Monday, February 27, 2017

big day in momdom

Today is my mother's birthday. Her 89th.

That does not seem possible. I still think of her as being in her 60s. But, if that were true, it would be difficult to explain how I am older than my mother.  It was a clever plot advancement in Iolanthe, but it does not work out as well in daily life.

I tried to call her a few minutes ago from our ship in the Southern Ocean, using an internet-based system. It did not work. The difference between upload and download speeds was so great I could hear her, but she could hear only fragments of my conversation. So, I had to settle for sending an email.

On her visit to Barra de Navidad in December, I spent more time with her than I have for decades. We chatted over great dinners -- and she trounced all three of us in repeated games of Mexican train.

Now, here she is at 89. I doubt I will make it that far. So, I will doubly celebrate her for her roles as businesswoman, political activist, and mother.

She teaches us all that it is possible to have it all.

Happy birthday, Mom. Keep it rolling forward.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

experiencing esperance

Today we are in Esperance.

If the name does not immediately sound familiar, don't worry. That was my first response when I saw the name on the ship's itinerary.

And having spent the past two hours on shore, I am not certain I can tell you much more than a few words about the experience of visiting.

That is partly due to the size of the town. Even though it is the only port in southeastern West Australia, it is quite small. Under 10,000 people.

In the 1960s, experiments began to turn the local infertile soil into productive farmland. And the experiment worked.  Almost 2 million tons of grain pass through its port each year. Along with just under 6 million tons of iron ore. In that respect, Esperance is rather typical of Australia's reliance on selling commodities.

But one of its main sources of income are people just like me -- tourists. Both national and foreign. Esperance is known for its beaches that provide excellent swimming, surfing, and scuba diving.

And that is what we had planned. A day at the beach. The weather had other ideas.

We arrived in port to a few drizzly rain drops. That was not the problem, though. I can swim in the ocean when it is raining. I do it frequently in Mexico.

The problem was the temperature. We had left weather in Perth that had flirted with 100 degrees. Here it was 65. That is hardly pleasant beach weather. At least, for swimming.

Nancy decided to stay on board the ship. Roy and I took a quick spin through town. And a pleasant town it is. In the same way that most small English-speaking towns are.

There is good reason Jefferson imbued the American yeomanry with all of the basic civic virtues. It is one reason small town America is held in high esteem.

Esperance has that same feel of honor. Memorials to the dead who fought for Australia in the terrible wars of the twentieth century. Civic lodges. Pristine streets and parks. Cleanliness may not be next to godliness, but it certainly does evidence internal character.

As it turns out, the outside world does know Esperance as the result of a very famous event in 1979. When space lab made its final entry into Earth's atmosphere, its landfall was right here.

The town, being a tidy place, immediately fined NASA $500 for littering. NASA refused payment doing its best Robert Goodloe Harper impression: "millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute." A California radio show host came to the rescue by raising money and paying the fine -- forever becoming a hero to the people of Esperance. (I know. It sounds like something I would make up. But this one really happened. Remember the leson for my 1 April essay.)

In itself, the town was not worth the stop. At least, not in this weather. But it was nice to stretch my legs and to see a bit of the virtue of small town Australia.  

Saturday, February 25, 2017

farewell to perth

Perth is a very nice place to visit. But, unlike Roy, it is not a place I would like to live.

Its isolated imperial charm is redolent of afternoon teas similar to Victoria, British Columbia. I have a friend in Salem who insists on calling his living room a sitting room -- where he regularly treats guests to tea and scones. He would most likely make a go of it in Perth. But not me.

That assessment is a little harsh. Two days in Perth is like two days in any new city. At best, a visitor can get a taste of what the place would like to be. But not much more than that. And that makes any assessment a bit suspect.

Perth has the advantage of being a provincial outpost. There is not much subtext there. What you see is it. Its brief history of European settlement rests lightly on its daily life.

Walking along its main street is a bit like strolling through Old Town Portland. I suspect that comparison arises, in part, from Perth's preserved cast iron facades.

Obviously, Perth's buildings are not all early twentieth century reservations. Those skyscrapers are quite new.

And skyscrapers do not spring out of vacant lots. The past is often ceded on the blades of bulldozers.

Perth has a clever solution. Rather than pull down all of its old buildings, planners have tried to save at least a fragment of the city's architectural past. The facades of old buildings are allowed to remain while the rest of the building is razed. The facade then acts as the entry way to a new skyscraper or hotel.

This classical porch was once the entrance to Perth's first theater. It now leads to governmental offices, where similar fictions are performed.

As befits its social and political conservatism, Perth draws on the best lessons of its past to retain a growing community. Those skyscrapers house not only companies flogging natural resources to China; they are also investment centers for this part of the world.

The place is modern enough to publicly display abstract expressionist sculpture that catch the eyes of passing pedestrians. Or, at least, of one sex.

But not everything in Perth is a pleasant blend of old and new. Our tour guide, in an attempt to  to graphically describe Perth's isolation, pointed out that Perth is closer to Singapore than it is to its own national capital.

His point was that Perth's isolation justifies Western Australia having its own parliament -- and parliament building. As if the pirate king of Singapore was about to sweep down on Western Australia and set siege to the state.

I will pass on commenting about another country's security concerns -- and what goes on inside parliament. But I can comment on the architecture of the building.

The place looks as if Kim Jong Un could take up residence and feel right at home.

The town also has a romantic, and vaguely plagiarist, side. Just like the Rialto bridge in Venice and the Ponte des Artes in Paris, the railing of the Swan bell tower has morphed into another repository of false hope -- where lovers leave locks symbolizing their undying devotion.

And what could be more English in a former outpost of empire than a garden. Perth has a grand one -- the largest urban garden in the world. King's Park.

The park affords perfect views of the city nestled by the Swan river. (The name derives from the Australian black swans the settlers found there.) Like most parks of this sort, it is filled with tree-lined boulevards. But the trees do not stop there.

Because the continent of Australia was separated from Asia long ago, many of its plants and animals can be found nowhere else in the world. Many of them are on display in the botanical garden.

Most of the plants are well-signed. Such as this odd variety of eucalyptus that seems to be ubiquitous. Quite different than the eucalyptus we know in Mexico and California.

But the signs are deceiving. We repeatedly saw signs announcing "displays of brilliant red flowers most of the year," but saw only well-leaved plants. Perhaps summer is not "most of the year" when it comes to plant reproduction.

Plants are pleasant to view. But King's Park, like most parks, are best-suited to meeting the recreational needs of families. And it easily passed that test. There were families everywhere on the type of Friday afternoon when residents seek shady relief from heat waves.

Buildings and parks help form the bones of a city, but its life is in its food. Man may not live by bread alone. But, without bread, man does not live.

Of the three of us, one had great meals at each sitting. Two of us found the food to range from mediocre to really bad.

An example of the mediocre is this deceivingly attractive serving of shepherd's pie. With lamb. In Australia. What could go wrong? Especially, at $28 (AUS)?

The Moon and Sixpence is one of those pubs that serves the needs of local office workers and tourists. Maybe they are not picky about their food. Maybe I am too picky. Even with a dousing of HP sauce, it was without flavor.

As English as the city is, I was surprised to see the number of ethnic restaurants. Within a block of our hotel, were Lebanese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean eateries.

But Friday evening helped salvage our culinary experience. Each Friday evening from October to April, what is known as the Twilight Hawker Market sets up shop downtown.

The market is primarily food stalls from almost every part of the world -- including Mexico. But the emphasis is on the middle east and Asia.

Inevitably, there are apparent contradictions. Such as the two pork stalls that are cheek and jowl with the halal Moroccan stall.

There were several Indian offerings. And all of them attracted customers.

My favorite was the stall offering Persian food. I had a conversation with one of the young men working there. The term "Iranian" is avoided -- for political reasons.

Roy availed himself of a creme brulee. But it appeared most customers did their best to avoid the temptation.

And others were simply befuddled by the choices on offer.

There were good reasons for confusion. Walking back from the market to our hotel, this was the rather odd combination that confronted us two doors from our home for our two nights in Perth.

But, Perth is in the past. Yesterday, we took a taxi to the port of Fremantle, and clamored abroad our new home for the next 17 days.

I am writing this on my sunny balcony. Australia is off our port side, and I am reveling in the prospect of internet that may actually work to keep in touch with all of you. (The fact that it took nearly seven hours to upload this handful of photographs may mean that future essays will be accompanied by only one photograph.)

Tomorrow we tender into Esperance. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

reposting the flag

Today is flag day in my new home -- Mexico.

Seven years ago, I wrote an essay about the history of the Mexican flag (bandera de méxico). It is still the second most-visited page on my site.

Because it is flag day, I decided to share it with you once again. Knowing the history of a nation's symbol is, at least, the first step to wisdom.

I would now change a few of my observations. But it still contains the kernels of truth I wanted to convey as a new resident of Mexico in 2010.

I hope you enjoy it on this day when we remember what Mexico's flag means.

i sing the blogger electric

Taking Mexpatriate on the road is a logistical feat. Especially, when I slip outside the comforting arms of North America.

Back in Barra de Navidad, my computer work space is a work of Swedish simplicity. Each piece of gear has its own space. And cords are hidden to enhance the electronic mystery.

But not on the road. I am always ready to award myself the Rube Goldberg Award when I finally manage to successfully cobble together the tools of my trade.

Of course, none of my pieces require electricity to work -- for short periods. My camera. My Kindle. My mobile telephone. My tablet. They all have their own batteries. So, I can be free of the tethering chargers for short periods.

But every device eventually needs to feed at the breast of Edison's outlets.

In North America, all I need is a charger and cable for each device and a power strip to get electricity to them. But heading elsewhere in the world adds complications.

Electrical systems are not uniform. North America (and, as you all know, that includes Mexico) is fond of 110 volt systems. A lot of the rest of the world is enamored with 220. (And, yes, I know that is an oversimplification, but let's just go with that assumption -- or this discussion will never come to a conclusion.)

If devices are 110, a converter is required to convert (of course) 220 to 110. In the 1970s, most of the converters I encountered in Asia and Europe were the size of a small satchel. The modern converters can now easily fit in a hand. You can see one in the photograph. It is the white rectangle with the demonic red eyes.

But that is not the only potential problem. Because electrical systems developed separately in different countries, so did the outlets and the prongs that go into the outlets. I have run into at least 15 different types of pins over the years-- some that work in multiple countries, others that work in only a single country.

On an early trip to China, I purchased a nifty converter with multiple pins built into the unit. Pick the country and push out the appropriate set of pins. Not unlike the Swiss army knife of converters.

Unfortunately, the converter did not include the oblique-angled pins used in Australia and New Zealand. I didn't discover that until I tried to charge up my devices in the Sydney hotel where we overnighted before flying on to Perth.

Long ago, I discovered that airport shops are a traveler's best bet to resolve arcane travel problems. And that is exactly what happened at the Sydney Airport. The shops did not have a multiple country converter that included Australia pins. Why would they? Their primary customers are Australians heading overseas.

But I did find a plug that converted from Chinese pins to Australian. It is a little bulky. But it works. If it had not, you would have missed the last two essays from Australia.

So, there it is. It will never win an Ikea endorsement for clean lines. But it works. (I may need to remember that lesson as I start the furniture-buying process for the house in Barra de Navidad.)

And, if all goes as advertised, I will also have an adapter to use while I am on land in New Zealand. On the ship? It is as if I had never left the confines of my bedroom in Mexico.

Tomorrow afternoon, we board the Radiance of the Seas, and the cruise portion of the trip will begin. On one of the sea days, I may publish a few of my Perth photographs. The internet in this horel is even slower than most cruise ship systems.

For now, I will head to bed -- and get ready for the boarding party.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

the colonial mask on a modern australia

"I could live here."

That was Roy yesterday as we traveled around Perth on a hop on - hop off tour bus. He was almost ebullient about the place.

Perth should not be too complimented. Roy has said the same thing about 80% of the cities I have visited with him. The big exception was Brazil. None of the cities there received the Roy Miller Seal of Approval.

But Roy had a point with Perth. It is one of those cities that has the magical mixture of just enough colonial charm combined with the energy of urban possibilities to make it feel comfortable. Even with a population of over 2 million, it has retained a small town charm where small business owners seem to know everything that is going on -- even the arrival of strangers in town.

And that is what the three of us are. Strangers in a strange land. And we love its strange feel.

Part of that feel comes from Perth's location. Perth is the capital of Western Australia, Australia's largest state. To put that in perspective, imagine that Austin was the capital of a Texas that constituted one-third of the United States.

It is one of the most isolated capitals in the world. On one side is the Indian Ocean. On the other is the Great Victoria desert. If you strike off to the east on the highway, you will drive 1300 miles before you arrive in Adelaide -- the next city of any size. Perth is closer to Singapore than it is to Australia's federal capital of Canberra.

The city has the feel of a colonial outpost. Because that it what it once was -- an integral part of the British Empire. The old city retains some of  that heritage. Very British buildings built by convicts. Often punctuated by parks and gardens that are about as English as anything you would find in London.

We are here at the height of summer. That is one factor that feeds Roy's residential fantasy. The weather has been perfect. The humidity runs about 40% with temperatures approaching 100 degrees in some of the clearest skies I have seen in a city this size. The daily breezes undoubtedly help to keep the pollution level down.

As a western American, Perth feels vaguely familiar. That may be because of its history.

It became a boom town in the 19th century when gold was discovered in the state. Most of that is now gone, but Western Australia still churns out natural resources. Mainly iron ore these days -- primarily exported to China.

Perth may have been built on gold, but it now lives off of iron ore. And in that sentence is the seed of realistic geopolitics that makes Australia very leery about interfering with Chinese hegemony.

Our journey disclosed a few impressions about the city. Its setting is beautiful. The core of the city is quite compact. Its mixture of old (and the old is quite young) and new rests comfortably on the bank of the Swan River.

King's Park is the largest urban park in the world. It is beautiful in its own right with trees and birds found nowhere else in the world but here. But it also provides commanding panoramas of Perth at its best.

And, yes, the place is provincial. The parks of filled with statues of imperial heroes with their faded glory. And there are tales of the local miners whose exploits make Perth what it is today. It is almost like visiting a young San Francisico before the city dons its sense of hubris.

But, I am not going to get a feel for the city by sitting here. I need to get up and get out there to enjoy what promises to be a beautifully hot day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

ripping up the habit

Habits are hard to break.

When I started an earlier incarnation of Mexpatriate, I was faced with a communication dilemma whenever I would travel. Internet back then was a bit sketchy. Especially, on cruise ships.

So, I came up with a solution that was far from elegant. I would schedule posts to at least let my readers know where I was going to be -- even if I could not write my essay for that particular day.

Times have changed. Other than the problem of having the correct adapters to power my electronic gear, internet access is ubiquitous.

I have already purchased my internet access for the ship. The tariff for three devices is more than I paid for monthly rent in Villa Obregon. But I will be connected. Undoubtedly, with a painfully slow upload speed.

I caught up with Nancy and Roy last night in Sydney. We arrived on separate flights from different directions. This morning, the three of us flew to Perth to spend a couple of days before our cruise starts.

Here is the hard-to-break-habit. Even though I will be connected, I am still going to tell you our itinerary. And I will pre-post daily announcements of our port calls. Maybe some of you will have suggestions for our days in port.

So, here is the old-school list.

25 February-- Board the Radiance of the Seas in Perth. Australia
26 February-- At sea
27 February-- Esperance, Australia
28 February-- At sea
1 March -- At sea
2 March --Adelaide, AustraliaA
3 March -- At sea
4 March --Melbourne, Australia
5 March -- At sea
6 March -- At sea
7 March -- Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Dusky Sound, New Zealand
8 March -- Dunedin, New Zealand
9 March -- Akaro, New Zealand
10 March -- Wellington, New Zealand
11 March -- Picton, New Zealand
12 March -- At sea
13 March -- At sea
14 March -- Sydney, Australia

If all goes well, we will then spend the next three days in Sydney before our return flights to Los Angeles on Cathay Pacific. We are each on different flights.

There you have it. And you will get a dose more of it in the next four weeks.

I will be happy to have you all along on my quest to tick continent number six off of my travel list.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

on the road to hong kong

I love the international dateline.

It is one of those legal fictions that keeps travelers from living life as a perpetual groundhog day.

Last night, after a fine late dinner of caviar and stir-fried lobster, the flight attendant put me in my pajamas and tucked me into my bed. Somewhere in the very early morning, what was once Tuesday turned into Wednesday. Just by crossing an imaginary line. The same fiction that won Phileas Foggs’s wager.

But, then, aren’t most of the numbers that punctuate our lives merely constructs? What does a dog care if our clocks tell us it is 5 AM or 1 PM?

Animals are not creatures of time. Certainly, they have their own cycles. But theirs mean very little to us -- unless those cycles intersect with our own. So, it is a fair trade -- each species living within its own fiction of reality. Like an interspecies Canada.

On this trip, I am surrounded by manufactured reality. Some very prosaic -- arrival and departure times, gate numbers, seat assignments. Others more poetic -- longitude, latitude, and the personification of the shadows in Plato’s cave: the international date line.

Even though my seat converts into a very comfortable bed, I did not get much sleep last night yesterday. I woke up as we were flying over Japan at 2:54 AM Wednesday (local time), 1:54 AM (Hong Kong time), and 10:54 AM Tuesday (Los Angeles time). All of them rather meaningless times to my confused circadian clock that feels as if it has been too tightly wound.

Just because the dateline is a fiction does not mean the time shift will not affect me. And not just because my sleep cycle has been processed through a Waring blender.

I have been quite faithful in my daily Spanish lessons on Duolingo. When I left Los Angeles, I was on a 163 day streak. (My earlier 368 day streak was broken when I helped a friend sign into a drug rehabilitation center.)

As a result of my now-missing Tuesday, the streak will be reset to “0.” It will be an incentive for me to build it up again.

The missing day (and the time shift) will also throw off my medication schedule. My two medications are not time sensitive. Nor will missing a cycle be life-threatening. But it is a nuisance. A small one, admittedly.

So, here I sit, eating my breakfast of congee and drinking green tea, spending the last three hours of this fourteen hour trip keeping in touch with you. 

Of course, I am not keeping in touch with you directly. For all of its amenities, this Boeing 777 does not have an internet connection. If I had flown on an Airbus 350, I could be writing to you in real time.

If all goes well, I can post this piece in Hong Kong before I get on my flight to Sydney -- another nine hours of flying, but after I take a shower at Cathay Pacific's lounge. If all does not go well, I will be writing to you from Sydney in the late evening.

Wednesday evening. Or so the international dateline informs me.

Monday, February 20, 2017

apple blossom time in la-la land

The oddest stimulus can trigger a memory.

The smell of oranges always reminds me of Christmas. Briny air of western Greece. And gray skies of Los Angeles.

In the winter of 1973, my college friend Stan Ackroyd stopped by my apartment at Castle Air Force Base. He was on his way to Los Angeles for the wedding of his cousin.

We decided to take my 1967 red Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible. It would be a perfect entrance for two bachelors.

The Olds had always been a reliable piece of transportation. Of course, red convertibles are far more than mere transportation devices. But that is all we wanted out of it on the trip south.

The car had other ideas. Around Bakersfield, a coat of oil started forming on the windshield. The oil pump had decided to pump  no more. Fortunately, in front of a mechanic's shop.

I traded telephone numbers, forked over almost every dollar in my wallet (this was an era where young lieutenants did not have credit cards), and we were on our way. With very few funds.

The rest of the trip is a story in itself. We started hitchhiking. The only car that stopped for us was a beat-up early 1960s Chevrolet driven by a guy with a beer between his legs. The beer was not a prop. The driver told us his life story as we rolled along.

He had just been paroled from San Quentin. The reason for his recent state guest status? He murdered his wife and his best friend in the throes of an adulterous rendezvous. The longer he weaved his tale, the more beers he drank.

At one point, he moved something under his seat. Whatever it was, he revealed the barrel of a revolver. Both of us saw it about the same time.

When he dropped us off at a freeway intersection, we gladly got out and hitched a ride in a pickup bed to a small town in the hills above the grapevine where we caught a bus into Los Angeles. We then walked several miles to the wedding. By that time, the reception was almost over.

And what do I remember? The sky. Unlike most California days, there was no sun. Just a solid gray shroud.

When I see skies like that, I think of Los Angeles. And that was convenient for these past two days. The sun has peeked through now and then, but the sky looked as if it took a wrong turn at Seattle.

On my seven-mile walk this morning, the only sign that I was in California was a row of ornamental apple trees. Despite the lack of sun, the white blossoms did their best to convince passers-by that California does not need to wait for a thaw to enjoy spring.

In fact, seasons here seem to slip from one into another with little notice. I have a theory that is one reason Californians do not seem to mature. There is nothing like a good strong winter to deepen those worry lines.

But I am not worrying. Instead, I am finishing up this essay in the Qantas first class lounge -- waiting for the call to head to my gate and adventure in Australia and New Zealand.

So, good-bye California. Hello Hong Kong and Sydney.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

you can bet on mexpatriate

Yesterday's essay was composed in the coffee shop at the Gold Ranch casino.

There is a reason I am telling you that bit of trivia.

I am not a gambler. If I have money to risk, I usually toss it into the maw of the New York Stock Exchange. Slot machines, roulette wheels, and baccarat tables are not my road to perdition.

I was at the casino for only one reason. Nancy, Roy, and their respective mothers were there for a prize drawing. I had tagged along with the sole expectation of finishing my post. And I did (isn't it cold for you?).

While we waited for a break during the drawings, I sat down next to Roy, who was playing triple double bonus video poker. (The name always sounds as if some game-maker had extra adjectives that needed a home.)

For four days, Roy had been teaching his rules of play. The rules are very simple. And, for Roy, they seem to work. He regularly wins.

I had tried two or three outings of $20 each. Roy's method did not work for me. Unless, the goal was to blast through my paltry stake.

Last night, I put my $20 in the machine and quickly played it down to about $5. I told Roy I was going to cash out, but he convinced me to play the rest.

On my next hand, I drew four 4s and a 3. In this game, that is called four of a kind with a kicker -- and it was worth $500.

Knowing a good thing when it falls in my lap, I cashed out and decided to head home.

I guess it helps not to have a gambler's instinct of trying to increase my winnings. That may be, in part, due to the calm gene I inherited from my mother. I just did not get much of a rush in winning.

This morning, Nancy's mother drove us to the Reno airport. We then flew to Santa Ana for the night -- because we wanted to spend a day on the California coast before we start the Australia leg of our trip tomorrow.

After checking into our residence for the night, we drove over to Crystal Cove for a late lunch. The little beach community nestled into Newport Beach is most famous as the shooting site for the beach scenes in Beaches. The house is the last on the right.

The afternoon was practically perfect. A cool day on the beach with good friends and some filling food.

When the lunch check arrived, I knew I was no longer in Barra de Navidad. For three of us, the total was $130 (with tip). A great day -- with a price tag to match.

I now know why I won that money -- to pay for a handful of meals.

Note -- Tomorrow, we will be on our way to Australia. Because there is an international dateline tossed in there, I may be offline for what will appear to be a couple of days.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

isn't it cold for you?

That was what Roy's mother asked me this afternoon as I left her house for the one-mile walk up the hill to Roy and Nancy's house.

She wasn't the first. Several people around Reno have looked at my short sleeves and given me that look of pity mixed with bewilderment that we bestow on guys sleeping under bridges. I suspect they wonder, at least to a degree, whether I am four cards short of a royal flush.

If you have hung around these pages very long, you know I did not move to Mexico for the weather. Barra de Navidad is a tropical village -- and it has the weather to prove it.

My ideal day is 55 degrees, overcast, with a slight drizzle. In eight years, I still have not seen one of those days.

My sister-in-law has been cold at my house in the morning because the temperatures have been dropping to the mid-60s for the past month. She was even chillier with Pátzcuaro's 40 degree mornings. For me, mornings in both places were a relief from the ongoing Costalegre heat.

Reno has proven to be a surprise weather mecca for me. On Friday, it snowed. Not heavily, but enough to drop the temperature into the 30s.

This morning, I decided to take advantage of the weather. I slipped on my walking shoes, a pair of shorts, and a shirt to walk through the neighborhood. The main loop is about 2 miles covering some challenging grade increases.

I had intended to walk around the loop at least twice to meet the major part of my daily walking goal. I made it around once.

And it was not the weather that drove me inside early. The 34 degree weather was perfect for exercising.

What I failed to account for was the altitude. Combined with the steep hills, 2 miles was just about the right amount of walking for the morning. I felt refreshed, if a bit winded.

By afternoon, I had completed just under 7 miles of steps. Not a bad day.

I realize Reno can have rough winters. This has not been one of them. I hate driving in snow and ice. I have never lived anywhere that had enough of either to give me the driving skills. So, I will certainly not move to Reno for the weather.

What I do know is that the last four days have been refreshing for me. There is a certain beauty in the desert.

I will miss that tomorrow. We fly to Los Angeles in the morning to overnight before our flights to Australia -- starting on Sunday night.

But that is another story that has yet to be written.

Friday, February 17, 2017

moving to mexico -- feet in two worlds

"[H]e doth bestride the narrow world/like a Colossus."

Shakespeare probably overstates my situation. But he is close.

When I retired in 2009, I knew I was going to make Mexico my primary home. What I had not done was to consider how much of my life would remain above the Rio Bravo.

I knew that my relationships would change. During my sixty-some years, I had built up a network of friends and acquaintances. Moving go Mexico would change how the network operated, but I would still have contact with them.

The bigger issue was the detritus of finances and property ownership. The simplest thing would have been to cut all financial relationships with The States and move everything to Mexico. Simplest, but not necessarily the best. For me.

Banking is a perfect example. My checking and savings accounts are at one bank; my credit cards are with another bank. I could have easily switched all of them to a Mexican bank, and have the convenience of dealing with a local branch branch when problems arise.

I currently draw all of my Mexican pesos from an ATM. It usually works fine. That is, until the debit card expires or I lose it. Both have happened. Then I need to rely on the kindness of friends coming south to bring me my new card.

To mitigate that problem, I recently cleverly set up a new American checking account as a backup for the expired card scenario. It turns out I was too clever. When I tried to use my backup card, the PIN would not operate. I called customer service in The States, and was told to take my card to the nearest branch. The nearest branch was 2000 miles north.

That was one of the tasks I resolved yesterday. And the customer service representative was correct. All I needed to do was to use the branch ATM, and my problem was fixed. But that did not diminish the 2000 mile barrier.

When the Obama White House approved legislation (FATCA) three or so years ago, transferring money to Mexican banks became quite a hurdle. I considered getting around my ATM problems by closing all of my American bank accounts. I didn't for one reason -- I rely on my credit cards to earn air miles for my frequent travels. That advantage is worth the trouble of keeping my money in American banks.

I have another reason to keep my banking accounts up north. I am the trustee of a family trust domiciled in Nevada. Even though I have managed to arrange all financial transactions to be completed electronically, the trust requires an American home.

And that is why I am in Nevada this week. One of the attributes of my Nevada citizenship is my driver's license. It expired on my birthday in January.

The federal government has forced the states to revise their driver's licences to meet new issuance requirements for the license to be used for certain purposes -- such as, boarding an airplane. The new licences are called REAL ID.

Nevada is currently complying -- after holding out for several years. (This is a state that does not take kindly to federal bullying.)

So, Roy and I drove over to the local DMV. I dreaded what we would face. When I was issued my original license several years ago, the process was almost glacial.

Not so this time. Even though the triage line was long,we were in and out within 45 minutes. All I needed to do was prove my citizenship (I used a passport; others use birth certificates) and my Nevada residency (with statements from my American banks), and I was on my way. The new license should be at the house when I return from Australia.

If you are wondering why I simply do not get a Mexican license, I can. And I should. When I return to Mexico. But the Nevada license assists in my voting process.

Ideally, I could dump all of this and live my life solely within the confines of Mexico. My pension checks could easily be deposited in a Mexican bank.

Some fellow bloggers periodically chide those of us who have kept one foot planted up north -- even though "planted" may be nothing more than the equivalent keeping my left little toe on the edge of red in Twister. But there is not just one way to live in Mexico. I have found mine.

For now. Circumstances change. Just think of the hassle FATCA caused a lot of expatriates.

A Colossus I may not be, but I will most likely stand astride the border for the near future.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

the reluctant tourist

My backpack hates to travel.

That is the only conclusion I can draw from my last two trips. Or, at least, the only conclusion I am wiling to share with you. There are others.

When Darrel, Christy, and I drove up to Pátzcuaro last week, I packed a small suitcase with clothes, and, more importantly, tossed my camera, computer, Kindle, and assortred electronic paraphernalia (the usual tools of Mexpatriate’s trade) into my black backpack.

No trip is complete without the ability to record it for posterity. As I age, my best memory is what I have written. If it is not reduced to paper, it did not happen.

While unloading the car in Pátzcuaro, I discovered something was missing. My backpack. Felipe is kind enough to provide internet access in his condominium. But, without my computer, Mexpatriate was going to be off line off line for a week. And it was.

I thought I had learned my lesson. Hold on to the backpack. If you recall, I lost a backpack filled with all of my electronic equipment just over two years ago by failing to follow that rule (everything is new again).

On Wednesday, Darrel and Christy dropped me at the Manzanillo airport for my flight to Reno. Because my backpack contained all of my electronics along with my medication, travel documents, and money, it was not going to leave my sight. Even on the airplane, it was stored under the seat rather than in the overhead bin.

The Los Angeles airport has greatly improved its immigration process. The agents are gone. That process has been replaced with kiosks that print an entry and customs form. Within seconds, I was on my way for the long walk to the luggage carousel.

And luck was with me again. I had barely put down my backpack to readjust the straps when both of my suitcases came careening down the luggage chute. Excited with my good fortune, I grabbed both cases and sped through the customs process without a single question.

That is, until the one-way doors closed behind me. I reached for my backpack to pull out my flight information to Reno. It was not there. It was not there because the information was in my backpack -- and my backpack was still resting against the side of the luggage carousel. On  the other side of the door.

Eventually, I made my way to the Alaska customer service counter -- along with a young Korean and his Mexican wife, who had left a stroller behind. After an hour's wait of walky-talky tag, we were reassured our lost items were in the hands of the Alaska representatives. That was the good news.

The bad news (because there is always bad news in situations like this) was that all of the passengers on our flight, and an even larger flight from Ixtapa, would have to clear the customs area before the Alaska representative could bring the pieces out (after being thoroughly inspected by the customs agents).

I fully understood the reasoning. It was like performing penance. I left my bag behind. Now, I needed to be shamed.

The full process took just under three hours. I boarded my Reno flight with five minutes to spare.

And that is where I am right now. Sitting in my Reno residence peering out on the tawny hills as a snow storm tries to breach the Sierras.

My backpack is now resting in a chair. Before I fly to Perth on Sunday, I am going to have a long chat with it. From here on out, we are going to be as inseparable as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

waiting for the envelope

First impressions can be misleading.

We all know that. But first impressions can also have lasting impressions.

When I took Darrel and Christy to Pátzcuaro, I knew that our brief visit would not give them enough time to rationally consider whether one of my favorite places would also be one of theirs. After all, this is a very important point -- deciding where to retire.

A little background is in order. Darrel and Christy are desert folk. They owned a small ranch on the outskirts of Bend. With the ranch came chores. Tending horses. Raising the odd goat. Keeping Mother Nature's desire for chaos at bay.

When I started looking at purchasing a house, I asked them what they would be interested in -- and interested in avoiding. The brutal winters of Bend topped the list. They wanted to move somewhere warm. They also wanted to get away from the constant demand of projects and chores.

Darrel is also very interested in driving his Polaris Rzr through the outback. For him, the open spaces of Baja are perfect.

During our six days, Darrel and Christy came to enjoy a lot of the same things I have found attractive in Pátzcuaro. The lake tops the list. It is a  beautiful natural setting. Even when it looks a bit like James Joyce's "snot green sea."

Both of them were a little disappointed to discover the lack of recreation on the lake itself. Swimming from a power boat would be heaven to both of them. Even though there are good reasons not to dip too deep in the lake.

They also share my love or archaeolgical sites. There are plenty around the lake -- or within a few miles. I have explored most of the restored sites. We have nothing like that in Barra de Navidad.

And then there is the weather. Felipe, being the frank type of guy he is, pointed out that the month we visited is cold. For me, the weather was perfect. Nights in the 40s; days in the 70s. I never needed anything other than a short-sleeve shirt.

Darrel found the weather pleasant. Christie agreed with Felipe. The mornings were simply too cold for her. But she feels the same way about winter mornings at the house with no name. She reminded me cold winters were something she wanted to avoid.

But there were counterweights, as well.One reason they want to move from Bend is the increasing irritation of traffic. For that reason, they found the crowded streets of Pátzcuaro to be a little distressing.

And, in their hustle and bustle, the residents of Pátzcuaro tend to be far more remote than are my neighbors in Barra de Navidad. There may be plenty of reasons for that. But I have found the same aloofness in my visits there.

They also picked up on one of the limitations of Pátzcuaro -- its restaurant scene. Most of the offered food lacks variety and is toned down for tourist consumption. There are some rare exceptions, but no one comes to Pátzcuaro for the restaurant food. Or, at least, I have never met anyone who has.

I drove them around the outskirts of town to see if returning to rural life appealed to them. They far preferred that area with its pine forests and mountain views. I suspect it made them feel as if they were back in Bend.

The bottom line? They like Pátzcuaro. And they will return for visits. But it does not appear to be the place they would like to settle.

I suspect Baja is rising higher on their list with each of the places we visit.

Tomorrow, I will be leaving them on their own in the house for just over a month. They are going to watch the house while I traipse off to Reno, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand. While I am gone, they will be able to take the Escape wherever they like -- to see if they can find some additional places that may suit them.

It may be here. And that would be perfect with me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

tax me tender*

I absolutely love the press. It never fails to bring me essay material every morning.

Donald Trump's tax returns are a great example. According to today's edition of The Oregonian, legislation has been introduced in the Oregon legislature requiring any presidential candidate to provide the Oregon secretary of state's office with copies of his federal income tax returns for the previous five years.

Failure to provide the returns will keep the presidential candidate off of the ballot. If the returns are disclosed, they would then be released to the public.

In a verbal pirouette, one of the Democrat bill's supporters averred: "Voters deserve to be fully informed about the individuals running for the highest office in the country." Followed by the house speaker herself: "I think if you're going to be the leader of the free world, we should see your tax returns."

When politicians start talking like lawyers with all of those very specific limitations ("highest office," "leader of the free world"), you know something is up. And it is.

I am certain the first thing that popped into your mind is the obvious. Why does this new disclosure requirement apply only to presidential candidates? Why not to vice-presidential candidates? Or to senators? Or congressmen? Or, God forbid, Oregon state legislators?

But we already know the answer to that question. It is aimed at one candidate, who had the temerity to take the same course that most presidential candidates took before 1976. It is all about Donald.

Like most "reforms" aimed at one person's activities, this one strikes me as completely missing the target. And, of course, I have a far more modest proposal.

The answer is easy to find. In Norway. The Norwegians have long required all income tax returns to be stored in a public searchable data base. The IRS and the various state revenue departments should do the same.

There would be all sorts of intended consequences. Not only would we not have to play the wait-to-disclose game that fixates a certain sector of the public every four years, we would know the tax history of every presidential candidate years before she filed for office.

And for every other citizen who steps forward to run for office -- no matter where they are on the ballot. Better yet, we would also know where members of the press are actually getting their income, and, better yet, just where they contribute their money.

For me, this scenario would be the bow on the package. At Thanksgiving dinner, your cousin Zeke claims to be clearing $1,000,000 a year from his barbecue ribs stand on the corner. A quick look at the database discloses he has not filed a tax return for twenty years.

If filing a tax return is a civic duty (in addition to being a legal requirement), a conscientious citizen just may want to claim a bounty for turning in a scofflaw. The public treasury would be enriched, and the smug informer could take his family to McDonald's for Thanksgiving next year while cousin Zeke is breaking rocks at the state pen.

But, why are the Oregon Democrats in the legislature (and those in California, New York, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine, and New Mexico) stopping with tax returns? I seem to recall there was a huge controversy last year (and in years past) about the disclosure of candidates' medical records.

We could kill two birds with one legislative stone by making medical records of citizens just as searchable as tax returns.

Now, the obvious objection is that all of that tax and medical information would simply lead to a parade of "false news" stories. The type of news we expect to see as headlines on those checkout stand newspapers. But, isn't that just as true if we simply require a few selected candidates to disclose their tax and medical information?

These days we hear a lot of talk about everyone pulling together. If we are going to require our candidates to bare all, why shouldn't we set the example for our elected employees? After all, we are the bosses. Or, at least, that is what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution say.

I am ready to jump the shark on this one. My hand is itching to upload my tax and medical information on the new mega-computer.

Let's call it HAL. That is a name we can trust.

* -- If you tuned in to learn Darrel and Christy's decision about living in P
átzcuaro, please tune in tomorrow.

Monday, February 13, 2017

women of pátzcuaro

Pátzcuaro is feminine.

At least, it has always struck me that way. Not like Bella Abzug or Charo. But in a Mother Nature sort of way. And that is how I introduced the city by the lake to Darrel and Christy last week.

When I take guests to 
Pátzcuaro, I inevitably start in the same place -- the Gertrudis Bocanegra Library. But, we do not go there to read the few remaining books or to use the ever-growing carrels of computers.

At the rear of the former church is a mural that tells a truncated (and a very Hegelian) version of 
Pátzcuaro's history. Some of you may remember the effect the mural had on me when I first saw it six years ago (mural, mural on the wall).

Juan O'Gorman, one of Mexico's second level muralists, finished the mural in 1942. And it is filled with female actors. The middle section of the mural depicts the Spanish conquest of the local Indian tribe -- the Purépecha.

Purépecha were one of the few tribes who were never conquered by the Aztecs. That was partly due to a lesson current nations should heed -- technological advantage. The Purépecha fashioned weaponry out of copper and other metals. (A trait their descendants now use for far more pacific -- and decorative -- uses.)

When the 
Purépecha heard that the Spanish had defeated their mortal enemies, the last emperor, Tangaxuan II peacefully turned his empire over to the Spanish, in the belief the Spanish would be his allies. It was a misplaced faith.

There is a legend that Tangaxuan's niece, Princess Erendira, stole a few Spanish horses, and rode off, as the first American Indian to ride a horse, to call the people to rise up against inevitable tyranny.

They did. To little avail. One of history's villains, 
Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán, crushed the rebellion, and tortured Tangaxuan to death in the vain hope the last emperor would disclose the site of his gold. There was none.

O'Gorman conflates the history (just as Shakespeare had done) by portraying Erendira stealing a horse while she watches her uncle dying under the watchful eye of the Inquisition. It may not be good history, but it did bait my essay hook for this essay.

Recently, the bookcases under the mural were pulled away to allow access for restoration workers. They found a surprise. O'Gorman had painted a few every-day scenes -- including this timeless rendering of a Purépecha woman selling fish. She could have been Tangaxuan's sister -- or a woman selling fish on today's streets.

When I moved to Mexico, I dreamed of doing my fruit and vegetable shopping in the open air. We simply do not have anything like that in my little village by the sea. But Pátzcuaro does. Plenty of them. And a large portion of them are run by women who could be the cousin's of O'Gorman's fish peddler.

Even when they simply gather for a bit of breakfast and morning gossip.

Pátzcuaro has played a central role in most of Mexico's historical events. When Mexico fought for its independence from Spain, Pátzcuaro offered up several martyrs. One of them was Gertrudis Bocanegra y Mendoza. Or, as I refer to her (affectionately): Gertrude Blackmouth. The library is named in her honor.

And so is the plaza in front of the library where her statue stands. And pigeons wash all hubris from the bronze of heroines.

The statue depicts her at the moment of her execution. The Spanish foolishly decided to execute her publicly as a warning to other high-born Mexicans with Spanish blood. It didn't work. Legend has it that she ripped open her bodice to expose a breast daring the soldiers to shoot her in her "womanhood." They did.

On previous trips to 
Pátzcuaro, I have tried to track down her burial place (desperately seeking gertrude) -- with no luck. The closest I have come is the trunk of the ash tree where she purportedly stood.

Color me skeptical on the tale. Its veracity, in my book, rests somewhere between The One True Cross and Saint Osgyth, the head-carrying martyr. But facts should never get in the way of a good story.

O'Gorman, of course, portrayed her at the moment of her martyrdom next to the local hero boy of the independence movement, Morelos, and the completely unrelated hero of the Revolution, Zapata.

And what would any Mexican town be without its church ladies? There are two major manifestations of Jesus' mother in town. The first is Our Virgin of Health -- the region's patron saint.

Her image is housed in what was supposed to be the cathedral for the state capital. That honor eventually went to the city we now know as Morelia.

What Pátzcuaro got was a minor basilica where pilgrims come to pin amulets of arms and legs -- along with personal notes -- requesting Mary's intervention on their behalf.

The second Mary is the country's big one -- The Virgin of Guadalupe. Locally, she lives down the hill from the other Mary, in a sanctuary of her own. Where her icon and the Mexican flag are harmonious room-mates. With no mention of that pesky Constitution of 1917 or the Cristerio War.

Of course, Mary is not the only driving force of faith around the lake. There are those who find comfort in indulging in the Santa Muerte heresy --worshiping Saint Death.

A couple of years ago, a friend suggested I might find it amusing to stop by the medium-size Santa Muerte chapel on the southeast end of the lake. It was an interesting experience.

So, I thought I should introduce Darrel and Christy to that aspect of Mexican faith. The cartels are rumored to be some of the cult's most avid believers. The chapel would appear to verify the rumor -- based on the photographs and dollar bills adorning the various manifestations of Death. Emily Dickinson would feel right at home.

When the Spanish arrived, they found a complex 
Purépecha civilization. Most of the pre-conquest sites have disappeared. The Spanish and the conquered Purépecha used a lot of the stones from the Purépecha cities and temples for their own buildings. The Pátzcuaro basilica sits atop the ruins of a Purépecha pyramid.

But there are two major archaeological sites in the area. A few years ago, I told you about Tzintzuntzan (city on the bluff). It was the capital city of the 
Purépecha empire (extending over most of three current Mexican states) when the Spanish arrived.

But, before Tzintzuntzan was the capital, Ihuatzio held that honor. The current site is rather austere. The small portion that has been restored consists of two parallel causeways surrounding a square and two pyramids. I have always been fond of these smaller sites. They strike me as more human.

Each trip to the highlands, I like coming out to the square and imagining what the ceremonies must have  been like. And my imagination is as good as any anthropologist's, who seem to make up stuff when there is no evidence.

You may be asking yourself, why we are visiting an archaeological site when my theme is women. Well, I have an answer for you.

See this space between the two pyramids?

This is where my host Felipe proposed to his Child Bride. Now, what could be better than that? A bit of history stirred in with a large dose of romance.

Speaking of romance, yesterday's essay (sharing my p
átzcuaro) featured a photograph of Pátzcuaro's plaza grande -- its big square. It is not only big, it is a social center of the town. In the early morning, it is filled with joggers, walkers, and dogs. On the weekend, all sorts of events amuse the surge of tourists.

But the people who seem to find the best use for the park are the young women and their chosen Prince Charmings.

We visited many more places. A full circuit of the lake. A drive to the pristine mountain Lake 
Zirahuén. Shopping at Santa Clara de Cobre, where I finally bought a major piece of copper art. A brief jaunt into the outskirts of Morelia.

All of that has helped Darrel and Christy to make a tentative decision on whether 
Pátzcuaro should be on their list of places to buy a home. And, the answer?

Well, of course, you will have to wait for the envelope to be opened tomorrow.