Tuesday, July 31, 2018

from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe

One of my life joys is taking people to the airport. Or picking them up there.

The reason is easy to understand. We all enjoy activities that pull us out of our humdrum routines.

There is that. But there is something more, as well. On each drive back from the airport, I feel as if I am arriving for the first time. That all possibilities are open. That I have no history.

Those moments are, of course, delusions. But having a brief moment that is a stranger to reality is refreshing. Like a sorbet after the fish course.

This morning, the Escape and I made a trip to the airport with -- . But that is the story. Maybe I should introduce you to them before we go any further.

Let me introduce the Fagans. Peter and Simi are the parents. Their children are Neil and Selah.

During the winter, our church here in Costalegre has a good-sized congregation. The reason is simple. The winter is when the English-speakers are in town.

In the summer, our numbers dwindle to a few. For the early part of the season, Nancy Lennie and I were the congregation. But, we proved to be the perfect size for church services.

When only two of us are here, we can pretty much do as we choose. What we chose to do was build our service around Bible study. First, John's gospel. Lately, Acts. We pray. We discuss what God is doing in our lives.

A couple of months ago, we were joined by a woman from British Columbia and one from Washington. We were almost like an Acts 2 congregation -- doubling our numbers.

At the start of July, we were joined by the Fagans. Once again, doubling our congregation. But this was a very dynamic doubling.

The Fagans are Canadians. They are young. They are well-read.

The book of Acts relates the foundation of the Christian church. The Fagans were able to bring that spirit to us in person. Their mission in life is to start churches around the world. They had been doing just that in Oman.

I was fascinated. Not everyone knows where Oman is. Not only did they know; they had lived and worked there. Their narratives helped to bring our study to life with a certain sense of immediacy.

Their month here passed far too quickly. I had offered to take them to the airport. Probably to feed my "new arrival" jones.

As I was driving to the house this morning where they were staying, it occurred to me just how much I had enjoyed their presence in our group. Then, it hit me. They had been here a full month and I had not invited them to my house.

I am certain they would have enjoyed the pool. We could have grilled chicken and had interesting discussions.

While we were loading their luggage in the Escape, I noticed a guitar and a lady guitar. They are musicians. Part of their family entertainment is to play and sing at home.

That led to a broader discussion on music. How they like to listen to more obscure classical music because they enjoy the challenge of analyzing new music. That literally was music to my ears.

And it made me realize how my narcissism this month kept me from participating in a great relationship. It was right there before me, and I missed it.

I would like to say the next time I encounter people, who have a story to tell, that I will take time and invite them into my life. But I know me too well. And it is a shame.

Life presents us daily with plenty of opportunities. We first need to acknowledge the possibilities. And then grab the moment.

As it is, the Fagans are well on their way back to Canada. And I am on my way to San Miguel de Allende for the chamber Music Festival.

I do intend to enjoy that. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

mexpatriate strips down for the summer

Felipe over at The Unseen Moon has recently been urging me to update the look of  Mexpatriate.

It is a fair gripe. The page has been wearing the same garb for about four years now.

I remember designing it in the library of my Salem house during one of my visits north. My friend Jordan was watching me customize it. He accidentally pushed the publish button before I thought I was done. It turned out to be a smart move. Had I fiddled with it any more, it would not have been improved.

But even Testoni shoes wear out. And it was time for a new look. A sleek look.

So, here it is. For those of you who have relied on my blog roll to find my fellow writers, it is still there. You simply need to click on the three little bars (I am certain there is some for of blog jargon for that symbol, but I do not know what it is) at the upper right. It will take you directly to all of the information that once cluttered the right side of the page.

I have high hopes that switching to a new format may actually revive the less-than-reliable Disqus comments. We shall see. I know a lot of you now comment on the Mexpatriate Facebook link. It would be nice to have your comments here.

If I had a bottle of Dom Perignon, I would break it over the top of my laptop on this launch day.

May God bless her and all who read in her.

Addeddum. OK. By popular demand, I have muted the white and dropped the green. I would like a visible blog roll, but it is not an optionin this set of themes.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

pull the front page

When the news cycle is slow, the scribblers often don their "I make stuff up" t-shirts.

At Mexpatriate, when the news cycle is slow, we start gazing at our navel. And nothing could be more desperately-yogaish than writing about the browsers you loyal readers use to allow my meanderings to pour out into your head.

Mexpatriate is nearing its 11th birthday (though, it lived under an alias for several of those years). When I started writing about my planned move to Mexico back in 2007, only one browser held the field -- Microsoft's Internet Explorer. There were others, but Explorer was the champ.

After a few lawsuits in The States and some European Commission findings, Explorer gave way to better-engineered browsers. Firefox was one of the beneficiaries -- for a bit. It has now yielded to another giant's product. Chrome. Based on my conversations with computer users, I suspect my statistics do not vary greatly from the general browser public.

Of course, when I started writing, most readers had not yet heard of, let alone owned, smart phones (because most telephones back then were as stupid as a camera when it came to the internet) or tablets.

Take a look at this chart. It reflects today's browser results on Mexpatriate.

Not surprisingly, you are a Chrome crowd. Well, at least 37% of you are. That is just about the percentage of votes George McGovern obtained in 1972.

29% of you are Mobile users, and 18% of you are Appleites. (Actually, based on the usage of operating systems, 53% have an Apple connection.) That leaves just 10% of you using the once-mighty Firefox.

And what about Internet Explorer? Not so long ago the cock of the walk browser. A pathetic less than 1%. How the mighty have fallen.

And it is the falling of the mighty that sent me down this Peeping Tom cul-de-sac of browsers.

It is now Google's turn in the "David has you in his eye, Goliath" barrel. According to last week's edition of The Economist, the EU's European Commission fined Google (Chrome's daddy) a record of €4.3 billion. That is 5 billion dollars. US.

The infraction seems to be minor. Google is the developer of Android, the operating system on 81.7% of smart phones. That sounds like good marketing.

The problem is that Google requires a lot of its apps to be installed along with Android. You may recall what happened to Microsoft when it could no longer meet the demands of consumers. And Firefox could.

The European Commission imposed the fine because it was concerned that Google's inclusion of its apps on over 80% of smart phones was a monopolistic practice. The Commission had sharp elbowed Microsoft in 2007 for bundling Media Player with its operating system.

In addition to paying the fine, the Commission sounded like an angry mom in its Google decision. "You just sit there and think about what you have done, and then tell me what your punishment should be, young man."

No kidding. The Commission has required Google to come up with a solution to its monopolistic behavior. Do you want to lay odds just how successful that is going to be?

But, in the midst of all this a voice from the past was heard. There is a new version of Firefox. Its sobriquet is now Firefox Focus. And it is the anti-Chrome.

Chrome is an advertisement magnet, sifting your searches to offer you the best deals on things you did not yet know you needed. Firefox Focus blocks advertisements. Theoretically, even those prying advertisements generated by Nosy Parker Facebook.

That sounded too good not to try. So, I went to Google Play Store (fully aware I was wearing my irony cross) and found the magic browser. Within seconds it was on my telephone.

But I looked only at one page. Mexpatriate.

It is often true in life that hype and our own expectations create criteria impossible for anything to meet. Thus it is with Firefox Focus and Mexpatriate. I do not know what the issue is. Perhaps Firefox is incompatible with Google blog platforms. But, this is what Firefox Focus gave me.

I am not impressed. Maybe one of you would have an idea of fixing the browser for reading Mexpatriate. I could not find anything.

What I do know is, if history is a guide (and it usually is), Chrome's days at the top of heap are numbered. A decade from now we will be laughing about the browser we once thought was great.

As for me, I keep hoping Eudora will make a new appearance.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

awash in pleasure

I had an Air Force friend from Minnesota who claimed Californians looked so young because they have no seasons. There is nothing like an extreme winter to harden the face and the arteries -- all enhanced with gobs of Lutheran binder.

If Jon's theory is correct, the people of my village should qualify as extras in the next Shangri-La remake. One warm tropical day lolls into the next.

But, that would be a wrong conclusion -- if only because we do have seasons here. We are so dependent on the kindness of strangers and tourists, our seasons come stamped with visitor labels.
Summer Vacation II opened last week with bumper-to-bumper traffic clogging our main highway. During most of the year, I can zip out on the road without even hesitating at the decorative stop sign. Not this week. I often have waited up to five minutes (along with my far-more-patient neighbors) to find a gap in the spawning mass.

Five weeks ago, the first summer vacation wave hit when the high schools and universities closed for summer vacation. The latest surge arose from the closure of the other schools.

All of the cars have come to a rest at the curb on our streets. And the occupants have come to rest on the beach, walking in the streets, thronging the taco tables, or buying the odd shell that could just as easily be picked up on the beach where, of course, people have come to rest -- just as I told you.

I am not certain "rest" is the correct word. In July, the Pacific Ocean does not live up to its Quaker name. Instead, it puts on its warrior face. As if Neptune had a lucha libre grudge match to settle.

The last two nights, while enjoying my hand-crafted salad at Papa Gallo's, the ocean put on quite a floor show. The waves have come rushing in so fast that tables, umbrellas, dogs, and beach enthusiasts have all been swept back and forth. Think of a tsunami -- but only if produced by Disney. This is not your granddaughter's Caribbean.

The local businesspeople who make a living off of the Mexicans drawn to the summer sea need to make their sales quickly, When August fades into September, the siren call of school will entice the tourists away from the beach. And a long visitor desert will set in. With the exception of the welcome weekend trade, merchants will be reduced to a subsistence existence.

Then, a new season will roll around in November when the geese start their flocking way south.

Like Hugh Conway in Lost Horizon, I sit here waiting for the waves of tourists and the Pacific to wash over me. And each wave passes unnoticed -- very much unlike a Minnesota winter.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

amazon power

I fear I am turning into  one of those guys with saliva dripping out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism. As Woody Allen put it.

A recurring theme on Mexpatriate has been how life in Mexico has changed in the ten years I have lived here. I won't even mention how much everything has changed since I first visited Mexico in 1971.

My part of Mexico does not offer much in modern amenities. The necessities of life are at hand. We have stunning landscapes and the time to enjoy them. Anyone who has lived in Pacific City, Oregon knows the pleasure of that life. And its limitations.

But, if I want to make major purchases, I need to drive to Manzanillo. Or Colima. Or Guadalajara.

And for the truly exotic (say, hardbound books in English), I reach for my laptop where Amazon provides a consumer lifeline to anyone who has a street address.

Last week, I was reading the latest issue of National Review. Several years ago, the magazine started publishing at least one poem in each edition. They are always quite good.

Over the years, I have had favorite parts of the magazine. My tastes change. These days, I turn to the poem first. Probably, because I have always admired the ability of good poets who can reduce the most complex of thoughts to a handful of words, It is a true art form.

In the latest edition, in addition to the poem, Nick Ripatrazone reviewed Ted Kooser's latest collection of poems, Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems. I have read some of Kooser's work in the past -- and liked it.

I am tempted to describe his poems as accessible, but I know that some artists hate the term. As if communicating with the general public somehow degrades an artist's work. Personally, I agree with Marcel Duchamp: "The spectator completes the art.  The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and this adds his contribution to the creative act."

Two sentences in the review summed up Kooser's work: "There's poetic restraint in offering us a well-drawn map without a required route. That requires patience, a little confidence, and a belief that poems can be about living rather than an explanation of life." That last phrase ("about living rather than an explanation of life") perfectly describes what I like about Robert Frost and Billie Collins -- two quite different poets.

And the phrase was enough for me to decide to buy the Kooser.

Most books are a snap to buy here. I open my Kindle, find it on Amazon, and press the buy button. In seconds, I am holding it in my hands.

But poetry and electronic readers are not a good marriage. Part of the art form of a poem is how it looks on the page. Most electronic readers cannot reproduce that look without making the font illegible.

The answer, of course, was easy. I could order the hardbound version of the book from Amazon.MX.

And, so I did. Along with a DVD of one of my favorite Christopher Nolan films: Memento, where I was first introduced to the breadth of Guy Pearce's talent.

This particular shipment was re-directed north of the border to parent Amazon. I suspect that neither of my two purchases was available in the Mexico warehouse.

I have become accustomed to my northern shipments taking two weeks to wend their way through the Amazon North process, the customs 
inspection (and duty payment) in Guadalajara, and the hand off to DHL, who then needs to process the delivery through its Manzanillo depot.

The estimated delivery date was next Saturday. Instead, the DHL delivery man was at the front door with my package on Thursday. And I am now sharing the tale with you. Both through the wonders of the internet that has truly changed a portion of life in this part of Mexico. Probably as much as the Montgomery Ward catalog did when it first arrived in Powers, Oregon.

I am on my way to the pool now with Ted Kooser and an iced glass of mineral water with lime to float and contemplate living life rather than explaining it.

Friday, July 20, 2018

the sunburned zebra

Yesterday, we were talking about Nueva España, the main commercial street that runs through my part of Barra de Navidad (did a minotaur just get out of that car?).

But double parking is not the only challenge facing drivers. There are at least fourteen topes (speed bumps) on the first half mile of the street. Unmarked topes that blend into the surrounding concrete without betraying their presence until one dislodges the right front strut of your SUV.

From time to time, someone paints the topes in the busiest portion of the neighborhood. I think it was December last year when the topes were last painted. Or, I should say, the south half of each tope was painted yellow.

My brother and sister-in-law were late in coming down in January. About 6 weeks after the painting started. The week they arrived, the painter was back painting the northern halves.

By then, the paint had faded so badly on the southern halves that there was only a hint of yellow left. Like one of those Pompeii murals painted 2000 years ago. By the time they flew north in April, all of the paint was gone.

Someone must have thought the earlier experiment was worth repeating, because the painter is back. This time, a yellow zebra pattern is the motif.

Mexico is a practical country. The street is far too busy to block off to allow the painting to go on unmolested. The painter works in the midst of the chaotic traffic, using some caution tape to block off half of the tope for painting.

Earlier in the week, it was the turn of the southern halves to get tarted up. Today, the painter finished off the northern halves.

Of course, within a few weeks, there will be no proof that they were ever painted. Omar says that is because too much water is used in thinning the paint. He may be correct.

What baffles me is why anyone bothers with the paint job. Even though the topes are rather subtle, there is one at each corner of the street. If you are nearing a corner, you should be slowing for a tope.

Whether the whole concept of a tope is wise is a completely different discussion. They are designed to slow speeders. But the greatest speed violators are motorcycle riders -- and they simply zip around the ends of the topes on the verge of the road.

But, for a bit, my main street will look just like a street in one of those highfalutin big towns.

Can a McDonald's be too far behind?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

did a minotaur just get out of that car?

The mysteries of the church often pale in comparison to the mysteries of Mexico.

The trinity is a snap to interpret; understanding the driving customs in my little village, just like comedy, is hard.

I have told you about the main commercial street through my neighborhood -- Nueva España, Mexico's married name when it was still part of the Spanish Empire. It is a street only in the most rudimentary use of that word.

Sure, it is paved and wide enough to allow parking along ts curbs and still permit two-way traffic. Vehicles then just need to be conscious of the various pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, skateboarders, baby strollers, boys chasing footballs into the street, goats, horses, and assorted dogs and cats with whom drivers share this main thoroughfare.

And if those were the only obstructions in the street, driving on Nueva España
 would be a pleasant, but adrenalin-driven adventure. But, there are other topes -- including real ones, at least 14 speed bumps -- on a regular day.

I do not know if it is true in the rest of Mexico, but double-parking seems to be an art form here. If you want to buy a plastic cup of agua fresca, why bother pulling two car lengths ahead into an open parking space? Turn on your flashers and stop in the street. Or to go to the paper store. Or the grocery. Or to have your hair cut.

The result is that the two-way traffic is often reduced to one lane requiring drivers to dig deep into their transferable skills bag. Now, where did I put my Theseus labyrinth map?

There are times when the vehicles are parked so close together that buses and Coke trucks back up like salmon waiting to vainly tackle Grand Coulee dam.

Earlier this week, I was driving my Mexican friend Alan to Melaque. (You remember Alan from cart of laughs. My friend who finds hilarity in foreigners displaying their national flags in Mexico.) 
Nueva España was humming along -- well, as well as it could hum along in its sclerotic mode.

I was just about to start my weave pattern when I saw a large pickup had already entered the maze. There were five double-parked cars that we both needed to maneuver our way around. Tennyson urged me on. "Half a league, half a league,/
Half a league onward,/All in the valley of Death/Rode the six hundred."

But, because he was already on his way and the laws of physics precluded two vehicles from simultaneously occupying the same space, I pulled over to let him pass.

For some reason, that agitated Alan. He started yelling: "Go! Go! Go!"

When I pointed out I couldn't because of the pickup, he looked at me as if I had just arrived from Pakistan. "Go! Make him back up!"

By now, the pickup was out of the way, and we drove down the street. But, I was curious what had just happened.

In our own patois of Spanglish, he told me that what I had done was weak and all the people on the street now thought I was a weak man.

It did not placate him when I said I was merely showing courtesy and practicality; the other driver was there first. More importantly, giving deference to another person is a sign of personal strength, not weakness.

He was not buying it. "You were weak. You have to force people to respect you."

I have heard that last line from several young Mexican friends. One went even further in telling me that no one will respect you unless you have beaten them in a fight.

One of the weaknesses in deductive reasoning is that people tend to generalize from their own specific specifics to the general without having sufficient data to draw the conclusion. I am not going to do that.

But, as far as Alan and some of my other friends are concerned, that incident on the street has given me a template to try to understand why the occasional standoff occurs on the street when neither vehicle will yield to the other.

Of course, it does nothing to help me understand why the traffic labyrinth is created in the first place.

But that is the theme for another essay. And I just may write it if I can get past all of these cars today. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

from one bowl to another

While we enjoy our lives (as we should), the inevitability of death circles us daily. Like a lean leopard waiting for that one little slip that will turn us from yesterday's toast of the town to today's lunch.

And, no, John, I have not been reading too much Thomas Hobbes.

I have simply been getting my health back on a regular course. It all started, as you know, with my recent bout of gastro distress. (That is what we will call it so as not to disturb the Victorian gentleman in the back row reading his Kindle.)

My digestive system is a marvel. Someone once said of Thomas Jefferson, in his old age. that he had the digestion of a teenager. And I have felt that way about my well-run bowels. Until recently.

On my long walks, I frequently find myself urgently in need of a rest stop. There seems to be something in the movement that confuses my intestines.

That is simply an annoyance. The more serious problem lately has been long bouts of -- and let us be adult and use grownup words -- diarrhea. Once I realize my system will not clear itself, I head to my doctor who will give me a bout of antibiotics, and I am as right as drain -- so to speak -- within a few days.

My latest bout persisted for a month through a regimen of conservative treatment and two rounds of antibiotics  My doctor gave up and referred me to a specialist in Manzanillo.

There were some worrisome results in my lab report. But the earliest appointment I could get was 10 days away. So, I waited. And three days before the appointment, all was back to normal in digestionland.

But I went to my appointment on Monday. The doctor ruled out a number of causes. Cancer (most Mexican doctors are refreshingly honest in their accurate use of words). Food allergies. Food intolerance. He was even dubious that a parasite or bacteria would give the results in my lab report.

Like many Mexican doctors, he took a conservative approach prescribing some nature-based drugs and asked me to come back in 6 weeks or so.

In the back of my mind, I could see neither a good reason to take the medications nor to return. My stomach was fine.

That is, until I got home and had to run from the front door to the nearest toilet. My hubris was not well-rewarded by my bowels.

OK. There is a little more to that story. I stumbled onto some Rainier cherries at Sam's Club just before my appointment. Worried that they would not keep in the heat (I will use almost any handy excuse), I ate the entire kilo of cherries before I got home. I suspect I would have made the same run had I not had an earlier problem.

Under my current food plan, those cherries probably contained enough sugar to fulfill my weekly requirement. I am trying to cut down as much as I can on my sugar intake.

I do not like sweets. Even fruit. Cherries being the exception. My sugar downfall is carbohydrates. Primarily pasta. But, there are plenty of other culprits, as well.

Two years ago, I altered my food intake to rid myself of a lot of foods I can do without. Combined with my walking regimen, it worked. I felt better. I looked better. I acted better.

Salads have never been a favorite food item for me. They simply do not fill me. But I have learned some new tricks from my reading.

I am easily bored by food. If I eat a dish three times, I am not inclined to eat it again.

Salads are the perfect meal to avoid that rut. The possible combination of vegetables is almost limitless.

Take my salad this afternoon. I combined leaf lettuce with basil and mint leaves, topped it with cucumber, tomato, habanero, red, and yellow peppers, onion, celery, Kalamata olives, feta, and walnuts.  And then sprinkled it with a lime-balsamic-oregano dressing of my own invention. Amazingly, it has kept me for the full afternoon.

If I ever become one of those people who feel they have the liberty to bang on about how everyone else in the world is poisoning themselves with the food they eat, I hope a sane and good-willed soul will punch me in the face until I come to my senses.

But, I may share some of my own discoveries with you on my road back to good food and good company. If you make a fist, I will stop.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

mr. moto takes a vacation

Something was happening.

As part of my afternoon walk today, I ambled down to the Barra de Navidad malecon. It is quite an attractive hunk of concrete and landscaping mounted atop the barra (sand bar) that separates Navidad Bay from a nifty little harbor. It is the bar in Barra de Navidad.

When I was last down there, it was a set for which the Spanish word tranquilo was made. There were very few people on the malecon. And even fewer on the beach.

Not so this afternoon.

My first hint were the number of motos -- motorcycles -- parked at the start of the malecon. The most I have ever seen there is two. This afternoon, they were as numerous as horses in front of the Rock Ridge saloon on Lili von Shtupp night.

And the motos were not there alone. But let me tell you two brief stories before we proceed.

Several years ago, I was standing in a long line waiting for the ATM to disgorge pesos into my pocket. In front of me was a woman I have known since moving here. But, unlike me, she spends only a few months each year in Mexico.

She looked at all the white-haired northerners in line in front of us,and said: "I really feel sorry for the Mexicans when we leave. There will be no money in town for them."

The second is not unlike the first. Last week, I received an email from an acquaintance in Canada. He wrote: "Thank you for your stories. I truly enjoy reading them because they remind me that even though we are not in Mexico for six months out of the year, life still goes on there."

And part of that life was on the malecon. The place was filled with vendors selling sugary treats to families made up of three or so generations. All enjoying a comfortably warm day in the sun.

What startles me each summer is to approach of a group of who I believe are Mexican teenagers, and hear them speaking English. A lot of American citizens come here to visit their relatives -- and to enjoy their vacation.

A young woman from Victorvile, California told me she was jealous that I live here. I told her I fully understood what she meant.

What struck me most though were the number of people in the water on both sides of the sand bar -- in the bay and in the laguna.

Some of the grumpier northerners have rattled on about how the beach at Barra de Navidad no longer exists, Plenty of culprits are blamed, but the dirge is the same. It isn't what it used to be.

That did not seem to be bothering the Mexican families that found the beach exactly to their taste on a Sunday on the sand.

I suspect all humans have a tendency to believe if they are not in a place they enjoy, somehow that that place folds up waiting their return. As if it were a freeze frame in a bad movie.

But that is not how life works. My friends in Salem are going about their lives without any regard to whether I am there or not. As is my family in Bend. And my friends in British Columbia -- and England -- and Germany. Life does not stop just because I am not there.

I suspect that is one of the flaws of existentialism and Cartesian logic. In truth, we can know that life does rely on our personal validation.

So, dear readers, do not worry. Life goes on here. And Mexican tourists are doing their best to see that the local merchants fill their cash registers with pesos.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

where do you get your ideas?

It is a fair question.

And my usual answer can sound a bit flippant, for the major part, I just open my eyes.

Even after living here for ten years, I am often awed by what goes on around me. Some things are amusing. Others charming. A few metamorphic.

I am awed because I am a fish swimming in a foreign sea, A rainbow trout in the Indian Ocean.

It is the interpretation where the nub of the narrative lies. And even though I can figure out some cultural vagaries, most stump me. I either misinterpret them -- or I go to one of my Mexican guides to unravel the paradox.

Those are my existential essays. But, there are other sources. I stumble across things on the internet. Northern friends send me articles.

And, from time to time, readers bring great ideas to me. That is the genesis of today's tale.

Wade lives here part time in my neck of Barra de Navidad. While going to the bakery one day, he walked past some new construction on the main street of this part of town. He said he had noted something very peculiar about the new building -- and included a photograph.

I thought I knew the building he meant. It is so close, I can see the top of it from my terrace. Looking a good deal like the Moorish domes of the remnants of Whitehall Palace seen across the duck pond of Saint James's Park.

I wrote about the construction in February 2016 when the foundations were being laid (mexico knows best). Back then, it was supposed to be a storage area. It has now morphed into commercial space -- though it is still unfinished.

So, I hiked over there -- earning a few more of my prized steps. And, sure enough. Just as Wade had pointed out. There was something very peculiar about the building.

At that point on the street, the utility poles is concrete. The electric company recently replaced the wooden poles that had a tendency to rot and come down in mild tropical storms and the occasional car crash.

The building is built very close to the street, and the first and second floor terraces jut out further. It is that jut that causes the "peculiarity," Here it is.

At some point during the construction, the building met the utility pole. Rather than alter the building plan, the building was built around the pole. I suppose they have a symbiotic relationship of support. We might call it Donald and Andrés.

But my northern mind conjures up some questions. What happens when the pole needs to be replaced? What happens if the terraces need to be re-modeled? What happens if a fiery asteroid collides with the Earth and ends life as we know it?

Of course, none of the questions relate to facts happening right now. The present problem was how to complete the building with the pole where it was. And that problem is solved. Any others are merely hypothetical.

There is one fact I have withheld from you (just like Agatha Christie). The owner of the lot and building is a Canadian. A citizen of British Columbia. Certainly, he must have shared some of my questions. If so, it is a fact not in evidence.

The point is: it works. And worrying about the future is just wasted energy.

I will confess, though, I will be interested to see how it all plays out over the coming years.

And we have Wade to thank for it all.

Wade -- Your royalty check will be on its way. Of course, that is dependent upon Mexico winning the World Cup.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

all hands on deck

I just realized I have not invited you to my upper terrace recently.

There is a reason for the slight. Not a very good one. Even though it is one of my favorite areas of the house, I tend to take it for granted.

The Mexican-French Canadian architect, who designed and built this house as her dream home, had a good eye for Barragánesque line. (Luis Barragán is the Mexican architect who is credited as the father of Mexican modern architecture.) The lines of the house are Enlightenment-logical.

The lines were what attracted me to the house. I probably did not even notice the upper terrace. I certainly had no particular plans for it.

When my artist friend Ed saw the terrace, he saw the perfect venue for an art collection. And he was correct. The angular walls almost beg for the presence of large canvases.

Ed is an abstract expressionist. Well, he paints in that style. And his work is quite good. But I was not certain until I saw the paintings mounted on the walls (the good life). It was almost as if the architect had these paintings in mind when she conceived the walls.

Since then, the upper terrace has become part of family life around here. The breezes make it a great place to read -- or to play Mexican train, which we do when the rest of the family is in residence.

But I now have a new use for it.

The house is square, the rooms surrounding a patio with a swimming pool. The terrace is essentially built on the roof of the other rooms forming a complete path around the upper level of the house.

Early on, the terrace struck me as being similar to the deck of a cruise ship. The deck just above the swimming pool. On most ships that is also the sports deck with a running and jogging track.

I do not know why I did not see it earlier, but the upper terrace is built to serve the same purpose. And, over the three years I have lived here, I have occasionally used it for my walking regime. Especially, when the summer rains make our local streets impassable. Or simply to be avoided on foot because of the sewage overflow.

Lately, I have had my own sewage overflow problem. For the past month, I have had a lower intestinal issue that gives me very little warning before my system turns into Old Faithful. As a result, I have created my own Elba in the house.

Admittedly, it is a self-imposed exile. But, I do not dare get very far from the comfort of ceramic without the possibilities of a catastrophe spiking.

At the onset, I really did not feel like walking. I was too tired. But that was only for a day or two. My energy quickly recovered.

It then occurred to me that I have the perfect solution at hand. I can complete my daily walking regime without leaving the house. 100 laps is the equivalent of 5 miles.

Is it boring? You bet. Walking in circles makes me feel like a neurotic gnu wandering methodically but without purpose. But it is better than no exercise at all. And I have worked back up to walking 7 miles each day.

When I lived alone, I would play music while I walked onthe terrace to at least keep my mind active analyzing it. Now that I have a son, his television played at Mexican levels tends to drown out everything else.

This diarrhea problem will pass. I can then invite you back to the terrace for something a bit more entertaining. Maybe a game of Sorry?  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

not ready for prime time

I really should talk to someone about this obsessive disorder.

For some reason, I keep picking at the scab of our local OXXO store. You know the one. I have written about it twice (does that translate to hugs and kisses?; hugs and kisses). And that is just about the number limit of guest appearances on Mexpatriate. Well, unless you are a scorpion.

I had decided I had OXXOnerated myself of the topic. That is, until last week when the store opened. Some of you mentioned in your comments that you hoped Mexicans would support their local abarrotes instead of buying their beer and ice at OXXO.

Last Monday, the store had its grand opening. It was to be quite the event. Invitations (with discount coupons attached) were stuffed under front doors. Unfortunately, the invitation arrived under my door the day after the opening.

That was just as well because the store was not really ready for the event. The contractor had told me the date and time. When I showed up, the store was open, but the staff was busily gathering up the required paraphernalia of such sacred rites.

Balloons. Posters. Ear-piercing music blared from a speaker placed just right to blast the eardrums of anyone who had the temerity to join the celebration.

I went inside. And I was not alone.

The store was not packed. There were perhaps 15 of my neighbors looking at the merchandise.

My Telcel (cellular) bill had just arrived. So, I decided to take advantage of one of the best benefits of Mexican convenience stores. Financial services. For me, it is a place to pay my telephone, electric, and cellular bills. For my neighbors, it is cash transfer point. These stores help fill the gaps left by Mexican banks.

To be a good neighbor, I grabbed a bottle of mineral water, and got in line behind a young woman with two small children who were fascinated with all of the small sweets just at their eye level. Like mothers universal, she was haggard.

The clerk was not quite so focused. Or, maybe she was just frustrated. The customer wanted to purchase one item. Toilet paper. But the clerk was having trouble. When confronted with a credit card, more problems ensued.

I stood there for just under 10 minutes and decided my transaction could wait. (I should note I have seen similar problems at one of the other OXXO stores in Barra de Navidad.) By then, there were about six more people in line. I returned my bottle to the cooler and left.

Since then, I have noticed a steady stream of customers at the store. Lots of young mothers. But the main demographic seems to be young Mexican men on motor bikes. The front of the store looks as if it could be in Saigon in 1971.

I was positive I knew what that last group was buying. They tend to be a beer crowd. But, when I went inside, I discovered the beer coolers were locked. 

The only unlocked alcohol cooler had a sign asking customers not to open the door.

It turns out there is a licensing problem. If I understood my informant correctly, it will be another month before the matter is worked out. Maybe.

For a company that bases its revenue on the sale of Corona and Victoria, that seems to have been an odd detail for OXXO to overlook in choosing an opening date. Or, maybe other sales will meet the company's capital recapture scheme. Who knows?

What I do know is that the store was not quite ready to open. A week later, the clerks are far more confident in manning their stations -- even if they are OXXO-slow. As yet, my attempts to build a personal relationship (similar to what I have with the owner of our local grocery and with the Kiosko staff in Barra de Navidad) have been rebuffed. But everything takes time.

Because of my continued need to be close to a bathroom, I have been taking my exercise on the upper terraza of my house. 100 laps gives me 10 miles.

A few nights ago, I noticed a bright light shining through one of the architectural features where there had once only been darkness. It was the OXXO sign. Doing its best imitation of John Winthrop's shining city upon a hill.

It was startling when I first saw it. Now it is just part of the background of my little village rolling into the twenty-first century.

I suspect in another week or two, I will not even notice the home of the moto cowboys.

Monday, July 09, 2018

insulting my country

Saying nasty things about Mexico will irritate me. Saying ignorant things will bring out the mother bear in me.

I have been friends with Al for years. Since I moved to Mexico, we stay in touch through email. Not frequently, he will send me something he has recently read. Almost always about Mexico. He is interested in my take. I suspect because he is still a bit baffled that I would have moved here.

Yesterday he sent me an article from an online magazine that I would not usually read. The writers are a mixed bag. But most are former conservatives who have given into a nationalist and protectionist philosophy.

The article Al sent me was about AMLO's election as president of Mexico and what it means to both Mexico and the United States. I would have anticipated the author would have been appalled at the election of a socialist in a neighboring country. But I was wrong.

The world of politics is changing. The old left-right divide is starting to make little sense. The new paradigm of "inward-looking" and "outward looking" makes far more sense. Or, as the British would have it, "somewheres" and "anywheres."

AMLO falls perfectly within the new political paradigm. The author points out AMLO ran "not as a socialist, but as a national populist skeptical of globalist neoliberalism." Having run twice before for president as a social democrat, he remade himself this year into a national populist. The author's prediction is that the new Mexican president and the American president will be able to work well together because they share a lot of the same interests.

Take this gem, for example. "
AMLO critiques NAFTA for banning Mexico's traditional tariffs that protected its small corn farmers, whose ancestors had been growing corn for thousands of years. The beneficiaries were massively efficient Midwestern American farmers, whose cheap corn imports pushed huge numbers of Mexican peasants into illegally migrating to the US over the last quarter century."

We will skip over the factual errors in that statement because I am far more interested in its comic book view of economics. He builds on that to point out that the celebrated Trump-AMLO telephone call was a success because both of them have a deal in mind: trading American investments in Mexican infrastructure for Mexico's help in lowering Central American immigration.

The idea is interesting. After all, in congress, AMLO will depend on votes from his coalition partner, the Social Encounter Party (PES), a socially conservative Christian party with views similar to the Christian right in the United States. And AMLO shares a few of those views -- opposition to gay marriage, opposed to abortion.

But, that is not what really caught my eye in the article. In discussing American investment in infrastructure in post-Revolution Mexico, the author noted: "Mexican elites traditionally resisted the threat of American dominance, but at the expense of tolerating (and even promoting) a culture of mediocrity and accident-proneness in its population. Mexico’s superb real estate would attract an influx of Americans, but Mexicans have managed to make their country boring and distasteful to most Yankees besides Jeb Bush. Mexico’s shoddiness successfully repels gringos, but also limits its potential."

There is a lot of vitriol in that paragraph. The sharp elbow to Jeb Bush is an example. And there are a lot of good reasons why American businesses have been reluctant to invest in Mexico. But, I really take exception to the gratuitous insult that the country in which I live has purposely been created "boring and distasteful to most Yankees." Those adjectives are born of a nativist mind.

It is true that some aspects of life in Mexico may be distasteful. Cartels. Corruption. Drug addiction. A violent crime rate that continues to climb despite the promises of politicians.

But the positives of living here are tasteful (if that is the proper antonym). In fact, delectable. For most of us, the negative aspects of Mexico are a distant echo. (With the exception of the recent scourge of methamphetamine addictions that has repeatedly touched my life through Mexican friends.)

Those of us who choose to live here have done so for many reasons. For me, it s the challenge of living in a new country. The weather, the availability of fresh ingredients for meals, the ability of my neighbors to accept what life offers with aplomb. Those are all sweeteners on top.

And "boring?" That is obviously the opinion of a man who has not spent any time truly taking in the life of Mexico. How can any country based on fiestas, faith, and family be boring?

What AMLO and Trump decide to do with their relationship is something I am looking forward to. But, I am going to do it in my country of choice where every day is to be celebrated.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

blowing up jiminy cricket

It is cicada time in our neck of the jungle.

But you would not know it just by listening for them. Usually, the neighborhood is abuzz with the love calls of one of nature's oddest-looking insects. With their oversized eyes, Lane Bryant bodies, and disproportionate diaphanous wings, it is no wonder they have to sing so incessantly to find a mate.

I know they are out and about because I run into them (literally) every night on my terrace repurposed as an exercise track.

They are attracted to the light at night. When they are not mooning away staring into the light (which must be far more attractive than a mate), they are battering their bulky bodies against the sconces.

The sconces win. In the morning, the bodies of the cicadas are scattered across the equivalent of the Little Big Horn. And that strikes me as a rather odd way to conduct a reproductive cycle. Suicide rather than procreation.

Two weeks ago, I received an email from a friend in Salem. Like me, he loves playing with words.

"I am reading the memoir of Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road.

"Ms. Thurston, a black woman, grew up in Florida in the early 20s, amid people of great simplicity and little nuance.  As a child she would go out into nature, talking to trees, birds, and lakes.  One day she returned home and told her mother about having spoken to the lake, which allowed her to walk upon its surface without being drowned.  She recounted how she was able to look down upon the fish below and to see the life in the lake.

"Her grandmother overheard her stories and cautioned the mother that the child was lying and that if she didn't beat the lying out of the child now, it would only get worse."

I often meet people who confuse the use of the poetic with lying. And who are impoverished by their inability to see the world through different eyes.

When I visited Colombia with my cousin and his Colombian wife, she told me of a cricket that would sing one last song and then explode.

I knew she was referring to cicadas because we had been listening to them. But I had never thought of describing their life cycle as singing and then exploding. Like something from a Monty Python skit.

The genesis of the tale is obvious. After cicadas dig out of the soil where they have spent most of their life, they go through several stages of molting. My planters are currently filled with the husks of cicadas who have flown away to mate.

Sons of the enlightenment see the remnants of a life cycle. A poet sees an insect whose joy at being alive cannot be contained. It dies in one last burst of song. It is a very Latin view of life. Joy and death walking together toward the inevitable.

I probably scoffed when I heard the Colombian myth. I shouldn't have. There are things in life that are better explained by the music of poetry than the sterile language of facts.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

a paul harvey moment

Some stories are simply not ripe to write.

So it is with my essay on Thursday (not minding my own business). Had I waited one day to tell you the story, it would have had a completely different ending. That is, if any story really has an ending.

On Thursday, we left off with me slinking away from the door of my neighbor, who had rejected a chicken peace offering in way of apologizing for getting angry at her children. When I learned of her immigration status, her reaction made far more sense.

Yesterday, as I was returning from a medical trip in Manzanillo, I drove past our neighborhood grilled chicken stand. Something down deep told me to stop and buy two chickens. One for each of the mothers involved in Wednesday's passion play. My head said: Why bother? But that little voice -- the one that talks to us in whispers whenever we are about to do something we know we should not -- said: Try again.

And, so I did. I bought two full chicken meals and took them next door. My knock on the Central American mother's door was a mere tap. Her son was out in the hall with what has become his game face when I show up -- pure disdain and anger. I asked if his mother was home, and he just glared.

When I turned around, she was standing in the door with a perplexed look. I apologized again for my anger of Wednesday. And offered the meal as a reconciliation gift. (Yup. I used those words. In my overly-practiced Spanish.)

I could not have anticipated what happened next. She started sobbing softly looking at the food I had given her. "We have nothing to eat. Thank you." She started to give me a hug and thought better of it.

The other mother, hearing the exchange, came out of her apartment and asked if she could have the other chicken. I chuckled and told her I had brought it for her and her family.

Now, I do not believe that the rift I created has been healed. Transactional gratitude seldom works that way. Just ask any husband who has given his wife a guilty gift of flowers.

But, it is a start. Had I taken the time to get to know them when they moved in (as I usually do), the fallout would have been minimal. It is very difficult for me to get angry with people I know. Certainly over some torn plants.

Every church I have ever attended has a weekly magazine filled with stories to inspire congregants in exercising Christan virtues. They have their purpose. But, most of the stories have a similar story arc.

I lived next door to a grumpy man who hated me. The only thing he loved were his roses. One day, he fell in his garden. I helped him into his house and nursed him for a week. The day he was better, four dozen of his prize roses were on my porch.

Those "I was kind and received gratitude" stories have always grated me. First, because that is not how life usually works. And, second, because we are not virtuous in hope of praise. We are virtuous to soften our hearts to the needs of others.

Had my Central American neighbor refused my chicken a second time, it would still have been the right thing to do on my part. As it turned out, she had a need unknown to me -- and a need I would probably have missed had this tale not started in anger.

I am not certain if this really is a Paul Harvey moment or not. Because there may be more to this story in the future. I hope there is.

But for now, it is sufficient to say this is the rest of the story.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

not minding my own business

Boyé Lafayette De Mente needs a new chapter for his book. That is, if he were still alive.

You have probably read it. There's a Word for it in Mexico. De Mente wrote it is a dictionary to assist northern businessmen in their Mexican dealings. He not only defined the word, but did yeoman work in putting the word (or phrase) into a cultural context.

Such as the importance of properly executing the abrazo (embrace). Or why dignity comes first and the law last with personalismo. I always hear echoes of De Mente in Jorge Castañeda's writings about Mexican culture.

I wish De Mente had included a chapter on "No es asunto tuyo" (It's none of your business) -- a phrase I hear often and experience more frequently.

My neighbors are very private people. When I explain to some of my young Mexican friends what I write in my essays, they are surprised I would be so open with my life. (I usually retort that some of their Facebook postings are far more personal than what I write. They retort Facebook has a purpose -- to attract girls.)

I ran into the privacy attitude yesterday afternoon and today.

Last evening I was heading to a Fourth of July party when I noticed four children outside of my house. When I came out the front door, there was a pile of plant leaves. I did not think much of it until I noticed the children were pulling up my landscaping and tearing it into pieces.

And here is where I made mistake number one. Instead of stopping the car and asking the children not to molest the plants, I jumped out in my angry old white guy mode and asked what they were doing.

They are kids. They immediately lied claiming they had done nothing with the plants even though they were each holding the evidence in their hands.

I marched them to the apartment building next door where we ran into the mother of two of them. I told her what happened. She slapped the oldest boy across the side of his face. It was not the reaction I expected.

When I returned home, I had calmed down enough to realize I owed the children an apology for my outburst. So, again I went next door. The other older boy was there. When I started talking with him, his mother came out (not the slapping mother) and asked why I was talking to her child.

I explained what had happened earlier and that I was there to apologize. I told her, the children are free to play in front of my house, but they should not bother the plants.

I asked the boy if he would agree to that. His mother glared at me and told her son that he was to avoid white people because they will steal his organs. He immediately ran away. When I protested to her, she told me to leave.

Later that day, I talked to another of the apartment building's dwellers. I had heard that people in Central America believed that Canadians and Americans came to their country to take the organs of children for transplant. But I had never heard that calumny in Mexico.

Then it was clear. He told me she is from Central America and is living here illegally. She was afraid I was there to arrest her and her children and to deport them south.

There was so much to unravel in that story that I did not know where to begin. But I do know that food is often the universal language of reconciliation. I bought a dinner for her and her family today.

I showed up at her door with a grilled chicken dinner in my hands and a smile on my face. The only thing missing was a white flag.

I am not certain what I was expecting, but I was caught off guard when she pushed me away from her door and slammed it. I did get that message.

Not every story has a moral. But this one does. Had I minded my business and ignored the children's activity (my brother and I were guilty of far worse at that age), I would have had a different detente with my neighbors.

The unslapped boy now watches me with a combination of contempt and fear. My attempts at greeting him are met with stares that bear the seeds of revenge.

Is there anything particularly Mexican about this tale? Not really. Personal relationships do not lend themselves to syllogisms -- or even inductive reasoning. What happened here could probably happen anywhere (except for the odd organ thief motif).

In the future, I am simply going to take "No es asunto tuyo" to heart.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

happy fourth

This has been a week to show off the best patriotism of the NAFTA Three (as they will undoubtedly be known come the revolution).

Mexico held what may be a landmark election on Sunday. Canada celebrated the origins of its evolutionary birth on the same day. And, today, of course, is the day Americans have chosen to celebrate its Independence -- even though John Adams preferred the second, when Congress actually approved the resolution.

It feels a bit odd celebrating national days outside of the country that gave them birth. Election day here was the exception. It was easy to share in the excitement of choosing a new government just by watching the voters as they lined up in some very unforgiving heat. But it was an event taking place in the borders of the celebrating country.

The Canada and American holidays were the days with the odd vibrations. I have celebrated the Fourth of July in several foreign countries. The strangest was in Britain where touting a divorce while living with the other partner in the marriage had its sardonic moments.

There is always something of a colonial feel about tooting the horn of one's country while living or visiting in another. Or of celebrating Mexico's national days.  Especially when singing the Mexican national anthem:

But should a foreign enemy Profane your land with his sole, Think, beloved fatherland, that heaven gave you a soldier in each son. 
That "foreign enemy" was my country when the lyrics were written. And soon came to include Canada at the time of the Mexican Revolution.

I am prone to playing pranks on the Fourth of July. In Salem, I would fly the British flag merely to make the neighbors lift an eyebrow.

But, today there will be no pranks. Partly because flying foreign flags in Mexico without permission is a law violation.

Instead, for various reasons, I am reverting to my exercise and revised diet that I started a couple of years ago. I was supposed to attend a party this evening, but, for reasons of my own, I cannot.

Instead, I made a good start at putting together two healthy meals today.

For lunch, I made a sardine pâté of sardines, onion, serrano pepper, sweet pickle, tarragon, and olive oil. It was quite good on a bed of leaf lettuce.

For dinner I made an egg concoction. My nutritionist had recommended two poached eggs on a bed of sautéed spinach.

That struck me as something I would be fed in one of those old people holding pens just before being stuck in the ground. Instead, I 
sautéed onion, serrano pepper, tomato, kalamata olives, and spinach in olive oil along with two eggs mixed with marjoram. Because it sounded very Greek, I added some feta cheese along with a splash of balsamic vinegar.

I have been quite successful with my revised diet (more vegetables, fewer simple carbohydrates) whenever I am cooking for myself. My son, Omar, is a good cook in his own right. He has the choice of joining me or making his own. That will also mean far fewer trips to restaurants.

So, that is how I am celebrating the Fourth of July. No flags. No political speeches. No hot dogs.

Instead, I am celebrating the birth of a nation that I will honor as the place of my own birth. Where generations of citizens have had the great honor to bask in what Jonah Goldberg calls the Miracle -- 
the utterly unprecedented explosion of wealth and freedom that accompanied the emergence of liberal-democratic political arrangements and capitalist economic arrangements.

Let me lift a toast to the Miracle. Long may it thrive despite what successive governments have done to it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

i'm not an actor; i'm a movie star

I have been stuffing fistfuls of pâté down my nostalgia gullet the past few weeks while I recover from a stomach disorder.

Movies are a favorite personal pastime. I brought over 300 with me on the trip soutn, and I have accumulated more during the past ten years here. But, they were not apparently sufficient for my home theater.

So, through the graces of Amazon and DHL, I now possess a score more. All purchased during the past two weeks. (And, I should add, all delivered far more efficiently that my Telmex modem. Telmex could learn a lot from Amazon's customer service.)

My purchases have been a mixed bag. Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi has proven conclusively that Disney is capable of sucking the life out of any film franchise -- even when it is doing nothing more creative than slapping together a remake of the most popular first three films in the series. It was painful to watch. Especially, since it now a purchased edition to my collection.

But, there have been true hits. From Russia with Love. Chicago. The Stuntman.

Tonight, though, was my favorite of the lot: My Favorite Year. If not my favorite movie, it is certainly one of my favorite comedies.

The film is set in 1954 -- the narrator's "favorite year." He is the junior writer for one of television's golden age comedy-variety shows -- Comedy Cavalcade -- starring Stan "King" Kaiser. The narrator's favorite movie star -- Alan Swann -- is the show's guest star that week.

If you hear echoes of Sid Caesar, Your Show of Shows, and Errol Flynn, it is no accident. Good nostalgia pieces are always derivative.

What makes the movie a success is turning what could easily be two-dimensional characters into real people with real problems and talents. And you care. There are at least three scenes the direction of Richard Benjamin catches right on the edge of emotion -- without indulging in bathos or sentimentality. Well, maybe a little sentimentality.

The narrator's hero worship of the dashing hero Swann gets a full shellacking. When Swann is faced with some relatively small inconveniences, he melts. And melts in just the same manner as many of us would.

When Swann confesses he is afraid and he is not the hero he portrays in movies, the writer responds: 

To me you were! Whoever you were in those movies, those silly heroes meant a lot to me! What does it matter if it was an illusion? It worked! So don't tell me this is you life-size. I can't use you life-size. I need Alan Swanns as big as I can get them!
And let me tell you something: you couldn't have convinced me the way you did unless somewhere in you you had that courage! Nobody's that good an actor! You are that silly hero!
I think of that line whenever I hear someone rattle on about how their favorite politician will make all the difference in their lives if he is elected. And it is always a setup for failure. I was just thinking today about how much expectation some Mexicans are placing on their new president's shoulders. No man can bear that burden.

Nor can Swann. Being an American movie, he gains redemption by becoming a true hero. Putting himself second.

"The way you see him here. Like this. This is the way I like to remember him. I think if you would ask Alan Swann what was the single most gratifying moment in his life, he might have said this one right here."

And you would have to have a heart of stone to not feel a catch in the throat accompanied by a recognition that indeed we all have the potential to be heroes. Especially, if we are flawed.

I also relearned a cultural lesson. I had turned on the Spanish sub-titles to assist my son in watching the movie. But fully understanding the words did him no good in understanding what is a quintessential American movie. A realization that makes all the time I spend on my Spanish lessons  seem just a tad ironic.

This trip down the nostalgia cul-de-sac got me thinking about the type of things I brought with me to Mexico. When I sold my house in Salem, I left 98% of the possessions that had accreted in the 60 years of my life either at the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or the dump. Now, there is symbolism writ large.

What I brought with me fit perfectly into my Ford Escape. And it was an odd lot.

My coffee mugs are perfect examples. I tossed a full cupboard of them. What I brought was one each from my nephew Ryan, my friends Ken and Patti, my friend and co-worker Beth, and the inimitable Linda. Each one is important not for the ceramic, but for the memory.

For years, only I used them. Now that new people are using them, they are no longer quite as pristine as their memory might suggest. They are stained. Chipped. Cracked.

And that is the way they should be. I long ago decided I would no longer keep anything that needed museum care. If it could not be put to use by anyone at anytime, it had no place in my house.

That is the utility of nostalgia. We are not its slave. It is our servant -- to be trotted out when we want to think of those who cared enough to share their lives with us.

I guess, that, in itself, would make it my favorite year.