dog, but Mr. Crazy Dog with charm.

So, there you have it.  A few photographs.  A bit of commentary.

That will hold us all for a bit.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

cats and birria

Cats are an environmental disaster.

This is not my usual swipe at Lord Lloyd-Webber's musical productions -- even though they are easy targets.  This time it is the four-legged variety.  Feral cats.

The current edition of The Economist features a story about what can go wrong wrong when domesticated cats (if there is such a thing) revert to their basic nature as predators in the wild.

Cats are not native to Australia.  The accepted story is they came as hitchhikers on early ships and thrived without competition on the Australian continent.  "Thrived" does not really capture the sense of how well the cats did.  The estimate of their numbers range between 4 and 20 million, with some of them weighing as much as 30 pounds.  30 pounds!  (That punctuation mark is entirely for the amusement of Felipe.)

Anyone who has owned a cat knows they are efficient killing machines.  Of the 29 Australian species that have gone extinct since Britain started dumping criminals in Australia two centuries ago (Yes.  Yes.  I know.  They stopped doing that long ago.  They now put them in the House of Lords.), 27 have been Auschwitzed by feral cats.

The Australians have a common sense approach to life.  Just look at their immigration policy.  To cut back on the killer cat population, they are fencing ten huge reserves for endangered species, and hiring aborigine women to hunt and kill feral cats in the sanctuaries.  Jobs for minority women while protecting wildlife.

I thought of the article yesterday while reading a very heated discussion on our local message board about feral cats in our little "paradise" by the sea.  One post caught my eye.

The author fell in the anti-feral cat camp, but his piece was passionately well-reasoned.  What caught my attention, though, was this:

I don't have rat or mice problems and I'll tell you why ... it has nothing to do with wild cats. The residents of my street are vigilant about keeping it clean. Nobody uses 5 gallon paint buckets as garbage bins, which are left out exposed on the street every day. All of us have real actual closable garbage cans, which we lock up until the morning of trash pick up.
Well, that is not my neighborhood.  I have a garbage can that I put out twice a week after Dora cleans the house.  The garbage men toss the contents into their truck, and I take the can back into the utility area.  That has worked perfectly for me during the past sixteen months.

My neighbors do not have garbage cans.  Instead, everyone else on my street bags up their garbage in flimsy plastic shopping bags and places them in either a five-gallon paint bucket or in plastic crates on our street corners.  All at the perfect height for a dog buffet.

And that is exactly what happens.  During the night, the local dogs forage through the garbage tearing open the plastic bags.  In the morning, the corners look as if a garbage truck collided with a plastic bag delivery van.

I have learned to live with the fact that garbage is as frequent in the street as sand.  Or I had.  Barco has changed my perspective.

He loves running in the field teasing what their Mexican owner calls "birria on the hoof."  He may have a pedigree, but Barco is still a dog.  His nose rules his world.  And anything vaguely smelling of food goes into his mouth.

There are two problems.  The first is his propensity to swallow small plastic bags.  Usually, they work their way out the other end -- leaving his poop handily-wrapped in plastic.  But, not always.  The other morning I heard him chewing something on my bed.  It was a plastic bag he had regurgitated. 

The second  problem is a bit more worrisome.  Some rather  nasty stuff ends up in our garbage.  And there are some mean-spirited people who think it is their duty to poison street dogs.  In the process, pets sometimes eat the same poison.  And die just as painfully as their Mexican street cousins.

So, we are now a leashed family.  Whenever he leaves the front door, Barco is leathered to my right hand.

He hated the leash when we started our lead training.  But he likes his walks.  The first day out, he got the hang of it.  He is now a heeling pro.

I also discovered a sports park two blocks from our house where I can let him run.  But carefully.  Because this is Mexico, there are plastic bags strewn across the soccer fields and basketball courts.  And it is a perfect site for poisoners to ply their trade.

Those measures mitigate Barco's chances of treating these garbage treasures as the to-go window at Burger King.  But it does not solve the garbage on my street corner.

Later today, I am going to pull out a couple of large garbage bags.  I will then police the field and the street corners picking up other people's garbage.  Rather than despair, I will simply act.

The last time I did that, two neighbor women, who live in the small apartment complex next to my house, stood and glowered at me while I picked up their trash.  When I tried to engage them in conversation, they turned around and left.

I have no idea what that was all about -- even though I can guess.
  As I have been told repeatedly in Mexico, "neighbor" is merely a description of place, not relationship.  I may wish it was otherwise, but I can live with it.

And I will continue to pick up the garbage.  After all, it is no longer an activity motivated solely by altruism.

Monday, January 18, 2016

moving to mexico -- rendering unto caesar

Today it was time to pay the piper.  Foot the bill.  Pony up the cash.

There is a cost for living in a civilized community.  And I do not mean the usual utility and maintenance bills for my house.

Our public infrastructure in Barra de Navidad is not much.  But the little we have needs pesos to keep it running. 

Today was the day I settled with the local government for the coming year.  Car registration.  Property tax.  Sewer and water.  A list that would be familiar to any northerner -- but with some twists.

We pay our car registrations annually here.  On the same month (January).  In person at a very small office in our county seat of

The process looks far more daunting than it is.  My friend Lou and I decided to make a joint trip because he needed to stop at two of the places I had on my list.  When we arrived at the registration office, there were probably a dozen or so people in line in front of us.

Registration renewals were all in one line.  I learned last year that the clerk processing renewals has developed a very efficient method of scanning a bar code from last year's receipt into his computer.  That triggers the printer to add the necessary information on this year's decal.  While the decal is printing, he prints out a receipt, takes the payment, hands over the decal, and the customer is out the door.

Once I got to the window, he processed my request in what seemed to be less than a minute.  And the cost?  $458 (Mx) -- $25.20 (US) -- for one year.  Not a bargain in some states.  But owning a car in Mexico is a relatively expensive proposition.

Our next stop was the county building to pay my property taxes.  Paying property taxes in Oregon was always one of the most painful and expensive days of the year.  In fact, it was the looming payment of property taxes year after year with absolutely no return that caused me to sell my Salem house below market price.

Not so here.  The payment is rather painless -- even though the process is something out of another century.

There are no tax bills.  At least, I have never seen one.  I showed up with my receipt from last year.  With that information, the clerk located the hand-written ledger from a bookcase of notebooks that would have made Bartleby smile.

He then gave it to another clerk who created an invoice and receipt on her computer.  The first clerk directed me to another room filled with people who looked as if they were part of a rugby scrum.  They were just waiting for their names to be called.

A third clerk then took my money and gave me a receipt that I will use next year to start the process all over again.

I have no idea what your property taxes cost where you live.  If you live up north, I am willing to bet I may have paid less this year than you did.  Property taxes are one of the true deals of living here.

My 2016 taxes were $1,345.50 (Mx) -- $74.05 (US).  But it was a 10% increase from last year.  Even so, a good deal.

Amazingly, even though the taxes are relatively low, a large portion of property owners do not pay them.  And, in Mexico, the government has no recourse other than to recover the taxes when the house is sold. 

Or some of the taxes.  I have it on good authority that the local government can recover only the past 3 or 5 years (I cannot recall which) in arrears.

It almost makes me wonder why anyone would pay.

While I was in
Cihuatlán, I stopped by the bank (Bancomer) that holds the trust deed for my property.  Because I live in the restricted zone and I am a foreigner, I cannot own property in fee simple.  The Mexican government has created a  legal fiction that the bank is holding the property in trust for me -- even though I can do almost everything a fee simple owner could do.

The bank, of course, does not perform its trustee duties for free.  Every year I must pay a fee to the bank.  For reasons I do not understand, that fee is denominated in US dollars, but payable in Mexican pesos.  (For Canadians, during this strong US dollar stretch, that means paying a hefty premium.)

I paid the first year's fee during the fabled house closing in September 2014.  Bancomer has not sent me anything further.  Not even an account number.  Even though my payment is well past due.

When I stopped at the bank, I had all of the numbers in my deed and a fistful of pesos.  But I did not have the six-digit account number.  Without it, the bank could not help me.

A very pleasant executive told me I could get the number by calling a fellow at Bancomer in Puerto Vallarta.  She helpfully provided me with his name, telephone number, and email address.

When I asked her why she could not call him and get the number while I was at the bank, she informed me that was impossible.  Thinking it was a matter of cost, I offered to let her use my mobile telephone.  She declined telling me I would need to do it.

I should have called right then.  But I hate telephones.  I will call this week and return to the bank later.  After all, the payment is already four months late.  What is one week more?

My last stop was in Barra de Navidad at our city government office to pay my water and sewer bill.  I told you about this process last year.  Hand-written ledger.  Manual typewriter from the 1950s.  Very helpful clerk.

Once again there was a price increase from $1,367 (MX) -- $75 (US) to $1500 (Mx) -- $83 (US).  That is for a full year of service.  In Salem, I would have paid that for one month.

Of course, in Salem, the sewer system actually processed sewer rather than just swirling it around in pipes as happens here.  And the quality of the water?  It is good enough for showering.  And that is about it.

A wise man once said you get what you pay for.  And when it comes to local government services here on the Mexican coast, we pay very little and get very little in return.

But what we do get keeps the veneer of civilization tucked closely around our ears.  And that is good enough for a liberatrian soul like mine.

Friday, January 15, 2016

my dinner with alan

Alan Rickman is dead at 69.

To someone who just turned 67, the number in that last sentence is mind-focusing.  But my mortality is not something on which I dwell.  Even though the topic does show up here almost as often in a Bergman film.

Before I moved to Mexico, Laurie,
while she was still in Honduras, wrote a piece about the people with whom she would like to share a dinner.  Alan Rickman was on her list.

When I told her I had enjoyed dinner with him long ago, I promised to tell her the rest of the story.  This is probably as good a time as any to keep that promise.

After I failed in my run for a seat in the Oregon legislature, my law partnership broke up.  That left me looking for a law job.

Early in 1989, my friends from my days at Oxford, the Culbertsons, telephoned me to ask if I would be interested in working in London for a rock musician.  Entertainment law was not my specialty, but I was willing to give it a go.

We auditioned one another and concluded that only one of our egos could fit into any given space at one time.  Even though that job was not on, I had a great time in London with the Culbertsons.  They had done quite well for themselves by investing in the entertainment world.

Somehow we ended up at an opening night cocktail party in Mayfair.  I do not remember what the occasion was, but the room was filled with B and C list actors.  Janet squired me around the room introducing to the people she knew -- and that was most of the crowd.

Amongst them were Alan Rickman and his politician-partner Rima.  I knew him from the recently-released Die Hard where he played one of his most memorable roles as the sneering elitist Hans Gruber (labeled as "Eurotrash" by one of the other characters) pitted against the populist blue collar cop played by Bruce Willis. 

We exchanged only a few words.  Rima did most of the talking -- especially about my recent political loss.

We stayed for only about an hour.  As we were leaving, Alan and Rima (and two other couples) caught us at the door and asked if we were interested in having dinner at Langan's with them.  If the Culbertsons were not interested, I certainly was.  So, off we went.

I wish I could tell you all of the details of the dinner.  I don't even remember what I ordered.  But I do remember the conversation was laden with the types of entertainment anecdotes that always tantalize Americans.

Rima and I spent most of our conversation discussing politics.  Our philosophical differences.  The campaign structures of both countries.  Our shared interests as political animals.

During the 1990s I traveled to Britain almost every year.  Before their untimely deaths, the Culbertsons always came up with a fascinating guest list in London and Oxford.  But that dinner with Alan Rickman has always been one of the most memorable.

Well, that and dancing with one of the Rolly-Pollies in Blackpool -- a venue provided by Robert and Hilary Wells, instead of the Culbertsons.  But that really is a tale for another time.

Other roles would soon follow Hans Gruber's turn on the screen.  Saving Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with a sheriff of Nottingham that could be used as an actor's workshop for chewing scenery.  A treacherous Éamon de Valera in Michael Collins.  The Voice of God in the highly irreverent Dogma.  And, the ambiguously menacing Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise films.

I must confess to a guilty pleasure, though.  My favorite Rickman role is his portrayal of Sir Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest -- a Star Trek parody where the crew of the Protector, through a series of circumstances no more incredible than the show it mocks, end up on a star ship defending the universe against evil.

Rickman's character is a Shakespearean-trained actor who feels trapped opening shopping centers with the rest of the cast.  One of my favorite lines is his challenge of the Kirk-like character who is fighting a rock monster, with this line delivered in solemn thespian sincerity: "See, that's your problem, Jason. You were never serious about the craft."

Alan Rickman was serious about his craft -- even when acting in pieces of fluff like Robin Hood and Harry Potter.  And that is the sign of a true actor.

By the time I met him, he had abandoned the legitimate theater in favor of films -- with a dalliance back on stage occasionally.  I wish I could have seen him in live theater.

But I can see him on film.  Tonight, in honor of his career, I am setting aside my Friday night reading of The Economist to watch Galaxy Quest and Die Hard.

I suspect I will find it more enjoyable than churning up the dining table at Downton Abbey.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

happy birthday to me

Several years ago (and I will tell you the number if you have that type of curiosity), I was born in Mast Hospital  in what would soon seem to me to be the big city of Myrtle Point, Oregon.

Of course, it was not a big city.  But when you come from an even smaller town like Powers, Myrtle Point seems large.

In the 1940s and 1950s Powers was still a going concern of about 1500 people.  Most families, including my father, were involved in the area's prime industry -- cutting and trucking timber.  We were a lumbering family as I would come to say.

We often have mixed memories of our childhood.  Mine are all good.  That may be because I was surrounded by loving relatives.  My grandparents' home was a veritable mini-farm with baby chicks to enthrall a boy -- and a grandmother who could pluck a chicken in record time while recovering the not-yet-shelled eggs from the hen's uterus for use in some very rich custards.

I was a dreamer.  A day-dreamer, actually.  Several of my teachers (and a few subsequent employers) complained that, even though I was a good student, I had trouble keeping my mind on the task at hand.  I was usually thinking of someplace filled with far more adventure.

My father was wise enough to see that the timber harvests were coming to a close.  We moved from Powers to the Portland area in the late 1950s where there were no vast forests to be trekked and no chickens to be plucked.  But it was a move that taught me adventure can be found anywhere by pulling up stakes and moving.

And that is why my father is responsible for me sitting at this computer on a beautiful morning in Mexico relating a truncated version of who I am on this my natal day.

When I opened my email this morning, I found birthday greetings from a very good friend I have known since grade school, one from a reader from Germany, and a gift book from my mother.

I have no celebration plans other than a trip to Manzanillo to pick up my dry cleaning.  I will then top off the day by having dinner with a friend at a stuff potato restaurant in Villa Obregón.  Most likely without my white tie ensemble.

It is just another day on my journey through life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

welcome to downton beach

I do not get Downton Abbey -- the British costume soap opera that so many of my friends enjoy.

I just sat through the fifth season episodes, hoping I would at least feel a glimmer of the joie de vivre my otherwise-leftist friends feel in vicariously living the life of an earl.  Maybe it is nostalgia for what appears to be a less-complicated, or, at least, more elegant, time.

Me?  I simply wait patiently for Maggie Smith's next witty bon mot.

The program has reminded me, though, of the tradition of home visits.  And I had one of my own yesterday.

Babs of San Miguel de Allende is in town enjoying the restorative powers of the Mexican beach.  Her blog entries on these annual visits seem to find an entirely different part of her personality.  Her on-line personality is always positive.  But she seems to bloom here amongst the sand and the sea.

We had breakfast at one of the few places in Barra de Navidad that affords a full view of our bay.  The conversation, as always, was far better than the meal.  And, no, I will not share what we had to say.  But I will tell you that the Dowager Countess of Grantham would not have felt out of place.

I wanted Babs to see the house with no name.  She had shown an interest in giving me some decorating idea.  And I suspect her jeweler's eye for style will soon be reflected in the decorating scheme I choose.

However, that plan is probably a year off -- altered by Barco.  Puppies and new furniture are not a good mix.  He has managed to rip the fabric backing off of a chair and couch in the library.  And teeth marks have shown up on the wood lining my bed.

The house is not Downton Abbey, but it is my home.  And I would like it to have a timeless style that reflects its Mexican contemporary heritage,

By the way, after seeing my front door, Babs has joined me in the belief that a "peephole" would ruin its lines.  But I do have some other ideas in a more technological vein.

So, there you have it.  A visit from one of the verbal and visual stylists from the Mexican highlands has set me on my long-range plan to build my own living space.

Oh, that photograph?  No, it is not taken at my house.  I do not live that close to the beach.  Nor is Babs in it.

It is New Year's Eve at Papa Gallo's in San Patricio.  Several of you wanted to see my white tie outfit.  Well, there it is.  (Please note the waistcoat is not cut just a little too long.  I simply did not adjust it properly when I got up from my chair.)

One of the perils of traveling without a valet in this era.


Saturday, January 09, 2016

the way is shut

As Homer Simpson would (and did) say: "It's funny because it is happening to someone else."

My guess is that is the secret of good situation comedy.  Schadenfreude runs rampant.

Yesterday I had just settled into my late afternoon siesta when Barco lived up to his name with his "someone-is-at-the-door"  bark.  I thought he was wrong because I had heard nothing. 

But my bedroom is as far away from the front door as possible without slipping into the neighbor's lot, and I seldom hear unannounced guests.  And my hearing is as old as I am.  Barco, on the other hand, has young, if sometimes delusional, ears.

So, off I went to the front door barefoot and in only my underwear to prove Barco wrong.  No one was there when I opened the door.  When I showed Barco the error of his ways, he took advantage of my hubris and darted outside.

I grabbed him before he could get off of the stoop.  But I was far enough through the door that I was also outside.

Just then, I heard a rather disquieting sound: of the door being slammed shut by the wind.

Like many Mexican doors, when mine closes, there is no way to open it without a key.  And that was one thing I did not have.  Nor did I have my telephone.

What I had was a lot of nothing.  Well, not entirely.  I had my underwear and a hungry puppy. 

Because this is situation comedy, just then, my two little neighbors (probably 6 and 8; one boy, one girl) took the opportunity to come play with Barco.  As I explained my plight to them, in halting Spanish, while looking at the unscaleable exterior walls of my house, the boy looked very worried and thoughtful as if he were about to share a wise solution.  He didn't have one.

The door stood silently locked before me.  Without a key, I was barred as certainly as the Men of Dunharrow: 

The way is shut. 
It was made by those who are Dead, 
And the Dead keep it, 
Until the time comes.
The way is shut.
That left me with one solution.  I needed a locksmith, and the only one I knew was about a mile walk away.  So, off I headed down the main street that runs through our neighborhood.  Barefoot.  In my underwear.  Carrying a calf-sized puppy.

My Mexican neighbors did not even bat an eyelash at the sight of an elderly fat white guy in his underwear toting a dog far too large to be toted.  I could easily have stepped right out of Yoknapatawpha County -- if Faulkner could have found credibility character possibilities in my situation.

I initially thought of walking to the other end of our busy street to see if my friends Lou and Wynn could drive me the rest of the way to the locksmith -- if he was still open after 6 on a Friday afternoon.  But I did not get that far.  I walked one block to the house of my friends Irene and Allan.

Even though they were getting ready to leave for dinner, they volunteered to help.  Allan drove me to the locksmith while Irene
let Barco stay with their newly-adopted English sheep dog, Bella.  (Barco knew Bella when she was fostered at the house next to mine.)

Of course, the locksmith was closed.  And the four mobile telephone numbers and one home number went unanswered.  Irene called her realtor for an alternate locksmith.  No answer.  I walked several house over to my realtor's home; she was not there.  After all, it was Friday evening.

Then Irene had a brilliant idea.  They are having a bar installed under their palapa.  She asked the contractor (Solomon) if he knew of a locksmith.  He didn't.

But Irene and Solomon came up with a brilliant alternative -- one I had discarded when first looking at the front of my house.

I will spare you the details.  After the short walk to my house, Solomon initiated his plan and was walking out the front door in less than three minutes.  With 200 pesos in Solomon's pocket, Barco and I were once again the masters of our home.

Now and then I have referred to my place as being "fortress-like."  After yesterday, the emphasis is more on "like" and less on "fortress."

All ended well, though.  Barco got some play time.  My friendship with Irene and Allan moved up a notch.  And I got some great writing material.

When I bought the dog, I thought my Mexican adventure days were going to be truncated.  Fortunately, as I so often am, I was wrong.

After all, who gets to have a Tolkien-Faulkner outing in Mexico?  On a fine Friday evening.


Thursday, January 07, 2016

bang the drum slowly

Barco has forced me to face my mortality.

Puppies do that.  And I am not talking about the high odds of dogs dying during their puppy years.  I am talking about my mortality.

Barco is at the stage where he can easily outrun me.  And, of course, all of his obedience training disappears while he runs circles around me.  Literally.  It is fun to watch, but it makes me realize this dog could easily outlive me.

I thought of that today as I sat down to write about three recent deaths of friends -- all three who have had an impact on my life.  If you have read these pages for very long, you have already been introduced to two of them.

Joan Shinnick you should know (the monkey on my back; putting my best foot forward).  When I first met her in 1972, she was the wife of my first commander in the Air Force.  We became fast friends.  I was stationed at Castle Air Force Base for only a year, but, after I left, we kept up regular correspondence until she entered a rest home -- forgetting a lot of the things that made her who she was.

I doubt I can improve on my summary of her in an earlier post: "Joan was one of those personalities that come into our lives and forever change how we look at the world.  She was an incredible writer.  Witty.  Precise.  With a jeweler's eye for cant.  I think I once called her a cross between Mame Dennis and Erma Bombeck."

Joan always reminded me of Elaine Stritch with her wit and acerbic humor.  Her nickname "Stretch" (because of her height) may have facilitated that comparison.

She encouraged me to keep up my writing.  Whenever I think of abandoning this blog project, I recall her words prodding me along -- words that always helped me to find the purpose in what I was writing.

When her son Blake informed me that she had died, he passed on another bit of encouragement: "I asked her last week if she remembered you and she lit up and said she definitely did."

Without Joan's inspiration, I am not certain I would have ever launched Mexpatriate and its predecessor.

Earlier this week, my friend Todd McIntosh announced his wife Shannon Casey had died.  You met her on my pages in finding my faith, where I discussed the possibility that our caring actions toward others are some of the most effective prayers.

I met Todd and Shannon years before I moved to Mexico.  They lived in a housing area outside of Pátzcuaro where I was seriously considering buying a house.  Discovering their blog was like getting insider information about my potential neighbors.

The adventures of Larry the Rabbit and an ever-changing cast of cats convinced me that I needed to get to know this couple.  And I did.  Whenever I was in Pátzcuaro (or later in San Miguel de Allende when they moved there), I would arrange either lunch or dinner with them.

Maybe it was the fact that we talked about our own lives so much in our essays, but it always felt as if I had known both of them for most of my life.  They were both erudite, fun-loving, and willing to discuss controversial matters in an amicable manner.  That type of civility is a rare commodity these days.

Our dining options were often limited because Shannon used a walker.  While attempting to save a  hummingbird in her home, she fell from a very high ladder severely injuring her leg.  Multiple surgeries and treatments marginally improved her condition.  But she was stuck with the walker.

And then the really bad news came.  Cancer.  The prayer essay I mentioned earlier centered on her struggle -- a struggle she bore with an amazing smile.  Just more proof of her innate civility.

But that battle came to an end this week.  I will truly miss her and her writing.  She taught me that even what we must endure can be endured with grace.

What will influence me most about Shannon's life is her sense of giving.  She did her best to save the life of one of God's smallest creatures, and spent the remainder of her life physically limited.

It is to that sense of giving I now appeal.  In his announcement of Shannon's death, Todd wrote: 

Shannon has asked that there be no service or memorial.  No flowers.  If you want to do something you can contribute to the Cash for Chemo fund to help pay down the bills we will have backlogged over the last 6 years since her accident.  I didn't want to ask for help, but Shannon made me Promise!  It has been a rough few years.
If you choose to donate, you can find the link at:

Last night I sat down to write about Joan and Shannon.  But I simply could not get started.  I think I now know why.

This morning, I received an email that a grade school friend of mine, Keith May, had just died of a heart attack.  A heart attack!  The suddenness caught me completely off guard.

I knew Keith since he moved to the Milwaukie area.  He is undoubtedly the primary reason for my infatuation with politics.

One day in the sixth grade, our teacher, Miss Dix, asked for nominations for class officers.  Keith immediately shot up his hand and offered up my name.  Up until then, I am not certain I knew him very well.

He became my campaign manager.  I bought a box of lic-ris-ets for each of my classmates with a handwritten note tucked inside asking for a vote -- for me.  I was an early believer in the power of buying votes and disguising it as influencing the voting public.

We became fast friends with bike trips to the river and expeditions into the woods.  I saw him less frequently after I headed off for other adventures with the Air Force.  When I returned, we would get together occasionally for dinner to catch up on our lives.

His experiences often reminded me of the warm-up act for the Book of Job.  But he kept on plowing through life.  I remember our last lunch in Canby, he told me that he was certain everything was going to work out.

I hope it did.  I am just sorry that I will never again be able to enjoy his optimism -- and to remind him that politics was not my best life choice.

Three lives.  Each one has added a layer to my life.  But that is what relationships are about.  Spreading a new patina on our very souls.  When lives end, they go on in our own.

Joan.  Shannon.  Keith.  I am going to miss all three of you.


Wednesday, January 06, 2016

the great brown hunter

Reality has raised its stinger in our idyllic compound.

Barco has entered his hunter stage.  Butterflies and grasshoppers during the day.  Things that go bump in the night after the sun sets.

That usually means crickets.  He has developed a fondness for them that would qualify him to be a native of Oaxaca.  I regret his choice.  The nocturnal sound of crickets in my courtyard makes nighttime here a joy.

But he is a predator.  And he will hunt.  It is his nature.  My conservative outlook long ago taught me there are some things in nature that cannot be undone.  Most things, in fact.

He also attacks the occasional small cockroach.  But the survival nature of cockroaches is hardwired to Barco's disadvantage.

The courtyard is only dimly lit at night.  If I do not have my flashlight with me, I cannot always see what he is stalking.

Last night around 3 AM, on my mad dash to the door with a bladder-challenged dog in hot pursuit, I noticed I was the only being dashing.  Barco had stopped near one of the planters with his nose plastered to the ground.  I assumed that he had found the makings for an early morning cricket snack.

As I ran back to scoop him up, he dealt whatever it was a deadly slam with his paw.  (Dogs have a very effective way of proving that might often does make right.  At least, might makes favorable results.)  I did not pause to look at what he had killed, but had not yet eaten.

This morning, while cleaning up fallen leaves and flowers (one of my homeowner rituals), I found the carcass.  It was not a cricket.  Or a cockroach.  Or even a butterfly.

It was a scorpion -- one of our very toxic small beige scorpions.  The ants had begun feasting on what Barco had missed.  Being wise ants, they had severed the stinger and set it aside while they dined on one of nature's most efficient predators.

That was the first scorpion I have seen in the sixteen months I have lived here.  That is surprising since there are lots of open fields in my neighborhood.

But I saw only a few scorpions in my five years of living on the laguna in Villa Obreg
ón.  They are certainly here, but nowhere as prevalent as they are in San Miguel de Allende on my visits to the highlands.

Having made that rather facile comparison, it only takes one scorpion under a bare foot to re-construct one's view of how any given day is going.  And it was a good reminder: I obviously need to wear something on my feet when I am walking around.  Especially, at night.

Of course, while I was acting as a police crime scene photographer, I was standing there in my bare feet.  I am an expert at spouting life morals; I am rather a slouch when it comes to practice.

I suppose lesson number two is that I need to be more observant about what Barco is hunting. 

However, I have no delusions of crowning myself the King Canute of changing dog behavior.  After all, he spends a large portion of his day romping in the goat lot across the street chasing butterflies.

He will end up learning his life lessons as the rest of us have.  Roses have thorns.  Scorpions pack a punch.  Crickets are tasty.


Monday, January 04, 2016

immigrating with the bard

The three crones in Macbeth may have had it right:
When the hurly-burly's done,When the battle's lost and won.
That about sums up my relief in being south of the border for this American presidential election.  I suppose I can say that about almost all northern politics.  It is a joy to be away from all of the nonsense.  Or, at least, most of it.

It is very easy to get a distorted view of the subtleties of American politicking here on the Mexican Pacific coast.  I get most of my news from The Economist and National Review -- two publications that share a rational view of life even though their politics are quite different from one another.

I fell into this trap during the debate over Obamacare.  According to those two publications (and The American Spectator), there were a multitude of alternative ways to remedy some of the more egregious failings of the American health care system.  Options were compared and discussed in the type of logical discourse one would expect to find at the finer dining tables in Chelsea.

When I went north for an extended stay in 2010, I was shocked at the reality of the discussion coming from both the White House and Congress -- and the public.  What I thought was a garden party discussion had turned into a skid row bar fight.

And, as the late great Yogi Berra may have said (but probably didn't): "It's like déjà vu all over again."

I just read a very well-reasoned article on immigration -- one of the big issues in this year's campaign.  I do not necessarily agree with the conclusions of the author (Reihan Salam), but his approach to the issue makes a good deal of sense. 

Using statistics and immigration studies, he walks his readers through the positive aspects of immigration and the down-sides of an immigration policy that is slanted in favor of low-skilled workers that will depress wages for the recently-arrived immigrants with the same skill sets.

His answer is an immigration policy based on the model used by Canada and Australia -- opening immigration to potential citizens who have the skill sets that America will need to remain economically competitive in the 21st century.  As I say, I am not completely won over by the conclusion, but I was impressed with the analysis.

What impressed me is that I have not heard a single presidential candidate propose any policy that contains that type of logical analysis.  Instead, we get bumper sticker responses from both political parties.

In my ivory tower in Mexico, I have been a bit shocked at the popularity of Donald Trump among Republicans and Bernie Sanders among Democrats.  I shouldn't be.  Both candidates have dipped into the mother lode of anger and distrust that Americans naturally have of establishment politicians.  That anger has come to a boil over the past 16 years.

As a result, voters are primed to buy Trump's reality television boasts that immigration can be solved by building a wall (with a giant door) between America and Mexico, or the equally questionable Sanders nostrum that a similar wall built around the entire country (metaphorically) will magically solve America's job and manufacturing problem.

I know that this is not the only political campaign where rational people have wept.  It all started with the election of 1800, and nothing has improved much since then.

So, I will live in my cosseted world with my rational publications and studies believing what could be.  And I will leave the reality to others.  I can always hope that whoever is elected will have the sense to govern more rationally than he (or she) has campaigned.  But I know the truth of that, as well.

After all, Shakespeare (in the same play) summed it up far better than the rest of us could:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Friday, January 01, 2016

wrapping it all up

Happy new year from the cast of Mexpatriate.

I have an annual tradition of compiling the 10 most popular episodes (based on your comments) of the past year.  Re-reading my essays also gives me an opportunity to figure out how I invested my time.

It was quite a year.  I lost three close friends.  Took two road trips -- through southern Mexico with my cousin Dan and his wife Patti, and up to Oregon and back with my brother Darrel.

Then there was the visit to Fascist China (I have acquiesced to those of you who found my reference to "Red China" anachronistic) -- with the follow-on cruise to Korea, Japan, Russia, and Canada.

I also resurrected my relationship with Amazon.  Shipments now regularly show up at my post office box or my house.  A pair of sandals and dog accessories are currently in transit.

But none of those episodes made the top ten list for 2015.  Here are the winners -- once again, by the number of comments from readers.  Interestingly, all of them were written in the second half of the year.

#10 -- sawing memories in half (29 October).  Following Hurricane Patricia's visits to our shores, I wrote about the sound of chain saws cutting up fallen trees.  It reminded me of a more innocent time in Powers when timber was still an industry.

#9 -- ghost of a chance (8 June).  My most prized acquisition on my summer trip to Oregon was a bottle of ghost pepper chili powder.  One of the hottest peppers known.  I had great plans for spicing up dishes -- and most of them worked just as anticipated.  My favorite use, though, is spicing up my tomato juice.

#8 (tie) -- puppies on the half shell (10 December).  One of my quests in 2015 was to purchase a dog.  Most of you showed great interest in whether I would get one puppy -- or two -- or none.  In this episode I was still in my Hamlet mode.  But it did introduce you to the two puppies I was considering -- Red and Green.

#8 (tie) -- best-laid plans (26 August).  In August, I initiated my long-delayed walking program.  Barra de Navidad has a splendid walking/running/jogging/bike path, and I wanted to put it to good use.  For some reason (probably ill-fitting shoes), I developed a large blister on the bottom of my left foot.  That led to an infection in my leg and -- well -- a series of doctor and hospital visits.  Health-wise, 2015 was not a great year for me.

#7 -- moving to mexico -- learning the language (15 October).  When I cut back on my essay writing in August, I decided to devote more time to exercise and working on my Spanish.  The Spanish project has worked far better than my exercise program.  After all, conjugation has not put me in the hospital.  I brought several Spanish lessons with me when I moved to Mexico.  They have helped.  But there is material here for a follow-on episode.

#6 -- the naming of dogs (17 December).  Having purchased only one puppy, I was faced with the prospect of finding an appropriate and witty Spanish name.  American politics offered up the solution.  Barco Rubio.  It is witty.  Whether it is appropriate is another question.  After all, I just named my dog "blonde boat" -- in Spanish.  He doesn't seem to mind.  As long as food is involved.

#5 -- moving to mexico -- food budget (13 December).  One thing I have learned in the nine years I have been writing Mexpatriate and its predecessor is that the content of the essay will almost always be subordinated to the personal fervor it evokes.  This episode was a perfect example.  I wrote about my trip to the local grocery store that specializes in imported foods.  All of them were very expensive.  My point was that food budgets can be inexpensive in Mexico as long as the buyer does not try to re-create a northern dinner table.  Most of the comments ended up discussing the items I purchased and how unhealthy they were.  But I was not surprised.  That is merely what happens in the blogging word when religious topics (like food) are mentioned.

#4 -- toying with the story (22 August).  After announcing that I was going to shut down Mexpatriate to concentrate on exercising and learning Spanish, readers convinced me that I could do both while writing only occasional (rather than daily) essays.  I surrendered.

#3 -- farewell (21 August).  This was my curtain call announcement for Mexpatriate.  I have yet to tell you the full story -- and I doubt I ever well.  But events from late August convinced me it was time to change a few things in my life.  Mexpatriate was one.  My original plan was simply to shut down the whole operation.  But, as you can see from #4, I changed my mind.  I will admit the comments and email I received had a great part in moving me back to the keyboard.

#2 -- welcoming patricia to the party (22 October).  In October,  Barra de Navidad was faced with its first hurricane since Jova in 2011.  And Patricia was a big storm.  By the time it was off our coast, it was a category 5+ hurricane.  I received a lot of advice to flee.  I didn't.  As projected by the computer models, Patricia steered north of us: following about the same path Jova did four years earlier.  My house turned out to be a great sanctuary not only for me but also for a local Mexican family.

#1 -- an opening for a princess (8 September).  I thought "farewell" was going to own this spot.  But I had completely forgotten about this episode -- and the controversy it caused.  I announced I was looking for a wife, and then created a list that could be called mildly sexist.  Of course, it was all a put on.  As a warning to people who might take it seriously, I tacked this on at the bottom of the piece: "
Just in case you are curious, this is not one of my jokester essays.  My life is ready to take a turn for the better."  My mother saw through it immediately.  But the comments did lead to some good advice on getting a dog.

So, there it is.  2015 in review.  On the whole, it has been a good year -- even with the hospital visits.

It is now time to start a new year with my puppy who believes he is a fox with very sharp teeth.  And there is probably an essay in there somewhere.  But it will have to wait.

For all of you who left comments this year, thank you very much.  It would be nice to hear from more of you.

We trust all of you will have a blessed new year,