Thursday, May 31, 2018

what do the pope and a bear have in common?

Some questions continually plague travelers.

Such as, why do some Mexican rest stops (such as, the one at the volcano just outside Colima) have urinals installed so high on the wall that Wilt Chamberlain would struggle to use them? Did a governor's mathematically-challenged cousin get the contract? Or are they for the exclusive use of an unknown group of Mexicans (la raza alta?) who travel only under the mantle of darkness?

For about a year, I had asked my Mexican friends why the urinals are often set so high in public bathrooms. No one had a good answer. My friend Alan (you may recall him from cart of laughs) provided the most practical response. "Who cares? I always use the toilet."

Unlike Alan, I am always attuned to the peculiarities of roadside bathrooms. And I found a doozy last week in Oregon at a rest stop just south of Portland on I-5. I know that several of you have stopped there.

I thought in my absence Oregon had turned some sort of green corner. Men #1? Men #2?

Now, where I was raised, #1 and #2 have very specific meanings in this context. Had recycling actually gone that far with our -- waste? And how do we avoid commingling our recyclables? It reminded me of one of Mr. Burns's wittiest lines: "Yes, well, it does sound delightful! I can't wait to start pawing through my garbage like some starving raccoon!"

It turned out that #1 was closed. But that was not a problem. After all the rest stop sits in a copse of Douglas fir. And men have been resolving that number amongst the trees from time immemorial.

Or, at least, that was the excuse I was going to use if any of the police, who usually stake out the place for people indulging in blind date sexual trysts, tapped me on the shoulder in mid-stream. I could see the magistrate's face beaming at my bon mot.

While I was working out that scenario in front of the sign, my sainted brother tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out that the #1 and #2 designated the presence of two bathrooms, not their function. He and Alan must have taken the same problem-solving class.

Rather than spending time in the local hoosegow, I am back in Mexico pondering those thyroid-case urinals.

I may take a soap box with me on my next trip passing the volcanoes. You know the one. I am standing on it right now.  

Monday, May 28, 2018

memorializing the living

I am a walking contradiction.

I claim to admire conservative principles, but I am a bit uncomfortable around the tapestry of the secular civil rites of America.

Several years ago, a fellow Air Force attorney and I were standing in the shade of a chestnut tree (and our own cynicism) making wise cracks about the inanity of the change of 
command ceremony that was playing out on the overheated quad in front of us. We congratulated ourselves on having the good sense not to have joined one of the hidebound traditional military services -- like the Navy.

In his introduction to Did You Ever See a Dream Walking: American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century, William F. Buckley wrote what I thought at the time, in the early 1970s, was a very odd sentence. "I am not conservative by temperament." I had no idea what he meant. How could a person espouse conservative principles and not be conservative by temperament?

It took getting several years of mileage on my Adidas before I understood the wisdom of that sentence. One could be a conservative and still be open to other ideas and other people. To be, in an old-fashioned conservative virtue, civil to those we meet. After all, it was Bill Buckley who said 99 out of a hundred people are interesting -- and the other is interesting because he is different.

Today is Memorial Day -- the day we honor those who died in the service of defending our liberties.

Last night, I watched Gary Oldman's portrayal of Winston Churchill (another man of conservative principles who did not have a conservative temperament) in The Darkest Hour. Even though the film is about the decision Churchill, as the political leader of Britain, had to make in whether to sue for peace or to fight on to the end, it is a perfect example of one of the watershed moments of history where the liberal tradition of freedom stood up against the brutal evil of tyranny (evidenced in naziism, and, later, in the flip side of the same coin, communism).

Politicians made brave choices -- and young men then carried out those policies. Many of them dying in a war not of their choosing, but risking their lives for a cause greater than themselves.

I thought the importance of this weekend while attending the memorial service for my aunt on Friday (goodnight, gracie). My cousin, Dennis, played on his violin an old hymn favored by soloists -- "His Eye is on the Sparrow."

That song always reminds me of one of Anne Lamott's best essays, "Knocking on Heaven's Door." She recalls a moment of miraculous grace in her church where irreconcilable people found peace through music and grace. The music was "His Eye is on the Sparrow." That same type of reconciliation is woven into the events of a flight where the passengers, who have differing religious and political views, find the common ground of their humanity.

Lamott ends her essay with a brilliant flourish:

I thought to myself, I do not know if what happened at church was an honest to God little miracle, and I don't know if there has been another one here, the smallest possible sort, the size of a tiny bird, but I felt like I was sitting with my cousins on a plane eight miles up, a plane that was going to make it home; and it made me so happy that I suddenly thought, this is plenty of miracle for me to rest in now.
As America honors the soldiers who have fallen in its service, we need to remember why did they what they did, and how we should follow their example, not only by cherishing our liberties, but putting them into action by finding what binds us together as a nation. That alone would be a small miracle.

Listening to Anne Lamott's essay would not be a bad start.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

mapping out retirement

Santa may not have a list, but Internet retirement sites certainly do.

They are constantly feeding us lists of the best places for this or that. "This or that" meaning places where some self-proclaimed experts tell us we can own our own personal paradise to live out our dwindling years while spending our handful of pension shekels.

The lists almost always fall into two categories. The first includes the equivalent of colonial pockets in foreign lands where expatriates seldom hear a language other than their own, can dine at familiar chain restaurants, or drink in pubs run by a chap you knew from school, and live in a housing development that would feel at home in Hillsboro.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If it is what they are looking for. I usually remind critics who claim Ajijic is South Scottsdale that, at least, the people who have chosen to live there are adventurous enough to move from their home country to experience something new in life.

The second type of list is for people who snort coffee out of their nose when they read sentences like that last one. The list usually consists of "authentic" retirement spots. The type of places where you need an atlas to accompany your newspaper reading. After all, where is Arequipa?

When I chose my area of Mexico for retirement, I had a list of criteria. They all sounded great. But my part of Mexico did not even come close to matching my mandatory requirements.

Fortunately, I had a major goal that trumped all of that fiddly detail. I left Salem, Oregon because I was far too comfortable. I wanted to live somewhere where I would wake up each morning and not know how I would make it through the day. And I found it.

If I have read the list of the latest adventurous retirement spots ("Beat the Retiree Crowds to these 5 Places Abroad") correctly, the author shares my notion of retirement life as being something other than a rehearsal for dying.

So, if you like the idea of a less well-known home, with lower living costs, a "more authentic" experience, along with slow internet, unpaved roads, and limited health care, you might want to take a look at the current vogue list. (And, yes, I am perfectly aware of the irony that a list of "unfound paradises" soon turns into the next Puerto Vallarta.)

The five are:

1. Arequipa, Peru -- a big city with high altitudes and low prices.

2. Cascais, Portugal -- close to Lisbon (one of my favorite European cities), but not for those with anal retentive issues when dealing with bureaucracy. 

3. Cayo, Belize -- truly back-to nature, in a well-greased palm sort of way. 

4. Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic -- a French village in the Caribbean with lots of cheek-kissing, and minimal health care to deal with the consequences.

5. Phenom Penh, Cambodia -- for people who are nostalgic for Mussolini authoritarianism (and cannot move to Venezuela). Big city. Low costs. As long as you keep your political opinions of the government to yourself.

Interestingly, health care seems to be an issue in at least three of the suggested paradises. I particularly enjoyed the description of Cayo, Belize: "A potential downside: Health care 'is not a strong suit,' so many expats cross the border to Mexico for high-quality medical care."

I am certain not a few readers had to re-read that comment. Going to Mexico for "high-quality medical care?"

Yup. Even though I do not know what is on offer in Quintana Roo, generally, the health care in Mexico is top-notch. Private health care is low cost and some of the best in the world.

For those who cannot afford private care, there are two public care options. Based on what Mexicans and expatriates have told me, the public health option is basic, but perfectly adequate.

None of the options on the list could seduce me away from Barra de Navidad. Though, I will confess that Portugal was batting her eyes at me. Probably, because London and Paris were high on my retirement options list.

Whenever I travel, I inevitably ask myself if I would like to live in the city I am visiting. My answer often is: "Yes. I think I would." And, then, I don't.

Because I am perfectly happy living in my little life-challenging village by the sea. At least, for now.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

does that translate to hugs and kisses?

You all know the question. We have all asked it.

You see some new construction in your neighborhood. The first thing you want to know is: "What is it going to be?"

About a month ago, a construction crew started clearing off a block-long lot on the main street through our part of town. Just two blocks from my house.

Within days, trenches for the foundation were dug and dump trucks had delivered large rocks to fill the trenches. The footprint looked far to big to be a residence, and most of the other buildings that face the street in the area are commercial. So, I assumed it was going to be a series of shops.

When I asked who I assumed was the foreman, he confirmed my guess. But, he very firmly added it was just one shop.

That struck me as odd. In the other blocks, there is room for five or six shops. But I did not think about it anymore.

What I did do was watch how quickly the floor was poured and how the basic walls went up just as quickly. The crew obviously knew what they were doing.

Then, I saw it. A new sign has been posted on the wall of the construction site -- offering good wages and benefits for the employees of the new store. An Oxxo. A convenience store.

I assume that Oxxo (and its local rival Kiosko) must do some sort of market studies before they build new stores. When I moved to this area, there was just one. At a gas station on the road to Guadalajara. Melaque now hosts several. Even little Barra de Navidad has two Oxxos and a Kisoko. Now, we will have a third Oxxo.

Like all change, this store will have its opponents. The front line fighters will be northerners. Most of them moved away from their home countries in search of less modernity (even though they are prone to get rather cranky about local customs like loud music and fireworks).

But, there will be some neighborhood opposition, as well. Mainly from the owners of the line of abarrotes (small grocery stores) that line our main street. There are at least six, but I may have forgotten one or two. (I should point out that every Mexican neighbor I talked with gave the new store a thumbs up.)

Oxxo and Kiosko are not exactly competitors with the abarrotes. The abarrotes sell a far wider range of products. Where they do compete is for beverages and snacks -- the life blood of convenience stores.

There is an Oxxo and and a Kiosko within walking distance of my house. The only thing I regularly buy at the Kiosko is my brand of bottled water. Santorini. It is not delivered to my neighborhood, and none of the abarrotes carry that brand.

I do not patronize the Oxxo at the entrance of Barra de Navidad because the staff there are concurrently indifferent and a bit arrogant. The staff at the Kiosko know me by name, know the products I prefer, and always pretend they are happy to see me.

That makes a world of difference. Relationships often trump price in Mexico. That is one reason the abarrotes are vulnerable to convenience stores. They do not compete in price. All of them sell the same product at the same price, and, if that product is offered at a convenience store, it will always be more expensive at the abarrotes.

Difference in attitudes toward customers is true for some abarrotes. Some are run by owners who seem to personally care about their customers. Some seem to see customers as an interruption in their day.

The abarrote nearest to my house is convenient. But that is not why I shop there. The owner always keeps me informed when she will be getting fresh shipments. And she actually laughs at my lame jokes. At my age, these things matter.

So, I will welcome the Oxxo to the neighborhood. It will be more convenient for lugging Santorini water bottles home. And I will now be able to pay my electric, internet, and cellular telephone bills by just walking down the block. Of course, if the staff proves to be as surly as the other Oxxo, my bill-paying and water purchases will remain at Kiosko.

And I will continue doing most of my local grocery shopping at my favorite little store, where I am known by my greeting -- "practiamente perfecto."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

the galloping gourmet saunters

It has gone everywhere in the world where I have lived.

Oregon. Texas. Colorado. California. Greece. Great Britain. Nevada. And, now, in its last burst of glory. Mexico.

It, of course, is The Graham Kerr Cookbook. And, as the cover would have it, "by The Galloping Gourmet." Not The Galloping Gourmet Cookbook by Graham Kerr. That is not how celebrities think of themselves. And it is how we think of them.

There was no other word than "celebrity" to apply to the Graham Kerr I first met back in the late 1960s. His shtick defined what we now know as celebrity chefs. Before there was Rachel Ray, or Iron Chef, or the fascist tantrums of Gordon Ramsey, there was Graham Kerr, the galloping gourmet. Or, as it later turned out, the gulping gourmet, who was always seen on camera with a goblet of wine.

Of course, there were the stars of the era. Charles Beard. Julia Child. Chefs of great renown whose wit was as dry as the tarragon sprinkled in their filets de sole sylvestre.

There was nothing dry about Graham Kerr. His goal was not to teach methods of cooking in the traditional sense. He found traditions to be stifling. What he wanted was cooking techniques that were practical -- and that were subject to constant revision. That paragon of utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham would have found a soul mate in Graham Kerr.

But Kerr was, most of all, a showman. His trademark leap onto the stage set the pace for the rest of the show. Along with some groaning jokes that would have not passed muster at the Brighton pier. But we loved him. He had enough energy to be the Jerry Springer of sauté.

The Galloping Gourmet was first televised in 1969. It is hard to believe that it was only on the air for three seasons. Three seasons of hyperactivity that almost ruined the marriage between Kerr and his producer wife.

Then, disaster struck. An automobile accident that almost killed both of them, and left them badly injured.

Since then, his life has taken several different paths, including a deep commitment to Christianity. But, the food path has now come full circle.

In his introduction to the original cookbook, he candidly noted: "I am equally certain that, in the years to come, our advances in food technology and kitchen appliances will require revisions being made [to this cookbook]." And so they have.

At least, food methods have changed. Kerr's reliance on clarified butter (I heard the term first from his lips) and butter seem to be from a different era. An ea when we loved the food we ate, instead of thinking of it solely as another form of gasoline.

Kerr has now published a new cookbook. But a cookbook that defines his more conservative self. It is a re-issue of the old cookbook -- with annotations in his neat, rounded script.

I gave away most of my cookbook collection when I moved to Mexico. I long ago discovered Kerr's basic philosophy was true for me -- cooking traditions are boring; i constantly need to have my food preparation techniques challenged and renewed.

Most cookbooks do not do that. But the internet does. I am not certain Kerr was correct when he predicted changed in appliances and food technology would be the force to revise his research. But the internet is.

A quick search through food sites will usually give me the impetus to try not only new food combinations,but new methods of preparation. Living in Mexico has also given me a new food palette to work with. I am constantly running across vegetables or fruits that I do not recognize -- or cuts of meats I would not have imagined.

Having said that, I may buy a copy of Kerr's revised cookbook. Mine is getting a bit tattered. The pages that open to peas 
à l’étouffée and chicory meunière are smeared with the residue of more butter than went into either dish. And that is a lot.
There is something nice about physical cookbooks. It is not just the tactile sensation of holding a book in my hand, even though there is that. In the case of the cookbooks I have kept, they are all friends. Some I bought. Some were gifts. I treasure one from a woman I should have married.

And, even though some of the cookbooks were quite revolutionary when they were published, they now represent the cooking establishment. But all revolutions build off of the establishment. So, I keep them to act as prods to creativity. Each recipe whispers to me: "You can do better than this." And I often do.

Kerr's life moves now at a saunter, not a gallop. He recently told a group of students who were visiting him in his Seattle home that celebrity is a hollow goal. "If each of us thought we are not likely to get a major TV show, but we are likely to have neighbors -- and if you could contribute to neighbors, like growing a garden or sharing produce -- there's nothing like it."

That is reason enough for me to buy the book. As a witness to the man who grew from the center of the limelight to being a man with peace at the center who finds contentment in reaching his hand out to others. And, as Voltaire would have it, making his garden grow.

There is a lesson in that for all of us.   

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

dirgeless in the garden

I am flying north again this week.

Last month, it was for a wedding.

This month, it is for a memorial service. For my aunt who died early in April (goodnight, gracie). My cousin, her son, has asked me to speak, and I have been working on some words that will be entirely inadequate to sum up her life. At best, I can hope for a vignette.

The past few months have been a time of transition for me. Several people close to me have died, and I have not mentioned them previously here. A member of our church board. A former Clackamas County District Attorney who served as a legal and political mentor since 1966. And two local notable personalities who added to both the depth and the weirdness of our small expatriate community here (if "community" is really the word).

I started listing them today and realized how much I miss seeing each of them. They all had become almost scenery in my life. And then they were gone.

There is a moment in all of these reveries where nostalgia can easily slip into the land of the black dog. The black dog that would love nothing more than to sever nostalgia's aorta.

I was saved from that episode by a bird. A small bird. One of God's clowns in nature. A hummingbird.

I like to think it is just one bird. My bird. That comes only to my patio to slake its nectar thirst.

As far as I know, there is more than one on this particular circuit. I have not even been able to accurately identify its species. It flits by too fast.

Whether it is one or more, I had not seen a hummingbird for months in my patio. In an attempt to tame my yellow-flowering vines that provide shade and privacy to each of the house's bedrooms, I cut them back almost to the ground this fall.

No vine. No yellow flowers. No hummingbird.

I did wonder where it went to supplement its diet. Of course, there are plenty of other gardens in our tropical village. And, for all I know, while the vines were down, it might have been vacationing in Arizona.

But, it is now back. I had just finished cataloging the deaths of my friends when she appeared (her lack of color has tipped me off enough to genderize her) out of the corner of my eye.

There is something about the antics of hummingbirds that fascinates everyone I know. If one appears in a garden, everyone pauses to watch. The hovering. The darting. The blurred images of a purposeful life.

And, just like that, as if she were Wonder Woman, she was gone. She had briefly shared a bit of magic, and now she had other souls slipping into the morass that she needed to save.

The hummingbird brought another gift. She provided me with the hook I needed to sum up my aunt's life.

And that is a lot for a little bird to give in one day.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

cue the scorpion

Screenwriters of horror films have a little trick.

Whenever they encounter lulls in their story arcs, the easiest way to pick up the pace is to stick in a scene where scorpions menace the leading lady. And, even though it is the rankest of cinematic clichés, it almost always works. Even when we all know how the tension is resolved.

There is something visceral about scorpions. My theory is that they are like sharks -- perfect killing machines. Claws to grasp. Armor to protect. A lethal sting to dispatch its prey. I am surprised an arms merchant has not devised something similar.

We tend to shy away from anything that looks that terrifying.

I have had to resort to misinformation to lure some of my friends down here. Scorpions often top their list of reasons not to cross the border. I tell them the chance they would ever see a scorpion was almost zero. (And that is true. As far as it goes. Scorpions do their hunting in the dark.)

I am glad none of those guests were in the house today. Saturday is cleaning and landscaping day. While Dora was busy tidying up the bedrooms, her son, Lupe, and I were trimming my vines and sweeping out the garage.

I saw the first one. One of the largest beige scorpions I have seen since I moved here. A bit of Raid took care of it.

Then Lupe saw the second. A tiny one. Just a baby. But it too had a Raid date.

Dora came out to see what we were doing -- and found the third. Raid. Done.

Three scorpions. All within a five foot radius of each other. That is the highest number I have killed in one day. If this was a Disney production, they would be a cute animated couple with their young son.

The disconcerting fact is that I walked through the same area last night in my bare feet when I got out of the swimming pool. Reminder to self: sandals exist for a good reason.

Now, before anyone says they are not coming to Mexico because of scorpions, let me ask you how you would react if someone said, "I am not going to visit Oregon. They have yellow jackets."

I have been stung by a whole series of insects over the years. I have also been stung by a scorpion. To me, there was no difference. They all hurt, but I survived them.

There are, of course, exceptions. People who are allergic to bee stings are usually also allergic to scorpion stings. My brother is one of those. When he is here, we regularly sweep the area for bees and wasps. And we are careful of scorpions.

So, come on down. This is not a mummy horror set. And the chances are that you will never see a scorpion. But, if you do, pay attention to them. They are as fascinating as tarantulas and rattlesnakes.

But that is an entirely different story.

Friday, May 11, 2018

it does not compute

Someone needs to drive a truck to my house, load up all of my electronic gear, and take it to a safe place.

And not because of my well-documented abuse of my expensive goods. Even though, it is true, if my electronics were children, I would be spending the rest of my life stamping out license plates with vaguely crude letter combinations.

No. My most recent malady has nothing to do with leaving my computer out in the rain or my binoculars on a harbor cruise in Sydney.

My brother is a computer consultant. He is larded with tales of customers who are convinced they have a major virus in their server, only to find out they have simply forgotten their password.

Well, I am about to become the star of one of those tales featuring benighted digital souls.

I bought a printer about a year ago in Manzanillo. It lacked most of the features I liked in my printer that died. (The fact that it was dead was a feature I did not like.) But the new printer and I have managed to build what passes for a nodding acquaintance.

In the beginning, I would ask it to print something, and it would. Then, the relationship frayed a bit. I would ask it to print something. It might. And it might not. I simply took that for moodiness.

While my brother was here, the printer decided it no longer wanted to be moody. It moved on to recalcitrance. I would request it to print something. It wouldn't. We might as well have been married.

I have been around the computer business for long enough to know I had a driver issue on my hands. So, I downloaded new drivers. And it worked for one print job.

I downloaded the drivers again. One print job.

Eventually, whatever was hanging up the process went away with the third download.

Until today. I had to download the drivers again. And it worked. Once.

On the second download, my computer gave me a new warning. The printer was "in error status." Of course, I already knew that. It was not printing.

Being the trouble shooter I am, I unplugged the printer and waited for the cache to clear. Nothing.

I closed up all the trays and took it outside to see if the inks were stuck. Nope.

Was there a paper jam? Nope.

Had a rat built a nest in the back of the printer? Nope.

So, I put it back on the desk, plugged it in, pushed the power switch, opened the feed-through tray, and flipped up the paper holder.

And I saw the problem. So simple that I am almost embarrassed to tell you. 
Especially after wasting a half hour out of my day. (But I would have told the story if it had happened to someone else. That is what we writers are like. Everyone around us is merely story fodder.)

It was right there in front of me. There was no paper in the tray.

My old printer had a readout that told me the paper was empty. But it was built for northern sensibilities -- where we need to be walked through each step as if we are half-witted children.

This printer was built for Mexicans -- people who have enough common sense to know that if a printer is not working, the usual culprit is one of two conditions: the power is turned off or there is no paper in the tray.

Unfortunately, the experience reminded me I am not really Mexican. I have been steeped in northern cosseting for far too long.

And next time? You can bet I will check the paper tray.

Of course, then, the tray will be full, and I will spend another half hour only to discover the printer has been unplugged.

Excuse me, I think I hear the truck at the front door.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

blossoming motherhood

Our village has become one large florist shop.

Barra de Navidad no longer has a formal florist shop. The last one closed years ago. What flowers are sold are usually offered by street vendors.

All of that changed earlier this week. Flowers started popping up in the most unlikely of places. The paper shop. The department store. Every other street corner. It was spring on steroids.

For a moment, I thought the town was preparing for the Hawaii-induced giant tsunami that the look-for-the-international-banker-hiding-under-your-bed brigade has been touting through their Russian troll channels.

But I was wrong. I had forgotten that one of the most important days on the Mexican calendar was almost upon us. And it now is. Today.

This is the day Mexico honors one of its most sacred institutions. Mothers. Dia de la madre.

It does not take anyone living here long to calculate the glue of social life in our villages.

For a lot of reasons (many of them quite understandable), most Mexicans are very skeptical of the motives of government, business, neighbors. They rely almost exclusively on their families as a place of security. And there is always a matriarch who holds it all together. 

It is no accident that the patron saint of Mexico is a woman. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the very model of Mexican womanhood. Or, at least, the aspirational model.

Because the position of mother is so highly-honored, it gets a specific day on the calendar. Its own number. 10 May.

Unlike The States, where the date wanders around the calendar in search of the second Sunday in May (that is a hint for those of you up north who have not yet caught on that The Day is almost here), 10 May is always the day here.

I rather like that. When The States moved almost all federal holidays to the nearest Monday, Independence Day remained sacrosanct. The Fourth of July is 4 July. Celebrating any other day would feel silly.

And so it is with 10 May. My neighbors will be showering their mothers with chocolate, flowers, fancy dinners out. All in the hope of letting them know that without them, there would be no Mexico.

One day is not sufficient to thank them for all they do. But one day is certainly better than none. And Mexico will do itself proud in thanking the women that keep their families standing as a bulwark against the calamities of life.

Feliz día de la madre.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

the class photo

You know the guy. There was one in every class.

The guy who  made goofy faces in all of the class photographs. And each year the other mothers would tut that "someone always has to ruin it for everyone else." Until we realized the guy actually did look goofy. All of the time.

My car is currently auditioning for that role.

The Escape has all sorts of electronic wizardry. One of the most helpful is the warning light when any of the four tires are low on air pressure.

I have had to rely on the warning's good offices a lot in these parts. Our streets seem to be strewn with all sorts of tire hazards. Broken glass. Glass bottles waiting to be broken. Nails. Rock shards. And, once, a foot-long bolt that I believe was used to anchor cat eyes.

All have found a home in one tire or another. Fortunately, I usually have enough warning to get the Escape to my favorite tire doctor. He is becoming quite fond of my tires. And my wallet. (On that last point, he has never charged me more than 50 pesos to fix a tire -- about $2.55 (US) -- no matter how much time it takes.)

About two weeks ago, I was at dinner with my friends Ed and Roxane in La Manzanilla when the warning light came on. The front right tire seemed to be a little low, but not bad. When I filled it in Melaque, it seemed fine.

Then, this morning, the light came on again. This time it was noticeably low. One of those slow leaks that are more irritating than distressing. So, I drove the Escape to the tire shop.

The last time I had trouble with that tire, the mechanic had to replace the stem, which led to a long and sad tale about replacing the air pressure sensor. Just another of my many Ford service horror tales.

When he put the tire into the bath, I hoped he would find a large nail. But there was no leak from the tread.

I steeled myself when he tested the stem. Nothing.

He then let some soapy water trickle down the bead where the outer tire meets the wheel. Nothing.

He was perplexed, but he tried the inside of the wheel. And there it was. A microscopic crack in the wheel was compromising the bead. Probably caused by not slowing sufficiently for one of our many topes.

I asked for my options. He asked me if I wanted the Canadian or the Mexican answer. (In this area, the assumption is that northerners are far northerners, not near northerners.) I asked for both.

He told me the best (and the most expensive) solution was to buy a new wheel. Once the bead is compromised, it will not retain air pressure.

And the Mexican solution? He could put a silicon sealer on the tire. It would be temporary until I could buy a new wheel. When I asked how long temporary would be, he just smiled and said: "How many times do you want to add another silicon layer?"

So I have my new silicon implant, and my Escape no longer has its gap-tooth grin. Tomorrow, I have to drive to Manzanillo to pick up my dry cleaning and do a bit of big city shopping. I can hear Walm
art calling my name. I will probably stop at Auto Zone and check on the price of a new wheel.

I need to get a permanent fix. After all, who wants to be the parent of That Kid? My parents suffered enough. I don't need to. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

fosse, fosse, fosse!

I thought I was in a Bob Fosse production.

You know the feeling. Hyponagogia.  That stage between wakefulness and being asleep where anything seems rational. You can fly. The national debt can be resolved. Beaujolais actually lives up to its hype.

Yesterday afternoon, it was Bob Fosse. That is, I thought I must be in a Bob Fosse production when I blinked open my eyes from a well-deserved (and much-needed) siesta.

Chicago. Or maybe Cabaret. One of those stages where shadows play out on a back-lit scrim.

But it was just the shadows of the tropical plants outside my bedroom door. Ann Reinking was nowhere to be found.

Our weather in my part of Mexico has taken a turn. Every year around March or April, we have a few weeks where the evenings are temperate. Offering the hope that nights will actually offer up pleasant sleeping weather.

But, it is all a tease. By May, summer starts to set in. When temperatures and humidity start a race to the top.

Last night was a good example. At midnight, the temperature was a reasonable 80 degrees. But, combined with the humidity, the heat index was 91. And it felt like it.

For the next few weeks, the ceiling fan in my bedroom will provide sufficient relief to allow me to sleep. But, at some point (I suspect around early July), I will surrender to the use of the air conditioner.

That is not my basic martyrdom speaking. I just do not like becoming a self-imposed exile in my bedroom. Once I turn on the air conditioner, I will spend most of my time in my room.

And I want to avoid that. Because I will miss experiences like this morning.

I am sitting at a table beside my pool on a clear morning listening to the various birdsong, including the comically mechanical call of a pair of Chacalacas who have been flitting about the neighborhood for the past month. If I retreated to my sanctuary, I would miss all of that.

A Mexican friend messaged me last night that he would like to borrow money to buy a fan. "Borrow," of course, means he would like me to give him the money. He complained he could not sleep because of the heat.

I fully understand. Unlike my house, that was designed to use natural ventilation to its best effect, his little concrete room has windows designed more for security than comfort. I have been there in the afternoon and found it impossible to stay in the room for more than a minute or two.

This is not a complaint about the weather here. It would be churlish for me to even hint at that. I did not move here for the weather. If I wanted my ideal weather, I would have moved to the Isle of Lewis.

It is just one of the factors I deal with daily. I suspect there are many people around the world who would gladly trade places with me. Syrians, for example.

But, without the sun here, I would never wake up on Broadway. Even if it is just for one magic moment.

Monday, May 07, 2018

closing another cold case

I love a good mystery.

Better yet, I love solving a good mystery.

When I moved to Mexico, I had a lulu in my sights. Why was the Mexican village of San Patricio named after a Romano-British missionary who became the patron saint of Ireland?

The question, of course, was a bit silly. Mexico is filled with villages named for Italian or French saints along with the Jewish apostles (unlike my current neighborhood that is named in honor of a Mexican-born missionary who was martyred in Japan -- San Felipe de Jesus). And no one bothers asking why. After all, the saints are as universal as the church.

I instinctively knew there was no answer to that question. After all, why is San Luis Potosi named for a sainted French king?

But there was an additional mystery that intrigued me. During the Mexican-American War of 1846-7, several Irish and German soldiers in the American army were induced to desert and switch sides. The Mexican government promised land and military commissions to American deserters.

One of the few military advantages the United States had in that war was is artillery tactics. Most of the deserters had served in artillery units and brought that skill to the Mexican side. They styled themselves as the San Patricio Battalion. (Seven years ago, I described the genesis of the battalion in more detail in mexi-irish rose -- part i and mexi-irish rose -- part ii.)

The war did not end well for many members of the battalion. When the Americans won, they tried a group of them and hanged them for desertion. 46 of them.

But some were merely whipped and branded. Others had melted away into the expanse of Mexico.

When I moved south, I had several clues to follow about a popular local myth that San Patricio was named for the battalion. In the 1990s, a professor from Evergreen College in Washington, brought a group of students to Mexico to sensitize them to the evils of America. (It was the same group of students Mexico would eventually deport for interfering in Mexican politics. count me out -- but in.)

The professor claimed there was a direct link between the battalion and the name of the village, and he used the battalion as a role (or rile) model for his charges. The students were instrumental in re-building the gazebo in San Patricio's square. A plaque still honors their efforts to immortalize the battalion.

As proof of the connection, the professor claimed to have seen a deed awarding a local hacienda to a member of the battalion. That seemed to cinch the connection.

But, when I asked where he saw the deed or if he had retained a copy, our connection went dead. I do not want to ascribe any lack of honesty on his part. That would not be magnanimous.

A Mexican acquaintance, who was an elected local official at the time, told me another tantalizing tale. There is a hill just north of San Patricio that contains a cave. According to my acquaintance, a member of the battalion came to the area and lived in the cave as a hermit.

No deed. No hacienda. But it did have a sense of Catholic authenticity. A grieving soldier paying penance for his violent past.

Or so goes the story. When I asked him if there was any documentation supporting the tale, he just chuckled.

That did not surprise me, though, he is the same fellow who told me years ago that he believed there was a connection with the battalion, but he knew of no objective evidence to support that conclusion. "You don't understand the mystery of Mexico. Thinking about this simply destroys its beauty. Myth is true. Facts are lies. If you want it to be true -- it is."

And, apparently, officialdom has adopted that approach. During one of my trips, a large flag pole (one of those poles that bear the weight of a giant Mexican flag on secular holidays) was installed on the north end of the town square. At its base is a very carefully-worded plaque that honors the memory of the Irish soldiers of the San Patricio Battalion and declares them to be local heroes for their sacrifice.

No claim that the town is in any way connected to battalion members who moved to the area. Nothing about a romantic hermit in a cave. No yellowing hacienda deed. Just a homage paid by grateful people to soldiers who volunteered to defend them.

I have been told by people who attended the dedication ceremony that what does not appear explicitly on the plaque was overtly stated in speeches.

And, who knows? Maybe there is something other than a precatory connection between the battalion and the town. But, I have decided that I am not going to find it. I will simply smile when people mention the connection. What sense is there railing against myth?

After all, there are people who still go around spouting the long-ago discredited tale that the term "Gringo" was a taunt of the Mexican people urging the green-clad American soldiers of 1848 to go home. (For the record, "gringo" dates back to at least the early 1700s in Spain and was used to refer to a non-native speaker of Spanish. Probably, derived from the Spanish word for "Greek" -- as in, it is all Greek to me.)

Now, I need to find another quixotic research quest. Any suggestions?

Sunday, May 06, 2018

count me out -- but in

Our streets are filled with placard-carrying demonstrators.

If we lived in Morelia, I would suspect the teacher students are up in arms over some long-needed reform in education. But we don't. And the demonstrators filling our streets are not students errant.

It is election time. But you already know that.

In put another ballot in, I briefed you on the very odd mix of coalitions that have developed in this year's presidential election. On 1 July, Mexicans will go to the polls and choose a national president, each of whom have been endorsed by a coalition of political parties that look more like a Chinese combination menu than a set of reasoned ideologies.

But there is a lot more at stake in the coming election than just the presidency. Both houses of congress are up for grabs along with several gubernatorial races and elections for local officials.

My Sunday morning grocery shopping was momentarily delayed by a large demonstration in San Patricio's square. In the past, most local elections were contested by single party candidates. That strategy changed after the long-ruling PRI won back the presidency six years ago.

The leftist PRD and the center-right PAN forged an alliance to defeat PRI candidates in subsequent local elections. The only thing the two parties had in common was their opposition to PRI.

That coalition has stuck together. I live in the municipality of Cihuatlan. To my American ears, municipality sounds like another word for city. That is wrong. It helps to think of the administrative area as being more like a county. The president of the municipality is thus similar to a county commissioner. He is effectively the boss of the district, and is called the president of the municipality.

That post is currently held by a very young attorney who ran on the Citizen's Alliance ticket. Until very recently, no elected official could run for re-election. That changed just over 4 years ago. Now, anyone can run for re-election to any office except for the national presidency. Opposition to re-election was one of the tenets of the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

Our young incumbent is taking another turn in the barrel -- if the voters are so inclined. But, this time, he is supported by the leftist PRD and the social democratic Citizen's Alliance. At least, they have something in common ideologically, and are partners nationally.

When I first saw the mixture of the two flags at the demonstration, I thought that two separate groups of supporters had smashed into one another in the square. But they were all allies. For this election.

Groups of demonstrators are one of the most common campaign tactics in our local Mexican elections -- along with signs on cars, taped messages blaring from speakers on motorcycles, and some rather colorful announcements painted on walls.

All of it looks very familiar to me. That is, if I go back to the 1950s in my little mountain home town of Powers. In this particular rally, the president of the municipality was the star attraction. He ticked off a list of promises -- as if he were not the incumbent. The most amusing was the promise to complete a hospital in Cihuatlan that has sat unfinished for a decade.

I rather enjoy the short campaign period. Of course, American political style has seeped into the Mexican system. AMLO, the presidential candidate of the far left MORENA, has been running for president since his loss in 2012. Some would say from his loss in 2006. But it is a relief not to live in a system of permanent campaigns.

During the last two election cycles, I have noticed a disturbing trend amongst expatriates. They have become entangled in local politics. Some naively, by helping to raise funds for a cause that, on its face, appears to be humanitarian, but turns out to deliver funds in the name of one political party or other.

The other example is a bit more blatant. I saw two cars, owned and driven by expatriates, displaying signs supporting the election of specific candidates.

People can do as they like, but I do remind them that another goal of the Mexican Revolution was to prohibit foreign influence in Mexican politics. It is right there in Article 9 of the Constitution of 1917. Only Mexican citizens can participate in Mexican politics.

That seems rather clear to me. And there can be drastic consequences for violating that article. A group of students from Evergreen College in Washington did not take the warning to heart when they joined a demonstration opposing the construction of an airport in Mexico City. (Ironically, it is an airport that AMLO has opposed and still opposes.) They were detained and deported to the United States.

Mexico has had a long history of foreigners interfering in its internal affairs. But some foreigners do not seem to believe the prohibition applies to them.

As for me, I am going to enjoy watching the next two months of campaigning. There will always be some good stories lurking in each event.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

love is stronger than your conflicts

When Kimmy told me she and Matthew were getting married in Disneyland, I had an immediate reaction.

There are really only two choices. A saccharinish squealy "Oh, how exciting! Life's happiest event in the world's happiest place!" Or a flagrant roll of the eyes into Little Orphan Annie territory. You will not be surprised that I was looking for my dog Sandy.

I am not certain why Disneyland evokes Manichean reactions. It predates our current social snarkiness. Some of the writers for The Simpsons are former Disney employees and wrote several running gags about the evils of the Disney empire back in the Nineties.

If I had simply waited for the full story, my reaction may have been a little less jaded.

When I hear "wedding in Disneyland," I think of brides dressed as Snow White, the groom dressed as the beast, with the seven dwarfs acting as groomsmen and bride's maids, all standing in front of Cinderella's castle being married by an animatronic Abe Lincoln.

And I guess such affairs can happen. Disney can be very accommodating. For the right amount of cash.

But that was not Kimmy's wedding. Hers was scheduled at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel.

I have stayed there. It is quite a nice venue. And, if you take out the Disney part, it was going to be a wedding in one of America's grand hotels.

That is exactly what it was. A very intimate ceremony held on the terrace of the hotel with a handful of family and friends as guests, and an ebullient wedding party. The vows were conducted by Reverend Bob (a nod to southern California culture), who made a memorized spiel sound as if his advice had been hand-crafted for these two young people who are totally devoted to each other.

For those of you who do not immediately recognize Kimmy's name, she is the daughter of my friends from law school, Ken and Patti Latsch. Patti is my friend who died of cancer almost three years ago (the circle tightens). I always felt a bit like Patti's brother -- making me Kimmy's uncle by default. (Patti's presence was symbolized by a lantern candle that was present throughout the festivities.)

Because I have known Kimmy for so long, there was no possibility that I was going to miss one of the most important days of her life. And it was the correct choice.

At most weddings, it seems that only one party is truly getting married. Not so, at this ceremony. Both Kimmy and Matthew avoided the mistake of reciting vows. They stated vows, but they made the words their own. It was a sincere commitment of love.

Reverend Bob's homily contained a line that struck me. "Love is stronger than your conflicts." That sentiment is not original. But, it was appropriate for these two kids. They will have conflicts. But their love is going to help them get through everything -- if they let it.

Just a moment ago, I wrote: "If you take out the Disney part, it was going to be a wedding in one of America's grand hotels." That shows my own bias. It turns out that "taking out the Disney" part would have made the day a lot less special.

After photographs, we retired to a large courtyard for lunch. I have learned not to expect too much from wedding food. The bride's family often pays a fortune for their guests to dine on banquet fare.

Not Disney. We had a lunch that could have come out of one of the best restaurant kitchens in America. All served by a staff who provided for any of our whims.

What Disney could not provide is the magic that Kimmy and Matthew have brought to our lives. Their friends beamed throughout the whole day -- sharing their joy with one another.

For me, one of the best moments was seeing Ken dance with his daughter at the lunch. Moments before he had given her away in marriage, but their father-daughter connection remained -- symbolized by that special dance.

So, Kimmy. Matthew. And Ken and Patti. Let me thank you for letting me part of your lives. I have truly enjoyed the ride.

And, the next time I roll my eyes, just smack me.