Saturday, September 30, 2017

the eye of the storm

"But, you don't have any seasons down there? How do you know if you are alive without surviving a winter?"

It was my friend Rod in Portland. He has never understood my decision to move to Mexico. So, he pulled the seasons card.

But he was wrong. We do have seasons in our little tourist village by the sea. And I do not mean the three seasons of hot, hotter still, and so hot you might as well live in the Congo.

True, the three hots do exist. But the more obvious seasonal indicator is the ebb and flow of tourists visiting our lovely Eden -- complete with serpents and other things that go bump in the night.

The calendar does not help a lot. But we can use months as reference points.

We are now just coming out of the tourist doldrums of August and September. Why don't we start there?

These two months tend to be the most difficult for businesses that rely on the tourist trade. Mexicans visit on the weekends, but not in large groups. And there are some northerners here in August visiting their Mexican relatives.  There is enough English spoken on the Barra malecon that it is possible to believe you are in Santa Monica. By the start of September, that stream dries up.

In September, the beaches are almost deserted. As you can see in the photograph.

October starts a different cycle. The northerners (mainly Canadians) start arriving for long-term stays. The omnipresence of Canadian Thanksgiving dinners on 9 October is the official kickoff of the northern season. It will run until about March or so with its high point of six weeks that span January and February.

There are two large surges of Mexican tourism that coincide with the northern visitors. The first is approximately two weeks around Christmas when Mexico puts down its tools and rests -- with almost endless fiestas. Some vacationers are clever enough to combine their Christmas vacation with the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico's patron saint) on 10 December.

San Patricio has its own patron saint. Coincidentally enough, San Patricio. Or, Saint Patrick -- for you Irish. His feast day is 17 March, and it is wildly celebrated for well over a week, even though it falls within Lent.

Speaking of Lent, Mexico's big holiday is semana santa -- what we northerners would call Easter week and was once a school holiday, now supplanted by the soulless spring break.

The week before Easter and the week after bring the largest groups of Mexican tourists to our area. The beach seems to be the place to be. Traditionally, the tourists have come by bus. But, more and more, middle class Mexican families arrive in their SUVs with their 2.1 children. And, often, a large dog. All wearing designer clothes. Well, except for the dog.

Most northerners have pulled up stakes by the time semana santa arrives. And once the Easter festivities are over, the town slips into a bit of tourist hibernation. Weekends are busy. But weekdays are slower.

Until the arrival of summer vacation. About six weeks in June and July. Once again, the beaches are filled with Mexican families. And, unlike up north, young people seem to enjoy spending vacations with their full extended clan. Though, smart phones are whittling away at that dynamic.

Then comes August, and the cycle repeats itself.

Mexicans and expatriates who live here full time have their favorite parts of the tourist cycle. I like them all. It is almost like watching a kaleidoscope of humanity. Each month -- each week -- each day -- is different in its own way.

So, no Doug, we may not have winters here, but our seasons are every bit as interesting as watching the leaves change colors in the park blocks of Portland in September.

Maybe more so.

Friday, September 29, 2017

man down

When I returned to Barra de Navidad from Oregon in August, a storm had just passed through our little tourist village.

I got a new umbrella out of it. Others were not so fortunate.

Part of my daily walks is along one of our main streets -- Puerto de la Navidad. It could easily be confused with a slice of suburbia in Wichita. Wide avenue. Straight sidewalks. Tidy homes.

That is why I was a little surprised last month to find half of a ficus collapsed across the sidewalk. I tried to move the branch, but it was too heavy. So, I let it be. My experience is that fallen trees are quickly cleaned up around here.

But, not this time. Each day I took that route, I had to detour around the branch. That went on for a couple of weeks. It was still there when I flew north for my high school reunion. When I returned, someone had cleared the sidewalk and tidied up the scarred tree.

I tell you that tale because it was such an anomaly. When hurricane Patricia crashed through here two years ago, crews were out immediately clearing away fallen trees. The hurricane had blocked the road out of the village with enough wood to build a Grimm Brothers set. Within a day, the road was open.

I thought of those two battling models when I noticed this telephone pole taking a siesta in the middle of the main road into Barra. I could not tell if the pole had collapsed from old age (wood tends to have the life span of a May fly here), had been sheared by a distracted motorist or a combination.

The woman in the pharmacy on the corner had no information on whether the driver was distracted, but she knew it was a car that had toppled the pole and shattered the street light.

It was still there when I walked past an hour later. But, by the time I took my evening walk to dinner, everything had been cleaned up.

And I would have anticipated that. With the ficus exception, Mexico is very good about whisking away the detritus of nature and accidents. And, I suspect the ficus took so long because the tree was in front of a vacant lot. The owner may not have been informed.

That brings us to the fact that my I am writing this essay from the comfort of my house. Telmex finally showed up yesterday. It turned out my telephone line was operating. The same could not be said for either my telephone, the filter on the line, or my modem. I now have a full new set. And Mexpatriate is back in full force.

Every good essay deserves a moral. But I do not have one today. That may say something about the quality of the essay itself.

Maybe all I have to say is that life here is good. And that is good enough for a fine Friday morning.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

offering a hand

In Mañana Forever?, Jorge Castañeda bemoaned the lack of civic associations in Mexico. Mexicans join charitable, educational, religious, and communitarian associations at a far lower rate than other Latin American nations.

Mexicans may not be joiners, but what 
Castañeda ignores is that Mexicans are more than willing to lend a helping hand to their neighbors in time of crisis.

The 1985 Mexico City earthquake is a perfect example. With a good portion of the city in ruins, the government slipped into denial and withheld the services of the army, the police, and firemen in rescue efforts. The police were eventually employed -- but to hold back the throngs of volunteers who thronged to help their neighbors.

Ironically, the rescue efforts were led by groups formed out of the 1968 student revolt. Along with unrelated individuals, they joined forces to help salvage what could have been a far worse tragedy.

We saw that same humanitarian expression again this month. When Mexico City and the surrounding area suffered another large earthquake, the first people on the scene were neighbors and passersby who ran to clear rubble and save survivors.

Barra de Navidad is 560 miles from Mexico City. But our little community organized to help the earthquake victims. Our local message boards have been filled with people offering assistance.

Last night, a group of Mexicans, expatriates, and tourists gathered to do even more. The gathering place was one of our more popular eateries -- Se
ñor Froy's. (Yes. Yes. I know. You intellectual property experts can just calm down.)

Froy offered up his restaurant to provide food for the mob that gathered and to provide a portion of his proceeds to the pot that was quickly filling up. The big event was a silent auction where the usual fare of restaurant certificates and lodging were on offer.

In the spirit of the evening, people also brought in personal items to auction. Paintings. Jewelry. Dinnerware. Beauty products. Baked goods. Anything that could be sold to raise funds. I saw a taxi arriving filled with bags of clothing to be shipped to Mexico City.

We will not know the total amount raised until later in the week. Money is still flowing in from up north -- and locally.

Some people are averse to these public displays of charity. I must confess that I prefer a more subtle approach.

But my preference for more anonymity ignores a crucial point. One that was inherent in Castañeda's criticism of the lack of civic associations in Mexico.

There is something powerful when people gather and act as a group to help others who have suffered a disaster. Last night's gathering was certainly stronger than each of us as individuals. It was the equivalent of an old-fashioned barn-raising. And I was happy to feel all that empathy.

The total amount raised will be an interesting piece of data. But it is probably the least important aspect of the evening.

The more important result is that a group of strangers saw their fellow humans in distress and joined together to do something about it.

And that is miracle enough for me on this fine morning in Mexico.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

drawing the line

Walking is a blessing and a curse.

The blessing part is obvious. What else could get me out in my neighborhood while giving me the exercise I need?

But there is a downside. And it came home to me in spades yesterday morning.

Part of my walk through Barra de Navidad includes walking to the end of our jetty that juts into the bay. It is the half-way point of my 5-mile walk.

The jetty always has something of interest. People fishing for dinner -- or fun. Pelicans picking off the fish missed by the hooks and lines. Scuttling crabs. And the star attraction: the morphing ocean.

Yesterday, there was something new. Being smart readers, you have already seen what caught my eye.

I first noticed several fish swimming along the surf line on the beach. Close enough that it looked as if one or two would be stranded. None were.

When I traced the line of fish along the jetty, it ended in a bait ball. Not just a school, but a bait ball. Eels could have not entwined any closer.

I am not a fisherman. And, unless a specimen is in a tank with a label, I am just as likely to identify a rainbow trout as a sea bass.

So, there is my confession of ignorance. I know that some of you fish. Do you have any idea, from the behavior, what my discovery might be?

Unfortunately, the definition of the photograph when increased will not help you much. At best in that resolution, they could be an abstract expressionist's concept of a fish.

The curse portion of my walking?

Because I felt compelled to maintain my walking pace, I snapped this photograph and kept on walking when I could have stopped for just a moment to enjoy another of Mexico's ever-changing attractions.

There may be a moral buried in that bait ball.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

the infernal city

On one of my recent forays north, I thumbed through a stack of photographs from my last visit to Rome.

Everything was there that makes Rome Rome. Piazzas. Sunshine. Fountains.

It occurred to me that I do not need to fly to Rome to experience the Roman experience. I have it right here in Barra de Navidad.

Through my screen, I can see the eyes rolling now. Sun? Certainly. Piazzas? To a degree. But, Steve, fountains? Really?

For those who doubt our little tourist village has fountains, just wait until it rains. Admittedly, it takes a heavy rain. Like the ones we have had over the past two weeks. But fountains we have.

Some of our infrastructure here is a bit dodgy. Including the sewers. During the best of times (when the pumps are running and the sand has been dredged out of the pipes and it is not raining and visitors do not clog the pipes with wads of toilet paper flushed down the toilet), our sewers work. Most of the time.

change any of those circumstances, and we have trouble.

Not that it matters in practice, but we have two separate sewer systems in Barra de Navidad. One serves the housing development known as the fraccioniamento. That system is supposed to be run by a now-moribund housing association. It works through voluntary fees and volunteer help.

The rest of Barra, including my house in the barrio, is served by a sewer system operated by the county.

I say that the division does not matter in practice because both systems feed into one another. When one has a problem, so does the other.

And those problems are most visible during heavy rains. We do not have a division between storm and sewage systems. Most of the rain water attempts to drain into the sewage system -- until it is overwhelmed.

That is when we get our fountains. Water burbles up through the manholes. Water that is a mixture of rain and sewage. And when it burbles, the only-slightly diluted sewage water runs down our streets toward the lagoon.

At least 24 hours after the rain stopped, the manholes were still geysering.

Then the sun came out. The combination of the heat and the pervasive methane made me wonder if I had started with the wrong analogy. Barra is far more Venice -- with its canals and smells -- than it is Rome.

And what is being done about it? For about thirty years, the local politicians have been kicking the can down the road -- much as did the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations with North Korea. The good news is that our sewer system will not result in a nuclear explosion. I hope.

No hay remedio seems to be our sewage motto.

If so, we can enjoy the beauty of our small Trevis.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

dressing down sex

So, there I was walking through Ross Dress for Less in Salem looking for a black linen unstructured jacket.

My friend Nancy swears that great bargains are nestled amongst the dross. I have yet to find any. But I often find great photographs.

Just like this one.

The sign on the wall quite clearly declared I was standing in the boys section. But I was surrounded by frilly dresses, patterned pants-top outfits, and garishly-colored boots.

Before I could catch myself, I asked: "What self-respecting boy would wear something like this?" Fortunately, I did not say it out loud. One never knows where the thought police lurk.

I will gladly confess I am a card-carrying purveyor of the cisgendered heresy. That, of course, would put paid to my dream of entering Reed College. If I ever had one.

Reed, if you did not know, is known as being one of America's more liberal and studious campuses. If you have a great Wittgenstein pun, this is the place to exercise it. As long as you do it with caution.

Reed is under siege. Not from the right. Why would they bother? But from the left. For going on two years, a small group of radical Reed students have been shouting down or closing lectures attended by their fellow students.

The crime? Humanity courses are "eurocentric." A poetry course, taught by a multi-race lesbian, because she was a "race traitor," "anti-black," "a sex crime ableist," and "a gaslighter." She now claims to suffer from post trauma stress disorder and doubts she can teach the course again.

This is all old news. It is the type of self-indulgent behavior that rich countries exhibit when they no longer have true daily problems.

Mexico does not have time for that nonsense. This is a country where a young woman can call her best friend "La Gorda" because she is fat or a man can call his chum "El Chaparro" because he is of diminished stature.

And they do. No one cries or ends up in therapy. (Mind you, I would be careful not to use certain appellations in the company of drunk men of any nationality.)

But there is a similarity to Mexico. I suspect the sign at Ross did not get changed because the store needed additional space for girls' clothing. And no one bothered to change the "boys" sign.

And the same can (and does) happen in Mexico. It is not unusual, at the Manzanillo Walmart, to find cases of beer stacked under the sign for automotive supplies.

Come to think of it, that may not be a mistake. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

booking the odds

I am buying books these days.

Text books. High school text books.

No, I am not going through reversion therapy as a result of my high school reunion -- longing for the smell of a long-neglected hall locker on a hot spring day.

I have volunteered to help a friend successfully get through high school. His name is Omar -- and I will introduce you to him in the near future. He is one of those young people you meet now and then who you know has a good future ahead of him. If some topes can be flattened out.

One of those speed bumps is money. He just started preparatoria -- the equivalent of senior high school up north. Grades 10, 11, and 12. Or, for those of us who refuse to be drafted into the politically correct crowd: sophomore, junior, senior.

His is in Melaque, run by the University of Guadalajara. The short name is "prepa." And that is just what it is -- a prep school. Just like Groton. Sorta. Complete with uniforms and an interesting curriculum.

The photograph is of the textbooks for his courses during a portion of this semester. Communication skills. Physics. Mathematics. Art appreciation. Health. English. The type of courses I took when I was his age.

The cost of those six books was just under $1,000 (Mx) (about $57 (US)). That seemed reasonable to me. But that is only one packet. If I understood correctly, there are four packets each year.

An annual cost of just over $200 (US) for books is not startling to me. I make check book balancing errors in that range. But, this is a kid who works as a waiter as many days a week as he can while attending school. Four thousand pesos is a lot of money to him.

His goal? He wants to do well enough in prepa that he can qualify to attend one of Mexico's  dental schools. It was that ambition and drive that caught my attention. Anyone who is willing to help himself that much to better his station in life deserves a bit of help.

And, so, I will do what I can. I will also keep you posted on Omar's progress. Even if he decides that dentistry is not his ultimate dream, it will be something else. But he will succeed.

He is that type of guy. You can book on it.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

coleopterist wanted

Nope. It is not what you are thinking. I don't need anyone probing my colon.

What I would like is a bit of assistance in identifying today's guest insect. Because of my limited access to internet, I have not been able to take advantage of the archival treasures of Google.

Just by looking at this specimen, I know it is an insect (the six legs are a give away), and it is a beetle (the hard wing coverings). But past that, I am at a loss.

It is a beauty -- almost five inches long and hefty. I found its carcass on the upstairs terrace after one of our rains. I suspect it was pummeled from the sky.

Its mouth parts are what make it interesting to me -- similar to those rams on the front of Roman trimenes. Think Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur.

I may have encountered one on my nightly walks. Three weeks ago, I had almost made it to my front door when something substantial hit my forehead. I thought I had been stung by a wasp. But, when I looked in the mirror, there were two abrasions. Wasps are not blessed with double stingers.

So, here is your chance to get that extra credit in your post-graduate biology course. What is the name of this beetle?

Who knows? A prize may await the first correct answer.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

someone's got my goat

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed something is awry in the photographs I posted about our recent rainstorms.

One of the more interesting attributes of living in my neighborhood is the Noah's ark of farm animals that live nearby. Chickens. Fighting cocks. Ducks. Turkeys. Donkeys. Horses. We have them all.

For the three years I have lived here, goats  have been my neighbors on the vacant lot across the street. I call it Goat Island. It is not an island. And the goats? They are no more.

During its lifetime, the herd ranged from one to five. But the cycle has been the same. The goats arrived young, fattened up on grass and weeds, and were whisked away to meet their destiny as birria -- a popular Jalisco stew with a spicy kick.

The last two goats were a nanny and her new-born kid (just kidding -- this time). The owners shipped the goats off to simmer camp in late April. Since then, we have been goatless in Barra. At least, my part of Barra. There is still a large herd that is driven from lot to lot in my neighborhood.

And because the lot is tropical, without the goats, the grass is well over my head. The goats did a great job of keeping it mowed at ankle level.

They did a far better job than the neighbor boys who showed up in their campesino outfits -- complete with hats and machetes -- around noon. At 12:05, they had wisely retreated from the day's heat. Even the goats would have been searching for shade on a day like this.

Me? I am sitting under my new umbrella in the storm path of a floor plan while waiting for the Telmex technician to show up. He was supposed to be here between 9 and 1. It is now 2. That means another call. And another frustrating wait.

For now, though, the pool sounds like a far better idea.

Goats or no goats.

 Note -- I wrote this essay yesterday. The Telmex guy never showed up. And I now know why.

I am part of a much larger problem. For at least a radius of 5 blocks around my house (if not more), no one has telephone or internet service. That has been true since last Wednesday.

When I told a neighbor we should get a discount, he laughed hysterically. As Lily Tomlin would say: "We don't care. We don't have to. 
We're the telephone company. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

dead a la modem

There is a reason Mexpatriate has gone dark for a couple of days -- and may remain so for a few more.

I flew back to Manzanillo on Saturday afternoon. The flight went well, but my arrival had two surprises. When I returned from Oregon a month ago, I was welcomed by a shredded umbrella. On Saturday, it was the sound of silence.

To be more precise, it was the sound of silence of my telephone and modem.

When my friend Ruette picked me up at the airport, she told me we had experienced an enormous thunderstorm in Barra de Navidad earlier in the week. A lightning strike had taken out her modem.

She was not alone. When I tried to link with my wifi, I found nothing. A little troubleshooting indicated the modem was not connecting with the internet. And my telephone had no signal.

I have been here before. When I lived in Villa Obregon, I lost all of my electronics that were hooked to my telephone line. The culprit was lightning.

So, I knew the drill. I had to get a Telmex customer service representative on the telephone. She would then ask me to take a series of actions -- turn the modem power off and on, reset the modem, remove all of the connections and restore them -- to determine if I needed a modem or not.

I did all of that. The fact that the modem smelled of smoke was not encouraging.

First thing this morning, I called the Telmex 800 number on my cell phone, and waited 42 minutes for an answer. When the customer service representative came on line, we struggled with my Spanish for about 15 minutes. Things were going well until we came to an action I could not translate.

I wanted to avoid talking with an English-speaking representative. But I finally surrendered and requested one. The phone rang twice, then it switched to a busy signal. I was disconnected.

I called again, but hung up after waiting for 32 minutes. Next time, I will have an assistant on my quest.

As for the telephone, I bought a cheap unit to be certain my line is still working. If it is not, I will need to schedule a visit from the Telmex man.

The reason I am telling you this tale of woes is that until my line is restored, Mexpatriate will be on vacation. I am writing this through the good graces of Rooster's. But that is not going to be my final solution.

Instead of writing, I will catch up on my reading and cool my heels in the pool.

Going dark is not necessarily all bad.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


OK. I give up.

Thomas Wolfe is correct. You never can go home again.

And I know why. Because, while you were not looking, home moved away.

That Columbus moment came to me while I was getting in my steps yesterday morning. Highway 99 once was the main north-south corridor in Oregon before I-5 was built.

My family lived two country blocks west of the highway's commercial district, and I lived a good deal of my life in those few blocks. My memories are still there, but most of the places I grew up with fifty years ago are gone. Or have been, to use the trendy abomination, repurposed.

Take First State Bank. Well, Key Bank did just that long ago. But, in 1960, the bank manager, Dick Jones, needed someone to weed the landscaping. My dad had just the man for the job -- his eleven-year old son he had named Steve.

My dad was a big believer that work not only built character; it was the very essence of character, the reason we exist. He would have been a friend of Aristotle. He early taught me that a good citizen could find fulfillment only as a giver, and not as a taker.

The bank once had rows of landscaping. It has now given way to minimalism after being assaulted by waves of asphalt. As you can see in the photograph at the top, the weeding job would now be a snap.

But that was not my only job on the highway. During the summer of 1967, while waiting for college to begin, I started my first legitimate job where taxes and social security were withheld from my paycheck. (I have been a conservative ever since.) At McDonald's.

Between the bank job and filtering soft drinks through trapped flies and bees, I earned money as a newspaper delivery boy, a mower and tender of lawns, and a newspaper shagger (don't ask). All are what we would now call part of the informal economy.

But in June 1967, I was hired by McDonald's -- a new employer in our area. I loved everything about that experience. My pal Rod Behrens joined me in the work. We had great fun last night reminiscing about how much fun it was. And what we learned about work.

Today? It is this.

The golden arches have been pawned. All That Glitters. One of several pawn shops in my old neighborhood. The presence of pawn shops is never a harbinger that areas are on the upswing. The place ceased to be a McDonald's seventeen years ago.

A block away is another food shrine. The Imperial Garden introduced me to Chinese food that had zing. Until then, my family had eaten only in Chinese restaurants that trafficed in Cantonese -- the equivalent of oriental rest home food.

The Imperial Garden served spicy food. A culinary affectation I still champion.

Before the Imperial Garden moved in, the building housed Sambo's restaurant -- complete with paintings of an Indian boy, tigers, butter, and pancakes. (If you know the child's book of a similar name, you understand the imagery.)

The name could not withstand the advances in racial awreness of the 1960s and 1970s. It was apparent the restaurant would not survive. And, it didn't. Instead of a pancake house with south Asian iconography, we received a palace of Chinese  flavors. It was a fair trade.

And it is still there.

What is not still there was the company that introduced me to pizza. Shakey's. It was just across the street from the Imperial Garden.

My high school friend (and co-playwright) Jay Myers introduced me to Portuguese linguica. I had never tasted it before. And I now never order pizza without it -- along with pepperoni, kalamatas, and anchovies.

Like McDonald's, Shakey's is long gone. But the building is still there. In the guise of one of the restaurant-bars that try to serve a bit of this and that.

I suspect I was introduced to Mexican food at home. You may have been as well. Through one of those taco kits with the hard shells.

But I learned to enjoy Jalisco cuisine at El Tapatio, tucked between McDonald's and Shakey's in a small strip mall. Colette and I enjoyed many a meal there. And it is still where I left it when I moved away from Milwaukike in 1991.

But my favorite eatery on Highway 99 (or McLoughlin Boulevard, as we knew it) was Lew's Long Coney Islands. It was a favorite teen hangout -- complete with a cigarette machine.

A diner, it was not. The original operation was effectively a shack housing the kitchen with a couple of uncovered picnic tables. Most people would grab their meals and drive home. Mine was always the same: chip steak sandwich, crinkle fries, and a cherry ice cream soda.

All of that changed when Lew decided to build a proper restaurant to serve his food. It was never the same. Far too fancy for what came out of the kitchen. Informality was the charm of the original place.

Before long, Lew retired. I seriously considered buying the restaurant. Instead, one of my clients did. I ended up merely writing the contract.

Over time, the restaurant changed hands. Candidate Obama stopped buy to eat a weiner. But every time I visited, the food declined.

Even knowing that, I still looked forward yesterday to lunching on a coney island (the chip steak sandwiches had disappeared decades ago). When I rounded the corner onto McLoughlin, it was gone. Not just Lew's. The entire building.

In its place was a shiny new pizza place. I didn't bother stopping. Nor did I snap a shot. What was the point? Lew's was gone. Another part of my youth run over by the steamroller of time.

At my reunion last night, most of our conversations centered around the years we had shared together. Some of us, all the way from grade school through high school.

Our high school graduating class had less than 200 members. My friend Janis had prepared a memorial of our classmates who have died. Twenty-eight.

I have no idea if that is average or not. But it is sobering. Twenty-eight people with whom I shared memories are gone. Just like McDonald's and Lew's. And, before long, that list will include all of the names that once graced our grauation program.

But that day is not today. I am on my way back to Barra de Navidad -- having been refreshed by an evening recalling that our shared past still survives.

And Thomas Wolfe is ahead on points.

Friday, September 15, 2017

pegging meg

You never know what you are going to find at breakfast.

On a Saturday morning, about twenty-three or so years ago, I was working in the legal office on the Oregon Air National Guard base. My fellow attorney, Dave Kramer, asked if I was interested in breakfast. He knew of one of those local eateries that have built a repution as The Place to Go.

Cameo Pancake and Steak. It advertised itself as the home of the acre pancake. Who could resist such high culinary praise?

The food was fine. Nothing to five-star on Yelp (if there had been such an application in the 90s).

I was halfway through my meal, when I noticed Dave continually looking over his shoulder at a young woman eating alone at a table near the windows. He leaned over and whispered to me: "I think that's Meg Ryan."

I scoffed. "Sure, Dave. A big movie star is going to be eating breakfast alone at a dive on Sandy Boulevard." I did concede that whoever she was, she certainly looked a bit like Meg Ryan.

I had been reading The Oregonian just before we started Our Sighting conversation. When I resumed reading, the next article described how a movie was filming in Portland -- starring Meg Ryan.

This time, I tried to subtly glance over at the woman near the window. In all of our staring, she never once looked up from whatever she was reading. But it certainly looked like her.

I poked Dave and pointed at the article. We both turned aeround for another gaze.

If this was a movie script, I would have walked over to her table introduced myself, sat down with my coffee, and charmed her with my wit. That, of course, did not happen. I shared nary a phrase with her. But it was fun to see one of America's cutest actresses.

This evening I will get to share an entire evening with cute girls. And because it is my class reunion, I will get to talk with them as long as I like. And it will be even more fun than my non-conversation with Meg Ryan.

I am looking forward to the evening. It will be a bit melancholy. Two of my friends from grade school, Paul May and Neil Hodgin, recenty died. I was looking forward to seeing both of them. And, if there is any credit in my religious faith, I will. One day.

But I will not need to wait to see most of them -- because they will be at the Monarch Hotel in Clackamas tonight. I have known a large group of them since grade school.

The nice thing about the 50th is that all of the pretence should be stripped from our lives. We have learned how to settle for what we get. Fancy cars. Big houses. Soaring paychecks. They all pale in the light of who we truly are.

It should be quite a night. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

life is a circus

If you want to get my attention, just say the word "circus." Not even "sex" will get a bigger reaction.

I have been a fan of the traditional circus since I was a young lad. My brother and a couple of friends put together a neighborhood circus when I was in the sixth grade -- complete with a parade and band, highly-trained animal acts (our dog Buttons and cat Kit-Kat -- we were not very original with our pet names), an overly-unctuous magician (me), and a few faltering acrobats. I even had the dream of one day owning a circus.

With the demise of Barnum and Bailey, the universe of circuses has greatly diminished. I often wonder if the homeless population is not merely out-of-work trapezists and clowns.

Fortunately, I have found an even-better alternative. On a trip to Las Vegas a couple of decades ago, I had a few extra hours, so I decided to drop into a show. Mystère.

I had never heard of Cirque du Soleil. But I was certainly about to make a life-long acquaintance.

That evening turned out to be one of the mosti entertaining of my life. I felt as if I had found a lost world I had once inhabited. The act that sealed the romance was a simple trapeze act with the acrobats dressed in costumes with flowing ribbons. When they would drop and spin on straps, the effect was mesmerizing.

Well, I am about to enter the world of Cirque du Soleil again tonight. Kurios, this time.

I have not read up on it. I prefer to take my Cirque du Soleil straight and rare. Reading the advertisement material takes away much of the mystery for me.  I am one of those people who lives for surprises.

Tonight, I will leave my ring master's hat at home and aspire to be nothing more than the most impotrant person in any cast -- Member of the Audience.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

hello, operator?

My pal Felipe in Pátzcuaro is amazed when fellow bloggers complain about not finding topics suitable for blogging. He claims that stories surround us in Mexico.

He is right. They even show up daily here in Oregon.

This morning I drove north to the Woodburn outlet mall to do a bit of shopping. I was looking for an unstructured black linen jacket. I may as well have been looking for a chimera.

Heading home, I saw a sign on one of the freeway exits just north of Salem. Chalet restaurant. I thought Chalet restaurants were as extinct as unstructured black linen jackets.

Chalet was once famed in Salem for its pies. The rest of the menu was ordinary. But the pies were outstanding. So, I veered across three lanes of traffic to whet this bit of aroused nostalgia.

The pie turned out to be a disappointment. I ordered marionberry. Several years ago, Chalet made their pies with whole marionberries. This pie was a second cousin to a Hostess fruit pie. The filling could just as easily have been jam.

But that was not the story I ran across. In the parking lot stands the skeleton of a long-gone era. A telephone booth.

Telephone booths once were the sole lifeline home when you were on the road. (There are still two near my rental in Villa Obregon; but I know of none in Barra de Navidad.) For a nickel, you could place a local call; long distance calls were priced by an actual operator who would assist you with the transaction.

It was a bit ironic that I captured this image of a telephone booth with the very technology that turned telephone booths into the equivalent of buggy whips and hoop skirts. My mobile telephone.

My smartphone does things my first desktop computer could only dream of. And it all fits in my pocket.

I have become so reliant on mine that I have trouble remembering how recent mobile telephones entered our lives. I had one in the late 1980s. It was home-based in my little red convertible. But the receiver could be removed from the car and attached to a battery pack the size of the life support units astronauts used walking on the moon. "Mobile" was more of an aspiration than a description.

The death of telephones created a crater in popular culture. What do we now cram people into to disparage their lack of political power? With the demise of beetles, what will frat boys stuff themselves into? And where will those bilingual young ladies advertising their availability for French lessons now let their skills be known?

I never was fond of telephone booths. Maybe that came from watching too many Alfred Hitchcock movies where the appearance of a telephone booth meant mayhem was afoot.

By coincidence, I ran into my friend Larry Odle in the restaurant. His son manages the place.

He agreed with me that it was odd that the telephone company did not scrap the booth. The telephone itself is long gone. He did say, though, that the box still serves a purpose. During inclement weather, the homeless use it as a shelter.

In a very sad way, that may be the justification for leaving it where it is. While the elements erode it, it will protect others from the elements.

And maybe that is nostalgia enough for its continued existence. Ironic existentialism -- at its best. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

dead and momentarily forgotten

Barco died one year ago. Yesterday.

If I had not been at a birthday party for my good friend Beth Smith tonight, talking about the things old friends talk about at such occasions, I would have completely missed the date.

Someone asked me about my dog. I told the tale of woe that was his short life. Only then did I realize the first anniversary of his death passed by. Completely unremarked.

I often say that every event in our lives becomes part of who we are. I believe that. Barco's ten months with me were an experience I will not forget -- even though my memory of him is fading fast.

So, let me pause for a moment tonight to remember the puppy who brought joy into my life.

Here's to you, Barco.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

aquí hablamos español

Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again.

That is, if you have a home. And Salem is standing in for that role today.

It is Sunday morning. That means church. And church -- for me -- means the Salvation Army.

For about twenty years, I had a very close relationship with the Salem Corps of the Salvation Army. I was a congregant and a member of the corps council of the church. Plus I taught Sunday school.

Nine years ago, I returned to Salem to be part of the dedication service for the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center -- a facility designed to provide recreational and spiritual support to families who could not otherwise afford the services offered.

This morning, I started my stay in Oregon by visiting the center -- and to attend church. My old church, but I saw it in a completely different light. It is always a pleasure to see people with whom you have shared decades of your life. And, who know who you really are.

Some people I had hoped to see have moved on. Others have died -- moving on in a far more permanent sense. But most of the people I had served with were still there. I guess, you can go home again.

The Kroc Center was built in an area of Salem with a large at-need population. One goal of the center was to attract more Spanish speakers to both the church and the recreational services.

It worked. There is a sizeable Spanish-speaking congregation that meets simultaneously with the English-speaking congregation (in separate rooms).

The English service is very traditional -- heavy on hymns that I find a bit annoying for their fanmiliarity. Fortunately, the Spanish congregation was just a few doors away.

When a hymn started, I would shuttle to the Spanish service and sing choruses in Spanish. It was a brilliant day. I sang songs and heard a message in Spanish while still getting to visit with some old friends.

I told you a moment ago, Thomas Wolfe might be correct. In some sense, you never can really go home again because nothing remains static.

I suspect that is because my real home is a couple of thousand miles south of here.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

skeleton crew

This is a garbage story. Masquerading as an umbrella tale.

When the fabric on my umbrella was reduced to rags by the storm that blew through a month ago, I was not concerned. The fabric is actually separate from the frame. And mine needed replacing from sun exposure. The storm just sped me along on a decision I had already made.

The solution was not that simple, though. When I returned from my trip to Australia last spring, the umbrella was leaning. I tried several ways of getting it into the correct erect state, but nothing seemed to work. It was like having a little piece of Pisa in the patio.

I needed to take the umbrella down to rip the remaining fabric off of the frame. That is when I discovered the problem. The bottom portion of the umbrella pole had rotted away. If I had just replaced the top, I could have hosted the Toulouse-Lautrec Society reunion -- but no one over that height.

You know the result from yesterday's essay (let a smile be your umbrella). I am now the owner of a completely new umbrella. Frame and top.

I was then faced with the problem of disposing the old frame. Getting rid of the fabric was easy. I ripped it off of the frame and put it in a garbage bag. The garbage men picked it up yesterday.

I thought getting rid of the frame would be just that simple. (That is a lie. I knew I was going to have trouble getting rid of it.) I left the frame outside my house along with the fabric bag. Even though the bag disappeared, the frame did not.

And I know why. Our garbage collection system is different than up north. The garbage trucks are modern. But that is where the comparison ends.

The driver steers the truck through oiur neighborhood while two assistants follow on foot gathering up the various garbage bags. They then toss the bags up to a fellow worker haphazardly balanced on  the ever-increasing pile of garbage bags.

That is why the frame is still napping on my sidewalk. It is simply too heavy to toss up to the guy in the garbage pit. Plus, it would take up too much room. By the time the truck gets to my house, the box is usually filled to the brim.

My only hope is that someone will spot the frame and decide it has some value to them. Perhaps, the mayor of Munchkinland. Otherwise, I will need an alternative disposal plan.

I am on my way to the airport this afternoon for a short trip to Oregon. Maybe when I return, there will be a vacancy in front of my house.


Friday, September 08, 2017

let a smile be your umbrella

Mexpatriate has a new set for its newsroom.

Of course, it looks a lot like the old set. That is, the old set before tropical depression/storm Jova (née Franklin) reduced it to shredded wheat (gone with the wind).

My former landlady, Christine, asked me if I needed a replacement. I did. She was driving to Manzanillo to order some for our friend Anne. She knew a master builder of umbrellas. And it turns out he is quite the craftsman.

Yesterday, it arrived. For $2,000 (Mx), I am now the owner of a pool of shade in my patio. And it is greatly appreciated. Our rain usually overwhelms the umbrella fabric. So, sitting out in monsoons is not an option.

But, the majority of time, we need some relief from the unrelenting summer sun. September and October usually create the largest challenges.

I am now ready to fight back. And, as it should be, I am writing this directly to you from under my new portable shade tree.

The rain over the past week had caused me to retreat to either the library, the kitchen, or my bedroom. It is good to be outdoors again. After all, that was one of the minor reasons for moving to Mexico -- to enjoy the sun on the beach (or near the beach).

It would have been a shame to miss out on using the umbrella for the only full day I have left before climbing on my Alaska flights to Portland.

If you are curious about what happened to the old umbrella, stop by tomorrow. By then, even I may know.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

"the airport is closed"

The email caught my attention.

But it did not surprise me. Our international airport is built right on the beach at the very end of a flood plain that is part of our fabled sea of coconuts. Plantations of coconits that extend to the horizon.

Whenever we get heavy rains (and we are getting heavy rains), the rivers do a yeoman job in pushing a lot of water out to sea. But any storm can overwhelm the rivers -- turning their banks into invisible lines under widening fans of flood water. Just ask Houston.

The largest river in this area is the Marabasco, which forms the border between the Mexican states of Jalisco and Colima. I live in Jalisco. The airport is in Colima.

Whenever the Marabasco floods, it starts spreading south across the sea of coconuts. And that is where the road is that leads from the main highway to the airport. You can see where this is going.

The rainstorm that hit our area after hurricane Patricia passed by two years ago covered the airport road making it impassible for a couple of days. When the floods receded, the road was still impassible. In two areas, the flow was so strong, it had gouged out two wide swaths of road. The road opened only when temporary military-style bridges were installed.

I am scheduled to fly out of the airport on Saturday to head north for my 50th high school reunion. So, I had a vested interest in discovereong whether the road was still closed. And I confess, the fact that the trip would yield blog fodder was lurking in the recesses of my ego.

When I made the turn onto the airport access road, it was easy to see why the road had been closed. There was standing water on both sides. I counted five spots where water had run across the roadway.

The culverts under the two spots that washed out two years ago were filled with fast-flowing water. Fast enough that they looked like small rivers. All of that water was flooding the surrounding coconut plantations.

But the airport was open. Or so it seemed. With the taxis missing and the parking lot looking like a scene from On the Beach, it could easily have been closed. The place was as deserted as I have seen it. I must have arrived when no flights were expected.

So, I am going to assume I will be flying to Oregon this Saturday for a week of reminiscing and telling lies with my high school chums.

That is, unless we get more rain. Hard rain.

Unfortunately, more storms are on the way. 

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

crossing the cultures

Today is chicken day.

Actually, any day can be chicken day in Mexico. There are numerous stands in the local area that serve up the carcasses of perfectly-grilled birds. We all have our favorites, and will do culinary battle to favor our champions. I suspect they are all about the same.

Grilled chicken was one of the first meals I ate in Melaque when I moved down nine years ago. And I still regularly buy from the same vendor -- though my allegiance is gradually shifting to the chicken stand that is just a short walk away from my house in Barra de Navidad.

In 2009, I could buy a chicken with a full complement of sides (tortillas, grilled onions and potatoes, cole slaw, rice, and salsa) for 70 pesos. Not only could you feed a family for that, the chicken tasted as it once did freshly-killed by my grandmother. Northern chickens are now bred to be as huge as they are tasteless -- not unlike most of Hollywood's movies these days.

The quality of the chicken has not changed, but the price has. Today I paid $130 pesos for the same meal. Well, not the  same meal. I now order only the chicken and rice to use in one or another culinary concoction. The price is the same no matter whether or not you take the sides with you.

I seldom eat the chicken off the bone. I strip the flesh while it is still warm and then pop it into containers until I am ready to use it.

Today, my Mexican chicken is going to meet several other cooking cultures. Mainly from the Orient. I call it chicken kumquat fried rice.

It is rather simply. I dissolve several anchovies in hot sesame oil, and then sauté vegetables. Ginger. Onion. Garlic. Bell peppers. Serranos. Habanero (the pepper, not the people). Tomatoes. Along with a handful of kumquats. Then I add the rice to fry. When done, I put in the chicken.

When that is warmed through, I add the most important ingredient. The sauce. Today's will be rather simple. Made of soy sauce, Thai red curry paste, rice vinegar, and a large dose of red pepper sauce.

The recipe is as simple as the sauce. After all, I let the chicken vendor do the hard part by cooking the rice and the chicken. But, as my good friend Colette says, the preparation is still "puttery." All of that peeling, slicing, seeding, and dicing.

I have always enjoyed making (and eating) fried rice dishes. Whatever is at hand usually works. It is a great leftover dish. Just like French toast.

Three days ago, I talked with a Mexican friend who spent his school years in rural communities in The States. He was not the least bit surprised when I told him that even though I once loved Mexican food, I was now bored with it.

Like me, he has found relief in various forms of stir fry cooking. The raw ingredients are readily available here. What was once hard to find -- spices, herbs, and sauces -- now appear on the shelves of local stores. Especially, Hawaii. A store that makes these cross-cultural meals a possibility.

Even though the price of grilled chicken has far outpaced the cost of living index in Mexico, I will continue to rely on it as a staple for my food experiments.

After all, every day is chicken day here on the Coastalegre.

Monday, September 04, 2017

mind the gap

"In Texas, we don't fix the potholes, we just lower the speed limit."

That was my nurse friend Linda Lemons responding to my complaint of the road conditions around San Antonio in 1971.

I think of her whenever I explain topes to visitors. Up north, we call them speed bumps. Here, they are often nicknamed "sleeping policemen."

Their purpose is to slow traffic. Something they do quite effectively. The problem is that they are not uniform in construction. Some are barely more than painted stripes on the highway. Others can be just as jarring as crashing into the Great Wall of China.

A friend once commented on how coincidental it was that there are muffler or tire or auto mechanic shops near almost every tope. It is not a coincidence. Topes provide a steady revenue stream for more than a few relatives of civic authorities who plant those concrete bumps in the public way.

Almost every tope has a common feature. There will be at least one gap in the obstruction. Usually, in the center.

Initially I fell into the utilitarian error when trying to determine the gap's purpose. Because motorcycles use them to avoid bumping over the tope, I thought each tope had been designed for the comfort of motorcyclists.

That may be true. But I suspect I was confabulating what I saw into a creation design. That is one of the dangers of Aristotelian primary cause logic.

For the past week, we have been treated to regular rain storms. Because we live on a flood plain that has been paved and developed, rain water, that once was absorbed into our sandy soil, now runs like rivulets in the streets.

If the topes were not laid with their gaps, the streets would look a good deal like the Columbia River dam system. Grand Coulee. John Day. The Dalles. All with their resultant reservoirs. Proving that you are sometimes dammed if you do.

As it is, other engineering problems create enough major pools in the streets. The tope pictured at the top of this essay is actually higher than the street itself. Even with the gap, pedestrians are stymied. At least, pedestrians who are reluctant to wade through the sewage that backs up in our seasonal street lakes.

Fortunately, the gaps in most of the topes allow a free flow of rain water. Most of it eventually ends up in the laguna. Along with everything else it carries.

As I write this, we are having another dramatic thunderstorm. With more rain.

At least, on my walk tomorrow, i will doff the hat I do not wear to Mexican engineering. My feet will be the drier for it. 

Sunday, September 03, 2017

hooter chapel

Some of life's best experiences are accidents.

Let me tell you a story about this owl. (Don't worry. It's a short tale. And, by the time you wake up, it will be over.)

Our church in Villa Obregon (the Costalegre Community Church) meets under a palapa -- one of those tropical inventions that provide economical shelter and can be mistaken for a Kon Tiki bar in various parts of the world. Because it does not have side walls, the people assembled beneath it are often treated to cooling breezes.

But, the lack of walls presents its own problem. Birds find the palapa to be as sheltering as do the people who paid for it. Just like a barn, it is a convenient avian resting place. And an even more convenient nesting place.

Sitting beneath resting or nesting birds is risky business. As any Mel Brooks fan knows from High Anxiety.

The board has tried several methods of discouraging bird homesteading. Most of them have simply resulted in more birds and more nests.

The owl sounded like a good idea. But the birds were not impressed. They probably decided that plastic owls eat only plastic birds.

It began its church life in the rafters of the palapa. I suspect one of our storms must have dislodged it.

Señor Búho has been resting on the ground for some time. But not today.

During the summer, our church attendance declines to a handful. When I opened the palapa this morning, I saw it. Someone had placed the owl on a table at the side of the sanctuary -- exactly where a chapel would be if our church was Roman Catholic.

There it sat like some idol from the distant past. If the Chinese were in the market of manufacturing ancient idol relics. Which they very well may be.

The resemblance to Chaac -- that beaked, big-eyed rain and thunder god of the Maya -- is owl-arming.

Of course, it is only a plastic scare-owl. Bereft of any Chaac blood -- any blood, at all. And I am happy enough to let the retired owl sit in its semblance of honor.

After all, I feel a bit akin to that old owl.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

jesus returns

Mexpatriate is a place to indulge in  a deluge of words.

Photographs appear as backup for text. We are a verbal, rather than a visual, community.

But I thought you might enjoy a few photographs of the Christ of the Cyclone procession on the actual day of commemoration. Most Mexican religious festivals have several days of warm-up acts before the Really Big Show of the feast day. The almost interminable processions in December for Our Lady of Guadalupe is a perfect example.

The photographs I posted yesterday in jesus lends a hand -- or two were taken on 31 August. And there was another on 1 September -- the day forty-six years prior when Barra de Navidad was spared the ravages of Lily.

I post the 1 September photographs for a couple of reasons. The first is that the light was better. The procession was highlighted with the golden light photographers adore. And there were horses to parade and bless. That would have been reason enough for me to pass on some snapshots to you.

So, without further commentary, I give you my impression of yesterday's procession.

Friday, September 01, 2017

jesus lends a hand -- or two

The moment I heard them, I knew I was late.

I was sitting at my computer answering some correspondence when I was interrupted by Whoosh -- Pow! Whoosh - Pow!

There is no mistaking that combination. Cohetes. Those cannon-throated sky rockets that accompany each of our local Catholic processions.

And I knew exactly what was happening. This time.

Earlier in the day, I had encountered an odd crucifix form on my walk home. I had seen it before in the downtown church in Barra -- the one dedicated to San Antonio de Padua that we discussed recently in on the road to san antonio.

Obviously, the figure is not San Antonio. It is a depiction of the Messiah. But the image is unique because of the position of the arms. Rather than being nailed to the cross, they hang limp at Jesus' sides.

There is a story there. Actually, there are several versions of the story. Each one having a certain patina that has accrued over years of telling. After all, successful hagiography morphs to meet the needs of any given time.

But I will stick with what I believe are the basics. And that tale goes like this.

The year was 1971. 1 September to be exact. Exactly forty-six years from today.

A hurricane by the name of Lily was headed straight for Barra de Navidad. It was obvious the storm would demolish a good portion of the town if it maintained its path.

So, the residents of Barra did what came natural to people of faith. They gathered in the church and prayed for deliverance from the storm. The sailors on Jonah's ship could not have prayed more fervently.

And then it happened. A miracle. A standard crucifix of Jesus on the cross stood above the altar. For no apparent reason, each of his arms fell to his sides. And the storm abated. Just like Mark 4:39. "
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm."

Ever since, the congregants celebrate Jesus of the Cyclone on this day -- as a day of deliverance and remembrance.

As Ben Franklin once said in recounting one of his tales, "Now, I do not know how scientific that tale is ... ." But it is an article of faith in these parts.

When I saw the litter with the crucifix sitting on my street in front of a dress shop, I stopped to ask when the procession would take place. I know the owner. She participates in most of the local processions.

Initially, she said seven. Then, she added 6:45 SHARP. Quite precise.

When I heard the cohetes streaking through the sky, I glanced at the clock. I was as late as Alice's white rabbit. I grabbed my camera and added about a thousand very healthy paces to my daily score.

Of course, when I arrived, I was not late at all. I had forgotten which country I was in. Most of the dance company members were just arriving at 7:15.

The procession was exactly as Mexican processions have probably been for decades -- if not centuries.

A young girl led off with a cross. (If you can keep Woody Allen's similar routine in Bananas at arm's length, you are a better person than I.)

Then came the dance company in their faux Indian outfits. With their distinctive drum beat.

Followed by the litter with the Jesus of the fallen arms.

As the procession made its way through town, the weight of the litter proved to be too much for the four original carriers. But other men volunteered to assist. At the end, there were a total of seven. Simon of Cyrene came to mind -- except for the volunteering part.

A singer-guitarist sat in the bed of a white pickup that also served as the sound system for the priest.

The singer led the following faithful in upbeat choruses that had enough hand waving to please a Pentacostalist's heart. Well, this Pentacostalist.

Then another pickup. This one with the de rigeur religious tableaux.

And no procession would be complete without the brassy town band.

I am not certain how the dancers could concentrate on their drums and the faithful on their choruses and the band on their music when all three were playing at different beats and over the top of one another. I suppose in the same way that an orchestra is able to keep different tempos running simultaneously in a Philip Glass piece.

The whole kit and kaboodle ended up at the church where the litter was put in its rightful place and the band and dancers offered their talents at the altar to the slack-armed crucifix on the wall in the same sense of reverence as Anatole France's juggler in "Our Lady's Juggler" -- a short story I highly recommend for those who believe offerings are constrained by convention.

When I told a northern friend that I was going to write about this local legend, she asked: "But you don't really believe it is true, do you?"

I thought for a moment, and responded: "I do not know if it is factual, but I have no doubt it is true."

Facts can sometimes cloud our vision of the truths that surround us. My neighbors are celebrating an event where they placed their fate in the hands of God. And that is where it still is. If not, there would have been no procession.

And I would not have been just in time to tell you this tale.