Sunday, September 30, 2018
So says Old Lodge Skins. It is one of my favorite lines from Little Big Man.
I know I have lived a long time when I start relying on old movies to give some meaning to my life. Or maybe I have been doing that for seven decades and just not realizing it until now.
I thought of that line this morning as I stepped out of the shower. Bathroom mirrors are a wonder. They do not need to lie to us -- to pretend to be nice. Unlike people, they have no need to sugarcoat the truth.
For the past four months, I have been losing weight. The first month was not officially part of my weight loss program. Even though I had started a healthy diet and was regularly exercising, I lost a good deal of weight in June primarily through recurring diarrhea. A month of it.
Multiple trips to the doctor never solved the problem. It just went away. But, blood tests revealed some disturbing news. Almost everything was high. Including my blood pressure.
So, I upped my game. I switched to a low carbohydrate-high fat diet and set a goal of 15 miles per day. And that is what I stuck with through the start of September. As a result, I lost 35 pounds. And then I plateaued.
I have now modified my diet to include a 16-hour fasting regimen along with consuming moringa and jamaica teas. That has not yet done much good. My blood pressure has increased and I have gained five pounds.
But I am giving it time. The pounds may be the result of a hiatus in walking due to a knee annoyance.
That still means I have lost 30 pounds.
When I looked at myself in the mirror this morning, I did not recognize the guy I was eyeing. And it was not my spiffy new haircut that was disorienting.
It was obvious I had lost weight. I could see that in my face. But it was my upper torso that caught my attention. My shoulders. My chest. They have disappeared. My clothes tend to hang on me now as if I had dressed from my father's closet.
I now understand the reaction I have received from people who have not seen me recently. To a person, they ask if I have been ill -- or something similar.
The only exception was a Canadian friend who commented on how thin I looked. I chuckled and told her what other people had been saying. She sighed and said: "Oh, good. I thought the same thing, but I thought it would be rude to say it." She is not a bathroom mirror.
None of this really bothers me. I have been fascinated with death since I was about 4. But it is the first time in my life I have had to confront the fact that I am feeling my age.
Now, I am not one of those people who have a neurotic fear of aging or dying. You know them. The people who rattle on about how everyone thinks they look 10 or 20 or 30 years younger than they are. That is, of course, nonsense. We all look our age because that is the age we are.
And putting on delusional masks will not change the basic fact of life -- we all die. We need to get over it.
I suspect I know what shocked me while I was looking in the mirror. I have always prided myself on looking vigorous. I have a Mexican friend who once made his living mugging people. He told me he always looked for people with obvious weaknesses. Old people were a favorite target because they look as if they would not put up a fight. He told me he would never pick me as a target because I walk too fast.
Those days may be over. I was thinking of painting a large bull's eye on my back. With my bum knee, I now look like the wildebeest the crocodiles would choose first for dinner. Fragility is one of the gifts of old age that will accrue interest.
Several years ago, The American Spectator ran a symposium on the issue of heaven. It included pieces from an atheist, an evangelical Christian, and a Jewish rabbi. The atheist and the Christian both wrote well-reasoned, logical pieces on their view of the concept of heaven. But I could have each myself. I found nothing new in them.
The rabbi's piece stood out. He started, as any good rabbi would, by pointing out we were asking the wrong question. The question is not what heaven will be like, but how we should be living our lives here. By focusing on heaven, we completely forget the basic teaching of Torah. To love God above all else. And to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. By doing that, we help to create a bit of heaven where we live.
I suspect I liked the piece because the rabbi I follow said almost exactly the same thing two thousand years ago.
So, instead of worrying about how I have now become old, maybe I should be thinking about how I share the last few of my years with the people around me. And it is a lesson I need to learn. Especially now, as the political world I once found familiar seems to have gone stark raving mad.
There is magic in the rabbi's words. But, only if they are put into practice.
For those of you who recall the closing scene of Little Big Man, you know Old Lodge Skins utters that famous line as he lies down in the burial ground hoping to die with dignity. Instead, it rains.
He looks up at Jack Crabb and says: "Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't." They walk back to the Indian village for dinner.
And, I guess that is how I feel, as well. Sometimes the magic works. And it helps us through the times when it doesn't.
Saturday, September 29, 2018
It never has been.
When I lived in Oregon, a fancy front-loading washing machine and matching dryer haunted the darker corners of my basement. The dark was not the problem. It was finding time to turn my soiled linen into something a gentleman could wear.
Every three weeks or so, I would wander to the basement, usually with Professor Jiggs in tow, and retrieve my clothes from the laundry chute. Then, there was the usual sorting pieces, measuring detergent, setting the proper controls, and waiting.
The waiting was easy. I usually dd it in the hot tub in my backyard. The whole process, at best, could be categorized as a nuisance.
All of that went away when I moved to Mexico.
My life in Mexico is quite different than the one I led in Oregon. And laundry tops the list of thins I no longer do.
Well, I did. When I lived on the beach for my first eight months in Mexico, I used the washing machine at the rental and sun-dried my underwear as if they were tomatoes.
But, I broke that habit when I discovered there were women who took great pleasure in laundering my clothes. Making them smell mountain fresh. And then folding them. At a nominal charge.
My laundry for a week (including clothes, sheets, and towels) costs me around $75 (Mx) -- about 4 dead Washingtons (US). I couldn't get a coffee at Starbucks in Salem for that.
I have discovered only one fly in the burrito with my little plan. Whenever laundry leaves the owner's hands to be combined with other bags of laundry, things get lost. How can I lose socks on my own washing machine without expecting something to go missing at the laundry?
And they do. Socks, of course. Or, more accurately, one sock. Socks seem to be no more faithful to one another than teenage love affairs.
But, the most common items to go missing from my laundry are pillow cases, hand towels, and bath towels.
I like quality in my bedding and towels. So, I am willing to pay good prices for both. And I have.
It is not unusual for me to send four pillow cases out the door and receive three in return. The same goes for towels. Socks? I understand how they get lost. But towels and pillow cases?
About once a month, I will find a piece of clothing that is obviously not mine. My favorite was the fuchsia bra. Once, over half of the clothes in my bag were not mine.
I dutifully return the items to the laundry. However, I have never been offered one of my missing items in return.
The first time I discovered I was not getting everything back from the laundry, I came up with a perfect northern solution. I made a list itemizing all of my items, as if I were spending the night at the London Ritz, and attached it to my laundry bag. When I returned for my laundry, I checked each item on the list.
A pair of underwear was missing. I showed Maria the list, she nodded, looked through the clothes she had given me, and -- shrugged. I later heard that she had concluded I thought she was stealing my clothes because of my obsession (her word) with the list.
I understood her reasoning. We northerners need to keep our cultural radars working. Our Mexican neighbors quite often laugh at many of our foibles. We do not need to make it worse by being inadvertently offensive. I have never used the list idea again.
But I still am missing clothes occasionally after changing laundries three times. It just seems to go with the business.
Now, I will turn the talking stick over to you, my trusty readers. Do you have any suggestions?
Let me cut one idea off before it takes flight. I have a washing machine at the house that Dora, the woman who helps me clean the house, uses. My son also uses it and then hangs his clothes out on the railings of the house making the courtyard look like a brothel set in a Fellini film. I am not going to add to that.
Of course, it is possible that I will do as I so often do in Mexico: I will accept the bad with the good. Worrying over an occasional missing tea towel is not the reason I came to Mexico. What goes missing can be replaced.
At least, I have been freed from the tedium of laundry. And I do not want to re-trace that particular path.
Friday, September 28, 2018
How does that line go?
"Hey, wasn't it me who said
That nothin' good's gonna last forever?"
I think that is it. And it is true.
Nothing in our lives is permanent. We live as transients passing through an ever-changing sea of circumstances.
Two weeks ago, my blogger pal Gary Denness (The Mexile) announced an end to the blog he had been writing for over fifteen years. His reason was a familiar one. Blogging had been fun, but he now felt that writing his blog was just an exercise. A tautology.
I fully understand his reasoning. I have handed in my essay resignation at least twice now. But I am the Michael Myers of blogging. I just keep coming back.
Gary now joins a long list of fellow bloggers who no longer write for one reason or another.
I started reading Mexico blogs in 2006, I think. I had started researching places to retire. Not for myself, but for my sister-in-law. Mexico was the obvious option.
Back then, finding information on the internet was more difficult than today. I felt like Indiana Jones uncovering Maya ruins.
Somehow, I ran across my first blogger. I am not certain who it was. I suspect it was an older woman living solo in the under-developed beach town of Chacala. Andee.
I immediately liked her. She was irascible. Direct. Honest. And, it turned out, extremely hard to get to know. But, I did. She convinced me to start writing a blog about my decision-making process. Thus was born Same Life -- New Location (Mexpatriate's predecessor).
There were other bloggers in that early group. Babs. Felipe. Jennifer. Nancy. Billie. Don Cuevas. And a few others who played a big part in encouraging me not only to write, but to make the jump across the border.
Over the years, most of the bloggers I knew have stopped writing. Andee died. Some had health issues. Quite a few moved their writing to Facebook. Others simply disappeared.
We humans tend to find some comfort in routine. We like to open our Kindles to find our favorite newspaper. And we fret when it hasn't downloaded.
Every blog I have read over the years has added something to my life. And I have become friends with people whose work I have read over the past decade.
For that reason, I would be churlish to say I do not feel a touch of remorse when a fellow blogger shuts down his press. It is almost as if a part of me has slipped into a coma.
That is how I feel about Gary's departure from the blog realm. But I have a certain reassurance that he is still out there in Britain fuming about Brexit while he keeps the English train system operating.
I thank him for his service. And, for all of the other authors of blogs current and past, I thank you, as well. We are an odd little community. But, a community, nonetheless.
Now. What is the next line of that song?
"And wasn't it me who said
Let's just be glad for the time together?"
I am certainly glad for that time.
Thursday, September 27, 2018
I cannot be certain, but she may have been talking about Mexico when she sang "I Hear a Symphony." Because I certainly do. Every day.
Mexico is not a shrinking violet when it comes to noise. It is more like a megaphonic trumpet vine. And that is fine with me.
Every day, I am surrounding by sound. It starts early in the morning when at least three separate boom boxes or truck radios are cranked up to distortion level. I think they all play different music, but it is hard to tell through the blown-out phhht-phhht-phhht tweeters.
But, that is just part of the brew that includes the cry of chachalacas that sound like a piece of equipment about to fail, along with pieces of real equipment that are about to fail. And the loudspeakers of gas trucks, water trucks, and vendors selling everything from holy water elixir to tomatoes and pineapples. The piercing whistle of the knife sharpener is almost pleasant by comparison.
As I sit here writing in the patio, I hear them all. And yet I don't.
When I first moved to Mexico, I could hear every separate sound. And it was not pleasant. At some point over the years, it has now simply faded into the background. As if it were a national tapestry. Something that is just there. Without pausing and listening very carefully, I could not have written that list of noise sources.
But that is not always the case. Sometimes, a new sound will stand out from the others. Because it is new. Or different. Or both.
That happened today. Amongst the usual melange was something odd. Mechanical. Insistent. Almost military in its momentum. It sounded as if it might be at the hotel construction site.
Of course, I had to go investigate. And I was correct. It was at the hotel.
A cement mixer. Now, for most of you,the sight of a cement mixer is not a major event. But they are not extremely common here. Most cement is mixed on the ground.
Or, at least, I thought they were not common. On my morning walk, I saw at least two more. One at a residential site around the corner from me and another at a commercial site next to the new butcher shop.
And that got me thinking about the amount of construction that has been underway this summer in Barra de Navidad. Some residential remodeling. But quite a few new houses and businesses.
Our little village is growing. That is a good sign for the vitality of the community. The appearance of OXXOs and Kioskos means there must be more local and tourist disposable income coming our way.
Our village has quite a few homes that have been under construction for years. I can think of two that were finally finished in a mere additional two months this summer.
And the hotel we have been watching is quickly becoming a reality. "Hotel" is probably the wrong word. I had been hoping for a hot sheets place. That is not going to happen. This is more like a set of bungalows.
The pool is almost done, and the walls of the bungalows are starting to rise. That cement mixer runs for almost twelve hours each day.
Now that I know what the new sound is, it will fade into the background along with Luis Miguel and Vincente Fernandez crooning next door.
All we need now are the percussive bursts of cohetes.
I wonder if that is what Diana Ross had in mind?
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Some blog topics stir the blood.
There are two classic Untouchables (religion and politics). Both of which occasionally put in cameo appearances on Mexpatriate. But, not today.
Oddly, traffic seems to be a topic on reader's radar. At least, over on Facebook.
I post links to my periodic postings on my Facebook page and two other Mexico groups I belong to. While Disqus was acting up, my comments dropped precipitously here. But, on Facebook, they have soared. Especially, on the topic of our first traffic signal in San Patricio (you light up my life).
Everyone who lives in our area, visits periodically, or has ever seen a photograph of a car in The New Yorker has an opinion on what is best for the traffic flow in our little burg. Of course, I started it by saying that I will live with the new light -- even though I would have preferred a traffic circle.
Several readers suggested the light was being installed at the wrong intersection. They would have preferred it to be installed where Lopez Mateos (the main street of San Patricio --if that is not putting too much lipstick on the pig) crosses Highway 200.
That makes some sense. Lopez Mateos does not have the elevation issues that face drivers on Álvaro Obregón, but Lopez Mateos seems to bear a heavier traffic load. Getting on or off of the highway there is like playing roulette with the god of bent fenders.
And that is exactly what happened in today's photograph. In Mexico, the law (or custom, I am not certain which), requires a driver who wishes to turn left off of a thoroughfare, to pull to the right, wait until traffic clears, and then cut left across all lanes.
It makes sense. That method allows the traffic to flow, instead of waiting for someone to turn.
Not everyone does that. In fact, hardly anyone does it. Even though there is a left-turn lane on the lateral at that intersection, most drivers just toss out the anchor and try to worm through any hole that opens up. With no turn signal.
Yesterday, a woman driving a white car did just that. But she chose unwisely. She abruptly stopped right in the path of a dump truck.
That is her standing in the street. You can see the paint transfer she donated to the dump truck's bumper.
Fortunately, it appears no one was hurt. That is not always the case where trucks are involved. Just before I left for San Miguel de Allende, a dump truck ran into a tourist bus killing a couple of the passengers, including the driver, I believe.
That last sentence would have ended up in my termination if I had written it for any of the newspapers and magazines to which I have contributed over the past six decades. My source was the chief fount of information in our little villages -- rumor.
And I am about to add another sin to my bucket. I have reason to believe what I told you about the traffic light on Álvaro Obregón. After all, I see evidence that it is being installed. And it was confirmed by someone I know who closely tracks the machinations of the state and local governments.
This little tidbit has not been vetted. Other than the fact it comes from a Mexican businessman who is civilly active.
I told him about yesterday's accident and mentioned that some of my readers thought the new traffic signal should be at the Mateos intersection. He agreed.
Then, he told me, there is going to be one there. And street lights are going to be installed on Mateos through downtown. At night, the main street is as dark as my chances of becoming the first American protestant pope. (Even though I have chosen my papal name.)
Fortunately, he stopped before verifying the new McDonald's in Barra de Navidad and the Carl's, Jr. in San Patricio. He left those announcements to me.
So, like many things here, patiently waiting brings results. And it gives me another storyline to follow.
What could be a better result than that on a Wednesday morning?
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Time solves all mysteries.
It just solves some of them quicker than others.
You remember that multi-purpose local hill that once provided tsunami shelter for grade-school children, a screen against hurricane winds, and a billion-peso panoramic view of our quaint little commune? (where there never was a hill)
The mystery was why the company had left a tiny needle of the hill next to the highway untouched. There is a small pillbox structure at the top. I considered the possibility that the outhouse might have some sort of historical significance. But this is Mexico. Preservation is not a high priority.
So, there it sat looking like a groom's snaggle-toothed grin at an Ozarks wedding.
If I had looked closer at my own photographs, I would have had my answer. But, I didn't. Yesterday, all was made clear.
I needed to run some errands in San Patricio. Because it is only a 4-mile walk, I usually stroll over there and back. Being an old geezer, I managed to do something to my left knee. It is not bad, but walking was not on the agenda. So, I drove.
As I was passing the hill, I noticed CFE (our national electric company) was erecting new utility poles and stringing lines. From my perspective, it appeared they had run the lines to a new pole on top of the rump of the hill.
That seemed very odd for CFE. Even though it is a government agency, it is one of the most efficient institutions in Mexico. Whenever hurricanes are predicted, CFE marshals its trucks throughout Mexico to places as close as possible to predicted landfalls.
And they always have power restored quickly. Sometimes, in hours. Other times, just a couple days. This is not Puerto Rico.
CFE is a company that understands its market and customers. If no power is supplied, there will be no revenue coming to CFE.
That is why placing that major line on top of a hill that will get the brunt of hurricane winds seemed to be out of character. To be blunt, it seemed illogical.
And, it was, because that is not what was happening. The old line had run across the top of the hill. CFE had installed new poles at the base and had removed a weather-related problem.
Today, it was the turn of Telecable (our local company that provides cable television here, but not internet). Its workers were re-stringing the television cable. I assume Telmex (the telephone company) has already done its job.
And what now for our Ozarks groom? Is he awaiting his time in the Tower to have what is left of his pride lopped off (to truly cuisinart my metaphors)?
I don't know. I could not find anyone working the rock operation today. And the Telecable guys were as clueless as I would expect them to be. They were there to maintain service, not to be interrogated by Geraldo Rivera.
I guess that is just a mystery fragment that will entail more time to resolve.
And I will be right there to open Al Capone's safe for you. Maybe that is what is in that building.
Monday, September 24, 2018
I love driving in Mexico.
Where else can you share a highway with the combined forces of the Avengers and X-Men?
That is the only conclusion I can draw. My fellow drivers must have super powers I cannot even fathom. And I am not talking about those faux heroes like Ms. Second Guess, who has the uncanny ability to offer advice two days too late.
I am talking about real super powers. The Super Mom eyes-in-the-back-and sides-of-her-head type of powers. The real deal.
Let me tell you my tale, and I will let you add the conclusion.
This morning I was driving from Barra de Navidad to San Patricio. A short four-mile drive.
You already know about Nueva España, the main east-west street in my neighborhood. Between my house and the highway are eleven streets that feed into Nueva España from the north. Because I was heading west, those streets were on my right.
I do not know why I did it, but I started keeping track of the number of vehicles that came from my rigfht. The first was a pickup at the first intersection. The next intersection was a bicycle. Of the 11 streets, 7 vehicles pulled in from the right. 2 bicycles. 2 motorcycles. 3 cars or pickups.
And they all did exactly the same thing. Or didn't do the same thing. No one looked to the left to see if a car (me, in this instance) was coming. I had to brake for 5 of them. One bicycle actually brushed my front fender. Even then, the bicyclist didn't look.
Today was not some great exception caused by a full moon, a plague of flies, or Mars transiting Jupiter, as far as I know. It is the same driving behavior I have encountered since I moved here. To my northern reasoning, it seems to be a complete disregard for self-preservation.
I added two more examples in San Patricio. There is a very narrow street near the town square where cars parked on both sides of the street make driving almost Panama Canal narrow. I carry a five gallon can of olive oil to smear on the sides of my SUV to squeeze thorough. A taco restaurant has moved tables into the street to complicate the maneuvering.
As I was edging my way through the chaos today, two middle-aged men came around the side of the taco condiment table, looked straight at me driving toward them, and stood there in the traffic lane dressing their tacos. I waited the minute or two it took them to decide on which salsa would best complement their folding food.
A block further, I started to turn a corner when an Indian vendor stepped right in front of my car without looking. I braked hard enough that my tires squealed. She glanced at me and kept on her way.
I have raised this behavior with several Mexican friends in the past. But I put the same question to four of them today. (One is guilty of the same behavior. I have seen him mount his motorcycle and pull into the street without clearing for traffic. He has had several near collisions.)
The answers I received today were even more confusing than the driving behavior. But they were consistent with Jorge Castañeda's first cultural contradiction in Mañana Forever? I certainly would not have come close to the reasoning they used.
But, rather than pollute the opinion pot with their responses, let me ask you. In your Mexican driving experience, why do other drivers not clear for traffic before entering a street?
I would really like to hear your thoughts.
As for me, I am working on developing my own super power to compensate for my driving frustration. Maybe I could just turn myself into Oblivious Man.
It would not be a reach.
Sunday, September 23, 2018
I had no idea what was happening. It looked liked a coven of fluorescent witches had checked into Melaque
When I returned from San Miguel de Allende at the end of last month, I encountered a road crew on the main north-south highway running through Melaque. The crew had begun to cut the asphalt and dig a trench between the lateral road and the parallel highway.
I suspected the island that separates the two lanes was being extended. It made sense. That intersection is a target-rich environment to traverse. Installing a demilitarized zone might bring some peace.
One of Melaque's main streets intersects the highway there. The street's official name is Álvaro Obregón -- honoring the revolutionary general and president who was implicated in several Mexican assassinations and ended up dying on the wrong end of another assassin's gun.
But no one calls it Álvaro Obregón. It is either called "Whorehouse Street" for the business establishments it hosts or "calle de mariposas" (Butterfly Street) honoring the world's worst transvestite show company that was once resident there. (The bar is now closed for reasons that you will never see in writing here.)
Whatever the street is called, when it intersects with Highway 200, it becomes one of the most dangerous intersections I have ever encountered. (Probably the most dangerous is just one block away in Villa Obregón, where traffic entering from Reforma meets the highway.)
If you have ever tried to enter or leave the highway at Álvaro Obregón, you know what I mean. The street enters a drainage ditch immediately before it climbs a steep grade to the highway. To avoid waiting on the incline, vehicles usually pull part way onto the highway.
As I mentioned earlier, there are laterals on both sides of the highway. Traffic entering from Álvaro Obregón will often pull horizontally into the lateral lane causing oncoming traffic to pause -- or crash, whichever seems more convenient. The traffic turning onto Álvaro Obregón from the highway is forced to stop because there is no place to drive.
The solution? At first, I thought the extended median's sole purpose was to channel traffic more efficiently when turning across the highway. But, I was only partially correct.
It is actually a turning lane. My sleepy little town is getting its first traffic light. At the bottom of the photograph, you can see where it is to be attached.
Here is what I know. Apparently, the state government (Jalisco) has appropriated $1.5 million (MX) to upgrade Highway 200 through Melaque, including the traffic light. Even though that sounds like a lot of money, it is less than $80,000 (US). I doubt that would pay for an American consultant to start thinking about a traffic signal in Salem.
I do not know when the work will be complete. But I have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly the preparation work was completed.
I am not a big fan of traffic signals. The studies I have seen is that accidents increase when new signals are installed. A major contributing factor, of course, is they often catch drivers by surprise.
If I had been asked, I would have suggested traffic circlets. Probably, three in Melaque. There certainly is space, and I like their feel. A cross between a carousel, bumper cars, and a re-make of Mad Max.
But, no one asked me. And I always feel a bit churlish when I start acting like an old expatriate or tourist who sees any change as a threat to some sort of imaginary paradise.
And for some reason that reminds me of Emma Stone's brilliant delivery of her monolog in Birdman: "You're doing this because you're scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don't matter. And you know what? You're right. You don't. It's not important. You're not important. Get used to it."
That is exactly what I am going to do. Because it does not really matter, I am going to get used to it.
Whether I obey it or not will be another essay.
Saturday, September 22, 2018
My trip to Manzanillo yesterday was a double clip job.
The one I told you about yesterday -- getting a spiffy Daniel Craig haircut at the Man Harbor (don't tell my mom) -- and a far more expensive (and less fulfilling) one at the Ford dealership.
I am not enamored with any dealership garage. As Felipe said yesterday: "They are more interested in replacing than in repairing." And that is true. Whether here or in The States. It just goes with the business.
Most expatriates in Mexico find a local mechanic to meet their car repair needs. After ten years, you would think I would have my own. Fortunately, other than repeated flat tires, I have not needed much mechanical help.
That is, until I hit the rock that fell off the top of a dump truck's load (moving to Mexico -- driving the demons). That was only a year and a half ago. What appeared, at the time, to be nothing more than a peeled-back wheel and shredded tire eventually turned into a series of suspension problems.
And it gave me a great opportunity to delve into the expatriates-supporting-one-another grab bag. I told acquaintances what had happened, and asked if they knew a reliable mechanic who could help. If there was more than one person making the suggestion, the other would immediately chime in about how the suggested mechanic was a robber and apparently had some parentage issues.
I tried one mechanic. That did not go well. The second mechanic re-did everything, and decided the best way to modify my front end wheel issue would be the liberal use of a hacksaw.
By the time both of them were finished customizing my SUV, I took it to the dealership. That was this last winter. My Escape slipped into the bowels of the Ford dealership, and I was not to see it again until I paid a Getty-sized ransom two weeks later.
But it ran fine. It almost felt like a new vehicle.
I fear my driving style in San Miguel de Allende last month may have caused it to have a relapse. The steering system made a terrible noise and was not very responsive.
Because of my last experience in Manzanillo, I was reluctant to take it to the dealer. But steering is nothing to ignore. I can minimize a lot of things in my life. Automobile steering is not one.
I have yet to leave the Escape at the dealer without accepting the fact that it will be there until the garage doors are being locked in the evening. So, I spent the day walking around Manzanillo.
When I returned about 5, I was informed my car was fixed, but it just needed to be washed. 10 more minutes. After an hour, it was still not on the ready line.
Even after it showed up, the usual delay ballet began. All I wanted to do was to pay and leave. But that is not an option.
The Ford service department is worse than restaurants here who seem to be shocked when customers ask for the bill. The cashier then takes almost as long as the full meal to figure out the cost of the items consumed. As if we lived in that socialist paradise Venezuela where prices change every minute.
The customer representative wandered back and forth from the copier to her computer to the parts desk to the cashier. Finally, I had a bill to pay. And did. But it seemed rather low for all of the service I requested.
And I was about to find out why.
When I went to the waiting room to retrieve my fob, the same customer representative handed me another stack of papers. I could see by the descriptions in Spanish they all related to my steering problem. I asked her why I needed all of these replacement parts. She responded by reading the name of the parts.
I told her I knew what the parts were, but why did I need replacement parts? Glancing at the total, the same amount of money would buy me a first class airline ticket from Mexico City to London. Well, I might only be able to fly over the Azores before being ejected. But it was a fair amount of cash.
The woman and I had had a similar conversation on my last visit. I really do not blame her. She is not a mechanic. Her expertise is making customers wait when they should be on the road. And she does a darn good job.
Last time, she called in a salesman who could speak rather good English. He simply translated the names of the parts into English. I told him I knew what the parts were, but why did I need replacements? He said he was a salesman, not a mechanic.
So, I walked back into the shop with the list and found the mechanic. In Spanish and excellent English, he went over each part and told me why it needed to be replaced. I left satisfied.
This time, she called in a young woman to perform almost an exact reprise. The mechanic had already quit for the day.
I fumed in a pool of ignorance for about five minutes getting no answers to my questions. Then, I did exactly what she hoped I would do. I just gave up, pulled out my credit card, and signed over hours of my earned income to a business who has no idea how to lure customers back to buy another Ford.
The parts are supposed to arrive in Manzanillo in two or three days. I am not holding my breath -- as if I could for even that optimistic prediction. I will then drive once again to Manzanillo to get a repair I do not fully understand, and leave as an irritated customer. Or former customer.
Even though Hondas lack sex appeal, I may start plowing that field. In the very near future.
Friday, September 21, 2018
It could not be that long.
Since I had my last haircut.
I remember having thought about getting one before I went to Disneyland for a friend's wedding. And when I flew north for my aunt's memorial service. And when I went to appearance-obsessed San Miguel de Allende for the chamber music festival.
But that would have been March, May, and August. How would that be possible?
A swift look at Quicken told me the news. It really had been six months since my last haircut. 17 March -- to be exact.
I knew my hair had grown out of control when my neighbors and the San Patricio postmaster told me I looked like Donald Trump.That, at least was an improvement over what my law school classmates called me when my hair grew unruly. They said I was a doppelganger for Charles Laughton.
I must have looked surprised each time the Trump comparison was made because, without missing a beat, my Mexican neighbors would add a defensive coda: "But, I like Trump." With an additional caveat:"He is a strong leader. Just like AMLO."
Now, I do not know if that was the Mexican avoidance of confrontation boiling to a masked surface. But, even though I was more surprised than offended, I do not want to look like The Donald. How about Brad Pitt? Or, with my recent weight loss, I would settle for David Niven. But, it was obvious the time had come to seek out a Delila.
While I was in San Miguel de Allende last month, the hills and cobblestones there managed to shake loose every bolt in my SUV. An oil tanker would have had more responsive steering than my Escape when I returned to Barra de Navidad.
So, off to the Ford dealer I took it this morning. That shop has one of the least efficient front desks I have ever encountered. And I have been in a lot of repair shops over the past five decades.
Once my car enters the garage portal, I will not see it until the end of the day. Or, as once happened, for two weeks. So, I knew I had plenty of time to walk the streets of Manzanillo on my 15-mile daily quest. And to get a haircut.
Manzanillo's upscale shopping mall (Punto Bahia) has a barber shop. And, as you would expect in an upscale center, the barber shop has an upscale name. Man Harbor.
I kid you not. A barber shop that sounds like a San Francisco bathhouse. With a name like that, you know your hair will not be cut by some guy named Red or Butch.
And I was correct. It was Dante (you know, like the Italian poet) who was to tame my mane.
The shop looked as if it could be an annex of Brook's. I almost expected one of the cutters to ask if I would like a gin and tonic while I read The Telegraph.
But, like most snarky first impressions, mine was wrong. The place proved to be just as down home as Bob's Barber Shop in Oak Grove.
Even though Dante was born and grew up in Manzanillo, he had just returned from living the past couple of years in Chile. We swapped South America tales -- especially about food. He did not like Chile's. We both liked Peru's.
The young receptionist joined in when she found out I had not been to a barber for six months. I do not need to get a lecture from my mother because the receptionist has already ticked that box. In full chide mode.
My conversation with her (and with Dante) was entirely in Spanish. And, no, I did not understand every word, But I understood every thought. And that felt good.
What felt even better is that I translated for another customer sitting in the barber chair next to mine -- a young sailor from India whose curly locks were baffling the other cutter. I almost felt as if I was starting to belong in Mexico.
Other people have said it better (and certainly more often) -- that it is impossible to fully enjoy Mexico without a smattering of Spanish. The more the better. Not learning Spanish is like eating the peel of an apple, throwing the rest away, and then claiming to know all about apples.
Translating may have made me feel even better, but what made me feel best was a compliment from the receptionist who shifted from style critic to sycophant without breaking a sweat. When Dante had completed his scissor cut, she smiled at me and told me I looked far better. "Just like James Bond."
That caught me off guard. She thinks I look like Sean Connery? That would be a first.
Then, I took the generation gap into account. I asked if she meant Daniel Craig. She responded: "That's him. Yes." She, of course, was certifiably mad with that comment. But, take that, Donald Trump.
And all of this entertainment cost me a mere $150 (Mx) -- or about $8 (US). A stylish cut and witty banter. The amount was about three times higher than what I pay in San Patricio. But both the trim and the conversation were a cut above.
The next time I need to have my hair cut, the Man Harbor will be high on my list. And it will not take another six months.
Who knows? By then, I might look like Donald Sutherland.
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Like Willie Nelson, I am on the road again.
Several of you picked up on a clue I embedded in thread three of stirring the pot. In July, my doctor diagnosed one of those medical conditions that can be serious if not taken seriously. And when taken seriously, it is just plain annoying.
I say "annoying," because the cure is something we know we should all be doing. All of the time. Eating healthy and getting out of the house to exercise (or, often in my case, going upstairs).
Everyone loves taking pot shots at the American diet. It is easy to see why. As a people, we make fat targets.
You may think the OECD is just a nosy parker when it comes to education (taking AMLO to school). But the group is watching you in ways you never imagined. The 36 member richer-country organization keeps track of our cumulative weight. Its 2017 "Obesity Update" is larded with interesting morsels.
The United States easily tips the scales as the fatty rich nation. But it is closely followed by Mexico, New Zealand, Hungary, Australia the United Kingdom, and Canada. It almost makes you wonder if speaking English may have something to do with causing the scale numbers to spin like a slot machine.
But, the United States better not rest on its couch. Mexico is right on its slow-moving heels, and its rate of increasing girth is faster than that north of the border.
If you put the OECD list of obesity next to a list of diabetes prevalence, an interesting correlation appears.
That sentence is what a professor of rhetoric would call a distortion of numbers. The top 23 countries on the diabetes prevalence list are not OECD members, but they do have eye-watering rates of diabetes. It is not until we get to number 24 that the first OECD country appears.
And that country is Mexico -- with the United States in 43rd place.
No one should be surprised. The connection between obesity, diabetes, and the ingestion of a diet grouped around carbohydrates and other sugars has long been known -- for Mexico, think tortillas, for the United States think dinner rolls.
As long as I can remember, my doctors have told me to cut back on carbohydrates to improve my health. Of course, I chose not to listen. The pretzels and bizarrely-flavored potato chips were far too tempting.
Even though I knew intellectually that eating those carbohydrates would come to no good, the pleasure outweighed some future bad consequence. Yeah. I know. That is exactly what an alcoholic or methamphetamine addict would say. I heard that justification a lot in professional and personal conversations. But I never applied that common sense to my own life.
Several years ago, I was sitting on a couch with my mother at my brother's ranch watching a movie. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her glance at me and then look back at the screen. The next time she looked over, I asked: "What?"
In an eerily unmodulated voice, she recited in iambic pentameter like one of Macbeth's witches: "If you do not lose sixty pounds soon, you will die a terrible death."
I was somewhat taken aback as she swiveled her head back to the movie. "Oh, gypsy woman," said I, "Do you see anything else in your crystal ball?"
I tell that story not because my mother was correct (she was), but to illustrate a point about me. There is something in me that relates to the monarch in House of Cards: "I do not react well to bullying."
The most obvious example was the nurse Ratched in a Bend emergency room several years ago. I had gone to the hospital for unusually high blood pressure.
For eight hours, I was hooked up to all sorts of medical equipment while the medical staff pretended to be doing something. Occasionally, someone would show up to drain more fluids for additional tests. (It turned out that I had taken the wrong medication. But none of the highly-trained professionals caught it, even when they looked at my medication.)
Nurse Ratched would return repeatedly to give me a lecture about how I was undoubtedly diabetic and I needed to come to the altar of good health for salvation. When my brother asked her for the test results showing I was diabetic, she responded: "I don't need test results. I know what they will be. I can see he is diabetic." And here I was thinking I was jolly.
After about the seventh lecture, I told her: "My greatest fear in life is being seated next to someone like you at a dinner party who thinks that life can be reduced to a series of numbers." She left in a moral huff.
As we were leaving the hospital, my brother asked the nurse for the results of my blood test. She said, "Oh. They show no diabetes now. But I know you have it." Her approach was not persuasive.
Even though I know some people are extremely free with their advice (and some of it is good), I hear nothing if a sentence starts with "You need to --." My reaction is usually, "I need to live my own life and you need to mind your own business."
Of course, I do not say that out loud. I still have enough Canadian DNA in me that I sometimes opt for being nice over being frank. But, I suspect the expression on my face conveys the thought because there are usually no follow-on suggestions.
I am also never persuaded by political arguments when it comes to health -- even though they may be positions I hold myself. Politics simply is not a guiding passion for me.
Tirades against "big government," "secret cabals," "the medical-industrial complex," "monopolistic food practises," "brainwashing by big business," "evil pharma" may be true in some form or other, but none of that is going to persuade me to eat more healthily. That rhetoric may motivate some people. I am not one of them.
My friend Leo was the first person who discussed health with me who understood what motivated me. He had reduced his weight to his high school level by changing his daily diet and walking four miles each morning.
I ate the wrong foods because they gave me pleasure. I had so bought the "live in the moment" philosophy touted as Mexico's gift to humanity that I started living that meme cliché that frequently litters my Facebook account: “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body. But rather, to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up,totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming: 'WOW! What a ride.'”
Leo was wise enough to point out that revising my daily diet and regular exercise would be fun. Healthy food can be good food. He remembered I was a good cook. I could find lots of ways to be creative with healthy ingredients that would keep me interested in sticking to a new way of eating.
As for the exercise, he started me out on his daily walks. He knew me in college, and knew that I enjoyed solitary exercise. Back then, it was running.
He was correct. Walking is fun. Even though I may get a bit obsessive with it.
So, I am now eating better. I am regularly exercising. During the past four months, I have lost in excess of thirty pounds (well below the demands of the Gypsy Woman, mind you), my blood pressure is that of a fit twenty-year old, and my blood sugar is normal. At the suggestion of Nancy over at Countdown to Mexico, I am experimenting with intermittent fasting (a 16-hour program) to break through the weight loss plateau I have been on for the past month.
As we were warned in the original Star Wars, "The Jundland Wastes are not to be traveled lightly."
If I ever become one of those zealot converts who constantly pushes their new lifestyle into other people's faces, please call me on it. Or just put me out of my mercy.
This is my second attempt at altering my diet (the most important part of enjoying my new life). And it is sticking. Probably because I have a good incentive now to make it work.
If you see a grizzled guy with a white beard singing on our local walk paths, that is not me. He is Willie Nelson. I will be the guy walking along at 4 MPH enjoying life in Mexico.
A lot more.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
You might think I have transported you to TitiPoo.
And those sandals belong to three little maids from school.
If that is what you are thinking, you must think I live my life in a Gilbert and Sullivan bubble.
The sandals are mine. Earlier in the week, they were three sets of sandals on their way to the garbage. That is until Joyce (of Rooster's fame) told me there was a man in San Patricio who was a magician at breathing life into dead soles.
I particularly like this brand of sandals, but they are not available in any of our local stores. The problem is the thong. It must not have been designed with puddle-ridden streets in mind. I should have realized that when all of the advertisements show the sandals being worn by men wearing ecru linen pants.
Repeated dousing tends to weaken the leather. And the thong breaks. Usually on one of my walks when I am two or three miles from the house, and I have to trudge home like one of Napoleon's privates retreating from Moscow.
That is what happened with two of the three pairs. The sole on one sandal of the third pair separated during a walk. I sounded like a semi driving down the freeway about to throw a recap.
For some reason, it is always the right sandal that dies. That took away the option of salvaging one unmatched pair. Instead, I left all six sandals with Our Man of Sandal Sorcery.
Three days later, I had three pairs of rejuvenated sandals. Glued, sewn, and patched into a semblance of utility.
I say "semblance" because what I had been a comfortable leather thong was now a piece of canvas that has the gentle caress of hopsack. As prone as I am to blisters, I suspect those sandals will not get much use. The re-soled pair appear to be fine.
I forgot one thing when I dropped off the sandals. I should have remembered to tell him "No paint." I still have not adjusted to the fact that footwear left for repair will almost always be returned looking like a freshly-painted barn. In a shade that is slightly reminiscent of the color of the sandal when I last saw them.
The problem is fine leather and paint are a terrible combination. The paint sucks the moisture out of the leather leaving it looking like a wealthy Arizona widow who spends too much time golfing.
I told my tale of woe to a Canadian friend who insisted I look at the bright side: "They did not cost much to repair." And she was correct. The repair bill for all three was $320 (Mx) -- about $17 (US). The price of a lunch. And about 10% of the cost of buying a new pair.
But, as I told her, since I cannot wear them, it is like that old Woody Allen joke: "Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, 'Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.' The other one says, 'Yeah, I know; and such small portions.'"
Maybe I need to invest in a stack of linen pants. That way I can wear the repaired sandals on the patio and never leave the house.
And that would save me a lot more money.
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Our rains would easily qualify as the Portland Trailblazers. Our summer storms usually start around mid-June. This year, they have been slow in coming. But they are here now.
We have had a series of glorious thunderstorms in the night that have delivered humidity-relieving rain. The respite has been complete enough that I have turned off the air conditioner in my bedroom. In September. The hottest of our months.
If you have landscaping in the tropics (which I do), the combination of the rain and heat will stimulate the survival instinct in plants into it's now-or-never-to-grow (which it has). Apical meristems shift into high gear.
You already know the setup of my patio. Pool in the center. House built around the patio. Four planters with trellises to offer privacy for each of the four bedrooms. And in each of those planters are vines -- called by some "cup of gold" (though that name seems to be applied to about 5000 other plants in Mexico; popular names are -- well, popular).
When the architect chose the vines for the planters, she made a good choice. They grow quickly and they provide thorough privacy. But, as we all know from life, strengths harbor weaknesses.
The fast growth makes the vines unwieldy -- without a bit of gardener persuasion. Like kudzu in Alabama, they will eventually slip the surly bonds of their trellis and take over the rails on the upper terrace. Rudyard Kipling could have learned a few imperial lessons from this lot.
Taming the landscape is my job. Every two weeks I have to pull out the stepladder and hedge clippers to fight back nature's urges. Off go most of my clothes before I head off to two to three hours of battle with the vines -- whose sole defense is a latex that soon stains my hands and body until I look like a Comanche warrior.
I have tried hiring young men to help me trim the vines. It never works out.
The conversation always starts with why I have the vines in the first place. They do not provide fruit. Why waste space and time? "Because I like them and they provide privacy" is never a sufficient answer.
Once we move past the raison d'être of this odd northern passion for plants that have no purpose other than eating up leisure time, there is the problem of explaining the job.
Apparently, I am terrible at assigning tasks. Or, at least, that would be my conclusion from the results of the two times I hired help.
I left the first guy on his own after I told him I just needed the tops of the vines trimmed back. That was a mistake. Leaving him on his own. When I returned, he had cut the vine down almost to the ground.
Learning from that lesson, the next time I hired help, I demonstrated what I needed. This time, I worked on another vine, while he worked on his.
There is an art to cutting vines. Because the tendrils will join together from different directions, it is important to not leave cut orphaned vines on the trellis. Otherwise, you have a trellis filled with dead strings that will drop dried leaves into the pool. Of course, it is far easier to simply cut and leave the dying vine in place.
The second cutter did not share my concern for what the plant would look like in the future. Within a week, it dropped more leaves in the pool than the British dropped propaganda leaflets on Nazi Germany.
As a result, I am now a solo vine harvester. And yesterday was a perfect day to tackle the task. Sunny days are great if you are sitting by the pool writing essays. They are not the best choice for gardening.
The sun was obscured by clouds, and there was a soft mist in the air -- something more akin to Oxford than to summer rains in Barra de Navidad. I had trimmed the vines when I returned from San Miguel de Allende late last month. But the rains had provided me with guaranteed employment.
I usually do not climb the ladder unless someone else is in the house -- preferably in the patio. I have lost a couple of friends to ladder falls. My regular schedule is to cut when Dora is here on Wednesday and Saturday. But the day was too perfect to let safety get in the way. Fortunately, Omar did not work yesterday morning.
While I am trimming, I often wonder if it is worth the effort. I suspect that is just another part of our basic human nature to avoid the Oughts in favor of the Wants. At those times, I wonder if the guys I hired in the past may have had it right. Maybe we northerners are nuts to populate our property with tasks that have so little apparent value.
I wonder that until I am done. When I climb down from the ladder, the combination of the black latex and the green leaves haphazardly stuck to my nearly-naked body make me look as if I am auditing for the role of Puck in a college production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
But the newly-tamed vines actually look tidy. And worth a couple of hours sweating in the tropical heat.
Even if I could find someone to cut the vines in an approved manner, I would want to keep the job for myself. There is something fulfilling about maintaining one's own home. Doing man's work -- if we are still allowed to say that, and I would anyway, whether or not it is allowed. because it is simply true.
I always have a slight concern in the back of my mind that I will become incapable of carrying out my life (like the Afrikaners under apartheid) if I stop doing what I can do for myself. That, of course, does not include doing windows.
Now, that the vines are trimmed, I need to do the same for my hair. It has not been trimmed for -- well, it is more than two weeks.
But that will be a tale for later.
Monday, September 17, 2018
Let's talk about education.
Last month, while opening a discussion about the recent appearance of American gas stations in Mexico (going mobil), I mentioned Mexico's president-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), has made the elimination of government corruption the keystone of his agenda. There are two areas, said I, where he could start -- PEMEX (the state-owned oil monopoly) and public education.
Several of you commented that you understood the problems with PEMEX, but you were surprised I would equate public education with the oil poster boy of dirty hands.
Mexico is filled with horror stories of the state of public education. I have discussed several in the past. Teacher union officials siphoning funds. Teachers holding several positions and not showing up to do any of them. Student teachers more interested in political agendas than in improving teaching methods. Graduates from rural high schools heading off to university completely unprepared for college-level courses.
Rather than thrash through that trash again, let me share some startling numbers. After all, what we usually end up discussing is anecdotes -- when the facts are even more startling.
The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is a club of mainly-rich nations. 36 nations to be exact. Mexico is one of them.
Periodically, the OECD conducts an international test of students in reading, mathematics, and science. The test is known as PISA (Program for International Student Assessment).
The last one was conducted in 2015. To be generous, Mexico's students performed abysmally. In science, the OECD average was 493; Mexico's was 416. In mathematics, the averages were OECD 490, Mexico 408. In reading, 493 and 423. That puts Mexico well in the bottom percentile in each category.
My first thought was that the use of averages must mask the fact that Mexico has an elite group of students who score well while leaving their peers behind. But the numbers say otherwise. Mexico has one of the lowest differences in the OECD between the top 10% scores and the low 10% scores.
It appears Mexican students have discovered egalitarian mediocrity. That is apparent in the reading scores. In most OECD countries, girls far outscore boys in reading. The difference is not as great in Mexico. It s not quite what people have in mind when they talk about closing the gender gap.
In Mañana Forever?, Jorge Castañeda noted that Mexicans are strong individuals, but they are not good team players. Anyone watching Mexico's football team in this year's World Cup understands exactly what he meant.
The PISA picks up on that theme. In collaborative problem-solving, Mexican boys rank 42nd out of 50. Girls 44th.
But, Mexico excels in one area. The students were asked if they felt confident to accurately complete tasks in science. These are the same students who were ranked 63rd out of 69 countries. They were so confident of their ability, their self-belief ranked 10th out of 69 countries.
For me, the answer to that question is what gives me hope for Mexico's system. Most of the students I know think they are excellent. And they very well may be. It is the education system that is failing them.
There are plenty of models for Mexico to follow. The 1 September 2018 edition of The Economist included an article on the education system that consistently ranks first in the PISA -- Singapore. Mexico (and other countries) would do well to use Singapore as a benchmark. Or Finland. There are plenty of systems to be copied.
I wish AMLO well on this one because it will be the true test of his desire to root out corruption in Mexican government. Until it is fixed, Mexico is handicapping its future.
Sunday, September 16, 2018
The flags are unfurled. Uniformed boys are inartfully blaring trumpets. School children are toting machetes and muskets.
Either Mexico is preparing to take back the orphaned southwest from the Americans (the profaning "foreign enemy" of Mexico's national anthem) or Independence Day is upon us.
I know it is the latter because I attended the kick off last night in San Patricio -- el grito. The Shout. All over Mexico, citizens gathered in town squares to listen to their political leaders repeat the words that may or may not have been spoken 208 years ago.
It all began with a criollo catholic priest, Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo Costilla y Gallaga Mandarte Villaseñor. Or Miguel Hidalgo, as we know him. Even though a priest, he had an eye for women, shady business dealings, and gambling.
The church did not take kindly to his lifestyle. In 1803, those transgressions (plus his heretical beliefs on matters theological and political) got him exiled to the small parish church of Dolores.
It was a bad move for the church. Hidalgo met other criollos (people born in Mexico of Spanish parents) who were dissatisfied with Spain's rule and the social restrictions placed on anyone not born in Spain. They had a better idea. If the United States could free itself from Britain, and France could cut off its king's head, why should Mexico not be free of the Spanish king?
This was not the stuff of 3 AM dormitory chats. The conspirators started preparing an armed insurrection. But, like most secrets held by more than one person, this one leaked. The Spanish authorities mounted up and were on their way to arrest the conspirators.
Even though the conspirators were not fully prepared, legend tell us that the womanizing priest transformed himself into a national hero by rushing to his church on the morning of 16 September 1810 to gather the people for mass. There, he rallied his parishioners to the cause of Mexican independence with what has come to be known as el grito de Delores -- The Shout of Dolores.
No one knows for certain what he said. There are about as many versions as there are people who tell the tale. But, they all end with the same phrase -- "Death to the Spanish!" Modern politicians drop that line. After all, Spain is now a friend of Mexico.
But, in 1810, that is exactly what happened. Once the floodgates of revenge were opened, the massacres were appalling. The Army officers who had joined the rebellion were scandalized. The most horrific was the slaughter of 500 Spanish men, women, and children who had taken refuge in the granary building in Guanajuato.
Things did not go well for the rebels from that point on. El grito may have transformed the priest into a Mexican national hero, but, ten months later, the church and the Spanish authorities transformed him into a corpse. His head, along with those of three other rebel leaders, hung on the four corners of the Guanajuato granary for ten years as a warning to any other restless colonials.
The war would not end until a Mexican-born general of the Spanish army, Agustín Cosme Damián de Iturbide y Arámburu, decided to switch sides. When he entered Mexico City on 27 September 1821, the war was over. He would have himself crowned emperor of Mexico eight months later. And, less than a year later, he was deposed. Eventually, dying in front of a Mexican firing squad.
For years, there was a debate whether independence day should be celebrated on 16 September (honoring the work of Hidalgo) or 27 September (giving a nod to Iturbide). Depending on whether the liberals or conservatives were in power, each day has had its advocates (1810 or 1821?). Sometimes, both days were celebrated in the same year.
You may have noticed something odd when I was discussing el grito. Hidalgo did not deliver his address to the people until the morning of 16 September -- at mass. Then, why do all of those smug politicians deliver it at midnight on 15 September? Because of the smuggest of Mexican politicians.
José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori was president of Mexico from 1876-1880, 1884-1911. No one will be offended if we call him what he was. A dictator. And, like most dictators, he had a very high regard for himself.
15 September was his birthday. What would be so wrong, if the clock was moved back a few hours to let the dictator share in the glory of national goodwill?
Hidalgo was happy transforming himself into a national hero. Porfirio Diaz was satisfied with nothing less being transformed into Mexico itself.
I cannot think of Porfirio Diaz without thinking of this film clip from one of my favorite movies (Moon Over Parador -- with Sonia Braga; I was once married to her, you know: steve spills a secret).
Well, this is not an essay about Porfirio Diaz. It is my homage to Mexican independence. Whether you prefer 16 or 27 September, the "death to Spanish" exhortation eventually worked.*
Happy independence day, neighbors.
* -- If that "death to the Spanish" bothers you, a lot of nationalities get their turn in the barrel. The French on cinco de mayo. The British and Canadians on Revolution Day. And, of course, as I already mentioned, the Americans when the Mexican national anthem is sung. Poor Mexico has had a long list of abusive lovers.
Saturday, September 15, 2018
"Like the moon growing dim, on the rim of the hill
In the chill, still, of the night."
Cole Porter had it almost right.
There is something alluring about the night. Especially, the late night.
My poetic license would undoubtedly be suspended if I were so brash to contend there is a chill in our September nights. But, there certainly has been relief.
That is certainly not the norm for September -- the month we tend not to discuss when trying to lure friends and family to the area. A couple of years ago, our September was almost vulcanized when the heat index reached 132 for three straight days. I thought the instruments at the weather station has succumbed to hyperthermia. I was ready to join them.
This September has been a bit different. We have had our hot and humid days. Those two adjectives are twined and twinned here as closely as "drunk" and "sailor."
During the summer, we pray for rain. Not because we are cash subsidy farmers, but because the rain drives down the humidity and temperature to make our nights a bit more conducive to sleeping. Of course, when the sun comes out the next morning, the heat index spikes.
Last night was one of the pleasant nights. Around 11, I was in the pool reading. The Economist, I think. I heard a faint rumble in the distance, as if a freight train was coming through town. There was only one problem with that theory. There are no railroad tracks near here.
An earthquake? Nope. It was moving too slowly. But it was certainly steadily heading toward my house.
Without a "how do you do," a torrent of water fell on me. No transition sprinkle. A full frontal aquatic assault.
I grabbed my electronic gear and dashed into the kitchen to watch the patio floor turn into a lake. And to enjoy the immediate drop in temperature.
The summer Barco lived with me, I had air conditioning installed in the bedroom. Even though he was born in Barra de Navidad, he was still a golden retriever, and found the summer months more than his thick coat could endure.
After he died, I used the air conditioning for my own pleasure. I try to not use it before mid-July. This year, it was early July. I will use it until mid-October. The only time I do not use it to help me sleep is when we have evening rains. Like last night.
When it was time to retire, I opened up the doors to my bedroom, turned my ceiling fan on low, and slipped into (or onto) bed. With the doors open and the air conditioner not running, I discovered there was a night world just outside my door that I had not experienced lately.
This is where Cole Porter had it wrong. The night is not still. It is an oratorio. Crickets. Frogs. The echo of distant jake brakes.
I am a creature of the night. If Bela Lugosi needs reviving, I am your man. Two A.M. will regularly find me prowling my bedroom.
That was true last night. Rather than waste a perfectly good night with sleep, I got out of bed and stepped outside onto the now-dry patio. Without a moon, the night was ebon. The darkness simply intensified the sounds. I could even hear the talons of the buzzards scraping against the metal of the communication tower, attempting to retain roosting purchase.
So, I sat in the dark and listened to the little night music being performed just for me. Or anyone else who would take the time to merely stop and listen. Admission was free.
These moments happen all over the world. Every day. Every hour.
Some of you know of Brother Lawrence. He was a French lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in the 1600s. His book, The Practice of the Presence of God, is a Christian classic. That means everyone knows the title, but few have read it. Like Don Quixote.
Brother Lawrence joined the monastery for one purpose -- a closer relationship with God. He ended up working in the kitchen, and despised the work. Then, he remembered he was at the monastery to have a closer relationship with God. If God is omnipresent, God was in that kitchen. In the garden where Lawrence strolled. In the library where Lawrence wrote.
His solution was an answer to the age-old conundrum posed by Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians to "pray continually." Though he most likely did not invent the practice, Brother Lawrence was an advocate of "breath prayers." To be constantly aware of the countless moments of grace God brings to our lives.
The idea is to address God with the inhale -- breathing God in. The petition or praise is on the exhale. Short and sweet. Often just a statement of appreciation and contentment. Moving your focus from yourself to others -- and to God.
And that is exactly what I did last night. Thanking for the crickets. The voice of the frogs. And finding peace at the center, as my Quaker friends so eloquently put it.
As Anne Lamott would say (and did): "This is plenty of miracle for me to rest in now."
Friday, September 14, 2018
Anyone who has moved permanently to Mexico knows the feeling.
You are visiting the old country (as my friend Jennifer Rose puts it) when a friend or family member introduces you to a stranger. "Mary, have you met Steve Cotton? He lives in Mexico?"
Let me stop the film right here. I have been many things in my life, but I have yet to be reduced to nothing more than the place I live. As far I can recall, no one in Oregon ever introduced me by pointing out "he lives in Milwaukie."
I find it annoying. Not as if I was introduced with my political affiliation. Just a little chafed.
It is the response that astounds me. It is almost always something along these lines. "Oh, really? Albuquerque or Santa Fe? No, you look more like a Taos guy."
The first time it happened, I initially had no idea what was being discussed. My response now is rather stock. "No. Not New Mexico. I live in old Mexico. You know the country we stole the southwest from. But we did it fair and square."
Inevitably my S.I. Hayakawa is completely ignored because my new acquaintance is standing mouth agape because they have not heard anything I said past "old Mexico."
The responses are varied. But they always deal with either drugs, cartels, or violence -- or all three in a burbling trifecta that makes me wonder if they thought I said I lived in Idlib.
Well, I don't. I don't live in a third world country. I am not deprived of daily needs by cartel violence. I live quite nicely as a poor pensioner trying to make some sense of a complex world.
I usually tick off the list of statistics that Mexico is one of the world's economic powers. Member of the richer-nation OECD. 15th largest GDP in the world. 13th largest in area. 10th largest in population. A birth rate of 2.2 -- meaning the population is just sustaining itself. A strong middle class, thus the low birth rate.
None of that seems to impress most people. I am often accused of spouting "false numbers." I guess that is the second cousin of "fuzzy math" from the 2000 election. Even insults up north have been stripped of wit.
What does catch their attention is when I inform them I can order almost anything from Amazon and have it show up at my door -- delivered by a DHL man, who is now a regular visitor at my house. I suspect it is simply a lack of imagination that makes something familiar like Amazon turn the feared into something comfortable.
Amazon, of course, has long been a mainstay for me since I moved to Mexico. Originally, the good folks at Amazon would merely refresh the reading content in my Kindle for just a few dollars. That was my sole contact. There was a reason for that. I saw Amazon as a giant electronic book store.
But it has turned into far more than that, It is now the general store of a new generation. The Walmart of our internet age.
I cannot remember why I started ordering merchandise from Amazon. I probably needed something that I could not readily find in Mexico. The first couple of shipments were spotty. But once I discovered I could have DHL deliver to my post office, those wrinkles were ironed out.
Then, a couple of years ago, Amazon expanded its operations to Mexico. Delivery times were noticeably cut. And, even though my post office informed me it would now only accept deliveries sent by mail, DHL had an answer.
In the past, I would be given a window of a week or 10 days when my package would be delivered. Now, DHL sends me an email message specifying the day the van will pull up in front of my house. And since I know the deliveries come from Manzanillo, I generally know the time of day he will be there.
That system failed only once. I had volunteered to take friends to the airport (from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe) on a delivery day. Just as I was leaving, my DHL pal telephoned to tell me he was in front of the house. I told him I would be there in 20 minutes.
He had a better idea. He would leave my package at a paper store a few blocks from my house. That sounded good to me.
It turns out the store is a drop-off point for shipments and delivery, as well as a purveyor of copy paper, notebooks, and party supplies. When I came through the door, the young lady behind the counter pulled out my package and handed it to me just as I got to the counter. No signature required. Smooth.
At times I forget just how small my village is. I have mentioned before that it reminds me a lot of Powers, where I spent the first eight years of my life. The type of place where everyone knows (or knows of) everyone else -- and knows all of their business. At this point in my life, I find that to be a comfortable feeling. Even being an outsider. As I always will be. That is also a feature of small towns.
When we lived in Powers, the Sears and JC Penny catalogs were our connections with the outside world. Our bronze link to materialism. When packages arrived at the post office (because there was no home mail delivery), it was a day of excitement. Almost as fulfilling as opening the package from Kellogg's containing my magic decoder ring for only the price of 7 corn flakes coupons and a shiny dime (NO STAMPS).
Well, those days are back -- as evidenced by the photograph at the top of this essay. This week's haul was a mix.
- Three pairs of specialized exercise socks to cut down on my propensity for blisters and black toe. They do not always work.
- Two DVDs. The Last of Sheila -- a witty murder mystery written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins. Advise and Consent -- based on Allen Drury's best novel. And, even though it is dated in its politics, its message about the duty of the Senate to properly carry out its advise and consent function as an independent body is constitutionally timeless. Where else could a bigoted southern senator still be treated with respect?
- Two books. Scott Turow is my favorite lawyer writer (known by some of us as F. Scott Turow for his literary abilities. Others would say for his literary protrusion.) Testimony is his latest. Somehow I missed it when it was released. The other book is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. She is one of my favorite Christian writers. Her neurotic relationship with Jesus makes her essays very accessible. But this book is not a devotional. It is a guide to better writing. And it is chockfull of brilliant examples of the art.
I can think of a couple of bloggers who will chide me for this list. Socks are available in Mexico. Who still uses DVDs? Books should be electronic.
All of those are good points. But they are not mine.
If I could find socks designed to restrict the development of blisters, I would buy them here. I like the picture quality of DVDs, and, yes, it is noticeably better than streaming at my house. And there are some books I want to keep in my library for myself and guests. I will not even mention the two sets of black silk pajamas that arrived yesterday. (No. I am not putting on a play extolling the Viet Cong.)
I always hear the echo of "You live in Mexico?" when I hear such questions. We each choose how we live here. And Amazon makes my pleasant life here just that much more sybaritic.
Excuse me now. I am going to sit back and read a chapter of two of Turow before I go trudging around my neighborhood. There is health to be sought.