Wednesday, November 30, 2016

when is a citizen not a citizen?

Some odd things cross my desk. Some even cause me to start re-assessing my plans.

Yesterday, I received an email from my blogger pal Felipe over at
the unseen moon. He wanted to know if I had seen the latest post on surviving yucatan: "New Rules for Naturalized Mexican Citizens with US Passport Renewals."

I hadn't. But I have now.

Even though the author of 
surviving yucatan writes from a Merida-centric perspective, his posts are always insightful. And, because this particular post deals with an issue facing all naturalized Mexican citizens who renew their US passports, I thought I would pass along what he has to say.

Whenever I mention that I am considering becoming a Mexican citizen, the first question I am asked is: "Why do you want to give up your American citizenship?" Well, I don't.

At one time, it was very difficult for American citizens to retain more than one citizenship. That all changed with a Supreme Court case in 1967. It is now possible to collect citizenships as if they were Hummel figures -- or Humvees.

So, I thought that issue was long dead. But it appears to have raised its head in the guise of passport renewals.

The new American passport renewal forms contain an affirmation that begins: "I have not, since acquiring United States citizenship/nationality, been naturalized as a citizen of a foreign state; taken an oath or made an affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state ... ." Of course, Mexican naturalized citizens have done just that: acquired citizenship in a foreign state AND sworn an oath to that state."

I will let you read on
surviving yucatan all about the almost Kafkaesque lengths the consular service goes through doing the Potomac two-step to avoid applying the affirmation. Why the form itself does not deal with the issue of dual citizenship is beyond me. But, then, why do The States have one of the most complicated personal and corporate tax systems in the world?

What the form does not do is place a naturalized Mexican citizen's American citizenship in jeopardy. The law is quite clear that if an American citizen wishes to renounce her citizenship, she can do it only through a very specific procedure that requires a positive renunciation. The problem with the form is not that it subtly causes citizenship problems, but that its affirmation is at odd with the fact of naturalization.

This little bit of news just underlines my cooling ardor for seeking Mexican citizenship. If you have not noticed, my passion for the idea has been reduced to a bit of ash and embers.

I wanted citizenship for two reasons. First, to vote, If I am going to live here, I would like a civic voice in the country I call my home.

Second, if I sell the house, I would like to take advantage of the personal residence exemption from capital gains tax. My understanding is that the government is currently limiting it to Mexican citizens only. (Of course, that could change at any time almost without notice.)

That is not really a consideration, though, because I have no plans of selling the house. When I die, it will be my brother's to deal with.

For the moment, I am keeping my powder dry. I do not need to renew my passport for another two years. Maybe then I will pull out the billows to re-light the citizenship fire.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

moving to mexico -- choosing a place to alight

Late last week at dinner, a woman, who I had just met, asked me: "Why did you choose to live here?"

It is not the first time the question has been put to me. But, for a moment, I felt the same vacant look cross my face that Teddy Kennedy had when Roger Mudd asked him in 1980 why ne wanted to be president. (You could hear an echo of "Hail to the Chief" fading in the background.)

Like Teddy, I had no satisfactory answer. I tried getting away with a glib "it was an accident," but she was having none of that.

The long answer, as you might suspect, is far more complex. When I moved south in 2009, I had no idea where I wanted to end up. Well, that is not quite true. I had an entire list of places that interested me, but I had not yet chosen a finalist.

My idea was to start my search in Melaque. I would live there for 6 months, then move on to the next site on my list, and live there for 6 months. When I had lived in each of my candidates, I would choose a winner.

Obviously, my search took an entirely different direction. Part of the reason was the always-sage advice of Jennifer Rose. She bluntly told me if I stayed no longer than 6 months in any location, no one would invest the time it would take to know me. She was correct.

I also realized something I should have figured out long before I moved down. If I stayed for only 6 months in any location, I would spend most of my time trying to figure where I was going to live for the next 6 months. At best, my plan was Sisyphean.

But I did have a shopping list of suggestions to help me in choosing my potential permanent home. If you have wandered these parts regularly, you will recognize the list.

  • university nearby
  • archaeological sites within driving distance
  • central location for other archaeological sites
  • warm, sunny days; cool nights
  • new acquaintances -- some with a love of food
  • the challenge of a new language
  • time to read; time to learn; time to rest
  • daily learning to survive
  • facing mountains of difficulties -- and being repeatedly crushed
  • long walks with Professor Jiggs before breakfast and after sunset
  • living outside of a car
  • offering help to others
  • graciously accepting help from others

Anyone who knows Barra de Navidad will tell you it is a very nice place to live. But -- it certainly does not score high on my shopping list. When I graded our local communities against my list, I gave the area a C or C- (making the grade) back in 2009. But I never did make it to the second stop on my list.

I am no longer certain what the second stop was. I suspect it was either Morelia or Pátzcuaro -- both of them in the state of Michoacán in the Mexican highlands. I even knew the housing development where I wanted to live in Pátzcuaro.

During my trip to Pátzcuaro's night of the dead earlier this month, I thought about my never-lamented dead plan while walking the streets of Morelia. It is a sizeable city -- with almost 600,000 residents.

And it has a lot of the cultural attributes I was looking for in a home. The university has a reputable school of music that sponsors a wide array of performances.

As for history, Morelia played a part in every event in Mexico's colonial and post-colonial history. The area is also home to some rather grand archaeological sites constructed by the Purépecha -- one of the few tribes that were never subjugated by the Aztecs.

Along with all of that history comes some of Mexico's best colonial architecture. All of it still being used in one form or another as a UNESCO-designated cultural site.

So, why didn't I move from the beach to the cultural heights of the Mexican highlands? The real answer is probably inertia. I do like being near the ocean.

But one reason came home to me on that last visit. Morelia sits in a geographic bowl. With its car and truck traffic, as well as its industrial base, the pollution in Morelia is often trapped in thermal inversions. Looking at the city from the surrounding mountains, it appears to be engulfed in a brown haze for parts of the year.

Having said that, its air pollution is rated as moderate. But it certainly is not as fresh as our ocean air. Or the air in Pátzcuaro.

Who knows? I may simply be justifying the fact that I did not investigate other living sites in Mexico.

As it turns out, I am quite content living in my house close to the sea -- where I can start my day with my morning walks and enjoy the pleasant weather that late fall has brought us.

And what could be better than being content?

Monday, November 28, 2016

humor is reason gone mad

"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

That is what I call Marxist insight.

I miss Groucho. His quips could prick the pretensions of anyone.  And usually did.  If he were alive today, he would live in a target-rich environment.

A friend of mine recently forwarded a link to an article in The Guardian* with the neutral-sounding observation: "Here is an article that might give you some grist for your blog-mill."

He was correct. At first reading, I thought it was a satirical piece from The Onion. The tone was perfect, but the logic was a bit outrageous. A second reading brought me up short when I realized its author was quite serious.  Dead pan serious.

Mawuna Remarque Koutonin is identified as the editor of an Africa-based blog; that is where The Guardian lifted the piece.

He has a beef. He wants to know why people of color are called "immigrants," while white people are called "expatriates."

My reaction was: "Darned if I know. I am not certain that is even true. Or that it matters."

It matters, of course, because the voice of silent hurt constantly seeks new ways to feel pain.

Having written that sentence, I know that I am part of the problem, and that I should really feel bad -- very bad -- that someone else feels awful that I do not even see that silent hurt is welling across the planet because I "just don't get it." After all, look at the banner at the top of this page. I parade around daily with "expatriate" emblazoned across my smug, elite features.

If you have not yet figured it out, Mr.
Koutonin knows why people of color are apparently prohibited from using the term expatriate: "In the lexicon of human migration there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else."

Yup. It is part of a world-wide racist white conspiracy designed to stamp non-white people with a label of inferiority.

But hang on.  If Mr. Koutonin were to live here in the barrio with me, I would call him an expatriate. And I don't think I would be wrong to do so. I certainly call my neighbor from Ecuador an expatriate. Or, I would, if I called her anything except her given name.

Part of the problem, of course, is that a certain class of folks love describing people by their group identity. Hispanic. White. Left-handed Lithuanian women who use lemon in their tea. Somehow, we have forgotten that we are all individuals first.

His solution to this outrage? "
If you see those 'expats' in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there."

"Jump in the air and stay there." I like that. But he is no Groucho -- the masterful author of: "
I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."

Groucho would have a better explanation. Have you seen the people who revel in the term "expatriate?" They either look as if they are auditioning as extras in A Passage to India or have pretensions that they are Ernest, Scott, or Gertrude in Paris. Entire pockets of them live throughout Mexico.
Let them have the term. The rest of us can call ourselves immigrants or residents. Or maybe just Steve and Mawuna.

Of course, there are other choices, Mawuna.  Courtesy of Emma Lazarus: exiles, tired, poor, huddled masses, homeless, tempest-tost.

I am reserving "wretched refuse" for myself. 

* -- The Guardian is considered a quality newspaper amongst a certain wing of the political spectrum.  It is the kind of publication that calls Bill Clinton a "posh white bloke who is holding back the struggle for a fairer world."  I think they mean "more just" world; "fairer" world sounds too much like something else. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

there's a (wrong) word for it

I am a word collector.

It all started in my high school Latin class. Mr. McCutcheon was a great teacher. Unlike all of our fellow students who were Frenching and Spanishing away in the halls, we were being taught some of the secrets of our own language. English may be Germanic in its form, but its vocabulary is fueled by Latin words that made their way to England in that little conquest of 1066. You may have heard of it.

During my Spanish lessons, I periodically thank Mr. McCutcheon for drilling roots and conjugations into my dense little head. It made English far more clear to me, and it has left enough residue to help me through my Spanish.

Several months ago, a woman in our class decided she was bored with the usual social greetings. She is one of those personalities for whom the word "ebullient" was retained in English. Witty. Charming. Ready with a smile.

She told our instructor that she was tired of the usual responses to the question of how she was doing. "I want to say I am terrific. Terrifico! Is that correct?"

Our teacher was taken aback. "You want to tell people that you are terrible? Why?"

"No. I want to stay I am terrific. Terrifico."

Cognates are one of the fun discoveries in every language. Words that sound similar in both tongues. They are like free words when learning to speak another language.

But, in every language, there are also false cognates. Words that sound similar, but that have different meanings. In some cases, such as "terrifico," they mean just the opposite.

"Terrifico" is a real Spanish word. And its meaning was exactly the same as "terrific" when it entered English around the 1300s -- “causing terror, terrifying; terrible, frightful; stirring, awe-inspiring; sublime.” That is not surprising, it is derived from the Latin root
terrere -- to fill with fear. Terror. Terrible. Terrific.

Somewhere in the 1700s, "terrific" took on a new meaning. "Of great size or intensity; excessive; very severe." You can still hear some English speakers (primarily rural folk) refer to a terrific storm. I may have even used the word in that sense myself.

In the late 1800s, "terrific" morphed into the form we use today: "an enthusiastic term of commendation: amazing, impressive; excellent, exceedingly good, splendid.”

No one knows why the term managed to turn itself 180 degrees around from its original meaning. After all, who knows, in just the past few recent years, how "iconic" went from being "a visual art executed according to a tradition or convention; characteristic of an icon" to being anything the speaker thinks is cool or awesome -- without regard to its visual quality.

And who says Mexpatriate is not a full service stop on the internet freeway?


OK. I could not avoid the temptation of dipping into the Monty Python grab bag. Here is one of my favorite Latin grammar bits.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

chillin' out, chillin' in

My memory is going.

Three years ago, our blogger pal John Calypso, over at
Viva Veracruz, challenged his netizen colleagues to show various parts of their houses. My kitchen response was someone's in the kitchen with steven.

I was positive he had presented us with a similar challenge while I was still living in Oregon -- show us what's in your refrigerator. But, I must have imagined it.

There is no such post in my archives -- even though I am positive I once used a photograph of my Salem refrigerator in an early essay. Of course, I can't find that, either.

Probably never happened. Similar to my memory of having seen Edith Piaf in Paris with my Uncle Don and Aunt Bessie in 1958 (
my best girl).

And that is one reason eye-witness testimony is so unreliable. We remember what happened in snatches and bits. And we remember best what never did happen.

But I like the refrigerator challenge. So, I am pulling out one of John's tricks, filtering it through the fetid network of my memory, and adding a bit of my own sauce to the recipe.

I will start it off. The contents of my refrigerator are posted at the top of this essay. And, as matters of this nature go, I will leave it at that.

No further commentary is required. Even though I am certain some of you may have questions of just what some of the colored blobs are in my refrigerator.

So, bloggers, pull out your cameras, throw open the door of your refrigerator, and share what is there.

Just one rule: shoot it as it is. No re-arranging or tidying up. Our is a journalism of realism.

Friday, November 25, 2016

thanking the mail

I completely forgot about a very important event.

Not Thanksgiving. It is impossible to miss it here. Several restaurants actively compete for the small number of northerners, who have returned to the area, offering good to terrible interpretations of one of the most boring meal choices of the year -- turkey dinner.

And participate I did. The event gave me the opportunity to break out my dinner jacket. For me, Thanksgiving has long been a black tie occasion.

It also gave me an opportunity to do a dry run on how my new body fits into my old formal wear. I have a trip to Australia in the offing, and both my black tie and white tie outfits may accompany me.

Then, there is dry cleaning. I have discovered a place in Manzanillo that does a decent job on silk shirts.

Now, I need to give them an opportunity to show their stuff with my formal wear. Last winter, the company did a great job on my formal shirt. What needed to be starched was; what didn't wasn't.  Not every laundry can pass that test.

But, we were talking about missed events. The event I forgot was
Dia del Cartero -- Postman's Day. I told you about it in honor thy postman.

Almost everyone has a day here. It is as if the government decided the best way to squeeze the Catholic church out of Mexican culture was to fill every day of the year with another secular celebration.
Dia del Cartero is an opportunity to thank, in a very material way, the three men who keep me posted on local gossip and events, chat me up about politics, and provide me with the mail service that keeps me in contact with my non-internet friends.

The day to do that was 12 November. Instead of paying my thanks to Saúl and his associates, I was gilding a tale of moths for you.

While I was showering yesterday morning, I realized my mistake. My old laptop (the one whose hard drive has passed to the other side) would have reminded me thirteen days ago that I had a duty to fulfill. But the dead tell no tales -- nor remind we, the living, that we are forgetting something very important.

So, I grabbed three envelopes, stuffed a 200 peso note in each, and delivered the lot to the post office. Saúl looked startled. For a moment, I thought I had forgotten that I had already paid them my compliments. But he seemed only to be surprised I was as late as I was.

The Mexican mail service has taken a turn for the worse lately. Two years ago, my mail north would regularly be delivered within 10 days to three weeks of mailing. The same with mail sent from above the Rio Bravo.

Not any more. Two to three months is a more realistic benchmark.

Why the change? I have no idea. Saúl told me in December of 2014 there was a Christmas slowdown. If that was the case, it has taken a long spell for the python to clear its glut.

What I do know is the three guys in the Melaque office do yeoman work. Even if I did not stop there regularly to check my postal box, I would now stop in just to talk with them.

And yesterday, I bought a bit more of their time.

I hope you were better at remembering the day than was I. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

billy collins is what i am not

I have always wanted to be a poet.

To be the type of writer who could condense complexity into a few brief syllables. To capture philosophical ether in a bell jar.

To be frank, though, what I really want is to present my poetry at readings. I already have the outfit. Gray tweed jacket. Checked shirt in muted tones. Khaki Dockers. A cross between a history professor at a small midwestern college and a frustrated frat boy.

I have even tried my hand at the craft. Initially with sentimental rhymes in praise of my grandmother. The type of verse that never escapes the orbit of doggerel. Erato never smiled on me.

My other grandmother was a published poet. So, I come by the desire honestly.

I never knew her. She was the eldest of four sisters and one brother. My father's mother.

What I have been able to piece together from family lore and whispers is a tale that would suit any southern gothic writer. The cover story is that she was infected with encephalitis by a tsetse fly that had made its way from the wilds of Africa to Coos County in a box of bananas.

What I do know is that she died in the Oregon State Hospital. In the 1940s, it was where people were sent when they went nuts. Her poetry must have percolated through a fevered mind. And it may explain some of my darker depressive moods.

But that is not the type of poet I want to be. As I said, I want to give readings. And, even though you will need to imagine me dressed in my poetic garb, I can provide you with what I would read if we were all gathered together in some dimly-lit independent book store that makes most of its profit selling herbal teas and fuzzy kitten greeting cards.

I would read three poems. Since I tend to be the type of reader who extols the beauty of poetry, but the skips over the poetry sections in Lord of the Rings, I have no works of my own to read. Instead, I would read selections from my current contemporary poet -- Billy Collins.

I just completed his latest collection of poems: The Rain in Portugal. As always, the book is filled with memorable poems. Buy the book. You will enjoy it.

I have picked two of his better poems for this reading.

The first poem:


"The morning is expected to be cool and foggy." -- Wislawa Szymborska "The Day After -- Without Us."

Imagining what the weather will be like
on the day following your death
has a place on that list of things

that distinguish us from animals
as if walking around on two legs
laughing to ourselves were not enough to close the case.

In these forecasts, it's usually raining,
the way it would be in the movies.

but it could be sparkling clear
or grey and still with snow expected in the afternoon.

Much will continue to occur after I die
seems to be the message here,
The rose will nod its red or yellow head.
Sunbeams will break into the gloomy woods.

And that's what was on my mind
as I drove through a gauntlet of signs
on a road that passed through a small town in Ohio.

Bob's Transmissions,
The Hairport, The Bountiful Buffet,
Reggie's Bike Shop, Balloon Designs by Pauline,
and Majestic China Garden to name a few.

When I realized that all these places
could still be in business on the day after I die,
I vowed to drink more water,
to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables,
and to start going to the gym I never go to

if only to outlive
Balloon Designs by Pauline
and maybe even Pauline herself
though it would be enough if she simply
lost the business and left town for good.

And, here I would pause. Just long enough -- perhaps a five count -- to gather myself for the second poem:

One Leg of the Journey

From the back seat of an old Toyota
on a breakneck rush to the Mexico City airport
out of the city of Puebla to the southeast,

I could see in the rear-view mirror
the clenched face of the driver
as he pushed the car to 90 then 95 miles an hour.

The sun had yet to show its face
but already thin clouds were turning yellow.
and I was tired of thinking about death

in a country with its own day of the dead
featuring skeletons on horseback,
skeletons playing the trombone,

even bride and groom skeletons,
so I closed my eyes instead and pictured
a turtle climbing onto a log to sun herself there,

motionless and nearly invisible,
while the river flowed bubbling
around her on its journey to the east.

I was tempted to add some baby turtles
to form a kind of family,
but I decided to leave well enough alone.

Before too long, we ran into
the evacuation-scale traffic of the city
and inched along through the vendors

with their bottles of water and pink toys
and pinwheels that twirled in the wind,
until we pulled up to a curb at the airport

where we all parted company --
the driver heading back to Puebla,
me looking for the number of my gate,

and the turtle poking out her head
then sliding off the log and disappearing
into the less troubled waters by the shore.

Once the appreciative chuckles had died down, I would then share a poem that I often thought about while Barco lived here. I had even considered including it in his eulogy. But the time was not right.

It is now.

The Revenant

I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never like you -- not even one bit.

When I licked your face,
I thought of biting off your nose.
When I watched you toweling yourself dry,
I wanted to leap up and unman you with one snap.

I resented the way you moved,
your lack of animal grace,
the way you would sit in a chair to eat,
a napkin in your lap, knife in your hand.

I would have run away,
but I was too weak, a trick you taught me
while I was learning to sit and heel,
and -- greatest of insults -- shake hands without a hand.

I admit the sight of the leash
would excite me
but only because it meant I was about
to smell things you had never touched.

You do not want to believe this,
but I have no reason to lie.
I hated the car, the rubber toys,
disliked your friends and, worse, your relatives.

The jingling of my tags drove me mad.
You always scratched me in the wrong place.
All I ever wanted from you
was food and fresh water in my metal bowls.

While you slept, I watched you breathe
as the moon rose in the sky.
It took all of my strength
not to raise my head and howl.

Now I am free of the collar,
the yellow raincoat, the monogrammed sweater,
the absurdity of your lawn,
and that is all you need to know about this place

except what you already supposed
and are glad it did not happen sooner --
that everyone here can read and write,
the dogs in poetry, the cats and the others in prose.

I would then thank you all for listening so politely and patiently. And I would profusely thank Billy Collins for the poems I love, but could not possibly have written.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

meeting up on the internet highway

There are many joys in writing these essays.

The first is simply the act of writing. Nothing orders my life better than sitting down at the keyboard and making sense out of some recent experience. Writing enlivens my little gray cells -- as Hercule Poroit might say.

My enjoyment of the writing process was not a surprise when I started this blogging process nine years ago. After all, I have been writing tales since I was four, but seldom anything that grisly.

What I did not anticipate was how many people I would come to know through these occasional musings. Even before I left Salem on my move south, I knew several fellow writers as well as I knew some of my neighbors.

What has surprised me is the number of people I have met on side roads. Several months ago, I received an email from Richard Lapidus.

We had never met, but he wanted to know if I would allow him to use one of my photographs in a book he is publishing. The photograph was of a motel sign in Gila Bend, where my brother and I stayed on one of our trips to or from Mexico.

I gladly agreed. In fact, I was complimented he asked.

In turn, he sent me a copy of another of his books -- Snake Hunting on the Devil's Highway. It turns out Richard is a snake hunter. And that is exactly what the book is about. Hunting snakes in Arizona.

Now, just by chance, it turns out I have a great fondness for snakes. I have for all of my life. When I moved to Mexico, I had dreams of seeing a new snake every day. As it turned out, I have seen only about three in my eight years of living here.

When I finish the book, it will go in the library. I know one reader who would really appreciate it -- my niece. She not only loves snakes, she collects them as pets. And her favorites are those with nasty dispositions. She takes it as a personal challenge to train them.

Who knows who I will meet next out here on the internet? Maybe an opera buff who wants to use my shot of La Scala for a poster. Or a dog lover who needs some sentimental photographs of Barco.

There is always potential in the cul-de-sacs of life.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

irving takes a walk

My clothes stink.

The other day when I walked into my bedroom, the place reeked of something between an ammonia factory and a fat-rendering plant. I knew immediately what it was.

I have spent enough time in men's locker rooms to recognize the distinct odor of fermenting sweat. Boys learn the smell at an early age. Usually when the coach informs his charges that gym clothes require washing more than once a year.

Since I started my walks, I go through a lot of socks and shirts. I sweat so profusely that my shirts will not dry out between uses. So, I simply toss them in my laundry basket that hides in my closet. You can see the problem right there. I need a better storage place for my used exercise clothes.

My walking shoes have not presented the same problem. With the exception of the few months Barco lived here, I have always left them in the courtyard. Nothing is quite so rank as well-used shoes in a confined space. That process also kept the sand caked on my shoes from making its way into my bed.

This morning's walking routine was a bit unusual. I had trouble positioning my socks to prevent blisters. Then I had to stop to re-tie both shoes.

I had not walked more than a block and I knew I needed to stop a third time. I could feel something moving around in my left shoe. A leaf. A bit of paper. A pebble. They were all possibilities.

So, I stopped, sat down on the curb, and took off my shoe. It wasn't a leaf. It wasn't a bit of paper. It wasn't even a pebble. As you have already guessed, it was the desiccated husk of a cricket. You can see it right up there.

At least, it was just a cricket and not a ball of stinging ants. Or a wasp. Or a dreaded scorpion.

Every time I feel something in my shoe down here, and realize I have failed to shake them out before shoving my feet in, I think of this Gary Larson cartoon.

I just think of it. I never learn the lesson.

Monday, November 21, 2016

moving to mexico -- dodging death

Did I ever tell you I decided to move to Mexico when I noticed a lot of men my age were dropping dead around me -- faster than the dollar-peso exchange?

Of course, I have. But for the fact of watching acquaintances keel over, I would have been haunting the halls of the law division with my walker until they found me dead at my desk one early morning.

That is, if I was one of the lucky ones. The Oregon State Bar publishes a monthly bulletin complete with articles on better writing, how to pretend your law firm is diverse and politically correct, and who has lost her law license. Oh, yes, and an obituary column.

Around 2017, I started to notice that at least half of the attorneys, who had been called up yonder to answer for their deeds (and wills), were my age or younger. Some of cancer. Some in ghastly accidents. Most from cardiac conditions.

My "carried out feet first" scenario did not look so far in the future. So, I retired at the top of my game (and income).

I have never regretted it. After living in Mexico for a year, my former employer asked me to return to assist in choosing my successor and training him. I did. Within the first week, I knew I had made the correct decision to retire. Most of the issues I encountered were either badly perceived or defined. I could do that on my own in Mexico.

Oregon State Bar Bulletin still shows up in my postal box -- often three or four months late. I now turn directly to the obituaries (euphemistically entitled "In Memoriam"). And the news is still the same. As I age, I suspect the number of people younger than I will be will increase.

It is sad. After all, there is only so much money you can spend at the end of your life. I would much rather do it living here in Mexico relatively young rather than in a rest home when the inevitable life eater catches up with me.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

moving to mexico -- electricity cost

The results are in.

No. Not the Academy nominations for best actor. (That is not until January.) And certainly not whether the Republicans will end up with 51 or 52 seats in the senate. (The answer is 52.)

The results are the cost of my electricity for the first two months of having air conditioning in my bedroom.

I have two electric meters. One is for the two bedrooms and the kitchen on the west side of the house. The other meter is for the two bedrooms and library on the east side -- and the pool pump.

On this billing cycle, the west side of the house used $249 (Mx) worth of electricity. About $12 (US). The east side used $2,011 (Mx). About $95 (US).

Let me remind you: that is for two months. People complain that electricity in Mexico is expensive. It may be by the kilowatt hour (kWh). But I never had electric bills this low in Salem. Well, not since the Reagan administration.

CFE (the Mexican governmental electricity monopoly) provides a lot of information on its bills. My question was what effect did running my air conditioner have on my overall bill.

The best comparison would be the same billing cycle from last year. The bill does not show what I paid for that period. But I used 522 kWh. This cycle, I used 948 KWh. The air conditioner sucked up nearly twice as much juice as last year.

Most electric companies charge users different rates as usage climbs. You can see that on my bill. I travelled through three usage zones, picking up higher rates per kWh at each border.

There is an additional border I almost ended up crossing, and it would have been very expensive. You can see it illustrated on the multi-colored gauge.

The government of Mexico subsidizes the usage of electricity at a rate varying by season and temperature throughout the country -- up to a maximum. If a user crosses that maximum border, the subsidy does not apply.

In my case, the Mexican government lowered what would have been my actual electric bill by a total of nearly $3,000 (Mx). About $142 (US). Effectively, the Mexican government subsidizes the use of my air conditioner and my pool pump. As long as I stay below the cut-off point.

The original purpose of the subsidy was to encourage the poor to use electricity while giving them a break on the price. As is true with almost all similar governmental subsidies, it has not worked out that way. A recent study shows that only 1% of the subsidies benefit the poor. Instead, the vast majority of the subsidies benefit middle-class (people like me) and wealthy users.

The current Mexican government recognizes the problem. The subsidies were scheduled to be reduced and then eliminated -- to be replaced by a targeted cash payment to the poor. The idea was for CFE to sell electricity at the actual cost of generation. But I have heard nothing more of that reform.

If it occurs, my bill would be about $245 (US) a month. And even that would be a small price to pay for living here in Mexico.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

an even more modest proposal

Last week, our Bible study group wrapped up our review of Malachi. It is one of those minor prophet books that people tend to skim over on the spiritual freeway from Psalms to the gospels.

But it is filled with some heady stuff. Things like God desires us to have hearts dedicated to his respect and honor, but also to show the same love to our fellow souls on this planet. It includes some rather startling admonitions: "I will be quick to witness against ... those who take advantage of wage-earners, widows and orphans; against those who rob the foreigner of his rights and don’t fear me."

The gospels, of course, are filled with admonitions of the danger of wealth blinding one's faith. The young rich man. The farmer who hoarded his wealth in his barns. The teaching was clear. It was not the wealth that was evil: it was mankind’s obsession with it that hardened the heart toward others.

On the other hand, the group of people in Matthew 25 were astounded that they were rewarded for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the alien, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and the prisoners. "Whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!"

Several of my Christian friends have abandoned the political right in favor of what they see as a more-Christian form of government on the left, often citing that famous passage in Acts 2: "All those trusting in Yeshua stayed together and had everything in common; in fact, they sold their property and possessions and distributed the proceeds to all who were in need." At least, one based more on the message they read in the gospels. Several strong Bush boosters became Sanders supporters this past election year.

I understand the impulse. But I am a little surprised they stopped at the Sanders camp. He preached socialism lite. Fabianism with a Brooklyn accent.

Here is my proposal. If we take the gospels at their word, the message is for all people in all parts of the world. And if we wish to alleviate poverty, the world's economy produces quite a big piece of pie. But most of the pies are in the western world.

We need to gather the world population in one place. I suggest Piccadilly Circus next Saturday. Say, around 1430 hours GMT.

Oh, and everyone needs to bring the entire wealth of the world with them. Deeds and certificates to houses and factories will suffice. But everything needs to go into one big pile.

The reigning Miss Universe will then divide up the wealth and give an equal share to each person. That should be just under $10,000. About the price of a reliable used car.

Sure, you might have come to London owning a $10 million dollar house in Beverly Hills and drove to LAX in your prized Maserati. And you might have looked forward to all of your government benefits and pensions. But, after next Saturday, you will have the joy of knowing you have no more wealth than a poor girl in Peru who has never dreamed of owning that amount of money.

And this is where sharing things usually breaks down. There is always someone who wants more than the others and will start inventing helpful new things to sell to willing buyers, and thus increase his income -- as well as increasing the wealth of his customers.

It ain’t gonna happen this time. If you add up the world's income and equally divide it by the seven and a half billion souls who share our planet, each person would be paid $2,920. Annually, not monthly.

So, there you have it. I am certain President Obama would use his favorite word when it comes to such matters. It is fair.

If you are an American, it would mean trading an average accumulation of $81,400 in wealth for less than $10,000. And reducing an average income of $58,714 to $2,920. But it would be fair -- in a sense. It would also give a boost to the Castro Boys. It would make Cuba look like a paradise.

As Rousseau might say of the wealth that burdens Americans, Canadians, and Europeans: "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chain stores."

There will be some minor problems, of course. People who have worked hard to accumulate wealth will not be anxious to give it all up -- or they would have done it on their own. And there will be the pesky problem of getting people to actually work. If they are getting the same wage as their neighbor (whether they work or not), the world will run the risk of being reduced to a bunch of Homer Simpsons.

That is why social democrats need to be authoritarian when ordering other people's lives. Or they could simply opt for totalitarianism if they are beguiled by the Cuba model.

It is a great idea. Full of fairness. Not to mention moral rectitude. But, within a year, the inevitable human spirit to compete would rise to the top. New jobs would be created. People would want more. And one nation or another is going to start collecting enough chips to be the top player in the game.

And someone else would have fun writing a similar essay. Probably unaware the original writer is now swinging from a Paris lamp post.

Friday, November 18, 2016

men on horseback

Happy Mexican Revolution Day.

Well, happy Mexican Revolution Day parades --that are being held two days before the actual holiday.

I am usually out on the street with my camera for these events shooting children dressed up as little Pancho Villas, Francisco Maderos, and ladies of the hacienda. There are also plenty of
faux campesinos with bloody machetes. But I was off on my long walk this morning, and missed the festivities.

The best I can provide is a shot of a group of horsemen and young girls on foot dressed as peasants. It is a little bit like watching passion play actors sauntering home to reality.

Yesterday, I was drafting a short story (that will be published elsewhere under a pseudonym) at my favorite beachside restaurant. The conversation with the three waiters on the floor turned to the Mexican Revolution.

I love asking history questions. Now and then, I even know the answer.

My question was simple: "What happened on this day that is going to be celebrated on Monday -- and what year did it happen?" They already knew 20 November was the target.

All of them knew it had something to do with the Mexican Revolution. But none knew the year.

That was understandable. All three of them lived in The States when they were children. They do not have a single day of Mexican history between them.

Taking up my challenge, they called out the kitchen staff -- all of whom attended school in Mexico. The combined answer was interesting. "Revolution Day is when Hidalgo and Zapata raised a cry to defeat the French." In one sentence they managed to combine the events of the War of Independence (Hidalgo and 1810) with a tragic hero of the Revolution (Zapata) and the Battle of Puebla (the French).

To be fair, if I had asked the kitchen staff in an American restaurant or even an American college student (according to recent surveys) about what military event precipitated the American Civil War, let alone the Mexican Revolution, I am positive I would receive answers equally amusing.

What I really wanted to know was what happened on 20 November 1910? Why is that the day Mexicans now use to celebrate their Revolution? After all, the Revolution itself is unquestionably the defining historical event in modern Mexican history. More important than the War of Independence.

It is an interesting story. And, because it is a Mexican story, it is filled with more layers than a grilled onion.

Porfirio Diaz had served almost thirty years as president of Mexico by the time the 1910 elections rolled around. Even though he came to power as an opponent of allowing Benito Juarez to be re-elected president, he soon became convinced that no one could rule Mexico as well as he could.

Under his presidency, the economy boomed, agriculture became far more efficient, and there was peace after almost seventy years of Mexicans fighting one another following Mexico's independence from Spain. But Porfirio Diaz was also a very nasty piece of work. There was no political liberty. New leaders were frozen out of the system.

A northerner, Francisco Madero, decided in 1910 enough was enough. He would run against Porfirio Diaz for the presidency. Madero was no revolutionary. He was a true Liberal in the Mexican sense of that party, and the scion of a very wealthy family.

In his campaign through the country, he preached the gospel of liberty and the evil of re-election. Porfirio Diaz's re-election in particular. But the danger of re-election to any political office in Mexico. He would have been a fan of Cyril Northcote Parkinson -- had he lived that long.

Instead of letting Madero's campaign run its course, Porfirio Diaz jailed Madero in San Luis Potosi. While in prison, Porfirio Diaz was re-elected in what is believed to be a rigged election.

Madero's father exercised his influence to let his son ride daily outside the prison walls -- accompanied by four guards on horseback. In an early precedent for El Chapo, they just let him ride off.

Like all good revolutionaries, he fled his country to organize what would be the Mexican Revolution from his refuge in San Antonio, Texas. He had a plan. The Plan de San Luis.

The plan called for all Mexicans to rise up against The Dictator
en masse at 6:00 PM on 20 November 1910. (Madero was a bit obsessive about such matters.) Fully expecting he would be met by hundreds of armed men on the Mexican side of the border, Madero crossed over the Rio Bravo with ten men and 100 rifles at the appointed time.

To find only another 10 men on the other side. He returned to Texas hoping for a reset -- as another administration might say.

Eventually, the Revolution gained strength. Six months later Porfirio Diaz was no longer president, having fled to exile in Spain -- dying in Paris in 1915 during another great war.

Almost all of the Revolutionary leaders -- including Madero -- died before the war ran its course. Usually, killed by another Revolutionary leader. And one million Mexicans would die while the Revolution raged. (A number the PRI used for decades to justify its own dictatorial control for another 80 years.)

But the rest of that story is for another day. Monday celebrates the day when it all started -- or almost didn't start at all when the participants first failed to show up for the scheduled party.

It is now a different world for Mexico.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

trimming my sails

I told you about my walking regimen in
the sun will come out mañana. How I am walking about 11 miles each day in an attempt to get rid of some unwanted pounds.

"Some unwanted pounds." That is about the same thing as referring to the American fiscal deficit as "a little spending problem."

I am not on a diet. I have done that before. Especially, in the Air Force where we had to maintain weight standards. Of course, like all such governmental regulations, everyone rushed to shave off pounds for the annual weigh-in. The rest of the year, many of us wallowed happily in our porkitude.

As a result, once the top-down standard was lifted in 1999 with my Air Force retirement, I blossomed into the being I have been for the past 17 years.

The standard equation for losing weight is to either decrease the number of intake calories or to increase the calories burned -- or, preferably both. The old saw is that weight will be lost if more calories are burned than consumed.

It turns out our bodies are not that simple. A fellow blogger sent me a link to the works of a Canadian doctor who believes that obesity is caused by insulin. I will not go into the details, but it is an interesting theory.

He started one YouTube with the assertion that less calories and more exercise are simply a formula for failure. My ears perked up. He then claimed insulin is the culprit -- that fat people bear no responsibility for their condition. It sounded like the American Dream in a banana split bowl.

Of course, most of that was simply a come-on. Before the video ended, he made clear that strenuous exercise and fewer calories were still part of his weight loss regimen. His shtick was that it matters what type of calories are consumed. Anyone who has read any diet book knows that. The trick is which of the denominations you want to join in the religion of the Great Nutrition Church.

And, let's not fool ourselves. Nutrition and diet books are every bit a matter of faith as is the Bible and the Koran. You pick what suits your taste, and then defend it.

So, what I am about to tell you is what I am doing. My particular faith. You may have another belief system. If you do, I say fine. It probably works for you.

With that in mind, I do not need any lectures how I am going to Nutrition Hell for my choices. What I do know is I am losing weight. And when I get where I want to be, I am going to continue eating in the same manner as I am now. And exercising -- until my body fails to keep up with my desires.

When I started restricting my foods, I fell back on some old diet rules I learned long ago. But, I decided if I am really changing the way I eat, I do not want to simply restrict calories -- only to end up weighing more than when I started.

I also decided to avoid the fad diets, even though I cannibalized some of their concepts. Anything that started with "no more" was not going to be on my list. Thus, I scratched all of the faddy "Look at me" restrictions.

You know what I mean. No gluten. No legumes. No dairy. No beans. No fruit. No vegetables (unless they begin with the letter "k"). No cooked meats.

Here is what I have been trying to follow.

Restrict carbohydrates. That meant divesting myself of the snacks I love. And that has not been very difficult. For snacks, I eat sliced jicama drenched in either lime juice and ghost pepper chili powder (a snack that will dissolve sinuses) or mint and lemon juice (far more refreshing).

I am not a fanatic about this restriction. I still eat tomatoes and carrots. Lots of them in my cabbage soup (another handy snack). But bread is generally out -- along with one of my favorite foods: pasta. Even though I do eat the occasional sandwich for variety.

Lots of vegetables. I have never been a salad fan. That is changing. Through the wonders of international trade, kale, arugula, and leafy lettuces are readily available. If not in our little villages, always at Walmart in Manzanillo.

I have had fun creating variations of Greek salads. All of them quite good, especially now that I have a regular supplier of lemons.

And then there are soups. There is no end to the number of vegetable soups that can be created from the produce available at local markets. The heat here reduces the shelf life of most vegetables. If they are too soft for stir fry, they are still perfect for soup.

Speaking of stir fry, I love the process. Surprisingly, I have not been cooking many stir fry dishes lately. And there is no good reason -- other than the fact that I have been having fun cooking my vegetables in other ways.

Breakfast is a perfect example. I will sautée whatever vegetables are available in the refrigerator along with a handful or two of greens. And then scramble in two eggs topped with herbs. It makes a very filling breakfast.

3. Cut back on fruit. Because of my high triglycerides, my doctor has restricted me to no more than one cup of a fruit a day -- and no mangoes or bananas. That is fine with me, I have never eaten much fruit.

When I was a pre-teen, I loved grapes. For some reason, that desire has returned. I eat strawberries on my morning cereal, and I make a mean watermelon salad with goat cheese, arugula, and an Israeli seed mix I crush here.

4. Watch my meats. This is where I turn agnostic.

When I was young, our family ate steaks for a lot of our meals. As a result, I am not very fond of large slabs of meat on my plate. I prefer to have it cut up and mixed in with my vegetables or rice. (Of course, there is no more rice on my plate, either.)

The fact that the pork and chicken here are incredibly tasty makes it easy to make them an integrated part of my vegetables. As in stir fry. The local beef is so tough, I do not even bother to attempt to redeem it.

Now and then, I will eat shrimp if I am dining out. But seldom fish. I find no pleasure in it. And, most of the sauces people claim makes fish palatable is so thick in carbohydrates, I just do not bother.

I even rely on the Atkins diet to justify slipping a bit of pepperoni into my food.

5. Avoid sweets. I have never been a lover of sweets. That is partly explained by my distaste for chocolate, cheese cake, creamed cheese, and cakes (of almost all kinds). I will even throw doughnuts into that category.

Because that list describes about 90% of the dessert menus in most restaurants, I have had little trouble in avoiding calories in that form. I will admit I have a weakness for fruit pies. But they are so rare in these parts, the temptation almost never arises.

There you have it. My dining goals. So far, between the walking and my new permanent diet, I have lost enough weight that my legs no longer jiggle when I walk. Muscle has reclaimed the fat borders. I could now bounce a quarter off of my butt. (I am certain you wanted to know that.)

But I am in this for the long haul. Small gains (such as the loss of over 2 inches from my waist) give me inspiration. Maybe in 2018, I will be where I want to be.

Or, in the grave. Either way, I will be happy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

the table is motioned

I knew I had forgetten something.

A week ago (ethan allen's sombrero), I told you I had gone shopping for furniture when we stopped in Tlaquepaque. I was attempting to put some parameters around the type of furbiture I wanted to complement my house.

I have two major guidelines. The first is simple. The house is designed in the flat planes of a Barragán-inspired home.

I am looking for something that would make Barragán smile. Solitude. Density. Physical and aesthetic quality. Simplicity. Color. Uniqueness. Scale. Solar dynamic. Spaces built with a subtle metaphor immersed around the meaning of life.

The second is just as simple. I want the furniture to reflect the abstract expressionism of the Ed Gilliam paintings that currentlty decorate each room of the house.

Flat planes inducing contemplation. Reflective. Cerebral. Intimate.

You can see how the two lists complement and echo one another. That is what I am looking for in furniture.

The last two times I have attended the night of the dead in
Pátzcuaro, the local artisans and craftsmen were holding a competition to winnow out the masters in each craft form.

Pottery. Clay figures. Copper goods. Masks. Furniture. There were stunning examples of each. I was nearly seduced into buying two copper vases. It is odd how some traditional art forms can take on a modern look. Donatello's almost gothic
Mary Magdalene is a perfect example. She could easily find a home amongst Picasso sculptures.

In addition to the copper pots, the dining room table at the top of this piece caught my eye.

It is massive in its effect with its thick wood and decorative stone. But it is simultaneously ethereal as a result of the glass insert on top. The glass gives the impression that the rocks have no more mass than the surrounding air. Magritte would be proud.

The chairs do not share the same lightness of being. They are the seats of dwarves, not elves. Firmly grounded upon the surface of the Earth. Each being unique from its neighbors.

Even the distressed wood with its harlequin paint job works to pull the piece together. I suspect Barragán would approve.

Most of the art pieces sold at the show go for a premium. After all, they are made by the best of the best.

But the table was quite reasonably priced. $24,400 (Mx). At the current exchange rate, that is about $1,204 (US). I didn't see a price for the chairs -- each being unique from its neighbor.

Because you are an intelligent group of readers, you already know I did not buy it. Shipping is not really a problem. There is always a willing truck driver to deliver such things in Mexico. But the timing was not right.

I will be squiring my brother and sister-in-law around Michoacán in January. If the table is still there (or if we can determine where it has gone), I will get their impressions. (Right now, they are headed to the Baja 500 to enjoy speed and noise.)
And I need to get the house ready to receive them. Without any new furniture. Yet.

Monday, November 14, 2016

the sun will come out mañana

Or so I thought last night.

We have been having practically perfect weather over the weekend. Drizzle. Gray skies. Temperatures in the 70s.

Well, that last element spoils the trifecta. To be perfect, the temperature would be 55 degrees. But I am not complaining about the weather we have enjoyed the past few days. Sleeping without fans or air conditioning is liberating.

My biggest concern was that the Mexican tourists would stay away because of the rain. They didn't. The beaches had a smattering of vacationing families putting the beach and ocean to good use. The rain didn't faze them.

Who it did faze was me. After knocking down the infection in my right foot, I reset my walking routine. I suspect I started too fast and tried to walk too far. So, I cut my walk back to 4 miles in the morning and slowed down my pace -- knowing full well I would be burning fewer calories, but that I would also minimize the chances of another festival of the blisters.

And it was working. I was up each morning like clockwork. I do my best to avoid any appointments before noon. That time is dedicated to my walks, completing my daily Spanish lesson, and reading the morning newspaper along with a portion of that week's
The Economist  and National Review. That usually keeps me from leaving the house, for other purposes, in the morning.

Yesterday, as is true with all Sundays, was the exception. Church starts at 10. If I skip one of my morning rituals, I can usually get there on time.

The piece I elided was my walk. For a terrible reason. It was raining.

Mind you, I lived almost all of my life in Oregon where I developed my "perfect day" expectations. Rain there is not a deterrent when it comes to walking. Besides, I walked each of the two previous days and evenings in the rain.

To redeem myself to myself, I decided I was ready to pick up the pace of my walk and to add two additional miles to the course.

Until my friend Leo visited me in August of last year, I did not realize how many great walking paths there are in Barra de Navidad. Most of them are sidewalks and streets. And there is the track at the sports park. But my favorite is the purpose-built walkway and bike path that leads from Barra de Navidad to Highway 200.

When it was being built, I thought someone's brother-in-law had convinced the local government to buy a white elephant. Who was going to use it?

It turns out, everyone. In both the morning and evening, it is jammed with walkers, joggers, runners, and bikers. Locals and both northern and Mexican tourists. Not to mention the odd donkey or goat.

There is a fitness center midway along the path. Several friends have suggested I should work out there, but the idea is not very seductive. The blaring techno music would keep me from concentrating on the business at hand. Besides, the path offers a lot more interesting sights than the usual sweaty lycra-clad bodies in gymnasiums.

Oh, the sun? It peeked out of the clouds for a few minutes this morning only to be replaced by a refreshing drizzle.

I am not certain life can get better than this.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

land of mothra

For five years, I lived in a state of nature. Or, as close as one can get to the Rousseauian ideal while still living in a house with running water.

The house I rented in Villa Obregón was nestled in a garden with almost every plant imaginable, snug on the shores of a great primal lagoon. I was Adam in Eden -- with no Eve. It was practically perfect in every way.

And what would Eden be without animals? Almost every day a new creature would wander into the crosshairs of my camera. Turtles. Frogs. Lizards. Crabs. Birds. Peculiar insects that looked more like flowers or sticks than bugs. Crocodiles. Raccoons. Opossum. Coatimundi. Rabbits. Not to forget the odd cat or dog that would take up residence to hunt the rest of creation.  And I gladly shared my new discoveries with you.

But that was before I moved to my concrete desert in Barra de Navidad.

Sure, the odd toad hops by. As for the list of exotic friends that kept me amused in Villa Obregón, I may as well be a hermit.

Until recently. This gaudy sphinx moth* decided to settle on a wall outside of my bedroom -- and stayed there motionless for a couple of days. As if it had been pinned into place as part of a 14-year old boy's biology project.

I assumed that it had gone the way of all things mortal. Dust to dust -- and all that.

Because a mirror test would not be very helpful (where would you place the mirror on a moth?), I decided to rely on a bit of chiropractic palpation. It moved. But not much. It was still there for a few more hours. When I next returned, it had flown away.

At least, I assumed it flew away. For all I know, a line of ants may have carved it up as prime rib. Or a bird may have decided the death charade needed a touch of reality. Either way, whatever omen it was meant to portend had served its purpose.

It was the first gaudy sphinx moth I have encountered -- as far as I can recall. And it was a welcome visitor in the straight lines of this house.

Maybe the moral (because every essay concerning the state of nature has a moral) is that it is difficult to appreciate the grace of life when surrounded by too many treasures. Scarcity builds moral character.

And that moth may be as memorable to me in the house with no name as a chorus line of crocodiles on the lagoon.

* -- That is not an editorial comment. "Gaudy sphinx moth" is the appellation it goes by.  I suspect it tells its friends, "You can just call me Gaud."