Tuesday, October 15, 2019

margaret mead, call your office

Our little expatriate community could use the services of an anthropologist.

Margaret Mead. Or Claude Lévi-Strauss. If they were not so nconveniently dead.

Calling our foreign community "expatriate" skews the category. We usually think of expatriates as being people who live full-time outside of their home country (with the implication they will one day leave). The type of artists who sat around Paris tables smoking bad cigarettes and worse poetry.

Immigrants are expatriates who live full-time outside of their country and plan to stay where they are. We have both categories here. Despite the title of this blog, I am an immigrant. Now that I am rooted, I have no plans to live anywhere else. Visit? Yes. Live?  No.

The categories then get a little trickier. The vast majority of the foreign community shows up here in the winter. Some stay a few days. Most stay for five or six months.

Words like "tourists" and "visitors" have a pejorative patina in these parts. Calling sometime a "visitor" can easily lead to an invitation to step outside to settle the matter. Let's just call that category "non-expatriates." I realize it is a rather ugly word, similar to the "non-Hispanic white" so beloved of the American census folks. But this discussion requires a bit of peace-making.

Even though the foreign community is made up of people from Asia, Europe, and Britain (my Brexit stance may be showing), most of us are either from Canada or The States. I did a quick survey of Mexican businessmen who service foreigners. Their best guess is the Canadian-American split in the winter is about 80-20. That feels about right to me.

Immigrants around the world pack up their culture with them when they move to another country. Language. Food. Holidays. What they knew in the old country, they try to replicate in their new home. But after a generation or two, the old dies out as children and grandchildren assimilate into the culture around them. One of my favorites, the Hanukkah bush, is but an example.

I thought of that last night when I joined a group of Canadian friends to celebrate their Thanksgiving at Papa Gallo's. With the exception of  the tropical heat and humidity (and the obvious background of the Mexican Pacific), it would have been easy to imagine the group had assembled in Edmonton.

There were Canadian flags galore. Red and white table decorations. Plates filled with turkey, dressing, Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, mashed potato, and cranberry relish. We could have been first-generation Italians celebrating Ferragosto in East Harlem.

No turkey for me, please.
And it is at this point we could use the services of Margaret or Claude.

Because most of our foreign community will not be here long enough to create new generations, the social rites of the old country will remain carved in granite. Canada Day. The Fourth of July. Remembrance Day. Two Thanksgivings. Celebrations that have no parallels in Mexican culture. Because those holidays get repeated, they endure amongst us as appropriate customs. Even though they seem incredibly out of place in Mexico.

Anthropologists talk about the tension between assimilation and diversity, but they will also readily admit they categories are not contradictory. Only politicians seem to be comfortable treating them as immutable categories.

Immigrants eventually assimilate into their new culture while retaining some of their own traditions that are adopted by their new culture. Mexico is a perfect example of a culture that retains its own traditions while readily sponging up aspects of other cultures. The mixture of Night of the Dead and Halloween was probably inevitable.

The unease I feel at northern functions is exactly the same feeling I get when I hear foreigners complaining about barking dogs, crowing fighting cocks, cohetes, and garbage. (I have to raise my hand to that last one.) It is not the complaints that annoy. It is the oft-stated rational: "This would not happen at home." That desire to make everything like home (but with heat and the ocean) is what riles many of our Mexican neighbors. And they are right to feel that way.

If we were to be honest with ourselves, there is a word for that phenomenon. Colonialism.

It is too bad the term carries so much political baggage because it is an almost-perfect descriptor of how many of us approach our lives in Mexico. Foreign enclaves created to cater to northerners for six months out of the year -- where familiar food is served, there is no need to learn Spanish, and northern holidays can be celebrated as if they had sprung from local soil.

Do not get me wrong. That is not necessarily a criticism. If it were I would be a hypocrite because I indulge in the fruits of colonialism as much as the next northerner. And I celebrate some of those holidays knowing the manner in which we celebrate them may not only be in violation of Mexican law, but is probably offensive to Mexicans over-hearing the practice of our public rites.

But the Mexicans are not alone at taking offense at outside cultures. I hear Canadians complaining about Sikhs in their country. Or Americans eating tacos and whinging about Mexican flags at political protests.

We cannot live our lives by constantly modifying everything we do for fear of being criticized. (It only empowers bullies like the political correctness crowd. Take a look at Katherine Timpf's "Defiant Dave Chappelle" in the current edition of National Review.)

But we can be cognizant of the effect our lives have on our neighbors. Sometimes, speaking softly and carrying a branch is a far more alluring way to live our lives.

Margaret might put it: a little less Kipling, and a bit more Gandhi.

Monday, October 14, 2019

kumquat may

Philip Yancey and I share common backgrounds.

Sharing may be too bold. But, at least, they rhyme.

When he was young, growing up in rural Georgia, his family attended a pentecostal church -- a denomination noted for its outward signs of righteousness. To show their devotion to God, his family would read nothing in the newspaper on Sunday except the sports page. They thought they were true sabbath-obeyers -- until they discovered their neighbors did not read anything in the newspaper on Sunday. Their righteousness was replaced with a sense of relative sinfulness.

You do not need to be pentecostal to feel the sting of that story. We all have a tendency to get on our moral high horses about almost every human endeavor. Religion. Politics. Employment. Even where we buy our food.

My essay on the progress of our new Bodega Aurrerá in Jaluco (bodega aurrerá on the horizon) caused an avalanche of comments on the Facebook version of Mexpatriate, ranging from "only buy local" to "mind your own business." Neither of those bumper sticker positions had anything to do with the theme of the essay. But that is often the case with comments. And, as is always the case, when people indulge in rhetorical reductionism, misunderstandings occur as often as at a family picnic.

I ran into one of the "only buy local" cohort on my walk in Melaque. I told her I was a little confused by the phrase. How local must something be before she will buy it? Her answer was that it had to be made or grown in the community.

The restriction was a bit more restrictive than I had imagined. When I asked her if she ever buys anything made somewhere other than Melaque, she chuckled and confessed that most of what she buys was not made locally, but she thinks the idea is a good one. I could feel Philip Yancey smiling somewhere.

I suspect she would approve of my recent acquisition pictured above. Even though kumquats are not a native Mexican fruit (they hail from south Asia), they are grown here for people with a taste for exotica. These came from the garden of my American-Canadian friend Gary.

I guess that is about "buying local" as one can get. Other than the fact the kumquats are a gift. And a very special one.

My taste in fruit is limited. If it is sweet, I will pass it by. If it is tart, it will show up in my cooking. And these kumquats will.

Kumquats combine well with a lot of meats and vegetables. Pork, of course. Kumquats are a great substitute for sour oranges. And with chicken and several serranos and habaneros, they form the perfect foundation for a vegetable stir fry. But my favorite use is to simply pop them in my mouth.

One day we will have a serious discussion here about "buying local" and the economic consequences (positive and negative -- there are both) on the local economy. But today is a day to talk about local treats like kumquats -- and what we are going to have for dinner.

Not tonight, though. Tonight is Canadian Thanksgiving, and I will be joining my further-north expatriates in one of my least favorite meals -- turkey. (In truth, I may just skip eating; instead, I will enjoy the conversation.)

And tomorrow we just may discuss the issues of assimilation, separation, and colonialism that surrounds the celebration of these non-Mexican customs. That should be fun.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

bodega aurrerá on the horizon

Any good journalist will tell his readers the who, what, where, and when of a story.

This story will not do that. The best I can do is to share some photographs and observations -- like a distant grandfather thumbing through his wallet.

Just over a year ago, rumors began that Bodega Aurrerá (a Mexican discount store) was building an outlet on the highway in Jaluco where a hill once stood (where there never was a hill). It started as speculation by a group of old men at breakfast. But, within a month, the news was verified by a local figure whose information is usually true, if not factual.

I drive or walk by the building site almost every day when I am in town. Like any new construction, it plods along on a steady pace until you realize: "Wow! They are almost done." Then you realize it is one of those false thrills.

It is true that the outer shell of the building is almost finished. It is easy now to imagine what the place will look like.

The front will not face the highway. And it will have a parking lot just as adequate as the Bodega Aurrerá in Cihuatlán -- currently the closest store in the chain. Which is another way of saying, it will be too tight.

It may be a matter of perspective, but the facility looks tiny to me. That may be caused by the absence of context provided by surrounding buildings. But, if it is smaller than the usual store, so is its market in our area.

That would be consistent with the chain's philosophy. The first store opened in Mexico City in 1958. Since then, its corporate group has diversified into other areas -- such as restaurants. With NAFTA on the horizon in 1991, Aurrerá created a joint venture with Walmart that led to Walmart buying a majority holding in the group in 1997.

Even though Walmart has added some of its marketing expertise to Aurrerá, the stores have retained their orientation to marketing to the Mexican middle class. There are now almost 400 Bodega Aurrerá stores in the country.

And this will be one.

Like most new construction around here, there is no sign advertising what the building will be and when it will be open. I asked two of the workers if they knew when the building would be completed. They did not know.

One of them must have been asked that question before because he asked if I was looking forward to the McDonald's that would be inside. It was a good joke. For some reason, the suggestion of a McDonald's seems to drive northerners into armed camps of animosity.

I suspect this store will have a similar effect. When its construction was announced last year on Facebook, the well-rehearsed arguments involving anything Walmart were tumbriled out and slipped under Doctor Guillotin's blade.

Most of the Mexicans I have talked with either don't care about the arrival of Bodega Aurrerá or they are looking forward to it. Admittedly, that is a very small sampling. We will see how it works out. People will either shop there -- or they won't.

Before that, though, the building needs to be completed.

I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

dengue as jaws

You would think that Jalisco has had an outbreak of ebola.

The internet is alive with all kinds of chatter about the "dengue epidemic" that has hit our home state of Jalisco.

The governor, Enrique Alfaro Ramírez, the unfortunate author of the "dengue epidemic label, has been accusing his political opposition of telling lies and the press of printing fake news. The opposition claims the governor has failed to appropriately implement an anti-vector spraying program, and people are dying as a direct result.

But you probably could have guessed that scenario already. Just substitute the names for personalities in your home country, and you have heard it all before.

One unfortunate spin-off of the political dispute is that the facts are quickly getting muddied. There are four strains of dengue fever. Mexico has all four. But the mildest forms are what we usually hear about in our area.

What everyone agrees on is that the numbers of serious cases of dengue have increased. People have died of the most severe strain. But there is confusion as to how many. 2. 3. 13. All have been bandied about by the press and government agencies.

There is no dispute that this year is a record year for reported cases of dengue in Jalisco -- the vast majority in or around Guadalajara. By some reports, the number of reported cases is higher than the last three years combined.

It is time for a little less hysteria and a bit more rationality. Dengue is a problem. But it is not as if the house is burning down. There are steps people can take to avoid being infected.

There is only one way to catch dengue -- to be bitten by an Aedes aegypti mosquito that has bitten another human who carries the dengue virus in his bloodstream. No bite. No infection.

Knowing your enemy is important. The Aedes aegypti has some very distinct habits. Unlike many mosquitoes, it is active all day, but primarily in the morning and evening. The female has developed an interesting feeding habit. Her primary human target is the human ankle. She is also easy to identify -- larger than marsh mosquitoes with white markings on their knees.

Like all mosquitoes, they breed in still water. Emptying pots of water is a wise choice. But they often breed in pools that form where palm fronds join their stems. Spraying is often the only option.

The Aedes aegypti has a very limited range. She will spend her life within about 400 meters of her birthplace. Unfortunately, there are enough pools of standing water here in the summer, that our villages are all within range of the mosquito.
If killing the mosquito at birth does not work, there are steps all of us can take to avoid infection. The list is standard:
  • Wear long, loose fitting, light-colored clothing (so you can see your enemy), covering as much of the body as you can. Mosquitoes easily can bite through tight clothing like jeans.
  • When outdoors, apply insect repellent containing DEET or picaridin and always follow instructions on the label. I use the highest level of DEET I can find -- and that means bringing it with me from up north. The highest DEET I have found here is 25%. It is better than nothing. Be wary of "natural" applications. Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide and alcohol expelled through the skin. If a "natural" remedy cannot mask both, you will still be open to an infection-injecting bite.
  • Mosquito coils can help protect from mosquitoes when outside.
  • Place mosquito-proof mesh on doors and windows. And be certain they seal. Mosquitoes have an uncanny method of smelling your target scent. They are also great hitchhikers on clothing.
  • If you notice mosquitoes in your bedroom, use Raid or some other insecticide.
  • Some people go so far as to cover their sleeping areas with mosquito nets. That seems to be overkill to me. But it is their comfort level, not mine.
One final word. If you start experiencing the classic signs of dengue fever (fever, fatigue, headaches, joint pain, nausea), see your doctor immediately. A quick blood test will verify whether or not you have dengue.

I do not know this for certain, but I suspect some of the people who have died this year may have let the disease progress without seeking medical help. The doctors here know the disease. Rely upon them.

Dengue is not new to our area. Its presence here has preceded any of our visits -- and it will remain here after we are all dead. Most of you probably already take these precautions on your visits here. The only thing that has changed is that the incidence of infection has increased. That does not change the fact that the old defenses are still the best defenses.

Several readers have contacted me to ask if they should return to the area this season. I have given each of them the same answer: Why wouldn't you? You have always protected yourself from mosquitoes in the past. That is all you need to do this year.

Come back and enjoy our villages. You have nothing to lose but your worries.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

storming through the intersection

Everyone seems to notice the havoc in big things that storms wreak.

Toppled trees. Drowned plantations. Roofless houses.

But it is often the small changes that live on. Sometimes noticed. Sometimes not.

Signs are a good example. Almost all of the free-standing signs passing along helpful hints of better living were humpty-dumptied in the hurricane. What Lorena did not take, Narda did.

But it was not only billboards. Highway directional signs fell like Persians at Thermopylae. Do you know the way to San Jose became more than just an irritating song title. Along with the highway signs went the traffic control signs.

It has taken me weeks to notice, but if you look at the photograph at the top of this essay, something is missing. This is the intersection where the road to Barra de Navidad enters Highway 200 -- the major north-south highway on Mexico's Pacific coast. Usually, there is a stop sign at the tip of that point on the right-hand side of the photograph.

We do not have many stop signs in these parts. They are not really needed. Drivers are quite intelligent enough to decide when it is safe to enter a stream of traffic.

I would venture to say the presence of the sign, rather than the wont of its absence, has been a major contributing cause of several accidents at that corner. Inevitably, the collision is between a local driver and a tourist (Mexican or northern, usually northern).

Local drivers treated the stop sign as if it were a yield sign. At best. A driver would approach the intersection and quickly clear left and right. If there was an opening (or the semblance of a opening), the driver would rush through onto the highway without slowing.

That is the local custom. But, people who do not live here do not know that. They see a stop sign and do what they believe is logical. They stop. Often to their cost.

I know a guy from Ontario who did exactly that. Saw the sign and came to a full stop. The driver behind him lived here. He was clearing left and right as he approached the intersection, not even considering the outlandish possibility that the driver in front of him was going to stop his SUV.

The rear-end collision was bad enough that the police stopped to investigate -- and insurance agents were called to the scene. It is for this very reason drivers pay for insurance. Without an agent, the police may impound both vehicles until a satisfactory settlement is reached.

In this case, the guy from Ontario was quite smug. He was in the right, and his agent would argue his case.

The smugness disappeared when his agent informed him he was responsible for the damage to both vehicles because the accident was excluded by the terms of the policy.

The insurance was conditioned on the premise that the driver did not break the law. It was true that he had obeyed a posted sign, but he had neglected to comply with local custom -- a concept that was included in "complying with all laws."

The guy from Ontario ended up paying 4000 pesos to the man who rear-ended him -- and immediately cancelled his insurance policy. As he put it: "That explains why it was dirt cheap."

Now, I do not know how true that story is. I heard it from the morally-indignant Canadian. My insurance background makes me wonder if the agent was pulling something on him -- or if he might have misunderstood what the agent said.

Most automobile insurance policies in Mexico include a clause that coverage applies only if the vehicle itself complies with all laws. The classic example is where a person with a permanent visa drives a non-taxed vehicle. But I have never heard of an exclusion clause for traffic law infractions -- let alone slipping the surly bonds of mores and customs. What would be the point of an extremely limited policy like that?

Lenora may have helped decide that inter-cultural friction. With the stop sign gone, visitors may avoid the temptation to throw out the anchor -- unless circumstances dictate. Both the motorcycle and the car in the photographed barreled right through the intersection without a moment of pause.

It is nice to be treated as a thinking adult. Now and then.   

Monday, October 07, 2019

taking the cycle out of recycling

There was an old hombre who owned a small lot.
Storing plastics and bottles, which he had not bought.
To China I'll sell them he gleefully said,
Until China sneered bluntly: re-cycling is dead.
OK. I know it is not T.S. Eliot. But neither was the original doggerel.

I wish I knew the man's name, but I do not. But, he has run a plastic recycling operation in Barra de Navidad for years where I have dropped off my empty bottles.

Well, not really a recycling operation. He is the first step in turning used plastics into something useful other than for crab rafts in the middle of the ocean.

Neighbors bring their broken lawn chairs, empty bottles, cardboard boxes to him. But primarily plastic bottles.

No longer.

I took him a bag of plastics late last week, and he informed me he is no longer accepting plastics. He cannot find a buyer for his goods.

I was afraid this day of reckoning would hit our area. Last year, China announced that it would stop accepting garbage from the West for recycling (going green can be a dirty business).

My neighbor was just the first step in an international chain of recycling. He would sell his plastic to a buyer who, several steps later, would cram it into a shipping container and boat it off to China. In China, it would be used for all manner of things.

The rub is that recycling plastics is a major pollutant. China realized that it could not meet its agreements under the Paris Accords if it was a recycling hub. And because it is a Communist dictatorship, when the leadership decides to do something, like cutting off the internet or heads, it just does it.

The news caught the West by surprise. Britain had very little notice that it needed to come up with a method to handle the 80% of its garbage that went to China. It is too bad someone did not work it into one of the Brexit plans. Trashit, perhaps.

Last year, when I talked with the man who owns our local plastic-gathering operation, he told me he had not heard of China turning off the plastic recycling tap. He has now. And a lot of us will now need to find another spot for our plastics other than leaving them on the street corner. The woman who used to pick the bottles out of my trash no longer does. There is no value in them for her, either.

I know there are alternatives. After all,the bottles that are gathered in the giant fish containers on the beach must be going somewhere. And I am certain someone will be happy to volunteer that information.

For now, though, as the man who owns the lot told me, his stacks of plastic are merely an arsenal for the next hurricane that blows through.

That is probably not the concept of recycling that the Davos crowd would like to impose on us.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

through a mind darkly

Our minds are amazing tools.

I just woke up from a nap thinking I was in the north of England, and I had to dress for dinner to meet my hosts downstairs.

Of course, none of that was true. I was in Barra de Navidad with palm-framed sunsets and Mexicans on wakeboards pulled by ski-doos. I would be hard-pressed to come up with two settings that were less alike.

Therefore, it was a bit jarring when I looked at my telephone and found a message from my friend Hilary in England. She would have been the hostess that I would have met for dinner in that Lancashire house with the staircase.

She was thanking me for a birthday card (postmarked 9 August in San Patricio) that had just arrived today in Thornton-Cleveleys.

Odd that. Waking up thinking about a place that has always had a special spot in memory -- and, for a brief moment, actually being there.

Maybe this is another of those blissful side effects of aging where the best moments of our lives reside in a glass darkly. Constant reminders that what our parents told us is true -- that everything does turn out well in the end. And we get to live them over and over as if our best experiences were trapped in a silver heaven of film that plays on reel after reel.

Or maybe I simply ate too much sugar before I took my nap.

Either way, it is a lovely Sunday evening, I have friends who think about me, and the world is filled with possibilities.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

gassing the goat

Earlier this week I received an email from a reader who posed a question I am occasionally asked.

"What's a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like Melaque?"

I chuckled. It was not just the clever use of a line from Blazing Saddles that amused me. It was the fact that the question proceeded from a false assumption.

I am far from an urbanite.

Don't get me wrong. I love big cities. New York. London. Paris. I even considered retiring in two of them until I realized it is not the cities I like. It is what they have to offer. And I can always fly there when I have the urge to indulge in their offerings of haute culture.

There is a bit of Oliver Wendell Douglas in me, though "farm living is [not] the life for me." Given a choice, I will always choose the virtues of Jeffersonian agrarianism over effete urbanism.

That is one reason I appreciated the sight yesterday of a small famliy of goats wending their way through our local filling station. It is not a sight I would see in Manhattan -- or even Salem. Here, it did not seem a bit unusual.

And that is as good an answer as any to the question of why this faux-sophisticate finds moments of grace in his rural hermitage. 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

on the road with mexpatriate

I mentioned last Saturday that I had just returned from a very brief trip to Lake Chapala -- and that I had two traveling tips to pass along.

One may have some permanency. The other, I hope, was an aberration.

You can see my first news item at the top of this essay. On the route to and from Lake Chapala, there are five or six toll booths where tribute must be paid to the God Who Maintains Some of the World's Best Highways. Tribute amounting to 378 pesos. Or about $19 (US). One way.

The first toll booth is between Manzanillo and Tecoman. I started fumbling, as I usually do, for cash (a 500-peso note at the first toll) when I am about 1000 feet from the booth.

When I focused again on the several traffic lanes, there was something new. A series of bright yellow load restricters led to one lane. A lane that announced that cars of a certain height and width could proceed without paying a toll.

I zoomed through -- an experience that reminded me of my military duties in the 1970s when I drove Greek roads toll-free -- several pesos wealthier.

The photograph is not of that booth. It is the new toll booth near lago de Sayula. The restricters were there, but tolls were required.

What to make of this? I do not know. I was going to stop at one of the booths and interview someone in charge. But, when I am on a travel roll, I roll.

Maybe one of you has better information. It appears that some automobiles are going to be able to travel with less expense in the future.

My second news item is not as good. Or, at least, I think it is. Because I do not have any hard facts, I am simply going to report what I saw.

On my drives to the Guadalajara, I encounter four or five police cars. I do not drive slow. That is an understatement. I regularly travel about 20% above the speed limit.

But, on the toll roads, you would think I was one of those old men in Miami who putts along in the left lane with his turn signal continually flashing and a hula girl dancing from his rear-view mirror. Most cars pass me by going at least 20 MPH faster than I am driving. Even so, I keep my eye out for the police.

I did not have to look intently on my Wednesday trip. There were at least six police cars between Barra de Navidad and Manzanillo. That was unusual. By the time I reached Colima, I had counted over twenty. And there were more past there. Usually congregated at the toll booths.

There were even more on my drive back to Barra on Friday. On the trip up, most of the police were waiting along the side of the highway. A couple had the usual trucker and motorcycle targets pulled over.

What was different on the trip back was the number of cars and pickups that were pulled over with their contents unloaded onto the shoulder. Just outside of Colima, what I assume were the occupants of the stopped car, were on the ground with two police officers holding rifles on them. There were six police cars at that stop -- and more were on the way.

About ten miles further along there was a less dramatic stop. Two police cars and the driver held at pistol-bay with his hands on the trunk of his car.

And it was not just police. There were three Army convoys -- one consisting of troops in the back of four white pickups. CFE (our electricity utility) pickups. That is the first time I have seen that.

When I asked my usual police source in Melaque if he knew what was up, he feigned a lack of knowledge and mumbled something about a Jalisco cartel declaring war on a Michoacan cartel in a territory expansion bid. That was not really news. The same story had been reported in the local newspapers.

And what is the moral of that tale? I really do not know because information involving this topics is always subject to a trip through the salt shaker.

What I do know is that I made my trip to Lake Chapala (successful in some respects, not in others) and returned home safely.

And I still have those two tolls to my credit. 

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

one of these is not like the others

Sometimes I feel as if Barra de Navidad is in a time warp.

Of course, it is. That is one reason I like living here. But I was thinking of a very specific slice of anachronism.

In the eleven years I have lived here, I have seen several changes in Mexican bank notes. 

  • 2010 --  Diego Rivera replaced Ignacio Zaragoza on the 500-peso note.
  • 2011 -- The Bank of Mexico issued commemorative notes celebrating the bicentennial of Mexican Independence and the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution: a Revolution-era steam engine on the 100-peso note and Miguel Hidalgo on the 200-peso note. That last one is a favorite of mine because it is printed portrait rather than landscape.
  • 2017 -- The Bank issued a commemorative 100-peso note honoring the anniversary of enactment of the Mexican Constitution of 2017.
  • 2018 -- Benito Juarez replaced  Diego Rivera on the 500-peso note as the first step in issuing new notes for each denomination.
  • 2019 -- The second step was to replace Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz on the 200-peso note with Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos y Pavón, in honor of the War of Independence.
I have written about the last few revisions. But there is always a time lapse between the Bank's announcement that new notes are on the way and when they actually show up in wallets here on the Pacific coast. That is why I was surprised last year to see the 500-peso show up in a San Patricio ATM last year within two weeks of being issued (money makes the words go round).

It took a bit longer for a local ATM to disgorge the new 200-peso -- on Friday. Almost four weeks since it was issued.

Actually, I am not the least bit surprised it would take that long for bills in circulation to make their way here. Even after printing new notes, the Bank allows the old versions to circulate as long as they are still sound. The ATM that delivered the new 200s to me also included a 500-peso Zaragoza note. It was issued (bit not necessarily printed), eighteen years ago.

The down side of all these notes is that they all quickly disappear as I trade past-hours toiled for my current needs of food and housing. All three -- the past, the current purchases, and the notes -- disappear too quickly. As do we.

But there will always be new notes in the batter's box. The new 1000-peso note will be issued next year. Not that we will see many of them here.

Just think of your wallet as a Mexican time tunnel.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

breaking the bank rather than the bronco

I should know better.

But after six years of living in a house that requires me to make annual "trust deed" payments, you would think that I would have learned to ride the bureaucratic bank bronco.

So did I.

Because I live within the restricted zone where the Mexican Constitution prohibits foreigners from owning property outright in fee simple, I must pay annual tribute to a bank to maintain the legal fiction that it is the bank that owns my house rather than some nefarious outlander.

It is an interesting fiction.

Rather than amend Section 27 of the constitution that prohibits foreign ownership of land within 100 kilometers of the border and 50 kilometers from the coast, the Mexican congress passed a foreign investment law in 1995 that created the legal chimera I now indulge in -- along with many other foreigners. My bank (Bancomer in Cihuatlan) and I have an agreement called a fideicomiso.

I paid all of the money for the house. I insure it. I pay the taxes it generates. And I maintain it. But I do not have a fee simple interest in the property -- at least, not as we northerners use that term.

I pay the bank an annual fee and it lets me live here for 50 years. That agreement is then renewable for another 50 years. When I asked my attorney what happens then, he smiled and asked me if I had many any other plans in 2105. He had a point.

Last week Bancomer sent me an email reminding me my fee for 2019 is now due. If I wanted to keep living in the house with no name, I had best hie myself to Cihuatlan with my homage in hand.

Mexico, having a modern banking system, gave me a number of options to meet my financial obligations.

  1. Pay at the bank in either US dollars or pesos. (The fee, like many bank international charges are denominated in US dollars. $522 in my case -- including VAT.)
  2. Pay at the bank with a check. (I tried that once. My American bank account was found to be unsatisfactory for the task.)
  3. Send a check to an address in California. (Or maybe it was to a prince in Nigeria. Too time sensitive for me.) An address in Mexico City is provided as an alternative.
  4. Use a credit card. (That process is initiated by email. I have never tried it.)
The only option I have used with any success is driving to Cihuatlan and paying in US dollars. I just happened to have the exact amount handy because I was in The States recently and knew the fee was due.

But this is Mexico. And my task involved a bank. I stopped before I left the house and thought of everything that might go wrong. The most obvious bump was if the bank refused dollars, even though it has never done that in the past.

So, I took along my debit card. When none of the local ATMs are working (and that is not an uncommon occurrence here during the past year), Bancomer is where I go for cash. I could get pesos there if I needed them.

I thought I had outfoxed the system. (Please cue the hubris trombones.)

Yesterday I drove through Cihuartlan on another mission. The place was a mess. Traffic was snarled because the bridge was closed and the streets were clogged with sand washed down from the hills during our tropical depression on Sunday night. (The sand is a problem during our normal summer rains. Yesterday it was bad enough that cars were getting stuck in it.)

This morning, the bridge was opened, but the traffic was much worse. I knew why. A lot of people could not get to town yesterday because of high water. They were now in town doing what they needed to do.

One of the things they needed to do was go to the bank. There was a large line in the lobby waiting to use the bank's four ATMs. But that line was short compared to the people waiting for cashiers. My number was 47. Number 3 was being served.

The customer representative operating the new number machine was kind enough to ask why I was there. He took my letter to a cashier and returned with what he thought was bad news. I could not pay with dollars -- despite my payment history and what the letter clearly said.

I did not have that many pesos with me. Undeterred (because I had thought of this option), I retired to the ATM line. A line that had not moved since I entered the bank.

One machine was marked "out of service." But the same three people kept trying the other three machines. Over and over and over.

Finally, a very pleasant young lady informed us that the bank's system had crashed. Please come back tomorrow. And thank you for being a customer.

Everyone departed. Glum, but without grumbles.

I now need to gather up pesos to take to Cihuatlan tomorrow. I stopped at the Banamex ATM in Barra de Navidad. I did not need to even try. A notice informed me it was incapable of providing any cash -- for the moment. Come back another day.

I did learn a lesson, though. Next year I will have both US dollars and the equivalent in pesos in my hand. Mind you, I do not for one moment believe that some other requirement will jump up and send me home for another try.

What surprised me is that I did not have a northern fit -- even internally. Like the Mexicans in the ATM line, I left glum, but without grumbles.

And that is something Mexico has taught me. I may not get my way all of the time, but everything will turn out just fine.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

in the still of the day

There is nothing quite as disconcerting as nature in repose.

The first experience I can remember was on 12 October 1962 -- what we from the Pacific Northwest still colloquially call The Columbus Day storm. The Big Blow.

I had just returned home from grade school. The afternoon had an eerie calm. No dogs barking. No birdsong. Just silence.

Well, silence from nature. People were still going about their mundane lives oblivious to the extratropical storm that was bearing down on us. Some claimed to see a mystical yellowish light in the western sky minutes before the storm hit.

With the exception of the light (the stuff  superstitions are made of), this morning was just as silent as that afternoon almost 57 years ago.

When I stepped out of my bedroom, there was no breeze, no chattering birds, no geckos smooching it up.  Just silence. In its silence, even the air seemed to hang heavy.

The comparison with my first big wind storm made me wonder if I had been wrong about the storm on its way here. The National Hurricane Center had predicted disturbance Sixteen would arrive here late this afternoon as a tropical storm. Nothing out of the norm for our summers.

But it felt as if the storm now re-christened Narda (as if it were some second-tier C.S. Lewis adventure) might have some surprises in store for us. I even ran across a friend who swore that it was a category three hurricane.

I once said I thought I would never experience anything as anti-climatic as an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I was wrong.

Last night our bay experienced one of our regular thunder storms. It was not related to Narda, but it certainly seemed like a fitting prelude to a true tropical storm.

Imagine being stuck in a timpani with a Jacob's ladder as your sole companion while by a testosterone-fueled teenager swings his mallets above as buckets of water continually pour over your head. That was our storm last night. I personally love those periodic shows.

But Narda was yet to arrive. It did this afternoon. Not as a hurricane. Not as a tropical storm. But as a tropical depression. Its passage over land had sapped most of its Thorian power.

No thunder. No lightning. A bit of a wind. And quite a bit of rain.

Enough rain to transform Barra de Navidad's streets into a miniature Venice. Of course, that means the contents of our sewer pipes that were once flowed underground are now floating down the streets just like -- well, just like Venice.

The rain is still falling. But it has been transformed into the type of soft rain that used to draw me to on the Oregon coast.

So, there you have it. If this had been an Andrew Lloyd Webber production, there would not be one memorable song. I guess that would be the same thing.

That is good enough for me. The farmers are getting their rain. For the rest of us, the aquifers are being refreshed.

Best of all, the temperature has fallen to a blessed 79 degrees. Tonight there will be no need for fans, let alone air conditioning.

I talked with some acquaintances this afternoon about the affect television news has had on our anxiety about weather. Every cloud now portends a Dorian.

No one was a better prophet on this, and most other social phenomenon, than Matt Groening. Summing it all up is the inestimable Kent Brockman:

Update: I may have been too hasty to call Narda over. We are now getting some healthy gusts of wind. I will let you know in the morning what our towns look like.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

storm sa brewin'

I am back in Barra after spending two days in Ajijic.

I will share my Ajijic impressions and some travel tales involving tolls and police activity. But that can wait until Sunday and Monday. I think.

But there is a story percolating now that I wanted to talk about. I watched our hurricane that passed over Barra earlier this month from the tranquility of the Oregon high desert. There is a possibility that I may be treated to a reprise. Here in Barra this time

For the last two days I have watched a weather pattern developing south of Acapulco. Actually, there were two. One came to nothing, as most of them do. But the other has daily increased its possibilities of turning into either a depression or a tropical storm. About an hour ago, it received its temporary christening -- Sixteen.

What is a bit surprising is how quickly it is developing. There is a 90% chance of the pattern turning into a depression or storm within 48 hours. The map explains why our morning is heavily overcast. We are already seeing part of the weather system.

Here are two interesting pieces of data:

1. The system is moving west-northwestward. If the westward component prevails, the disturbance should move out to sea before it reaches us. But, if the northwestward component prevails, it could run right over the top of us -- just like hurricane Lorena did. But, this time, as a tropical stprm. The current path says we will experience some of it. Whatever it is going to be.

2. The National Hurricane Center feels the disturbance is worth warnings. "Interests along that portion of the coast [southwestern Mexico -- that includes us] should monitor the progress of this disturbance since tropical storm watches or warnings could be required later today or Sunday." We are part of that blue potential warning line on the map.

As always, there is no need for panic over storms this minor. They simply take a bit of planning and watching. With all of that summer-warm water out there, there is plenty to feed the system as it develops.

Even if it does not turn into a depression or storm, The Hurricane Center is warning of heavy rainfall with possible flash flooding and mudslides for the next few days. Starting tonight or Sunday around Acapulco. We should see activity Sunday evening.

It is that time of year.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

falling into the season

It passed right by and I did not feel a thing.

The first day of fall.

The cy
cle of seasons always make for good blog fodder. Four essays each year are just there for the plucking. And I wasted one. Instead of talking about the crisp air and autumn leaves, I was yammering on about the banana plague headed our way(don't slip on that peel).

Well, the part about crisp air and autumn leaves just does not happen here. We are at the height of our Very Wet and Hot season that has very little to do with spiced cider and afternoon football games. The first day of any season is a bit hard to detect in this neck of the woods.

The only real sign that Earth is on its constant route around the sun is our slightly diminished day length. I say "slightly" because Barra de Navidad is not Svalbard where the sun will soon disappear from the sky.

Because we are much closer to the equator at 19 degrees north than at Prineville's 44 degrees (where I just spent two weeks on an aborted mission), the days still seem relatively long to me. Even though both Barra and Prineville now have just over 12 hours of sunlight each day, Barra will gain the edge with each passing day until the balance swings in Prineville's favor around the first day of Spring next year. The swing, of course, is far more radical for those of you who call The Great White North home.

Yesterday, a reader and Facebook friend, Gayla Pierce, announced she had pulled out her astrological charts as part of her neighborhood Autumnal Equinox party. (She lives in California.) I told her, if I had thought of it, I would have sacrificed a couple doves to read their entrails. But that struck me as far too Shakespearean.

Apparently, the bird population took umbrage at my avian humor. I was sitting in the patio this morning reading the newspaper. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a bit of movement. When I looked up, there were fifteen or twenty black vultures, who nightly roost in the antenna beside my house, circling over me -- wheeling as if they were a squadron of bombers returning from a raid on Ploiești.

That is them in the photograph at the top of this essay. Or, rather, that is some of them. Trying to capture the entire group would have left them nigh invisible in a photograph.

But the message was clear. "You got a really nice house here. It would be a shame if someone dropped a drying cat corpse in your pool."

And that is why I am not going to share with you what I think is the obvious solution to the overpopulation of wild horse herds in the American West. (I was reading a newspaper article on that particular problem when I noticed the vultures. Nature does ape art in sardonic ways.)

I am not going to share my pony thought thoughts based on the instruction of that wise philosopher Mr. Spock: "Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end."

I do take some lessons to heart -- even if they are only another day on the calendar. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

don't slip on that peel

Someone asked me last week how it feels to live in a village under the constant threat of hurricanes.

I really did not know where to begin -- because I do not live in a village that is under a constant threat of hurricanes.

Barra de Navidad has its share of summer storms. That is how we get the rain that makes farming a going concern here on the coast
. And we do have the occasional tropical storm.

But hurricanes are a relative rarity. We have received glancing blows from only two hurricanes during the eleven years I have lived here -- Jova and Patricia. 
Well, it was two until last week when tropical storm Lorena upped her game to be a category one hurricane.

Unlike Jova and Patricia, the major portion of the storm did not turn east over mainland Mexico as the two previous hurricanes had done. Instead, it moved due north up the coast as a chimera -- part aquatic, part terrestrial -- leaving wind and rain damage in its wake.

In every storm here, the crop that pays the largest price are the banana plants. The plants look sturdy. But they are very susceptible to damage in high winds. There have been plenty of photographs posted on the internet showing snapped stems and broad leaves strewn across once-orderly fields.

Growing bananas has many risks. Wind being one of the most common. But, the banana plant's weakness is also its strength.  

The fact that a banana plant is not a tree is important to banana growers. Each plant grows only one stalk of bananas. When the stalk is cut, there is no more need for the plant. It has served its duty and will receive the Marie Antoinette treatment. That is, if Marie Antoinette had been guillotined at her feet.

Commercial bananas do not reproduce sexually. They are all clones of one another. Once a banana plant is in the ground, it will propagate through shoots from the sister plant.

Once the debris is cleared away, banana plants, like those in the photograph at the top of this essay, will sprout a new stem and produce a stalk of bananas. That is, if the grower is lucky. If not, the stalk will be cut down and the process will start all over.

I have been told that most banana plants here will produce two crops each year. Most of the banana growers are going to have a late harvest for the current crop. Some will need to start the process all over, and subsequently lose 50% of their revenue for the year.

Wind storms come and go. But banana growers the world over (including those in Mexico) are facing an imminent disease tsunmai. The grocery store banana with which we are familiar is called Cavendish -- named in honor of the Duke of Devonshire whose gardener developed it in the 1850s.

It was not the grocery banana of my youth. That was the Gros Michel that succumbed world-wide commercially to the Panama virus in the 1950s. The reason for the inevitable demise goes back to my earlier factoid. Commercial bananas do not reproduce sexually. They are clones. That means once a disease strikes a banana strain, it is just a matter of time before it can no longer be grown profitably.

And as went the Gros Michel, so is the Cavendish going. For Gros Michel, it was the Panama virus. For the Cavendish it is a fungus: black leaf streak. The fungus has been held at bay in some areas, but it is a losing strategy. The disease will win out eventually because of the cost of fighting it.

Science has an answer. Several botanical strategies have been developed. But the most promising was announced earlier this year. Through gene splicing, scientists believe they have found a way for the plant itself to fight off the fungus. That, of course, will mean eventually digging up all of the Cavendish root stock and replacing it with a fungus-resistant Cavendish.

And, yes, in another 50 years or so, some other disease will develop that will Humpty-Dumpty even the Super Cavendish. It is the inherent weakness of cloned crops.

I doubt I will ever witness a fourth variety of banana on my breakfast table. That would mean living longer than my mother -- who has far better genes than any banana plant.

But it goes to prove, even with our obsession with the weather, there are far deadlier things in life than a tropical storm. Especially if you are a banana.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

not cottoning to politics in my mother's garage

Change comes in increments.

When I sold my house in Salem in 2013, I pulled a St. Francis and gave away most of the goods I had accumulated over the past sixty-something years. Almost everything either went to the dump, Goodwill, or the Salvation Army. Clothes. Furniture. Books. Vinyl records. Electronics. Stalin conducted lighter purges.

But not everything was sent off to the Gulag. Of course, there was the Escape-load of personal items that I took to Mexico in 2009. And there were several boxes of items that managed to escape destruction. Most, for sentimental reasons.

Sentiment is an odd thought pattern. I realized that this week when I moved some boxes that I had stored at my mother's house.

I am not certain why I did not throw out the contents of those five boxes. This month, I decided it was time to move those boxes south. There are too many to ship by air. I can take a few items in my suitcases on this trip back to Mexico. But I will need to return with my current Escape to move the remainder south.

That meant it was time to triage the contents with a fresh eye.

I suspect everyone falls into the trap of nostalgia when sifting through possessions they have not seen in years. I had kept a lot of loose photographs that created a rather manicured thread of my life. Grade school. High school. College. Air Force. Politics.

Some of you know that I ran for an Oregon legislative seat in 1988. I have been involved in politics all of my life. In high school, in addition to being conversant with major league baseball statistics, I could recite the names of every person in the United States Senate and House -- by state, sometimes by district. I was a regular reader of The Congressional Record. It was merely a matter of time before I would run for office.

In 1988 I lived in a House district in suburban Portland that was represented by a two-term incumbent. That would usually be a warning signal. Incumbents tend to win. But he had won both times by extremely close margins.

Before I could meet him in the general election, I had to win a primary against an opponent who was over 20 years older than I. (I was 38 at the time.) He was also far to my right. Both factors made it a very close primary election. I won by 111 votes. Awarding me the sobriquet: "Landslide Cotton."

While filtering the boxes, I ran across one of the many mailers the campaign sent to voters. The issues I ran on seem quite familiar: crime, property tax relief, jobs, workers' compensation reform, public school funding.

I will confess that other than fund-raising, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There is something exhilarating when friends, family, and total strangers get together with the common goal of improving governance.*

If you already knew I ran, you also know how the tale ends. On election night the race was too close to call because of a large number of write-in ballots for an Oregon Supreme Court seat. Only a couple hundred votes separated my result from my opponent's. We had to wait almost a full week to discover that my opponent had once again pulled off a victory in the closest race of the 60 assembly seats.

I did not run again -- for a number of reasons. But my box-rummaging Reminded me just how professional the campaign was. Most of us were volunteers, but we also had professional advice. That distinctive green and white graphic in the photograph art the top of this essay was borrowed from a candidate who had run for governor.

When mistakes were made, they were the result of good intentions gone bad. The worst one involved a campaign button.

In 1965 a state representative (later US Senator) by the name of Bob Packwood started the Dorchester Conference. It was originally designed as a forum to discuss how Oregon Republicans could re-build their party after the 1964 Goldwater election. Because of it genesis, it was long-viewed as a liberal Republican conference.

The conference always attracted politicians interested in election. My campaign was there in the winter of 1988.

My campaign manager told me she and our campaign consultant had cooked up a surprise. When I arrived, the two of them had set up our booth in the foyer of the Seaside convention center. Our green-and-white lawn signs, buttons, brochures, and bumper stickers were tidily displayed.

Then, I saw the surprise. And here it is.

I was dismayed. For two reasons. The less-important reason is that "pick Cotton" was something you might see on a construction paper poster for a candidate seeking the class treasurer position of his high school class.

The more-important reason is the obvious one. "I'm a Cotton picker" sends exactly the wrong message on my stand concerning racial equality.

There was only one button left on the table. I took it. All the rest had been sold and were being worn by delegates. I tried to buy them back. No one would give up theirs.
In the end, it all blew over. It did not become an issue in the campaign. But it is a reminder to me every time I see it that even the best-run project can go astray.

I will now give you a warning. When I get back to Mexico, I will undoubtedly stumble down nostalgia lane with a few of the odder pieces I have discovered in my mother's garage.

It appears I will be heading back to Barra de Navidad on Friday with my business in Oregon unfinished. We will talk then.

* -- That sentence made me chuckle. The Economist recently reviewed a series of presidential political campaign books. My very earnest sentence seems to be akin to the reviewer's summary of Bernie Sanders's writing style.
Each chapter in Bernie Sanders's book, for instance, is headlined with a date. Where We Go From Here reads as though, on those particular dates, he turned on the recording function on his smartphone, shouted into it for a while, and then got an intern to transcribe everything.

Monday, September 16, 2019

independencia from afar

Today is my favorite secular Mexican holiday. Independence day.

Admittedly, the Mexican Revolution was far more important in forming the Mexico we know today. But I have a fondness for Mexico's declaration of independence from Spain.

That sentence contains the reason for my visceral camaraderie with this day in Mexican history. Mexico and the United States both threw off monarchical European overlords to establish republics in North America.

Admittedly, Mexico immediately fell off the republican wagon with a short-lived emperor (1810 or 1821?). But exile and a firing squad got the country back on the republican road.

I have celebrated Independence Day in several Mexican cities. But my favorites were in Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende.

Dolores Hidalgo because that is where Miguel Hidalgo declared his el grito early on the morning of 16 September 1810. Ending his immortal call to arms with "Death to bad government and death to the Spaniards!" Lots of Spaniards died (as well as Mexicans). As for death to bad government, that is still an international project in process.

San Miguel de Allende makes the list for historical and spectacle reasons. It was the town where the independence plans were laid and where the military and popular forces of the Independence movement met up. In modern times, San Miguel de Allende has used its wealth and status as a tourist magnet to sponsor memorable parades -- complete with mobs of campesinos carrying Spanish-bloodied machetes. Red paint has to suffice these days.

That does not mean I do not enjoy our local Independence Day parades. I do. It gives me an opportunity to see my neighborhood boys and girls dressed up as heroes of the war. We even occasionally have the odd anachronistic float honoring the 1862 Battle of Puebla -- further confusing northern minds about Cinco de Mayo (feliz cinco de mayo).

This year, I will miss it. My business in Oregon will keep me here for a bit longer. But, today my thoughts are in Barra de Navidad where one or more of the neighborhood boys will be dressed as Miguel Hidalgo screaming out his lungs for Mexican independence.

Long may it live.  

Saturday, September 14, 2019

don't flush this essay down the toilet

There I was at St. Charles hospital last night thinking there was no possibility of finding a hook for the day's essay.

A trip to the bathroom proved me wrong.

Bathroom signs are a wealth of humor. Most of it inadvertent. Often, it is merely tastelessly ambiguous.

I have already written about the "TOILET PAPER ONLY!" warning. It appears in almost every public bathroom. And it does not mean what it says. At least, I hope it does not mean what it says. The reason for a toilet is to put something other than toilet paper in the toilet.
But that was not the best line. After adding a specific warning that the toilet prevents "flushing of wipes," the sign boldly goes where no man has gone before.

"DO NOT PUT HAND IN TOILET!" I  can honestly confess I have never been tempted to put my hand in a toilet. Well, except for the time I accidentally dropped my trial book in a used toilet.

The announced reason for not putting one's hand in the toilet was just as alarming. "It contains a sharp device that can cause injury."

I once represented prisoners who were allegedly receiving drugs from warders who would leaver the package in the prisoner's toilet. But that did not make sense in a hospital. At least, in a public restroom.

A quick internet search revealed the answer. The sharp device ids a Traptex. It is designed to capture anything other than toilet paper before it makes its way into the pipes and clogs the system. Wipes. Toys. Uneaten meals. Trial books. It makes perfect sense.

I have spent years trying to come up with an alternative to the "toilet paper only" warning. Something that is a bit more informative -- and accurate. But anything that meets both of those criteria suffers from the virtue of frankness. So, I have abandoned the task. Besides, the version in restrooms tickles my fancy.

That is why I am not going to bother editing the remonstration against putting  hands in the toilet bowl water. I still have a vision of people washing their hands there, being very careful to avoid the piranha-like teeth at the mouth of the pipe of clogs.

At least, the sign (and ensuing reverie) was a diversion from the day's other mission. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

putting politics in perspective

OK. I confess. It was not just a Camaro. (putting the granfalloon to the test).

My two-night stay in Portland was a yuppie -- or whatever upwardly mobile GenXers call themselves these days -- holiday.

Because of flight schedules, it is difficult to fly from Manzanillo to Bend in one day. Impossible if I fly through Portland, instead of Seattle. So, I have become very familiar with the hotels at the Portland airport. My favorite is Aloft.

It is more expensive than the other standard brands, but not outlandish. One night costs about the same as my rental of The Car.

But I usually do not choose my hotels on the basis of their cost. Even if I am staying only one night, I like the place to not only be comfortable, but to have a certain ambiance.

The Aloft rooms are spare -- in a SoHo sort of way. All the amenities are there, but they do not bombard me with Annabel Elliot froufrous. They are the type of rooms that thirtysomethings like to remind themselves of university dormitory rooms as they wish they had been -- while retaining an edge of cool.

You know, the type of place where a 70-year old geezer looks as out of place as a Big Mac at Noma. But, as Felipe has pointed out several times, I do like being contrary.

To top off my age-inappropriate day, I wandered over to the Ikea store near the hotel. (And, no, the framing of the traffic control device is not a political statement on my part.)

But politics did come to mind as I was walking through the store. I am always a sucker for signs that are just a tad sardonic.

Because we are in another political season (not just in The States, but in Canada, and the United Kingdom), it would do all of us well to remember that government fortunately touches our lives lightly each day. Allowing ourselves to get twisted around an emotional axle is most often just a waste of our own psychic energy.

Plenty of politicians will soon be promising us they are the answer to all of our problems. It will not be a new dance. That vaudeville show has long been with us.

But Ikea had a far pithier summary than I could ever conjure. And at a price we can all afford.


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

putting the granfalloon to the test

Kurt Vonnegut was a master at creating words.

One of my favorites is "granfalloon."

Vonnegut debuted the word in Cat's Cradle and used it in several of his subsequent novels. His definition morphed over time, but the concepts remained constant.

My favorite is "a seeming team that is meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done." His examples included "Hoosiers" (people from the state of Indiana), "the Communist party," "the Daughters of the American Revolution" -- and any group calling itself "the class of ...".

Granfalloon is a great word. But clever though he may be, Vonnegutt could simply be wrong now and then.

My trip north was an example. On Sunday, I joined some of my fellow high school Class of 1967. We had celebrated our 50th reunion two summer ago. This gathering was to celebrate the birthday we have in common this year. We will all be (or have turned) 70.

One of my best friends from high school told me he was not going because he did not need to be reminded that he had slipped overnight from being middle age into codgerdom. Because I have a deeper strain of schadenfreude in my soul, I had to confess that might have been one of the reasons I was going to attend.

If I really had been that jejune, I would have been sorely disappointed. For a group of Americans who are now working on their eighth decade, my classmates were looking a bit frisky.

The picnic was scheduled at Risley Landing Park. It was like going home again for me. My friend Neil Hodgin and I both lived on Risley Avenue. His house was just a few lots from the Willamette River. The two of us spent quite a few of our grade schools days on or in the river.

We had something of a Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer friendship. We never did get around to rafting our way down the Willamette, but we would often swim across to Hog Island -- a name that offered far more interesting adventure prospects than we ever encountered.

But it was the perfect place to rest on the rocks in the summer, to watch the nuns from the convent running barefoot through the edge of the river, and to talk about our great plans for the future. No ennui for us. We were guys on the move

Unfortunately, Neil was not there to reminisce with us. He died before our class's 50th reunion. The last time I saw him was when a few of us gathered together for lunch at the Monarch Hotel before I moved to Mexico.

But there were plenty of other people there, who I do not see often enough, but who have had a marked effect on my life. My friend Holly is an example. She and I were voted "most-outgoing" by our classmates. (The equivalent of "Miss Congeniality" at beauty contests, I think.) That is her on the left.

Her mother, Mrs. Metz, was my senior and junior year English teacher. She taught me to love writing. It is because of her that these pages exist. She is also the person who is directly responsible for building my vocabulary. That "ennui" above comes directly from one of her vocabulary sheets.

Because the picnic was in Oregon and the calendar notified us we were to the right of Labor Day, the odds were high we would have rain. The odds won.

It was not a Barra de Navidad rain. Instead, it was that soft rain that reminded me of every Boy Scout camping trip in Oregon. Being Oregonians, we accommodated.

I needed to rent a car for the day to drive the 19 miles from my airport hotel to the picnic in Oak Grove. When I reserved the car, while I was still in Mexico, the weather in Portland was not only sunny -- it was hot. Perfect convertible weather.

I walked over to the Thrifty office to pick up a 2019 Camaro convertible. I thought I had just won the grand prize on Let's Make a Deal. It was quite snazzy -- and a great drive.

Of course, there were two problems. And you have already seen both of them.

First, was the rain. Even though it was a light and sporadic rain, taking down the top would simply have been exhibitionist.

And that is also the second problem. Exhibitionism. Thios is not an old guy car. A friend at the picnic jokingly asked me if I was having a mid-life crisis. I told him: No. Not unless I am planning to live to 140.

And I am not. But I hope to live on long enough to get together with people who have been (and are) a part of who I am.

If a "granfalloon" is 
"a seeming team that is meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done," my class is not a total granfalloon. At the picnic, people gathered in little groups of memory to rebuild those connections "in the way God gets things done."
That realization was enough to make this trip north well worth the effort. 

Saturday, September 07, 2019

plugging in

Mexico never fails to surprise. In pleasantg ways.

That photograph is a good example.

The Manzanillo airport has been undergoing major updates for the last year. It appears we are finally at a Kansas-City-up-to-date. New bathrooms. New security. And new connectivity.

Before the airport went into spruce-up mode, there were a limited number of electrical outlets for those of us who regularly have a digital jones. The only saving grace was the table below the plugs that catered to laptop users.

During the renovation, one table disappeared. Today, the second table is gone. Instead, the new seats in the waiting area are equipped with power -- an egalitarian solution.

The only down side is there are no flat surfaces available for computers. A quick look around the room showed that was not a problem. Smartphones have replaced what we once needed a laptop to do. So, I decided to write this essay on my telephone.

Some of you are probably asking what I am doing at the airport. The answer is simple. I am heading north to Oregon for a short visit.

On Sunday, my high school class is having a picnic  to celebrate all of our 70th birthdays.  I am looking forward to it.

I will then fly over to Bend and Prineville  to indulge in a little personal business. I may tell you more about that later.

But, right now, I am going to celebrate these electrical outlets.