Wednesday, May 31, 2017

fascists hate white women who make burritos

I tend to be a skeptic when it comes to the news.

I have a conservative friend who periodically sends me news clippings he thinks I will find interesting. Some are. Some aren't. And some fall into the category of "I really am not certain that is very factual."

He sent one yesterday that I felt should be tucked away into the third category. "Portland burrito business forced to close after getting hounded for 'culutural approriation.'" 

In the battle between the proponents of political correctness and the defenders of free speech, these stories abound. And, quite often, they have been exaggerated by one side or another to conform to preconceived political notions.

So, I read on with a bag of salt at the ready. Only to discover the story was more chilling than I originally thought

Two Portland women took a trip to Puerto Nuevo -- a bit south of Ensenada on the Baja peninsula. They had been considering opening what has become a Portland rite of passage -- a food cart. This one centered around burritos.

But they needed a hook. They wanted their tortillas to be the best Portland had to offer. Something authentic. So, why not go to where the best tortillas are made? In Mexico.

They talked, as one of the women said "in the worst broken Spanish ever" with several Mexican women making tortillas and asked about their secrets. The Mexican women showed them a thing or two, but they were not very forthcoming. The women learned enough,though, to head back to Portland to use their new-found knowledge to sell their wares as Kooks Burritos.

In a restaurant review in one of Portland's hep and lieftish newspapers, Willamette Week, the women let slip a little secret in their quest for the perfect tortilla: "We were peeking into the windows of every kitchen, totally fascinated by how easy they made it look. We learned quickly it was not that easy."

For that humility, their enterprise was bombed with enough irrationality to propel a Portland street riot.  Oh, yes, it should not matter in a sane world, but the two proprietors are white women.

What should have been the least interesting characteristic, the race of the women, became the central point of what followed the interview. The comments on the newspaper's website were acidic.

They were consciously squeezing out brown women in favor of their privileged white status. They were essentially white imperialists stealing ideas from poor brown women. And, my favorite, white women were appropriating the culture of a brown people. You would have thought the Elgin marbles were sequestered in their cart.

All of these comments were couched in the type of expletives that would have made even the Nixon White House cringe. And they were accompanied with a carpet bombing campaign of 1 stars designed to ruin the business.

But that was not enough. Another Portland newspaper, The Mercury, joined in the fray. I was hopeful that a newspaper would be interested in supporting diversity and free speech. After all, I keep hearing from my left-leaning friends that newspapers are the defenders of democracy.

Not this one. It went out of its way to reassure us that Margaret Thatcher's favorite phrase ("the Loony Left") still has legs.

When I started reading the article, I was positive I had stumbled across a piece from The Onion. Only a satire could contain phrases like: "appropriation problem," "white nonsense," "they colonized this style of food," "quirky to predatory," "stolen intellectual property," and "poaching trade secrets."

Just when you thought the breathlessness had reached its drama crescendo, out came a list of "White-owned appropriative restaurants in Portland. "A who's who of culinary white supremacy," as the writer so indelicately puts it. Harvey -- could you slip a white hood on that fried chicken?

The goal? To create a blacklist (or perhaps whitelist) of businesses that can no longer be judged on their culinary expertise, but by their ability to support a social agenda that can only be called by its real name -- fascism.

In the end, it worked. The owners have shut down their food cart. I assume they will now be forced to do absolution in the public square.

H.L. Menken once referred to puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy." If this type of behavior continues to prosper in Portland, I suggest we all get ready for another round of Salem witch trials.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

getting the dirt on the street

I was jarred from my sleep yesterday morning by the sounds of large vehicles.

My sleep patterns have been a bit off since I returned from Oregon -- mainly because of the relative change in heat. I have not completed my walking regimen until around 11 PM or so when I return for my supper. My bedroom does not usually cool down below 80 degrees until around 1 or 2 in the morning.

So, I sleep in. Or I try. Unless it sounds as if the storming of Utah beach is being re-enacted just outside my front gate.

From the upstairs terrazzo, I could see my "early" morning nemesis. A dump truck spreading piles of dirt on the street where I live. And a grader doing its best to even out the dirt like lard frosting on a cheap birthday cake.

You can see the result in the photograph. It may not look like much to you, but it is the very essence of modern road-building to me.

During the almost three years I have lived in the house with no name, the street has been a work in progress. As you can see, it is merely a path cut on the local sand and dirt. During the summer, when it rains, my little street becomes the path of a stream (awash in the day). I suspect it once was just that. A stream bed.

The rains of 2015 washed away most of the dirt foundation on the opposite side of the street. For two years, there has been a noticeable gully where pedestrians and bicyclists regularly suffer mishaps.

No more. As of yesterday morning, the road is in as good condition as I have ever seen it. I suspect one of my neighbors must have some pull with our local government representative.

But life is filled with little ironies. Whoever decided to do the work this month must have a wicked sense of humor. In a month or so, our summer rains will set in. And all of the hard work done yesterday will be a memory. The water that runs down my street flows with enough force that the fill material will soon be forming the equivalent of a Nile delta far from the house.

And we will all be driving over the resulting cliff for another two years.

That is not a complaint. It is just one of the realities of living in my section of the barrio.

Paved streets would seem to be the answer. But I am not certain of that. Channeling that much water over bricks will simply increase its force. And probably redirect the flow into homes as opposed to the people's street.

So, I am grateful, for a few brief shining moments when I will have a nice smooth street from which I can launch my walking forays.

We find joy where we can.

Monday, May 29, 2017

free to remember

Even though the day is almost over, I would be remiss in failing to note this is Memorial Day in The States.

This morning's edition of The Oregonian carried the usual stories about how Americans are very good at remembering that Memorial Day is part of a three-day holiday, but they are not very good about remembering what the "memorial" part of the holiday is all about. Inevitably, there is a lot of tongue-clucking and shaking of heads.

I am not going to mount that particular high horse. As you know well, I have a tendency to roll some of the smallest slights into moral dudgeon. Not today. What others do is not my concern. What I do is.

If I had stayed in Oregon for the full weekend, I would have accompanied my mother to decorate the graves of our family members who died in support of their country.

There were none. But we had family members who are now dead who served in the defense of their country. My grandfather and a brace of uncles.

Mom would not have stopped there. She would have extended the arms of memory to all family members. When she was done, we would have re-lived the lives of people who had helped make us who we are.

That is what she would have done. But she is in Bend today -- far from family graves. But not far from the memory of the people 
she would honor. I know she is doing that. And so am I as I write.

At times, it is easy to claim Americans have forgotten what it means to sacrifice their life in the defense of what the country stands for. For some, the correct way to remember is following rituals designed by others.

But, the very essence of freedom is the ability to show honor in the way you choose.

However you have chosen to honor the men and women who have died in order that Americans can live in a peaceful society ruled by law, I congratulate you -- as we all thank them.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

bedding in barra

I am back in Barra de Navidad.

I started to write: "I am back home." But I do not quite feel that is true.

When Gary and Joyce dropped me off at my house, I immediately started doing what I do after every trip -- unpacking my luggage.

As I was pulling my new shirts out of my new duffel bag, I paused for a second. I can't tell you why. I just did.

I looked around my room. Everything was as I had left it. Just tidier. Dora had been keeping the ship in trim while I was away for the past three weeks. But something seemed a bit odd.

Then it hit me. Even though I am quite fond of living in this unnamed house, and I am quite comfortable living in Mexico, neither one quite feels like home to me.

I tell everyone, when they ask, that Mexico, not Oregon or Nevada, is my home. But I am not certain what that means.

My legal training taught me to start any discussion with a definition of terms. After all, what is "home?"

"The place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household." So says the dictionary.

If that is what "home" is, I guess I do not have one. I certainly do not live anywhere permanently. I have spent more nights away from my Barra bed, than in it, this year. And during my three weeks in Washington and Oregon, I slept in seven different beds. Permanence is not my lifestyle.

That sounds a bit like: "Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home." But I hope I never get to the point of reducing my life to one of those silly inspirational posters on Pinterest.

I may not have a home, but I certainly do have a house. Even though Dora did a marvelous job of maintaining the place, there were tasks awaiting me when I arrived.

The first was the most important. While I was reading last night, I heard the well pump cycle on and off several times. That usually means water is running somewhere. Usually, an open tap or a stuck toilet float valve.

Not this time. It was the washing machine. Full of water and overflowing. I turned off the tap and cycled the water out -- thinking I had cleverly defeated Grendl himself.

Nope. When I turned the tap back on, the water started filling the drum. So, off went the tap. I will get around to that task in the next few days.

Then it was gardening. I lopped off the flower stalk of a Queen Anne palm before it could foul the patio, and then started picking up leaves and flowers from the vines in front of each bedroom door.

That was when I found a rather sad sight. Since I moved in, a hummingbird has visited the flowers on my vines each morning and evening. Like clockwork. I know he is there by his distinctive chirp as he makes his rounds.

I did not hear him yesterday evening or this morning. I now know why. I found his body in the netting that supports the vine. It looks as if he flew head first into it and died. Whether immediately or strangled, I have no way of knowing.

It will not be the same without him. But his little body reminded me that there is no such thing as a permanent home in our physical world. Death is a constant companion reminding us that we are all just seconds away from being netted ourselves.

There are two lines from Zorba the Greek that I have always liked. "Life is what you do while you're waiting to die." And "I carry on as if I was going to die any minute." I hope I can live like that.

And then we go home.

Friday, May 26, 2017

a blue day in newport

Yesterday was a day at the Oregon coast. Newport, to be specific.

Every time I visit the coast, I wonder how people can make a good living here. There is, of course, tourism. And that is a about it ever since the government and environmental concerns effectively shut down the only two high-value commodities the area had to offer -- fishing and timber.

Young people have three choices. Serve in tourist-oriented jobs. Leave the area. Do nothing. The most talented usually choose the second option. And that is just as true for the area around my house in Mexico.

But I did not come to the coast to think about the future of young people. I was there simply to do my part as a tourist.

The goal was to take a look at Lady Washington -- a Revolutionary War replica ship built to celebrate Washington's 1989 centennial as a state. Of course, few of the visitors were interested in its history. They wanted to see the ship because it is a movie star, and would be open to visits in the late afternoon.

When we arrived, Lady Washington was motoring (Yes, motoring; not everything is authentic about the ship.) around the Newport harbor. So, we decided to do something I have not done in a long time -- to walk across the Yaquina Bay bridge.

The bridge is a star in its own right. The Oregon Highway Department in the 1920s had a grand plan for building a highway that would stretch the full length of the Oregon coast -- what we now know as Highway 101.  Up until then, the coast highway was the beach itself.

But there was an enormous engineering problem. Eleven rivers needed to be crossed. Some of them major estuaries.

Conde McCullough was hired to head the highway project. But we remember him most for his eleven coastal bridges.

He had three goals for the bridges. They had to be efficient, economical, and beautiful. And he succeeded.

Some of the bridges have already been replaced. But, in my opinion, the most beautiful is the Yaquina Bay bridge.

At almost every angle, the bridge has classic proportions. And that was difficult for McCullough to accomplish because the south ramp is much longer than the north ramp -- and requires the ramp to be slightly oblique in approaching the span.

What is most striking is the use of neo-Gothic cathedral supports tied with art deco decorations on the span itself. The style would be at home in Cole Porter's Manhattan apartment.

Then, we were off to see Lady Washington. My first reaction was the same as most of the visitors. It seemed so small. That is because when it is used as a movie set, it is packed with people. Pirates, at times.

In reality, the crew consists of a dozen members. Just as a ship of that size would have had during the Revolutionary War. It was in Newport to raise money for its operation. And, of course, to amuse the Memorial day crowd.

What interested me most was hearing about what the ship represented. The captain said they do their best to experience what a crew in the 18th century would. On board, the crew suffers deprivations. But they have the joy of experiencing sailing at its most primitive.

We topped off the day with dinner at one of my favorite restaurants -- The Bay House in Lincoln City. What could be better than dungeness crab cakes and duck confit?

And that leaves today as my last day in Oregon. At the moment, I am sitting in a blimp hanger at the Tillamook Air Museum.

Who says there is nothing to do in my former home state?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

driving to the edge of the world

If Joshua Bell had not been performing in Salem last night, I would have been in Barra de Navidad learning to use my new telephone and Fit Gear.

But Joshua Bell did perform last night. And it was worth the wait.

He is a consummate performer. That is why his name is one of the most recognized violinists in the world. For me to say much more than that would be presumptuous.

The fact he was in Salem was what amazed me. It would be very easy to toss off a Groucho Marx line about Salem. After all, the guide in my hotel room contains a half page of things to see in Salem (and a third of those are  not in town) and three pages of emergency and evacuation instructions. But cheap shots are not my style.

When it comes to entertainment, Salem is not a backwater. While I lived here, the Elsinore presented lectures by Gregory Peck and James Earl Jones, the music of Herbie Hancock and Bernadette Peters, as well as the ever-funny Elayne Boosler, who met Professor Jiggs.  I used to wonder if they belonged to a club of performers who had lost a bet.

The real reason is that Salem was blessed with several organizations who took the time and effort into attracting the type of entertainment that people in Salem normally would see only if they drove to Portland or Seattle.

In the case of Joshua Bell, it was the newly-minted Salem Symphony that attracted him to my former little town in the long valley -- and what I assume was a cartful of money. The Salem Symphony is another example of how impresarios are ambitious in these parts.

Oregon has a world-class symphony that travels throughout  the state. But that is not the same as having your own city or regional orchestra. And I heard two of them during this visit -- the Salem Symphony and the Central Oregon Symphony.

I am glad both exist. They offer live serious music in regions where people may no longer have access to thart form of entertainment.

And, of course, the music that is offered usually lacks challenges for audiences. But they are challenging pieces for the players. The result is a tad bit provincial, but that is exactly what the orchestras are -- reflective of their province.

Then there are groups who offer both challenging pieces for both the audience and the players. The Crown City String Quartet, who I saw perform in Bend, is a perfect example.

I am glad I spent the two extra weeks in Oregon and Washington. Not only did I enjoy the music, I spent time with old friends enjoying their company -- something I sorely miss in Mexico.

But, my trip is not yet over. I am off to the Oregon coast for a day to see Lady Washington -- a replica of an American Revolution-era ship. She played a cameo role in Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Trek. (And this is how far American culture has sunk -- when a ship can become a celebrity.)

So, avast me hearties. Here be dragons. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

burning my salem witches

Nostalgia is not what it used to be. But it never was.

Today I am in Salem -- my old hometown. My only planned event is the Joshua Bell concert tonight. And that almost didn't happen.

I decided to walk around Salem and see what was new and what was just the same. Mostly, it was just the same. But it was a great day for adding 12 more miles to my walking regimen. Sunny. Pleasant temperatures. And a town in springtime blossom.

Because I ordered my concert tickets on line, I needed to stop by the theater to pick them up. The Elsinore is 90 years old and has seen service as a vaudeville venue, a movie house (I first saw Star Wars there), and a concert hall -- John Philip Sousa himself appeared here. It is now primarily the spot where Salemites come to hear live music.

For a moment this morning, I thought I was not going to be amongst them. When I gave the box office my name, they could not find anything. The very helpful woman looked in several spots, but my request was a stranger to her and her computer.

With my electronic receipt, help from a theater staff member, and a lot of preternatural patience on my part, I finally had my two tickets in hand.

I had hoped to have lunch with a friend or two. But one was heading to the optometrist. Another was winging her way back from New Orleans. Instead of striking out again, I walked through one of the neighborhoods where I had once considered buying a home.

I liked the neighborhood because it is nestled in a small forest inside the city boundaries. And it has character. As you can see.

But the house I looked at was rather plain in relation to some of the surrounding properties. I am not certain, but I think this may have been it. A pleasant place, but with the character of vanilla frozen yogurt.

My realtor called it an "executive" residence. I called it something I would not buy. But I did like the forest.

Because I started this day at 4:45 AM, I took a quick 20-minute nap to rest up for the concert tonight. Most of the music on offer will not be challenging enough to keep me alert without that nap. I am now ready to go.

In walking through town, I recalled a lot of good memories. But Salem has very little to offer in the way of adventure. And I have enough memories.

It is about time to return to Mexico -- but not before I hear Joshua Bell. And do whatever it is I am going to do on Thursday and Friday before I fly out of Portland on Saturday.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

the bell tolls for thee

This trip north is entering its last leg.

Early tomorrow morning, I will be boarding an airplane to Portland then a shuttle to Salem to attend Joshua Bell's concert with the Salem Symphonic Orchestra. Then, by late Saturday evening, I will be back home in Barra de Navidad.

My erstwhile traveling companions Roy and Nancy happened to be in Bend today. So, we arranged to have lunch together. The restaurant was only four miles away. That made it an easy walk from the house.

I was even healthy with my lunch choice (a small Greek salad with a cup of tomato-basil soup -- after my breakfast of hot and sour soup, and ginger beef.

 We caught up on what had been happening in our lives since the Australia cruise -- and started planning the details of our next jaunt. This time in Denmark. In October.

When we finished, they offered to drive me to their next destination to save me some steps home. I declined. I have been rather disciplined in getting in as many steps a day as I can.

That got me to thinking. I wonder how many miles I have walked since leaving Mexico earlier this month? Thanks to the memory on my telephone and my new Gear Fit, I have the answer. And here it is. Day by day. The date in May first. The miles second.

  6 - 16.68
  7 - 10.72
  8 - 18.72
  9 - 21.82
10 - 10.66
11 - 11.61
12 - 10.68
13 -   7.82
14 -   6.22
15 - 15.63
16 -   8.35
17 - 10.60
18 - 12.41
19 - 11.23
20 - 21.39
21 -   8.24
22 - 13.83
If I had started walking to Boise from Bend on the 6th (and walked no more than I have), I would almost be there now. And there are days, when I get into my walking groove, that I feel as of I could just walk all day.

And at a 4 MPH pace, that is about 70 hours of walking spread over seventeen days.

Why am I telling you this? I encountered another scientific study in The Oregonian this morning.

Electronic devices that record exercise routines are a great source of accurate information. Anecdotal information from people who exercise are always subject to data entanglement. That is a nice term that includes forgetfulness and lying. Electronic devices report what they experience.

Some exercisers publish their results in such place as Facebook. I don't. But I appear to be in the minority. Fit people like letting people know they are -- fit, that is.

You have run into them at dinner parties. They are the people who cannot stop talking about "My Numbers" and who keep sticking their fit bits in your face to prove their point as if it were the desiccated left toe of Saint Servatus.

Digging through the data, scientists have concluded that the fitness crowd can actually influence their friends and acquaintances to exercise more. They have even quantified the effect. For each kilometer run, a friend will run 0.3 kilometers more.

But not everyone has the same influence. It appears that the people who are most encouraged to exercise more are the ones that already exercise more than the person who encourages them. They are the people who dread the steps of even their friends creeping up on them.

If that is true, I have just written a note of encouragement to those of you who have run or walked over 300 miles over the past two weeks.

If you have not, and the study is correct, I have come off sounding like a self-righteous prig. It seems as if the confessions never end.

At least, I will be sitting still for a bit during the Joshua Bell concert.

Monday, May 22, 2017

live like a hobbit

Some things never change.

Take housing bubbles. When the last one popped a decade ago, Bend was one of the hardest hit communities in the country.

Foreclosures soared. People walked away from their dream homes. And the community stopped growing.

There is a housing development not too far from my brother's house that typified what happened ten years ago.

Bend was riding high in the real estate bubble of the early 2000s. Small bungalows that could not be sold in the 1990s started selling for Bentley and Rolls Royce prices.

And, as if often the case when irrational exuberance starts driving prices, people came up with imaginative ways to earn money that would normally be rejected as "you-need-to-take-your-meds" ideas.

In 2004 a developer thought of a doozy. He would build homes in the million dollar range with architecture based on Tolkien's Hobbit village, The Shire.

And that is what he called it. The Shire. The homes would evoke the romanticism of living in a hole in the ground while not having to live underground. It was the type of development that appeals to people who want something different, but who are not encumbered by an excess of taste.

The developer talked a local doctor into signing for a loan. And the building was off and running in 2005. Running is not even close to what happened. Only one house was built, and a second was under construction, when catastrophe hit. The houses did not sell like hot cakes. They did not even sell like elven bread

And then the housing bubble popped in Bend. The Shire was not the only development that Hindenburged. The entire Bend housing market collapsed -- with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. The Shire suffered along with the rest, but it had the disadvantage of being just a bit too fantastic to survive.

There was an additional tragedy. The doctor, who put his good name on the line to obtain the development loan, died. One day, he disappeared. The next day his body was found in the Deschutes River.

As is true with most tragedies of this nature, the small town gossips played out a tapestry of possible death causes. Accidental drowning. Suicide. Foul play. Whatever the cause was, it did not make the story any less Sophoclean.

The story is now a decade old. But the underlying moral is again raising its head. Housing prices in Bend are astronomical. A tiny bungalow in my brother's neighborhood just sold for $300,000.

Bend is currently positioning itself for another housing bubble that will inevitably burst. There are lessons to be learned. But not remembered.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

scooping up the culture

Today starts the cultural portion of my Oregon tour.

One thing I truly miss in my area of Mexico is biting into a chewy bit of culture. I should add an immediate caveat. We do have some artists who produce challenging paintings near my home. Several of those hang on the walls of the house with no name. Paintings, mind you; not the artists.

But when it comes to string quartets, oratorios, operas, or orchestras, there are not so many. Of course, there are in Mexico City and Guadalajara. But I do not get there as often as I would like.

So, that leaves my travels to feed my cultural jonesing. And I try to take advantage of anything of interest that is offered while I travel. That is why opera in Sydney, orchestra in Barcelona, and string quartets in Venice are such a treat.

On this trip, I have found three days of cultural diversion, starting tonight with the Crown City String Quartet in Bend. Crown City is Pasedena-based, but the quartet play often in the Pacific Northwest, including for the series sponsored by High Desert Chamber Music. I saw them perform two years ago here (staging the day). Tonight's performance is the finale of the HDCM's 2016-17 season.

Pre-concert discussions of the pieces to be performed are now quite common. And they are a great idea.

Most people who attend these concerts have a vague idea of what the music might offer. But they often do not have the tools to analyze the music's depths. These mini-lectures help bridge the gap.

I often write that I want my music to be challenging -- just as I want paintings or sculpture or opera to be challenging. Once the listener understands the sonata form, there are potential signposts to understand the composer's statement and restatement of themes.

It also helps if the program is populated with pieces that are almost entry-level (but still extremely good). That is what the Crown City String Quartet is offering tonight:

  • Schubert "Quartettsatz"
  • Mozart String Quartet in B Flat Major K.589
  • Schumann String Quartet No. 3 in A Minor 
On Sunday afternoon, Darrel, Mom and I will attend the season's last performance of the Central Oregon Symphony -- an orchestra that used to bill itself as "the largest symphony in Bend." An appellation that has all the weight of  being "world-famous in Poland."

Tomorrow's guest is Linda Wang, who I saw perform in Bend on one of my earlier visits. I look forward to seeing her perform again. The performance will also be noteworthy because the second piece on the program, Cascades, was commissioned by the orchestra to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

And here is the full program:

  • Brahms Violin Concerto
  • Barnes Cascades Suite
  • Marquez Danzon No.2
The first and third pieces are not very challenging, but I look forward to hearing the premier of the commissioned piece. Anything new is always worth a listen.

And, of course, even though it is not very demanding music, the Marquez is one of my favorite pop concert pieces (sex on the floor). I suspect it will be a fun afternoon.

Then there is the concert that kept me in Oregon this long. On Wednesday night Joshua Bell will be the guest performer with the Salem Symphony.

The Salem Symphony is a recent creation -- reminiscent of the days when every town had its own band. Or boys' band, as Professor Harold Hill would have it.

I have long-admired Joshua Bell's work. Including his off-stage antics. It is not every day a performer of his quality shows up in the town where I once lived.

The program for Wednesday is:

  • Saint Saens Bacchanale
  • Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
  • Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor
  • Sarasate Ziguenerweisen
Bell will perform with the orchestra on the last two pieces. Both are well-designed to showcase his show biz style, but not his subtle virtuosity.

Having said all that, I am looking forward to each of the three performances. The Bell has all the elements of being a memorable night. But I may be surprised at what the other two performances offer, as well.

I do know, though, that when I return to Barra de Navidad, I am going to miss having all of these options available.

Guadalajara and Mexico City may get to see a lot more of me.

Friday, May 19, 2017

packing it all up

Friday was shopping day. And shop I did.

"Shop" may be the wrong word. I associate that verb with aimless wandering through stores occasionally fondling the random piece of merchandise and slouching away looking as if the holy grail had just evaded my grasp.

I like to call what I do hunting. I know where the elk were last seen. I swoop in, and, if they are not there, I move on.

By that definition, Thursday was a mixed bag. I stopped at four stores (REI, Eddie Bauer, Columbia Sportswear, and The Foot Zone) knowing what I wanted in each.  Some had it. Some didn't.

What I ended up with was a pile of shirts, shorts, socks, and shoes. And a new Eagle Creek duffel bag to cart them home to Mexico.

When I first moved south eight years ago, I would drag a shopping cart of stuff back to Mexico. Mostly foodstuffs. The type of thing I craved, but could not buy in my little village on the beach.

Food is no longer on my list -- with the exception of hard-to-find spices and herbs. My tastes have not changed that much: the availability has. Almost anything I need can be found at Hawaii -- a grocery store in San Patricio.

However, the clothes I prefer are not readily available near my house. So, about every two years I purchase a new pile of duds that make me like like a colorful version of Steve Irwin. Lots of cotton angling shirts and shorts.

Today's purchases should hold me until I head north again in September for my 50th high school reunion. I am looking forward to that. But I will need something other than khakis for the evening.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

science is my bag

In his Annie Hall opening monologue, Woody Allen imagines how he will age. The balding virile type as opposed to the distinguished gray. He then fires off one of my favorite movie lines.

"Unless I'm one o' those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism."

That is the guy I have felt like these past couple of weeks. I just noticed a number of my essays have a patina of grumpiness about them. Andy Rooney without the charm.

I am about to do it again.

Earlier this week, I ran across a headline: "Stomach acid drugs can cause serious gut infections." I have a special interest in such stories. I use omeprazole, one of the most-prescribed acid inhibitors, to keep food from ending up like Mama Cass dying with a grilled chicken stuck in my throat.

So, anytime I see the word "cause" associated with omepraziole and some disastrous outcome, I pay attention. I did the same thing two years ago when the newspapers were ablaze with warnings like "Heartburn drugs linked to heart attacks."

The heart attack warning turned out to be uneducated journalists auditioning for the role of the shepherd boy in "Waiting for Lobo." Most of newspaper scribblers stated that the use of acid inhibitors increased the chance of heart attacks by 16%. Scientists would call that statistically significant. Normal people would call it frightening.

That story disappeared when doctors pointed out the studies found no such thing. The risk factor was almost infinitesimal. Even if the data was correct (and there is some doubt a bout that), 99.98 percent of people who take the inhibitors are not a risk of having a heart attack.

The latest scare turns out to be far less frightening than the headlines would have us believe. It is true that, after reviewing medical records (there was no blind study), it appeared that there was some form of causal relationship between the use of the heartburn medications and a recurrent gut infection of a rather nasty kind. 22.1 percent of the users, to quote the study, were gut busters.

That number was about enough to make me run the risk of choking to death rather than suffering bouts of diarrhea. That is, until I read further. It turns out that 17.3 percent of non-users also suffer from these pesky infections. That rather puts paid to the "causation" fear.

Now, that may look like the use of the drugs increases the risk of infections by 5%. But that would not be true, either.

And, maybe because of the scandal of fake news generated in the 2015 article, journalists simply noted the two figures and said nothing more. Of course, they should have. They could have asked the study authors what it all meant.

They didn't. They had met their mission of scaring the infection out of their readers. And, the nutrition nazis, who considered science to merely be another tool to scare people, will interpret the study to keep the burn alive.

Whenever people ask me why I am always skeptical of what journalists have to say about issues scientific, I will pick up these two headlines as a bludgeon. I keep hoping the truth will out.

But that is not the nature of journalism.

As for me, I am going to get myself a drool cup and a shopping bag. I already spend a lot of time screaming about socialism.    

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

saving the galaxy

I am going to save you from a Trump diatribe.

This morning's Oregonian blared "Trump revealed secrets." That caught my attention.

The disclosure of classified information has long been my political bête noire -- even though I was a bit baffled that anyone would criticize the president for revealing classified information. That is well within the executive's authority.

What bothered me was in the text of the story. That the disclosure may have jeopardized our ally's trust that we will not share information they have provided. And we now all know the source of the classified information was one of our truest allies -- Israel.

My long-
held aversion to disclosing classified information stems from rather specific events where friends, acquaintances, and contacts are now dead as a result of the work of such traitors as Philip Agee.

But, I decided enough commentators and amateurs are donning ashes and wallowing in ashes. If there is one aspect of being up north that has really disappointed me, it is the constant conversation about President Trump. I have yet to have a conversation with anyone up here that has not been either hagiographic hero worship or fears that the seventh seal of the Apocalypse has been opened.

So, I am not going to write about The Donald -- because he bores me. And I would appreciate not getting into a discussion in the comments section. We can talk about something else.

And that is exactly what Ken, Kimmy, Matthew, and I did today. To avoid mining the depths of the Trump bucket, we headed off to Cabela's, who touts itself as "The World's Foremost Outfitter." Outfitter of sporting equipment, that is.

I have taken a liking to wearing angling shirts. And most of mine are suffering from the wear and tear of Mexican life. So, hunting I went. And ended up empty handed as sportsmen often do.

The best I could bag was some cinnamon salt water taffy. It is true that taffy is not on my current food list. But I like it, and a few pieces will not damn me to nutrition Hell -- unless you listen too closely to the anti-sugar hysterics.

No trip to Cabela's would be complete, though, without visiting its second floor of firearms. There are banks of rifles for hunting the wily game whose taxidermic remains dot the store.

But my favorite room is the vintage gun room. Especially, the hand guns. It is fun to point out the various guns James Bond has used in the novels and the never-ending films.

Then we were off to a movie. Not a James Bond piece.

Ken, Kimmy, and Matthew did not have an opportunity to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume Two last night. Kimmy and Matthew had already seen it three or four times. I saw it in Bend with my family. Ken was the only one of our group who had not seen it.

I had the choice of staying home alone or joining them. Since I had traveled up here to enjoy their company, I decided to steel myself and watch it again.

For whatever reason, I found it a bit more enjoyable the second time. I must have been in the wrong mood when I saw it the first time.

I really enjoyed the first three Star Wars movies. The characters in Guardians come close to connecting on a personal level. And the story line has a lot of similarities -- even though this one lacked a lot of back story.

But it is a movie based on comic books. What can I expect?

In execution, it is a lot more like the second series of Star War movies. Special effects and star battles quickly maneuver the characters into secondary roles. Violence and noise become the stars.

These short visits are a bit frustrating. I enjoy the company of my friends. But Ken will be taking me to the Seattle airport in the morning on his way to battle his way through traffic to conduct a hearing in downtown Seattle. Even though my flight is in the early afternoon, I will probably be in Bend before he gets back home.

And, out of the blue, there is another reason I am glad to live in my part of Mexico. Traffic is not a problem.

But, before I start extolling the virtues of Mexico, I still have a week and a half to enjoy the pleasures of Oregon. And more pithy observations await.

Monday, May 15, 2017

if it's monday this must be olympia

Steve is on the road again.

This time in Washington. The state, not the political puzzle land. Olympia, if you are keeping track.

Yesterday I decided it was time to check in with my friend Ken. I have been here only once (I think) since Patti died (the circle tightens) in 2015. Their home is not the same without her. But Ken and their daughter Kimmy are.

And it was a propitious time for a visit. Kimmy's boyfriend Matthew proposed to her less than a month ago. They are trousseau deep in planning a wedding in Anaheim May of next year.

The four of us had a brief opportunity this evening to sit down and talk about what is happening in all of our lives. They then adjourned to the questionable entertainment of Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume Two. I had already seen it with my family in Bend last week. Once was enough.

I am here only until Wednesday. We will undoubtedly do what we always do on my visits -- make mock of words and politicians, try to beat each others' puns, and visit one of the largest gun stores in the Pacific Northwest.

And that car at the top? Ken picked me up in one of the cars you can see in the photograph. It was either the Bentley Continental GT (with a list of price just above $200,000 (US)) or the red Kia Sportage.

I will let you guess.   

galaxy s8 plus to the rescue

I have named it Phoenix.

Due to three untimely tumbles, the screen on my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge took on the look of a map of the Mississippi delta. When my friend Anne delivered it to me, she insisted that I buy a case for the telephone. I didn't. The lines were too edgy to hide in a plastic case.

I paid the price for my folly. Cracked touch screens soon stop operating. It was just a matter of time.

But time was on my side. I had already planned to head north when Samsung announced the release of the international version of the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. After reading the specifications, I ordered one from Amazon -- to be delivered at my brother's house on the Friday before I arrived.

I showed up, but the telephone was not there; Amazon's tracking system said it would arrive on Monday. It didn't. It didn't arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The sub-contractor filling the order is in Seattle. I tried calling. No answer. Then I got worried.

Amazon includes a rating system for its suppliers while the product is in transit. The 5-star ratings were reassuring -- until the current week. Then, all the ratings turned into 1-stars with complaints of payments made and no telephones delivered.

Rather than re-live the week of emails filled with retailer shoddy excuses and unfulfilled promises, I will cut to the chase. My telephone finally arrived on Saturday.

It was worth the wait -- if not the aggravation. Some of you have probably read the rave reviews of this deightful piece of engineering. A greatly-increased screen size without making the overall unit appreciably larger. The speediest processor on the market. Beautifully crafted. A camera with great resolution. And, best of all, an increased battery life.

As with all new devices, I have to sign in anew on each application. There is always a tope in the road. I keep a list of passwords, but somehow the passwords for several applications never made it to the archives. But the complication gave me the opportunity to update my list with new codes.

The price was a bit more than what I would have liked, but these smartphones long ago stopped being just a telephone. They are essentially computers in your front pocket. Bar bets no longer need an independent referee when Google is around. I don't even worry about remembering that "Doc" is the seventh dwarf we always forget.

And, yes, I did buy a case. It showed up on the day the telephone was supposed to arrive. Maybe I can keep this new screen from being modified by Mexican tile.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

madonna and child

Today we celebrate our mothers.

Editorial writers across the country will conjure up abstract notions about the women in our lives. Hallmark will sell its ditties that are almost as universal -- to be accompanied a rainbow of candy, balloons, and flowers. As if we were celebrating some distant earth goddess rather than the one at hand.

Most mothers' days, I would be doing the same thing. But this day is different. I am not going to rely on some long-distance florist to wish my mother a happy mothers' day. I will do it in person.

Usually, I am either in Mexico (where mothers' day is always celebrated on 10 May) or on the road. This year, I am still on the road, but on the road where my mother lives.

One day is simply too confining to celebrate her. Before we left for Portland on Friday, I gave her a bouquet from a local florist. And, of course, there was the greatest gift of all: meeting Charlotte. (The photograph is courtesy of Sara, her mother.) Yesterday, I updated Mom's Kindle to a side-lit Paperwhite. And today? Darrel and I will spend time with her. Time is always one of the most precious gifts we can give anyone.

Rather than weave a tapestry of words for all she has done, I will leave it at this. The love you can see in my mother's eyes as she held Charlotte reflects the love she has shown to Darrel and me all of our lives. During the hubbub of modern American life, it is easy to forget that. Mainly, because what we have always had is easy to take  for granted.

As silly as I find most holidays, this is one that really matters. It gives us an opportunity to pause and consider the blessings we have in our lives that are the direct result of our mother's sacrifice. Darrel and I are very fortunate that Marilyn Munro Cotton gave us birth, provided us with maternal love, and taught us to be the independent souls we have become.

But what she has done for us is not why we are celebrating. That would be far too narcissistic -- even for me. We celebrate her for her strength, her faith, and her presence. For her virtues.

That is why the image of the Madonna and child is so powerful. From a faith perspective, the image has always been a bit jarring to me. The child, who should be the religious focus, always plays second oboe to his mother.

And maybe that is the way it should be. Stripped of its religious significance, every Madonna and child is always about the mother. Our mother.

Sara caught the essence of that relationship in her photograph of Mom and Charlotte. All of these words pale in comparison.

So, I will leave it at that.

Happy mothers' day, Mom. We love you.

Friday, May 12, 2017

charlotte joins mexpatriate

Meet Charlotte Rose Cotton. The most recent addition to the cast of Mexpatriate.

At least, she is the most recent addition to the family Cotton. And that is about the same thing.

Charlotte, named for her paternal grandfather Charles and her maternal grandmother Rose, was born on 5 December 2016. I would have noted the date last December, but I had not yet had an opportunity to meet her. I did today.

Darrel, Christy, Mom, and I drove over to Portland this afternoon to meet her for the first time. Charlotte is the son of my nephew Ryan (Darrel's son) and Sara (my favorite corporate litigator). According to the two of them, she is a practically perfect baby.

Of course, all parents say that (and they are unquestionably seconded by doting uncles). But, she is. She sleeps through the night, is seldom fussy, and has a smile and eyes for every person who catches her intense gaze.

The seven of us (plus my nine-year old nephew Colin and his inseparable friend Lety) trundled over to a pizza place in their neighborhood. 

Usually, it is very difficult for a group that size to hold serious conversations. But we did.

We reminisced about our childhoods, our relatives, our trips, our plans for the future. And laughed. We laughed a lot. Just the way family gatherings should be.

I invited Ryan and Sara to bring Colin and Charlotte south to the house with no name -- in the winter. Summers are just a bit too rough to fully enjoy Barra de Navidad.

And, when they do, Charlotte's next appearance in Mexpatriate will show off her obvious star power. That is my objective prediction -- with no prejudice whatsoever.

Welcome aboard this train of life, Charlotte. You will go far.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

shootout at the kaitlyn corral

Some American constitutional rights are remote or abstract.

Take the third amendment. My liberty bell rings just knowing that the government cannot quarter soldiers in my house. Take that George III -- and all of your ilk.

On the other extreme, some rights are with us daily. The first and second amendments are perfect examples.

Even though, the first is under a lot of stress these days from people like Howard Dean who thinks it does not apply to speech he finds offensive. He is one of those people who love saying: "I support the first amendment, but -- ." That translates to "I don't support the first amendment.

But today was not a day to dwell on the erosion of free speech. We were exercising our rights under the second amendment.

My niece Kaitlyn announced this morning we were going shooting. I had visions of mounting the head of Bambi's father over the mantle.

Her suggestion was a bit more prosaic. We were going target shooting with her 9mm Walther CCP -- a very well-crafted handgun.

She regularly shoots at a shooting range near her home in Seattle. But she needs to choose her times carefully. Apparently, even in the People's Republic of Washington, recreational shooting is the rage. Just like fitness centers, shooting ranges fill up after work.

It turns out I was as wrong about our destination in Bend as I was about our potential antlered targets. This is central Oregon. We didn't need no stinkin' yuppie shooting range. The outdoors is our shooting gallery.

We drove out past the controlled burn area into a Forest Service copse of ponderosa. A couple of stumps made perfect backers for targets -- as well as holding our Annie Oakley bottles.

The family that prays together may stay together. But the family that shoots together pays close attention to who has the weapon in hand.

By turns, we all stood our ground and reduced paper targets to shreds. All of us had a pretty good eye for taking down stationary targets. And that is all we were doing. Just having fun.

Some of my Canadian friends cannot understand the American fascination with guns. That passion is based in the national character, not because of the second amendment. The second amendment exists because guns are a part of our nature. 

Mainly, because it is just fun to shoot them. Had we not been driven back to the SUV because of a downpour, we would probably still be out there emptying magazines into innocent trees.

At a more idealistic time, the editorial masthead of The Oregonian contained one of Voltaire's more famous statements: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." In today's political environment, I doubt many college campuses would conside
r that to be anything other than an act of aggression by old white men against the world's victim class.

But, after today's shot through the woods, I would say something similar about the liberty ensconced in the second amendment. Maybe we could all have more civil discourse while sharing a pistol in the ponderosa.

It is just a thought. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

take a hike

We discover a lot about ourselves when we travel. Even when it is merely aspects we forgot we had.

For me, it is hiking.

You already know I am a bit obsessed with walking for exercise. In the past month, I have been pacing between ten and twenty miles each day. I like it.

But exercise walking is not hiking. When I exercise, I block out everything around me -- and just walk. It is an end in itself.

Not so with hiking. A good hike should cover a respectable piece of trail. But the experience of the hike -- and its surroundings -- is everything.

It had been a long time since I took a hike. Maybe sixteen years ago with the peripatetic Professor Jiggs. That is, until I took hikes in New Zealand (hiking with queen charlotte) and Colombia (coming to jesus) -- and I had a great time reviving a slumbering pastime. Great enough that I had one of those heart-to-heart talks with myself about why I no longer hike.

We have some hiking opportunities around Barra. But not many.

That is why I jumped at the opportunity to take a hike with the family when Christy mentioned it this morning. Bend is one of the world's recreation capitals.

What was once a mill town nestled on the banks of the Deschutes river has traded in its chain saws for marketing fun to tourists who come to ski, hike, snowboard, rock climb, and kayak -- and to be engorged with the output of the town's microbreweries.

When the logging industry collapsed, Bend made bread out of poverty. The sawmill was turned into an upscale shopping center along with a chain of of trails and parks hugging the river. 

What had been a utilitarian stream for transporting and storing logs became a first rate attraction for residents and tourists. Why drive to Disneyland when nature can provide thousands of happier places on earth?

The trail system is the crown jewel in Bend's reinvention of itself. 65 miles in all. And a lot of those miles are in the city itself.

We (Darrel; Christy; my niece Kaitlyn; her friends Lisa and Noah; and I) decided to tackle the four miles that run along the banks of the river in south Bend. If it had been an exercise walk, it would have been a warm up. But it wasn't an exercise walk; it was a hike. A time to be one with nature.

And, just like New Zealand, the hike had everything a successful hike needs. White water. Ponderosa. Lodgepole. Chaparral. And plenty of birdsong.

Tolstoy may have thought all happy families are all alike and that unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Had he thought that about hikes, he would have been wrong. Because every hike is happy in its own way.

As was ours. I have always found running water to be good for the soul. The sound helped me keep my pace to hiking speed instead of power walking.

One of the sure signs that spring has arrived in central Oregon is the return of the tree swallows. They were out in force -- skimming over the surface of the river in their iridescent blue formal wear.

Swallows appear to take great joy in the fact that they can fly. And they are happy to show that talent to envious humans.

Darrel told me that the last time he was on the trail (and that was several years ago), it was possible to walk the full loop without encountering another person. That was not true today.

We must have seen close to fifty other people on a Tuesday afternoon. Mothers with babies in exercise strollers. Dog walkers. Fellow hikers. Fishermen. Runners. Joggers. Kayakers. All of us putting the trail to its intended purpose.

I started to ask myself why I had moved from Oregon. I felt almost renewed by our two hour stroll along the river. I could do this every day.

Of course, even if I lived in Bend, I would not hike every day. That is how we humans are. We tend to covet what we cannot have and ignore the treasures we possess.

I had lived in the Melaque area for eight years before I took an ATM tour with Ray (city slickers duding it up). And I did that only because Darrel and Christy were there.

But that is why I travel. There is something about being in new places that clears away the natural interta of our existences.

It is also why I am still up north. Finding those parts of who I am amongst the detritus of daily life.

Monday, May 08, 2017

fire in the hole

Christy hates smoke.

She comes by it honestly. Darrel and Christy lived on a small ranch on the outskirts of Bend for over thirty years. Even though they were within walking distance of town, their most dangerous adversary was fire. Forest fires.

On several of my visits, we would be running errands in Bend when Christy would look up and see smoke on the horizon in the general direction of their place. Whatever we were doing, we would head back to the house just in case we needed to defend the property from a flaming invasion.

The risk was real. Groves of ponderosa pine surrounded the house and outbuildings. Just over the ridge in back of their place was a pine forest. If a fire jumped the ridge, we would have either gone into fire-break mode -- or become fleeing refugees.

During Christy's visits to my area of Mexico, she was initially unnerved by the number of brush fires. Some in the wild. Others in town.

Darrel reassured her that brush fires around Barra tend to die out before they burn very far. She was not certain of that explanation. Especially when she saw the char marks on a number of concrete walls.

And she was right to be wary. A brush fire near the laguna in Villa Obregon recently got away and threatened some local businesses before our local fire brigade showed up with their water truck to bring it back under control.

When Gary and Joyce took me to the Manzanillo airport on Saturday, we watched a brush fire burn the full slope of two steep hills near the highway. I still do not know if that was an intentional burn.

Today, while I was out on a walk in Bend, I noticed a column of smoke rising just beyond the ridge of Darrel and Christy's former ranch. When I got back to the house, I told them about the fire, and off we headed in their SUV to chase a story.

It turned out it was a controlled burn by the Forest Service. To burn off anything combustible before the fire season begins -- and before an uncontrolled burn took advantage of the kindling.

There was a small army of firefighters controlling the burn where it backed up to homes. Even knowing there was a good deal of control on the fire, it was like watching a lion tamer work with big cats.

After all, fire is every bit as dangerous -- and as unpredictable -- as a wild animal. The control is an illusion. At any moment, the fire could have turned into the very thing the burners were attempting to avoid. Paul Ryan must feel the same way these days.

As for me, it was a good reminder how fragile the circumstances of our lives are. I do not live with the danger of fire in my part of Mexico. But I do have scorpions, earthquakes, hurricanes, and even one very live volcano.

But that is what makes getting out of bed each day worthwhile.