Friday, May 24, 2019

tempering the temper


One of the most pleasant discoveries I have made in publishing my periodic essays is the number of relationships this process creates. And often I do not know it is happening.


My last missive was on Sunday. I told you about my almost-nil electric bill as a result of my new solar array and that a guest had just arrived from The States. Then, everything went black. At least, on your end.

I have received several email from readers; some not disguising a very worried subtext. Had my health issue, that I wrote about last week, taken a turn for the worst?  Had I encountered an Agatha Christie plot twist where my existence had been reduced to a chalk outline in the library? Had the Air Force finally figured out who the true Assange mole was?

All of those would be far more interesting narratives than the one I am about to relay. Truth can be stranger than fiction. But it is usually simply far more mundane.

Something woke me up early on Monday morning. I can’t tell you exactly what it was. Maybe the sound of the computer clicking off and almost immediately clicking on again.

We have a lot of those micro-outages here -- even those of us with solar power. The only way I know they occur is because my oven clock reverts to a new winky time.

The inconsistency of our power supply is extremely rough on the electronic equipment attached to it. Our fluctuating voltage can fry the inner workings of appliances over time. That is why I have both voltage regulators and high-quality surge protectors on almost everything that plugs into the wall.

When I got up on Monday, I went through my usual routine. I read The Oregonian, practiced my Spanish for an hour, read an article or two in The Economist, and turned on my computer to catch up on my favorite blogs.

But there were no favorite blogs – because there was no wi-fi. The modems we receive here from Telmex (the provider of internet services through my land line) are, to put it politely, not the sturdiest equipment on the digital highway. An acquaintance, who is far less fastidious with his characterizations, calls them “garbage.” Imagine a Prius designed and manufactured in North Korea, and you get the picture.

I performed all of the recommended triage on my non-responding patient, and slapped a DNR on its medical records. The procedure is familiar. In eleven years of living here, this is probably my twelfth or thirteenth replacement modem.

Because Omar was home, I asked him to call Telmex in Mexico City and order a new one. That is now the required procedure. Not the Omar part. The calling Mexico City.

When I moved here, I could drive to Manzanillo and exchange my dead modem for a new one. Then, the procedure changed slightly. I had to call and obtain an incident number. With that, I could drive to Manzanillo and get a new modem.

I guess that was too easy because Telmex briefly changed the drill. A call would generate an order for a technician to show up at the house to install the new modem. But, even that was short-lived.

During the last two modem tangos, I was given the option of having a technician bring my modem or I could have it delivered. It would take a technician two weeks; delivery would be in three days. Or so I was ytold. I chose delivery. It took two weeks. Both times.

On Monday, Omar selected the three-day delivery option, and received an incident number. It is now Friday and no modem is at the house.

For some reason, I knew it was not a good idea for me to call. I often lose patience in dealing with the Telmex bureaucracy. But this should have been a very simple call. Here is my incident number, where is my modem in the delivery process?

Omar was getting ready for school, but I asked him to make the follow-up call. It was a good choice. I could tell by his repetition of the incident number on the telephone that something was wrong.

He then started going through all of the steps Telmex puts a customer through before allowing a new modem to be ordered. He had done all of them on Monday. I kept muttering in the background: “We have a number. Where is our modem?”

Even though Telmex had put him through all of the same paces earlier in the week, he performed them again without once letting a hint of frustration enter his voice. As if this was simply his lot in life.

When he hung up the telephone, he told me Telmex had no record that we had ever called, but the modem would be here in an additional three days. An additional three business days. I am assuming that hoping that will happen by next Wednesday is just plain wishful thinking.

I say it was a good idea to have Omar call --  that my patience would have been tried and found wanting. But I know how things work around here. Allowing myself to get frustrated and striking out would simply have impeded my receipt of a new modem. Knowing that, I would have gritted my teeth and imitated my son’s demeanor.

I have started looking into the possibility of buying a backup modem. A number of people here in the village have told me they have purchased modems on mercado libre. But no one has yet told me that the modem actually connects with Telmex’s service.

My brother and I tried to get a northern modem with the same specifications as a Telmex modem to connect to my system last year. It wouldn’t. Adding a northern router to increase range did work -- but only with the Telmex modem.

I have seen several discussions on message boards in gringo-heavy Mexican communities. Most of those boards are filled with information that appears wrong on its face. But several people with obvious computer backgrounds contend that Telmex adds customized firmware to its modems. If that is true, that is probably why our non-Telmex modem was not responsive.

So, for the next week or two, I may be a bit sporadic in posting. I will have to search out places with available wi-fi as if I were a peso-pinching tourist. But I know that routine. I have been one.

At least, you now that that Colonel Mustard did not commit the murder in the kitchen with the pipe wrench.


Saturday, May 18, 2019

solar banking




Some things are true even though they may not be factual. Take my discussion yesterday about how my solar energy system works (moving to mexico -- cutting costs).

I switched into Classics Illustrated mode when I gave the impression that I do not rely on the electrical grid until I use more energy than my solar provides. That is true, but it is not factually accurate. What really happens is only slightly more complex.

During the daylight hours, my solar panels generate energy. Right now, I am not using all of that power. It is transmitted to CFE to sell to other customers. And I am credited for my power generation to the grid.

When the sun goes down, my panels effectively sleep. They are no more productive than your niece's husband who you hired only under family. My home system then draws on the power that CFE produces from all of its resources -- including me.

My meters then calculate how much power I send to CFE and the power that CFE sells to me. That daily calculation has (so far) meant that I produce more power than I use.

And on that point, I was both true and factual: "If I do not use all the credits at the end of my fiscal year, CFE will cut me a check that I can deposit in my new Mexican bank account."

My pal Rick Noble has annotated my CFE bills to assist all of us in understanding just how many credits I have in the power bank. His notes are at the top of this essay.

Adding both bills together, I generated 1,064 kWh that went into the grid and I used 403 kWh of CFE's power, giving me a credit of 670 kWh. The bottom line is that I have banked about 60% of the power I generated.


Those are the kind of facts that make me a true believer. And I thank those of you who do not have solar panels for buying my power.



Friday, May 17, 2019

moving to mexico -- cutting costs


I did not move to Mexico to save money.

And it is good that I did not, I ran a comparative budget about a year ago. The results were a bit surprising.

Before I moved down here, I was told that my cost-of-living would be about 50% (or less) of what it would be in The States. That number was suspicious. The cost-of-living in Huron, South Dakota is not the same as living in Central Park South on Manhattan. I knew I would not save 50% over my living costs in Salem, Oregon, which is somewhere between those two American communities.

It turns out I was correct. I am saving money by living in Barra de Navidad, but my living costs here are about 80% of those in Salem. So, I am saving some money. But certainly not 50%.

Not that that matters. Because I am living a far better life style here than I would in Salem, and no amount of money saved would make up for that.

Today I received a piece of news that would have had me beaming from ear-to-ear if I cared that much about living costs. And even though I don't, I am grinning.

You have already seen the news. At the top of this essay.

It is my CFE (electric) bills (one for each meter) for the past two months with my solar array in full operation. The total of $93 (MX), or less than $5 (US) is only the connection fee to be part of CFE's grid.

Compare that to more than $5,000 (Mx) (about $570 US) bills that started this whole process. Ignoring the installation cost, that is a big drop for the electricity line of my budget.

The only power I used was generated by the solar array. Plus I have generated excess credits that I can draw upon if my usage this summer increases. If I do not use all the credits at the end of my fiscal year, CFE will cut me a check that I can deposit in my new Mexican bank account.

As I have written before, I wanted solar because I thought it would be cool. It turns out that it very well may be good for my budget -- as I recapture my capital investment every two months. 


Thursday, May 16, 2019

moving to mexico -- seeing it all with new eyes


Some sights are not what a pilot wants to see.

Yesterday afternoon I was on my way to the Manzanillo airport to pick up my house guest -- Cailin Maccionnath, Josh's mother. One of my favorite parts of the drive is when I crest a hill and a large expanse of coconut palms planted on an alluvial flood plain stretches to the horizon. For good reason it is called el mar de cocos (the sea of coconut palms), because that is exactly what it looks like.

But there was a disturbing site yesterday. The Manzanillo airport is built at the edge of the plantations. When I glanced over that way, there was a large cloud of smoke billowing into the sky.

Fires are common this time of year around here. Just before the rains come, farmers and other property owners burn off the dried grass and bushes on their property.

The practice is ancient and has its roots in early farming practices around the world. The theory is that the burning will sterilize the soil for new crops or, at least, give crop seedlings a fighting chance.

Most of the fires are purposely set. And, because the vegetation here is intermixed with green plants, the fires almost always meet a natural firebreak. But, often, they don't, and another property owner's fields are burned, as well.

That should have been my first thought. It wasn't. I started fumbling with my telephone to check on the status of the Alaska flight I was to meet. It was still listed as arriving in another half-hour. Thoughts of what I would tell Josh danced through my head.

It turns out the fire was not from an airplane that had met an untimely end. It was just another grass fire. The wetlands bordering the airport were in full flame -- on both sides of the road. There was certainly no apparent agricultural reason for the fire, but I do not know if it was accidental. Perhaps, it was set by the airport.

The photograph at the top of this essay was taken on the highway as I approached the fire. The cloud almost made me feel like an Exodus-mode Israelite fleeing Egypt.

So, I picked up my guest and brought her to the house with no name.

I recommend entertaining people who have not been to Mexico before -- or not to the part of Mexico where you live. It is refreshing to see what has become commonplace to me through the eyes of someone who is open to enjoying new experiences.

On the drive from the airport, Cailin was like a cop in a doughnut shop. "Look at that." "Did you see that building?" "That little girl is darling."

During the next ten days, I hope she will enjoy this part of Mexico I have chosen to call home. I may even learn something myself along the way.


From the airport parking lot

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

my norma desmond closeup


Some essays generate the most interesting email.

When I told you about cleaning my new solar panel array (paul harvey redux) earlier this week, I received several email and messages pointing out that I had not yet published any photographs of the installation. I thought I had. Looking through my past publications, I haven't.

So, here it is.

The system is divided into two sections because the house was built with two separate metering systems. The system on the west side of the house (the smaller array) provides power to the water pump, the appliances in the kitchen, and two seldom-used bedrooms.

The larger array provides power to two permanently-occupied bedrooms (one that uses air conditioning for two or three months each year), the electrical devices in the library, and the pool pump (probably the largest consumer of power in the house).

To maximize output, the panels were installed on what is essentially the third-floor level of the house, on the pavilions above the two northern bedrooms. It is the "third-floor" descriptor that makes cleaning the panels a bit problematic.

Not the small array. It is easy to hose it down, rinse it, and then clean it with a soft cloth.

It is the large array that is more difficult. Because it fills the roof, it is necessary to stand on a narrow ledge at the edge of the house to clean the panels. That is where Omar was standing when I shot him the other day.

Elke commented that Vern uses a telescoping handle with a microfiber mop. That sounds like a good solution. I would not want to lose my newly-acquired son in a reenactment of los niños héroes.

So, there you have it. A project that started in February and was wrapped up earlier this month.

As of this morning, the CFE bill has not yet arrived. That should give me some additional pleasure. I hope.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

can you spare some change?


If there are two categories of people (a trope on which I am agnostic), there are people who welcome change and people who detest it.

I would be in that first category. Like Bill Buckley, my politics are conservative, but my temperament is not. I like to see things change.

The trick is noticing that they have changed.

Yesterday I recovered enough from my mysterious bout of whateveritis to have enough strength to take a short walk to the beach. At a rather shambling and moderate pace. My neighbors, who thought I had a terminal disease when I was losing weight, are undoubtedly convinced I am one day away from a traditional rest home.

Lopez de Legazpi (named after the leader of the expedition to The Philippines that left from Barra de Navidad in 1564) is the street that runs along the beach until it ends at the start of our malecon and jetty. Where the street meets the malecon, there once was a building.

I would like to tell you what that building is. Or was. But it is no longer there. I am not certain when it was taken down, but it was sometime during my Zacatecas-Zamora-Australia trips. And I simply cannot conjure up an image from my memory.

It was merely one of those buildings that is part of our daily landscapes. When they are gone, they are difficult to recall. Similar to the guy you once saw at your daily breakfast place. When he is no longer there, it is hard to remember what he looked like.

I could have asked what was once there. My neighbor Jaime is a fisherman who is often stationed right across the street from what is open enough to accommodate playing deer and antelope. He was not there yesterday. I will ask him later.

Speaking of change. Do you remember my inaccurately-titled putative daughter Laura, her husband Josh Szurszewski, and their son Jeremiah? The traveling trio on the BMW motorcycle (moving to mexico -- driving the demons). They were an intricate part of Mexpatriate for several weeks in 2017.

Tomorrow, Josh's Mom, Cailin Maccionnath, arrives for a brief stay from Washington (the state, not the dreaded district). She will be the first visitor to stay in the house with no name this year. 

If all goes well, there is plenty of fodder there for tales of change. Sledge-hammered buildings. Newly-opened spaces. Visitors from afar. Who knows what else.

We'll find out. Together.

Monday, May 13, 2019

paul harvey redux


Story-telling old men often get distracted before they get to the end of their tantalizing narratives.

Apparently, that is the role I fell into last February when I told you in put that cow on a boat to india that my solar power array was about to go into operation. "When the full array is up, I will let you know. I may even show you a wallet-full of baby pictures."

Well, it is. And I didn't.

So, as one of my two favorite deceased commentators would (and did) say: "Here's the rest of the story."

When we left off, the crew and I were awaiting the delivery of the solar panels that would get my solar factory ready for connection to the local power grid.

As I explained earlier, my system does not include a bank of batteries to store the power I generate from Señor Sol. If my panels generate more power than I am currently using, it slips into the local power grid, and I get a credit. Essentially, I have turned myself into a mini-Edison.

But there are times the system will not generate enough power to meet my needs. For instance, at night. Then, I buy back power from the grid. The hope is that I will generate enough excess to make up for my down hours. (The reality is little more complicated than that due to retail and wholesale calculations of costs. But let's work with the simple model.)


None of that, of course, works unless my system is hooked up to CFE, our local power supplier. For that to happen, I needed my two conventional meters to be replaced with digital meters that could read the flow both ways. That happened with minimal fuss. It was probably 13 days after the array was in place that I was set to go.

And I have been operating on solar power ever since. But, the installation was not yet final.

Rick Noble, my pal and local representative for Solarbay, told me that through the wizardry of modern electronics, I could buy monitors for each of my arrays. No matter where I am on my journeys throughout the world, I can monitor the output of my system. The cost was minimal.

Not being one to pass up any new electronic toy, I bought a pair. Solarbay delivered them within days, and the technician started the installation.

This is where the only glitch popped up.

He could not get the monitors to connect with my internet because the signal was too weak. If someone had asked, I could have told them that. Because of the number of concrete barriers in the house and the inherent weakness of Telmex modems, my internet signal does not reach from one side of the house to the other -- let alone through two floors of concrete where the panels are located.

So I ordered a router to boost my signal. By the time it had arrived, I was off on my series of three trips to Zacatecas, Zamora, and Australia. When I returned this month, I informed Rick I was ready to roll.

Solarbay appeared, installed the router, and programmed it to show usage on an app on my smartphone. I should have been able to do all of that on my own. But I am glad the technicians did it. Even with the knowledge of how the system worked, it took over an hour to get everything connected, loaded, and putting out meaningful data.

Just as Jaqueline was getting ready to leave, she informed me that my panels were very dusty. Rick had told me that the panels need to be cleaned monthly to get optimum power.

Jaqueline then informed me of a service Solarbay offers. One of its employees will come to my house monthly and clean the panels.

Before she got into the details, I cut her off. Cleaning panels seemed to me to be a rather simple operation. Water. A squeegee. Some elbow grease. I could do that.

While I was in Manzanillo last week, I bought a new hose and sprayer, and told Omar that if he was not working on Saturday, we would climb to the third floor and increase the efficiency of our panels. I wanted to do it early in the morning before the sun had warmed the glass. Even Sisyphus would not undertake cleaning sun-heated windows.

So, early Saturday, we pulled out the painter's ladder, set up the new hose, and toted everything to the only place in my house where what might be called a view can be enjoyed.

Jaqueline was correct. The panels were filthy. It was not really a surprise, Barra de Navidad is one of the dustiest places I have ever lived. Of course, I never lived in Depression-era Oklahoma. The dust was further encrusted with a fine array of bird droppings. I had the good start of a guano mine.

Between the two of us, it took nearly an hour to clean the panels. And I have been feeling the effects of dragging the hose and stretching my aging back. My walking does little to strengthen my back muscles.

But, it was effort well-invested. I checked the output after our cleaning, and there was a marked improvement.



So, there you have it. The rest of the story.

Or almost. I have not yet received a two-month electric bill since the array has been in full operation. When it arrives, I guess that will be the rest of the story -- even though I did not install it because of cost. I installed it simply because it is cool. And it is that.

It took us a bit to get here, but there it is.


Saturday, May 11, 2019

bumping the grinder


Yesterday my telephone rang.

That is news only because it almost never does. And, when it does, it is usually a wrong number -- or news of another death. My smartphone serves duty primarily as a mobile computer. Three calls a month constitute heavy traffic.

But it was not a wrong number. It was Ramon, the Barra de Navidad postmaster. After the usual pleasantries, he informed me I had a package at the post office, and I could pick it up whenever I liked. Apparently, delivering it to my house was not an option.

His call was not a surprise. I had ordered several items from Amazon last month. Everything else had arrived long ago at my house through the great services of DHL.

For some reason, though, Amazon had dropped this part of the order into the sloth-like hands of the United States Postal Service who had then passed it off to the Mexican postal service.

Amazon has a very efficient and timely tracking system for my DHL deliveries. I always know where my package is. The postal service tracking system hearkens back to its pony express roots. I often do not know which country my mailed package is in.

I had calculated from the scant evidence I had that my order should arrive this week. When I checked with Ramon on Monday, it was not in his office. That changed yesterday.

Through the passage of time, I had almost forgotten what I had ordered. Then, it came to me. It was a traveling pill container.

I do not take much medication. But, what I do take, I like to sort for daily doses on Monday, the first day of each week.

I bought my current pill container in Bend a couple of years ago. And it has served me well. It has seven daily containers that stack on one another. It is a perfect fit for my backpack.

It turns out the plastic it is made of is not quite as perfect a match. When the back pack flexes, the plastic does not. The result is cracked containers and spilled tablets.

I saw a replacement (or, at least, I thought it was a replacement) on Amazon. And the labels for the days of the week were in Spanish. A double bonus. Because of my past experience of breakage, I ordered two.

When Ramon handed me the package, I was a bit surprised how large it was. It felt as if I had been shipped two flashlights. And I was not far off.

The pill containers I ordered were almost as thick as a soda can. If I wanted to open up a pharmacy, I had the perfect place to store my inventory. But, as  traveling pill containers, they were not up to the job. There is not enough space in my backpack (where it would share space with my electronic companions) for a container this large. I will need to buy something else.

Now I had the problem of what to do with these new containers. Then, it hit me. When life serves up lemons, cook up a veal piccata.

Just before I left on my last round of trips, Amazon delivered a spice grinder. Jennifer Rose is the godmother of that purchase. She re-ignited my love of cooking with seeds.

Over the past few months, I have gleaned a healthy inventory of whole seeds. They are far more common here than I originally thought. At least, for some seeds. Cardamom pods are still as rare as fresh legs of lamb.

Grinding one's own spices completely changes how foods taste. That is not news to cooks. We get in the habit of buying pre-ground spices because it is convenient. And the quality of of our cooking is sacrificed on the altar of Kronos.

I can grind individual spices (coriander, cumin, fennell, Sansho pepper, Szechuan pepper) in small quantities. And I now have a place to store them for short periods.



The reason I bought the spice grinder initially was to make my own garam masala. There are plenty of recipes; some being better for specific dishes than others. I will grind up a batch to occupy another container in my spice condominium.

Maybe my telephone should ring more often.    


Friday, May 10, 2019

happy mother's day


Or Happy Mothers' Day, for those who demand inclusivity. Or Happy Mothers Day, for those who revel in ambiguity.

You picks your style guide; you takes your chances. I have recently started relying on Dreyer's English; so "Mother's Day" it is.

As it was for the founder of Mother's Day in The States. Anna Jarvis was quite emphatic on the point -- that the day was specifically "for each family to honor its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world." There is no better put-down than to reduce your opponent to a grammatical archetype.

That was 1912. Today she would probably be singled out for not being woke enough to honor all mothers, let alone women, or people who think they are women, want to be women, or who have had fleeting thoughts of spending the day in a robe and using chap stick.

You may think I am suffering from temporal displacement. That Mother's Day is not until Sunday.

If you think that, you are undoubtedly living north of the Rio Bravo. Today is Mother's Day in Mexico -- and it is very much a day to honor the woman who gave you birth.

Unlike northern Mother's Day, that is celebrated on the second Sunday in May, Mexican Mother's Day is the same day every year -- 10 May. Today.

Like Easter and Passover, they sometimes line up with each other. But not today. My Mom, with a son who lives in Mexico and a grandson who is Mexican, gets the benefit of being celebrated twice.

And the day is taken as seriously here as motherhood is. Barra de Navidad no longer has a full-time florist. But when 10 May rolls around, temporary flower stalls show up all over town.

Department stores become experts in flower arrangement. Underused parking lots and street corners turn into emporia of tchotchkes marketed as suitable mementos of decades of maternal devotion.



The sidewalks are filled with my neighbors carrying home baubles and blossoms for a  day that mingles religiosity with sentimentality. Renderings of Our Lady of Guadalupe decorate a large percentage of today's maternal offerings.

And me? I have to tender my gratitude through the offices of the internet. This is one day I am particularly happy that technology provides services appropriate to the occasion.

To my Mom, ¡Feliz Día de la Madre!

Two days is not enough to honor who you are.


Thursday, May 09, 2019

chillin' out


The first thing I did this morning when I wandered out on the patio was check the calendar.

No, I was not confused about the year, though I am regularly accused of living in a different century, if not millennium. What I had to check was the month.

Sure enough, it was still May. Right on the eve of Mexican Mother's Day.

The calendar seems to be having a bit of an argument with the thermometer this week. It was 64 degrees this morning. In tropical Mexico. That is about 17 degrees celsius for those of you who do not live in The States, Liberia, and Myanmar (née Burma).

Personal recollection of weather patterns is a dicey thing. We went through one of those cycles this spring when people complained how cold it was.

In truth, we have cold spells every early spring here on the Costalegere.  I know that because I am one of the people who gets sucked into the whinging mode each year. All I need to do is look back at my "Gee-it's-cool" essays to remind myself that Mexpatriate has a better memory than I do.

But this is not March. It is May. And we should be out of the pleasant morning cycle by now.

I am not complaining. Even though I have had to don my thick terry cloth robe that warmed me during trips from the hot tub in the Salem snow, I am quite happy with this temperate zone bonanza. Crisp mornings are a blessing. And I will certainly miss them in a month or two.

The fishermen tell me our relief from what should be hot. muggy mornings is caused by cool water in the Pacific. I do not know if that is true. But it makes sense. The breezes off of the ocean have been cool and refreshing.

What has not been so refreshing is the return of another cycle -- the recalcitrant ATMs. Last February I wrote about the problem of trying to withdraw enough pesos from our local ATMs to pay for my solar power project (spinning for pesos).

I was not alone. It appeared that almost anyone with a northern credit card was blocked from obtaining pesos. I found relief only by driving to Manzanillo.

During my last trip, I used the same cards in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, California, and Oregon. The ATMs gladly coughed up the requested local currency. The day I returned to Mexico, I withdrew pesos using the same cards.

A week later everything changed. My cards would not work in any of the local ATMs. When this happened last time, my northern bank informed me it had no record of ever having been contacted by a local ATM. The Mexican banking system was rejecting service even before contacting my bank. The same thing is happening again.

And what is worse, the problem has now spread to Manzanillo. While standing in line this week, I watched several northern cards being rejected. Mine was simply the next.

Whatever the problem is, it is a nuisance. Fortunately, I have some lifelines that will keep me from resorting to begging in the streets. I can use my credit card at a few places in town. For cash, I can draw on the few pesos I keep stashed in my Banamex account.

And, best of all, I know it will eventually get resolved. Because it always does. That is just the way life works.

So, here I sit in my robe enjoying a cool morning chatting with you over a pot of green tea. My peso-less wallet simply means that I may be able to sing that Shaker hymn we discussed last week in the mean streets of barra without feeling a hypocrite.

It truly is a gift to come down where we ought to be. Especially, on delightful cool mornings like this.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

sweetening the drive


I often wonder what goes through the minds of PR types when they come up with consumer hooks.

Now, I know what is primarily in their minds -- to find a catchy phrase that will ping the buyer's needs. Wilson Bryan Key told us all about subliminal suggestions in marketing.

That is not what makes me wonder. What I wonder about is who some of those slogans are supposed to target.

Like "home cooking." The intent is obvious -- to attract buyers with memories of distant meals around a beloved relative's table. Though, based on comments I have received from readers about home-cooked meals, the admen may be shooting at the wrong target.

Yesterday I drove to Manzanillo to have my new glasses repaired (a screw had simply disappeared) and to pick up some supplies from Home Depot and Sam's Club. While driving back to Barra de Navidad, I grabbed a container of grapes from Sam's.

Grapes are one of the few fruits I like. I always have. But I have been disappointed with the grapes on offer lately. You know the ones I am talking about. Each grape almost the size of an apple. And with the taste of -- well, next to nothing. All in the service of making harvesting simpler.

These grapes were different. They were the size and color of the California Thompson grapes that made my high school summer days in Oregon one of those memories that gets filed under "Good Times."

I grabbed three or four grapes and popped them in my mouth. These certainly were not Thompson grapes. They lacked the acidity that gave the grapes of my youth their complexity.

These were just sweet. Really sweet. Almost a burnt sweet.

Then I looked at the label -- something I should have done an hour earlier. I will give whoever named these grapes points for honesty. They really did taste like cotton candy. Right down to the hint of caramelization. And the sticky fingers.

Now, I know there are people who love cotton candy. My friend Joyce will tackle vendors on the beach to ensure they do not get away without selling two or three whirls that look like wigs from a community theater production of Hairspray.

But I am not one of those people. Despite the name connection, cotton candy has never been one of my vices. I will confess, though, that like several other family members, I wanted to name a daughter Candy Cotton. The fear that she would end up headlining with Stormy Daniels put paid to those dreams.

That did not stop me from eating half of the contents before I noticed something else on the label. "Please rinse well." I fully expected the line below was going to say something like: "Coated with strontium for your protection." It didn't. Apparently the only thing I had consumed unbidden was fungicide sulphites. Maybe they will mix well with the arsenic from my Penafiel habit.

Having tried these ultra-sweet grapes, I doubt that I will buy them again. I will just need to keep chasing that Thompson dragon.


Monday, May 06, 2019

because i could not wait for death

Ignatius "Iggie" Bauman
15 March 1931 - 21 April 2019
Even after living in Mexico permanently for over ten years, I still read what was once my home-town newspaper (The Oregonian) each morning.

I long ago abandoned any hope for Oregon politics. The whole state seems to be in some sort of death spiral. Newspaper articles about local politics merely dishearten me.

The only section of the newspaper that seems to still have any relevance to my life in Mexico is the obituaries. I am surprised at the number of people whose names I recognize. Usually, they are people who drifted in and out of my life (or my parents' lives) years ago.

It happened again last week. I knew the name immediately. Ignatius "Iggie" Bauman. The father of my friend Leo Bauman (leo ascendant).

I cannot claim any great connection with Iggie. Even though Leo was one of my best friends in Milwaukie, I only saw Iggie on a few occasions. I drifted in and out of their household like a secondary sitcom actor. Not The Fonz. Maybe more like Potsie. Or Ralph.

He was always affable. A good dad. But what I remember most is his core of Midwestern values. Iggie was born in North Dakota. The Baumans moved from there to Oregon when Leo was in high school.

I probably would have known where he was from even without being told. He had something of The Plains survivor in him. And that survival told him that the virtues of Western Civilization were not something to be trifled with.

Leo and his wife Theresa had moved to Arizona in the early 1980s during one of Oregon's terrible home construction downturns. During the 1992 election, I met them for dinner on a visit to Oregon at one of our favorite haunts -- Papa Haydn's in Sellwood. Iggie and Ida joined us.

The topic turned to the Bush-Clinton-Perot race. I knew Iggie had been a life-long Republican. So, I was a bit surprised when he said he was supporting Ross Perot.

When I asked why, he responded: "Bush lied. He looked us in the eye and said he would not raise taxes. He lied. He is not an honorable man."

He conceded that his vote would undoubtedly help Bill Clinton, who he found to be morally odious. But, he could not bring himself to vote for a man who lied to him.

He made me reconsider my own position on the election -- a position I considered to be logical, but now took on the stench of moral relativism. (I have often thought of that conversation during subsequent election cycles.)

Iggie did what a man with principles does. He stuck by them even when he knew taking the right course would have results not to his liking.

I thought of Iggie last night during one of my impromptu film festivals at the house with no name. Amazon had shipped me the middle three DVDs of the Daniel Craig 007 series -- Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre. Spectre was the evening's selection.

It has taken me a while to warm up to Craig's postmodern existentially-haunted Bond. The producers' choice of this new character has offered some interesting philosophical questions.

There was never any complexity about Sean Connery's 007. He was a patriotic Brit defending the national interests of Her Majesty in a Manichean world. Gray was not a color that suited his moral palette.

Craig's Bond is far more nuanced. Like Nolan's Batman, he is a mass of psychological contradictions fighting to find a moral center. Of course, it is possible to still watch the movies as nothing more than mindless combinations of car chases, brawls, and serial beddings.

Spectre offered enough moral fodder that I pulled out Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors. It has long been one of my favorite Allen films.

The film is actually a rather transparent device to explore the ideas raised in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's
Crime and Punishment. In the movie, Judah, an ophthalmologist hires a hit man to kill his mistress, who has become a perceived threat to his career, reputation, and marriage.

The core of the film then turns on how Judah deals with the moral dilemma of trying to live an everyday life knowing what he has done. Whether there is an objective moral world against which our actions are judged -- as orthodox religions would have it. Or whether there is no moral order at all, and we just do what we must to survive.

Iggie would have answered that Craig's Bond and Allen's Judah are missing simple truths. Morality exists. We either live our lives by it or we abandon the person we are capable of being.

While I was watching Crimes and Misdemeanors, I received an email from Doug Peters. He is the father of my friend Rod Peters. It had been probably ten years since we had last talked. For that reason, I opened the email with a sense of dread.

It was just as I feared. My friend Rod had died on 28 April. A heart attack. 58 years old.

I met Rod in 1989 when I started working at SAIF Corporation. We were both trial attorneys. He was on the Portland team. I was on the Salem team.

I stayed late every night to postpone the crowded commute home to Milwaukie. Rod stayed late because he was a nocturnal soul. We became close friends as a result of our reveries.

When he left SAIF, we would get together in Portland or Salem on a regular basis. Everyone has a friend who is so full of life that we draw energy from them. Rod was like that.

And then things started going wrong for him. He eventually left law practice, and dropped off my social radar. I sent him a birthday card every year, but I heard nothing in return.

Then, last year, he popped up again. He was looking for work and wanted to use me as a reference. I readily agreed. I tried calling him, but I could not get through.

Ironically, early yesterday I reminded myself that I needed to try to call again. Of course, by then it was too late.

In our late night conversations, Rod and I often discussed philosophy. How to make sense out of a world where doing the right thing seemed to have no reward other than knowing one has done the right thing.

That was sufficient for me, though I told him I believed that doing the right thing always strengthens our own moral character whether or not it gets us the immediate results we want. 


It is too bad I could not sit with Rod and Iggie to watch the two films I watched last night. To deconstruct them and pull out each argument about the essence of morality. To learn how we can be better people in a cynical world.

Unfortunately, that is not going to happen. At least, not with Iggie and Rod. But that does not keep each of us from doing something similar.

If improving our moral character is ever allowed to become an exercise labeled as overthinking, we may as well turn in our moral agent badges. Our license to not kill.  

Sunday, May 05, 2019

feliz cinco de mayo


"Have you put up your Cinco de Mayo tree and sent our your seasons greetings cards?"

It was Roger -- an acquaintance of mine. That was his salutation as I joined two other expatriates for dinner in Barra de Navidad last evening.

Roger has a reputation for being a prankster. Before he died, my friend Jack Brock filled that social niche here. Apparently, Roger has taken up the mantle.

It turns out that Roger had spent the day telling every northerner he ran into that last evening was going to be filled with all sorts of celebrations on the eve of the Fifth of May. Cinco de Mayo.

I noticed one of Mexpatriate's readers had posed a question on Facebook about the time of today's parade. I thought she had been a victim of Rogerfoolery. It turns out she was thinking of the Revolution Day parade in November. Fair enough.

It can happen. In school we northerners learn almost nothing about Mexican history. Independence Day. Constitution Day. Revolution Day. They often blend together.

And that is a bit understandable. From the day Mexico declared its independence until it fought its bloody revolution a century later, Mexican history has been the story of a people in search of a national identity. Often violently. A search that culminated in an answer -- the Mestizo Myth.

And Cinco de Mayo was a small event in that bigger picture.  But it is a story worth telling.

There is an urban myth that most northerners believe that Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican equivalent of the Fourth of July -- a celebration of an American nation's independence from a European colonial overlord.  I have never seen a poll that would verify the myth.  But I cannot gainsay it.  The northern grasp of the history of other countries is -- well, how to put it delicately -- slightly wanting.

Even the Mexicans I have talked with have had a slippery grasp of what the day is all about.  My favorite was the young man who thought it had "something to do with the Americans taking away the northern half of Mexico. Or beer."

From the day it became independent in 1821, the nation's leaders were split into two factions -- conservatives (who were supporters of the Catholic church, Spanish culture, and a centralized government) and liberals (who were anti-Church, looked to the European Enlightenment for culture, and supported federalism).

For almost forty years, the two factions fought each other politically and often physically.  The civil war we know as The Reform War (a war caused in part by the confiscation of Church property by the liberal government) ended in 1860 with Benito Juárez (a liberal) as president -- and the conservatives plotting revenge.  They found an ally in a very odd place.  In France, the home of the Enlightenment so beloved by liberals.

Forty years of battle, including the loss of half its territory a decade before, had left Mexico in dire financial straits.  To keep its accounts afloat, successive governments had borrowed money from Europe and the United States.  And now it could not re-pay those debts. President Juárez did what any debtor would do under the circumstances.  To pay the daily expenses of his administration, he suspended interest payments on foreign debts for two years.

One of the wiliest (and silliest) characters to ever sit on the French throne was Napoleon III.  He dreamed of restoring the glory of the Bonaparte name -- both in Europe and in Latin America.  He envisioned a French empire in middle America that would increase France's glory while simultaneously preventing the United States from becoming a world power.

The place to start was Mexico.  Mexican conservatives and Church authorities had persuaded him that the Mexican people longed for a return to Crown and Church.  They just needed a leader bold enough to show the way.

Napoleon III found a perfect emperor for his new colony of Mexico in Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, the younger brother of the Austrian emperor.  And he found the perfect political mechanism in the Tripartite Alliance.

Mexico owed large debts to Britain, Spain, and France -- and their citizens.  To collect those debts, the three nations joined in the Alliance and hatched a plan that they would seize the Mexican port of Veracruz, apply the custom duties of the port to re-pay their debts, and then negotiate with the Mexican government for further payments.

It all worked as planned until the British and Spanish saw that France's agenda was something they could not support.  They took their troops and went home in April 1862.

That left the French commander, the Comte de Lorencez, on his own with his French troops.  Even though there were Mexicans prepared to join the French cause, Lorencez rejected the offer believing that Mexican forces were inherently inferior to his French troops.  He also believed the romantic nonsense that the Mexican people were ready to welcome the return of the Crown and Church to Mexican soil.

So, off he marched with no more than 6,000 troops to capture Puebla on his way to Mexico City.

Puebla was guarded by two forts on separate hills -- Loreto and Guadalupe.  The Mexican general in charge of the defenses, Ignacio Zaragoza (whose scholarly face adorned the 500-peso note when I moved to Mexico) exhorted his troops: "They have come to take our country from you."

Lorencez's arrogance knew no bounds.  In the same show of hubris that would send French officers into battle in World War One armed only with a walking stick, he sent his troops into battle with bayonets.  And no artillery support.  The day was 5 May 1862.

Three times he marched French flesh against the Mexican trenches and fortresses.  Each time he failed -- thanks, in large part to a brave brigadier general by the name of Porfirio Diaz (a man who would soon enough be known to all Mexicans), who disobeyed orders, and repelled the French.  

The French finally retreated when Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, decided to send a downpour.  The French, some of the best troops in Europe, retreated wet and defeated to their base camp.

It was a victory by default.  But a victory, nonetheless.  And it gave Mexican patriots hope that they could actually beat back Napoleon III's attempt to build an empire.  For a time.

That time was one year.  Napoleon III sent a full corps of his best troops to Mexico along with a new general.  On 17 May 1863, the French returned to Puebla.  The Second Battle of Puebla had a different outcome.

The French seized Mexico City and Maximilian I sat on the imperial Mexican throne as the country's second post-Independence emperor.  At least, until 1867.  After Napoleon III withdrew his troops to deal with more pressing Prussian matters, Maximilian and his Mexican generals were defeated and executed before a Mexican firing squad.

But on Cinco de Mayo, we are not celebrating merely the bravery of the Mexican forces that managed to survive defeat.  We are celebrating the spirit that every nation celebrates when invaders are defeated.

And who needs a parade to honor those values?

Saturday, May 04, 2019

eating on the fringes


That photograph makes my kitchen look a lot like Christmas.

And, I guess, it is. In a way.

After a month of traveling and eating food prepared by other minds, I am back in the favorite room of my house dreaming up a new dish each day.

A young Mexican friend came over while I was cooking today's lunch. It was a conservative choice -- a fusion between two traditional Mexican dishes with a few Asian and Middle Eastern touches. Think of  carne en su jugo combined with carne con chile rojo tarted up with tomatoes, garbanzos, black beans, shallots, and a citrus-based salsa verde, with a foundation of cilantro, fennel, and cumin seeds, and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg.

When Alan asked what I was making, I gave him the full litany. He rolled his eyes. I responded: "Lunch."

Whenever my Mexican friends discuss food with me, they almost always start with the question of why I do not just cook straight Mexican fare. You know the answer. Because I find that type of cooking boring. I want something I have never tasted before for each of my meals.

Mexicans are rather conservative in their food tastes. Most people around the world tend to stick to foods they knew growing up. But the Mexicans I know are very happy eating the standard fare of Jalisco.

I asked Alan if he wanted to try my experiment. He declined. It did not look right to him. And then he really surprised me: "I do not like Canadian food." I thought I had mistranslated what he said.

I asked him to repeat it. He did.

Like the vast majority of my Mexican acquaintances, the assumption is that people from the north are all Canadians. That is a safe bet here in our little village on the Pacific shore since most northerners are from Canada.

I reminded him I was from Oregon, not Canada. But I was more interested in why he thought my Mexican-inspired dishes were not Mexican.

That was an easy answer. "If it is not the way my grandmother cooks, it is not Mexican." Alan is a perfect example of the conservative eater.

So, we started talking about the type of Mexican foods he does like. Most of the usual suspects were there. Tacos. Carnitas. Enchiladas. Almost anything wrapped in a tortilla.

Then, he shocked me. He included pizza and spaghetti on his list.

When I asked him why, he said because Mexicans eat them. He was willing to accept the fact that both foods found their genesis in Italy (only because Wikipedia backed me up), but that did not deter him from declaring both staples of the universal children's table as Mexican dishes.

Spaghetti with red sauce, that is. He declared all pasta with white sauces as Canadian imports to local restaurants.

Alan left without trying my lunch creation. That is too bad. It turned out well, and I am certain Omar is going to like it when he returns home from his Saturday gadabout.

My blogger chum Jennifer said my essay about returning home (mean streets of barra) sounded as if I had donned Judy Garland Kansas pigtails. She has a point.

There is no place like home. Well, until another trip calls (and I am planning several already).  


Friday, May 03, 2019

dial m for money


"I had little interest in doing anything other than getting the house back into occupancy state."


It was a cryptic clue. The type Dorothy Sayers would slip into an expository paragraph and whose significance would not become apparent until the denouement.

As it has turned out, "getting the house back into occupancy state" has been an interesting set of tasks this week. It also brought a solution to a mystery that plagued me through April.

Last year I bought a new telephone from Telcel. In the past, I have purchased my new telephones from Amazon in The States. Because I travel a lot, unlocked versions are my primary choice.

I forgot about the "unlocked" requirement when I bought this last telephone. On one of my trips north, I tried to buy a SIM chip for the telephone, but it rejected it. Because it was still locked into the Telcel system.

I told myself I was going to get an unlock code, but I didn't. And that is what this cautionary tale is all about.

When I first moved to Mexico, I purchased a telephone that allowed me to merely add time to the telephone as I needed it. That system worked fine until smartphones became as sophisticated as computers.

I make next to no telephone calls. If I dial my telephone more than once a month, it is an anomaly.

But I am a data hog. I now use my telephone for almost all of my computer needs. I considered that when I was about to shell out $2000 (US) for a replacement Microsoft Surface. The only task I cannot perform on my telephone is posting essays on Mexpatriate. So, I bought the computer

My Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is my constant companion. Its maps guide me easily to destinations. It is a memory jogger for that actor's name in Groundhog Day that I always forget. And it acts as the final referee in what I call trivia bar bets. (The downside is that it is now futile to bluff those bets. And I was good at that.)

When I discovered I was paying about $2000 (Mx) each month for telephone time, I decided it was time to buy a plan. And so I did. With Telcel. $900 (Mx) each month for 13 Mg of data. (And, yes, I do use that much.)

Telcel is always happy to provide data services to me when I leave Mexico. For a price. And that price is expensive. I discovered that when I turned on my telephone briefly on a trip to Peru last year.

So, the moment I landed in Los Angeles on this last trip, I switched the telephone permanently to airplane mode. I was going to use it only when wifi was available.

It was a good plan. And I would have been well-served to have abided by it.

According to my Telcel bill for April, I did not.

I remember turning on the telephone while we were Brisbane. I am not certain why. But I did.

A week later, I did the same in Darwin. But, this time I could not get my telephone to connect to the system.

A cursory look at the Telcel app cleared up the mystery of why I had no service. "This line is suspended." Of course, it was in Spanish. But the language did not matter, my telephone was not going to work the rest of the trip.

The bigger mystery was why it was suspended. My March bill was not then yet due. According to the notice, I could un-suspend it only by going to the office in Manzanillo -- not a likely option while trudging the shores of tropical Australia.

When my bill arrived, I knew why I was suspended. While I was in Brisbane, I used just under 47 Kb of data over a four-hour period. That is hardly anything. But it was an expensive little tidbit. $2,363.80 (Mx), to be exact. Or about $125 (US).

Telcel assumes its customers are not going to pay their bills. At least, that is the only reason that makes sense to me.

Every customer has a credit limit for each month. If that small amount is exceeded, the telephone line is suspended and requires both payment and re-activation at a central office. It is a bit like being sent to see the high school vice-principal.

So, this morning, I walked over to Kiosko and paid my $3,541 (Mx) cell bill for April.

Every good mystery needs a moral. Here's mine.

1. Do not travel without an unlocked telephone. When traveling, buy a SIM chip for the duration. Most countries can provide services for around $75 (US).

2. If number 1 is not a possibility, keep the telephone in airplane mode.

Now, I know some of you who live in other countries (I can think of two to the north) that have plans that let you travel the world for almost no additional cost. To hear some people, you would think AT&T pays them money to use their telephones while traveling.

One day Mexico may offer similar services. Until then, I will be a chip-switcher. (Of course, I just may be tempted to buy the unlocked international version of Samsung's new Galaxy S10 plus. I think I can hear it calling me now.)  


Thursday, May 02, 2019

the mean streets of barra


Some people are the victim of rumors. Others generate rumors about themselves.

I have been in both groups. But, this week, it has been mainly the latter.

According to Mexpatriate, the last time I talked with you was Wednesday of last week (passing the ball to mom) when I told you of the unalloyed pleasure of sharing evenings with my mother while she rooted on her NBA team. (She is undoubtedly pleased that the Blazers snatched an away game from the Nuggets last night in their second round of playoffs.)

Of course, some of you know I have communicated since then. I took down two posts dealing with what turned out to be a bout of contact dermatitis -- leaving the impression, according to a series of emails I have received, that something drastic must have happened. It hasn't.

That condition along with one of the worst colds I have ever had (the type that often falls into the category of "after a long struggle with a debilitating respiratory infection ---") and over a month of traveling drained my energy level enough that I had little interest in doing anything other than getting the house back into occupancy state. That I have done.

Returning to Barra de Navidad has been pleasant, even though I was disappointed to miss the semana santa crowds. When I walked to central Barra yesterday morning, I was met with streets as vacant as a John Ford set at high noon.

The sight set off a string of reveries. I have recently been on two cruises that a lot of people would call dream vacations. The first was last December when we transited the Panama Canal and visited several Central American countries -- one (Nicaragua) that was new to me. The second was a cruise from Sydney around the northern coast of Australia and on to Singapore.

Both had the makings of great trips. I was traveling with three of my favorite people (Sophie, Nancy, and Roy) and we were visiting new lands while traveling in the equivalent of a luxury hotel.

My friend Jennifer pointed out that I have returned from both trips with a certain sense of melancholy. She is correct. In fact, on this last cruise, it set in while we were still cruising.

I lost interest in almost everything. Because I was feeling fatigued, I stopped my walking routine. Most of the food lost had little allure, but I ate lots of it, and got no pleasure from it. And I started getting annoyed at the little inconveniences that occur when people are crammed together in a small space for extended periods of time -- cruise ships, prisons, marriages.

For the past week I have been assessing what has happened to change my perspective on a traveling mode I once adored. And I think I have some ideas.

I may be chasing the dragon of happiness. "Chasing the dragon" is often used to refer to the quest of drug users to re-capture the experience of their first high. Similar to Tolian Soran's passion to rejoin the Nexus in Star Trek Generations (a reference for you less familiar with the heroin culture). Of course, it is a fool's errand. And that may be true for me, as well.

Because I am who I am, my first thought was I had been seeking luxury when the true values of life are those without discount tags. That possibility came to me while I was listening to Aaron Copland's renditions of the old Shaker Hymn "The Gift to be Simple" in Appalachia Spring.

As I sat there listening, it occurred to me that the lyrics are true. That I do find my greatest joy in things that are simple.

'Tis the gift to be simple/ 'Tis the gift to be free,/ 'Tis the gift to come down/ Where we ought to be
And then I started laughing at my hubris, maybe even hypocrisy. There I was celebrating simplicity while listening to a symphonic version so grandiose that "CBS Reports" used it to set the tone of its overblown reporting. I do not remember who said it, but it is true that people who advocate simplicity first have money in the bank.



Worse, while thinking these simple thoughts, I was ensconced in the luxury of a first class Cathay Pacific cabin 32,000 feet in the air on my way back to Los Angeles -- with all forms of sybaritic pleasures mine by merely pressing a service button. I was as simple as Al Gore on his way to lecture others.

But, as Edison taught us ("I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."), wrong answers often lead us to correct ones. And I may be on to something.


Socrates thought the unexamined life is not worth living. So, I decided to be a bit more honest with myself. What is it that has made my few days back in Barra so pleasant?

First, I am now feeling better. It is difficult to be fully engaged when you feel as if the obituary editor is working on a hook. The weakness in that explanation is that it is based far too much on temporal circumstances. But, it certainly has been a factor. I contracted respiratory problems on both cruises.

The answer may be one I do not like. One of the dangers of aging is slipping into comfort and complacency. The familiar trumps the adventurous.

I call it TOMS -- The Old Man Syndrome. Where the sufferer likes nothing more than sitting in his easy chair re-reading familiar books in his own home with no distractions. It is the very antithesis of why I moved to Mexico.

But here I am. Sitting in my patio, slipping back into my routine of reading, writing, cooking, and walking. Where my day is consumed with the rhythm of routine and the comforting sense of the inevitable that is designed to disguise the soft pad of mortality creeping up behind the vines.

Maybe that is the answer. I am a place in life where I am still healthy enough to tend my life. To exercise. To get back to eating well with food I cook myself. To keep informed with my magazines and morning newspaper. And to enjoy what Henry Higgins called his room "as restful as an undiscovered tomb" (even though Mexico's normal volume level taints the ideal). In short, I have created a life almost indistinguishable from that of an Edwardian English gentleman civil servant in Bombay.

Socrates counseled that it is important for us to examine our lives to know ourselves. But there is an obvious corollary. The unlived life is not worth examining.

So, that is what I am about to do. And, if you wish to come along for the ride, you can slip into the back seat with Adam Smith and Viktor Frankl. Kurt Vonnegut is riding shot gun and muttering something about "What if the examined life also turns out to be a clunker?"

I guess we will have to see.
     

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

passing the ball to mom


In every family, one parent is a sports fan. Usually, it is the Dad.

That was not true in our family. Our Dad taught Darrel and me several skills every boy should know. How to be a good Boy Scout. How to sharpen a knife. How to properly treat firearms. And how to avoid being a defensive driver.

But, when it came to sports, our Mom ruled. And still does.

She developed a love for basketball during her Powers High School days -- a love she has never abandoned. She taught us how to play baseball in our back yard and cheered us on in our benighted little league careers. But it was basketball that thrilled her.

When the Portland Trailblazers rolled into town in 1970, she immediately jumped on the fanwagon and has been there ever since. She lived in Portland then, and often attended the games. Television is now the mainline for her addiction.

I have always enjoy watching games with her. It reminds me just how tribal sports can be. Referees are forever making bad calls to the cost of her beloved Blazers. And the referees are not simply mistaken, they are intrinsically evil. They all gamble on the games, you know.

This year was a special visit for me. It is playoff time. I sat through the five games of the Portland-Oklahoma City shootout. It was good basketball made even nicer by sharing it with my 91-year old mother, who knows more about the game than most of the commentators. Her vocabulary certainly is better.

Last night the Blazers advanced to the second round of the playoffs. If you have read your sports pages, you already know it was one of the most exciting games of the season -- with the score see-sawing back and forth the entire game only to have the outcome decided by an improbably half-court shot at the buzzer. Such games are fought to be remembered around future campfires.

It was a nice way to sum up my visit this week. Amazon finally delivered my new Surface yesterday afternoon, and my head cold has settled enough to let me fly this Thursday and Friday.

But, best of all, my Mom has kept me interested in one of her true joys in life. And sharing another's passion is about as good as life gets.

For Mom, it is one three-point shot after another.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

peppering the knowledge


Some youthful experiences appear to be almost universal. At least, for those of us who share the age burdens of the Boomer class.

Whenever I start reminiscing about our family's first set of encyclopedias, I meet with knowing nods. Especially, when I describe how I opened volume after volume to follow related subjects until most of the set surrounded me on the living room floor as if I were being attacked by high-grade paper bombers.

That bit of nostalgia wandered by while I was reading The Oregonian this morning. Apparently, the queen of the 30-minute meal, Rachel Ray is returning to the Food Network. But that fact is not what triggered my encyclopedia reverie.

Describing how American tastes have broadened in the last thirty years, the article noted: "Today, she is as likely to pull a bottle of gochujang out of the fridge as she is a bag of tater tots from the freezer."

My memory for nouns is not what is was. (Well, it probably is what it always was -- faulty -- but we seniors always think forgetting a word is just one step away from being warehoused for senility.)

Gochujang? I knew I knew the word. But it just hovered in the back of my mind hiding behind gorgonzola, 
gefilte fish, and giblets.

So, I relied on what now substitutes for my memory. The Internet. And I nearly slapped my forehead when I realized not only do I know what gochujang is, I have almost a half gallon of it in my refrigerator in Barra de Navidad.

It is a fermented chili paste. I use it in a lot of my cooking. Especially, soups.

Of course, I could not stop there. As I read through the article, another fact caught me up short. This one, I have long known. Or I have known it, at least, since 2011 when I read Charles Mann's 1493: The New World Columbus Created (strangers in the garden).

Before then, if you had asked me about chili peppers, I would have assumed that the cuisines most famous for their spicy dishes (Szechuan, India, Thailand) had used chilies for millennia. And I would have been wrong.

As we almost all know now, the DNA in every chili on the face of the planet came from Mexico (though there are some botanists who contend at least one chili, the habanero, originated in the Amazon). With that one possible exception, you can thank the early inhabitants of Mexico, a people about whom we know very little, but who predated the great Mesoamerican civilization, for developing the cultivar version of the chili pepper, as well as maize, beans, and tomatoes. Whoever they were, they may have been the world's most successful developers of new farm crops.

Europe, Africa, and Asia were naive to the existence of the culinary magic of chilies until Columbus took samples home to Spain, where it was grown as a substitute for peppercorns, one of the items that had spurred Columbus to sail west.

The Portuguese were quick to learn the value of chilies as a trade commodity. By the end of the 1400s, they had taken chilies to their colonies in Africa and Asia. The result is that we now think of Thai chilies as being endemic to Asia when they are nothing more than descendants of their Mexican mothers.

On my Australia cruise, most of the food was bland enough to be served in a Manitoba rest home. The only exceptions were the Indian dishes and the occasional Szechuan and Thai stir fries that added layers of taste and tear-certifying piquancy. And for that, I thank Columbus and some anonymous Portuguese traders for distributing the hard work of a series of unknown Mesoamerican geniuses.

As soon as my cold clears a bit more, I will put all of their contributions to good use in my Mexican kitchen. But I need to get there first.       


Sunday, April 21, 2019

up from the grave he arose


Happy Easter to all of you.


For the past week, I have been living my own Easter passion. That is why I have been absent for seven days.

When we last talked, I was sitting in the Cathay Pacific lounge in Singapore. During the last week of our cruise, I started to develop a slight cough. By the time I arrived in Hong Kong, the cough had developed into one of those racking affairs that could qualify me as patient zero for the next SARS outbreak. I faked radiant health as I walked past the Hong Kong health inspectors with their fever meters.

But it was just an act. By the time I arrived in Bend, I was barely ambulatory. Darrel and I stopped at Best Buy to look at a replacement computer, but I simply could not decide what I wanted -- other than I wanted to go to bed.

And so I did. Between the cold (that continued to worsen) and jet lag, I stayed comatose in bed until late Friday afternoon when I decided it was time to talk with a doctor.

I do not readily seek medical help. After all, I am the guy who was one day short of having his left leg amputated before he went to the hospital a few years ago.

The doctor prescribed antibiotics for the infection I already knew had settled into my lungs. And back to bed I went.

This is the day Christians celebrate the messiah's resurrection in a body incorruptible. My resurrection today is in another league. I am still hacking and sniffling, but I feel well enough to at least let you know why there has been silence on my end of the internet highway for the past week.

So, on this special day, I wish the best for you and your families.


Sunday, April 14, 2019

speeding over the travel bumps


Travel is filled with some of life's best moments.

But there are also traps along that yellow rick road. One of the worst is the dreaded cancelled credit card.

Losing a credit card is bad enough no matter where you are. But having a credit card publicly refused adds that additional element of embarrassment -- as if you were re-living a scene from Best of Show.

At some point after our stop in Brisbane, I tried to download my bank account information to Quicken. Everything worked fine except for one credit card. I did not think much of it. Quicken can be quirky. But each day it refused to download.

A week later, I decided on my way back to Mexico, I would take a side trip to Oregon. Primarily to see my family, but also to buy that computer that slipped my grasp in Los Angeles three weeks ago.

I picked my flight and my seat. The only thing I had to do was pay for the privilege of joining a group of strangers hurtling through the air at speeds filled with the possibility of death.

When I hit "Purchase," I was informed I had made an error. That was not a surprise. I never seem to click every box that needs attention -- whether on reservation or tax forms. So, I tried again. Kicked back again.

Then, I noticed the message at the top of the page. My bank was declining my card. Alaska not-so-helpfully advised me to contact my bank. Easier said than done in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I tried calling on MagicJack, but the call kept breaking up.

When we ch
ecked into the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, I handed over my credit card. Let me tell you a little about that process.

Because we were staying in one of the hotel's exclusive suites, the four of us were ushered away from a giant line that snaked through the lobby up to the reception desk. The lounge was a sanctuary with four attractive young people assisting guests to sign in. Neiman Marcus must have something similar for its high-roller customers.

When Andria ran my card, she looked quizzically at the machine and slightly scrunched her nose as if someone had just opened a bottle of 1949 Chateau Margaux that had corked. She ran it again. Same look.

She handed the card back to me apologetically informing me that something was wrong with the card. I told her I would call my bank.

After about a half hour on the telephone, I discovered the problem. My card information had been compromised at what the bank nebulously labelled a "point of purchase." The security agent would not be any more specific.

My card could have been cloned. The merchant's card base could have been hacked. Someone might have intercepted my card information on-line. She was not talking.

At least, I knew the reason my card did not work. My bank had cancelled it without informing me. The agent told me not to worry. My new card should have arrived at my house already. She was a bit concerned I did not have it.

She must have missed the part of my story that I was in Singapore. She did offer to ship a new card to to me at the Marina Bay Sands. But it would take two weeks. I told her not to bother.

It turns out the card had arrived at the house in Reno. Roy's sister picked it up and will mail it to Bend. If all goes well, card and Steve should be united on Tuesday.

I always travel with two credit cards and a debit card for possibilities like this. I used the debt card for the hotel. And I was able to activate the new credit card from my computer and use it to purchase my flight to Bend.

As disconcerting as it was to have my card cancelled without notification, the story turned out quite happily. If all goes well, I should be back in Mexico with a new computer and telephone some time next week.

Oh, and that photograph. Remember our toilet discussion from the Brisbane stop? The photograph is of an Asian toilet in the Singapore airport. (The French have nothing to do with it.) You can see the connection with the sign in that essay.

The tourist road is filled with unending diversions.