Friday, June 21, 2019

and then there was one

Break out your maypoles and herrings. Build your midnight bonfires. Dig into your grandmother's old trunk to find her pagan paraphernalia that she hid from the neighbors.

Today is summer solstice. The longest day of the year. Well, in the northern hemisphere. People south of the equator are suffering through the shortest day of the year. That is, unless they live in Ecuador, Gabon, or Borneo, where today is just like almost every other day in length.

For pagans, it was a time to celebrate fertility, or the hope of it, as the tribal food stores dwindled before the fall harvest. The day was shared by cultures throughout the world as a day of hope -- and reckoning. 

Whether coincidentally or not, several ancient sites align directly with the summer solstice. Some anthropologists have concluded, with very little evidence (but that is the trademark of the profession), that the sites served as astrological devices to inform the community when it was appropriate to plant crops.

Getting it wrong was the type of professional malpractice that could cause tragic results for the community. If that happened, the leaders and priests who provided the wrong information were often deposed. "Deposed" can also be read as "being dead."

For those of us who live in a post-pagan society, today is the first day of summer. That is the modern practice, even though some cultures still call it midsummer -- as Europe did at the time of Shakespeare. You may remember a play by that name.

American students label summer a bit differently. For them, it began weeks ago when school let out.

I rather like the old tradition of referring to the summer solstice as the middle part of summer. But that rather plays havoc with the notion of fall around these parts. September is usually our hottest month.

From a purely provincial viewpoint, summer arrived here a week or so ago -- in its usually fashion. June has some of the nicest days of the year. But, one day you can almost believe the nonsensical myth that our area is paradise. The next day, it can feel as if that fat guy who flouts the towel rule in the sauna has just thrown a bucket of water on the rocks.

That first day of our newly-arrived spa, I told Antonio the Pool Guy that summer was near. Of course, I said it in my version of Spanish that is the equivalent of David Sedaris's "me-talk-pretty-one-day." He laughed and informed me it was already here.

Had I owned the Spanish chops, I might have told him that he was wrong. Summer was still a week away. But, then I would have sounded like the guy who is always correct about technical points, but no one really cares. Such as, whether the 21st century began on 1 January 2000. My language handicap kept me from becoming Woody Allen's Pedantic Man in Midnight in Paris. Well, this time.

Whether today is the first day of summer, midsummer, or simply part of the longest summer does not really matter. But it certainly is summer.

Yesterday we had an incident here that summed up the fledgling season that marks the end of bird spring. Five grackles showed up in the palm trees in my patio. They were accompanied by an almost adult-sized fledgling that was squawking incessantly that its maw needed to be crammed with protein.

The grackle mob had some tasty targets in mind for the youngster -- tender young dove.

Up until yesterday, I had no idea if the dove nest in my palm tree was being tended by one or two adult doves. I found out yesterday. There are two.

The moment the grackles arrived, one parent protected the now-quite-large nestlings by sitting on them in the nest. The other parent stationed himself at edge of the tree.

The grackles did their best to lure the defending parent away by flying threateningly at him. He stood his ground. The young grackle screeched louder for its tea.

The rather one-sided battle continued for about five minutes. Finally the adult grackles took their screaming brat in tow and flew off to pillage a nest less-defended.

I have no idea if what happened today was related to yesterday -- other than the fact that all time is intrinsically related. But the two nestlings were out on the tree this morning away from their nest. It was time for them to begin a new life.

While I was reading below them, I could hear the occasional frantic flapping of wings. When I checked, one of them was gone. But it soon returned. Perhaps it confused its role in the Noah story.

Having spent its entire life (to this point) with its fellow nestling, perhaps it returned to encourage it to fly off and experience whatever life has to offer to an animal almost at the bottom of the food chain. Of course, I was simply projecting my own mawkish sentimentality. It may have returned to see if there was another meal on tap from mom and dad.

It stayed only for a moment. Now, there is only one nestling -- or branchling, I guess.

The parents have disappeared. It is now on its own. Necessity will force it leave -- because I do not think there is a basement apartment in that nest where it can take up residence like a twenty- or thirty-something.

And so the summer begins. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

when trite is insightful

"There are none so blind as those who will not see."

I think the first time I heard that adage was in the play Butterflies are Free. The script centers around a romance between a young wealthy blind man and his Bohemian girlfriend. Of course, there is a controlling mother who loves saying things like: " There are none so blind as those who will not see."

The girlfriend eventually takes on the dragon lady with a bit of sardonic wit: "There are none so deaf as those who will not hear. You could make up a lot of those, couldn't you?"

The line is trite because it has become a cliché. But there is a nugget of truth in there -- and I live it each day.

Mexican culture is as odd to me as my northern culture is to my son Omar. We each have certain assumptions about life that lead us to react to the same circumstances quite differently. Once he tells me the thought process he used to get to his conclusion, I understand a little more about Mexico.

Earlier this year, I was on the southern-most extension of my morning walk in Barra de Navidad. There is a sand bar that juts into our laguna that is something of a nature preserve. The trees and brush are perfect cover for birds, lizards, snakes, and scorpions.

It was the trees that caught my attention that morning. Nine years ago, I broke my right ankle while zip-lining in Puerto Vallarta (one foot in the gravy). While I was crutch-bound, Ivan, the young man who delivered my water bottles, stopped by the house to ask if I would like to go for a drive. He wanted to show me how the local water is processed into the product he regularly delivered to my house.

We must have gone in the Shiftless Escape because I do not believe he had a car. Maybe he did. His girlfriend, whose name eludes me, and his young son Brayan accompanied us.

The water plant was interesting. But my most-lasting memory was a brief stop along the road to the plant where Ivan introduced me to one of Mexico's natural treats. Guamuchil. (I should note that even locally there are multiple ways of pronouncing and spelling the word -- as is true of many words that have been adopted from Nahuatl.)

The tree is native to Pacific Mexico -- as well as Central America and northern South America. You can find them almost everywhere in our area.

When he showed the pods to me, I first thought they were soybeans. I was not that far off. The tree is in the pea family -- as are several other varieties of bushes and trees here (my favorite love, the flamboyant tree, and its cousin the mariposa shrub).

But they were like no bean or pea I have ever tasted. The green and red pods contain a series of black seeds surrounded by a cream-colored flesh. The flesh is the sought-after snack.

I will admit I was a bit startled by the flavor. If you can imagine mixing alum and tannin together, you would be on the right track. I am willing to bet my pucker factor was high enough to qualify be as a finalist in a Koi competition.

But I ate what I was offered -- and asked for more. After the first assault, the next few were quite good. They were good enough that I have not seen the need to indulge again.

Until my walk this year. The pods were far too inviting. I had seen my neighbors beating trees to get at the pods during the prior weeks. If it was worth that effort, I decided I needed a reprise.

So I did. The results were the same as my first experience. Alum assault followed by a bit of pleasure.

This time the pulp was quite dry. I suspect I had waited too long in the season to reenact my introduction to guamuchil.

Seeing the pods reminded me of that trip with Ivan and his family. I no longer see him. He is now one of the young Mexicans who are keeping the economy of The States rolling along.

What I do have is a better eye to see what surrounds me. And what could be a better combination? A relationship built and eyes that will see. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

showers of wasting

I live in a tourist town.

Whenever I travel to Mexico's highlands, people ask me where I live in Mexico. My former answer of "Melaque" (when I lived there) would often get no reaction. But, when I now say "Barra de Navidad," the recognition is immediate.

For good reason. Barra de Navidad has long been a beach destination for Mexicans. When my  brother and I drove down to Melaque in 2009, in my pre-GPS days, we wended our way through Puerto Vallarta with very little trouble until we  came to the southern edge of its old town. The traffic signs simply dried up in helping us to make choices.

We were about to stop and ask for directions when I saw a sign telling us to turn right, not for "Melaque," but for "Barra de Navidad." Because Melaque had a larger population, I thought that was what we would see on the signs. But Barra de Navidad was the spot travelers were headed.

My little village pays a price for its tourist reputation. When the family who seized the land in Barra de Navidad to build a housing area for tourists, they devised a community that was markedly seasonal. Paved streets. Canals. Modest, but comfortable homes. But all designed for people who would come and go throughout the year.

Some people have moved here permanently. I am one. And, of course, the people of Barra de Navidad live here all year. But a lot of houses sit unoccupied and untended for months at a time. In some cases, for years.

The house across the street from mine falls into that second category. In the five years I have lived here, I have never seen the owners. I don't think.

There have been a couple of visitors. But they appeared to be very unfamiliar with the house. I assumed they were renters.

This past week, four identical white pickups showed up. I would not have paid much notice if they had not blocked access to my garage. Well, that is not quite true. I noticed their presence because every night when they returned to the house, they would dump plastic debris (bottles, cups, forks) in the middle of the street.

Then the visitors were gone. All except for one pickup that remained parked in the garage.

Around noon yesterday I heard rain. Or I thought it was rain. When our downpours begin, the most characteristic sound here is the fire-hose blasts of water that jet off roofs through downspouts into the street.

But the sky was clear. What sounded like rain was simply water pouring out of the downspouts on the house across the street.

It was easy to deduce the cause. Most houses here have water storage tanks on the top of the house to provide gravity-powered water pressure inside the house. The water is pumped from the street to the roof. When the tank is full, a switch stops the pump. If the switch is functioning properly.

My neighbor's switch isn't. As a result, water is pumped to the tank, the tank runs over, and the street in front of the house turns into something resembling a canal in Amsterdam -- with none of the attendant tourist appeal.

It is not really a problem other than the grotesque waste of water in an area that is short of it. The water will settle into our sandy soil. The biggest cost the owner of the house will face is the wasted electricity. If that pump continues to run, the owner's cost for electricity may increase.

If this was happening to any of the other houses in our neighborhood, the switch would have been turned off yesterday. The reason is simple. I either know my neighbors who live here all year or I know how to contact those who live here only part-time.

I asked my neighbors if they knew who owned the house or how to contact a caretaker. They had no idea. I checked with my handyman and the guy who cleans my pool. They had no idea.

Sometimes, it is great to get away from everything at the beach and to go somewhere no one knows you. But that luxury comes at a price.

So, here I sit listening to the faux rain -- when we actually need the real thing -- and thinking about Jesus' admonition to give water to the thirsty. How often does my ability to do that end up as wasted as the water now flowing into the street?


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

in the with the new, off with the old

Today is tapas day.

Information tapas day. Just a nibble before your lunch.

I have three small dishes for you.

The first is an update on my nesting mourning dove. You mighty remember her from tales on wing.

I have been keeping an eye on the nest to see if I could spot any hatchlings. I hadn't. Or maybe I had, and they blended so well into the nest, I could not differentiate them from the twigs and grass that constitute their tiny home.

This morning when I walked by, I was surprised to see what looked like two adult doves sitting on the nest. But they weren't. They were two hatchlings.

In the photograph, I managed to catch them side-by-side. They usually sit as far away from one another as they can in such a small space, often perching on the edge of the nest. These doves are not gregarious.

Some animals are almost indistinguishable in their youth from their adult forms. Some are just the opposite. Butterflies fall in the second category. Birds in the first.

These babes look as if they could be out in the market earning their mourning wages. And I assume they soon will be. Just as Sondheim warned: children turn "from something you love/to something you lose."

Tapas number two is also about loss -- and renewal.

I have now lived in the house with no name for about five years. In that time, our tropical rain and sun have done to the paint job on the house what nature did to Edith Sitwell. It was time to get the old girl a face-lift -- or, at least, some new pancake makeup.

The contractor stopped by today. We talked about just touching up here and there. But, on closer look, we decided a toes to toupee makeover was required.

The measurements are taken. We even discovered some old paint in the bodega to act as color chips. I should have the estimate in hand later in the week.

Because the paint crew is booked through the summer, the actual painting may not begin until October. So, we have plenty of time to wait for the inevitable essays the job will generate.

And your final nosh for the morning is good news for anyone who has ever tried to use the Mexican telephone system.

When I moved here, you needed to know if you were calling someone on their land line or their mobile phone. Then, you had to figure out the options if you were calling from one or the other.

Dialing has become simpler. But, on 3 August, all of that changes. For the better.

Mexico will be joining the same international telephone regime used by Canada and the United States. If you want to call any telephone in Mexico, you will simply use your 10-digit telephone number.

Businesses who have decided not to move to Mexico have cited the country's eccentric telecommunications system as a handicap to efficient operations. This change should help reduce that complaint -- even though it will not address the relatively expensive and slow internet system that plagues the country.

Even better, the dialing change will be better for consumers. Though I have to wonder if this new system will make it easier for telephone solicitors to hunt down their quarry.

So, there are your morning appetizers. Something for everyone.

And all three tell of a better future.


Monday, June 17, 2019

read all about it

Intentional humor is good. But unintentional is often better.

I read The Oregonian each morning on my Kindle. It is not the best newspaper available. In fact, I doubt it would finish high on any news reader's list. But it does act as a filter against the lunacy-inducing immediacy of television news.

Now and then, the editors (or, at least, the headline writers) provide an amuse-bouche to start my morning. Today was no exception. Of course, it wasn't. Or I would not be writing all this, would I?

For about a year, the editors have been adding an oddly-placed notice at the top of the agony aunt ramblings of Dear Abby. "FIND MORE BUSINESS NEWS BEHIND SPORTS." It is almost as if having been subjected to the nonsense of Dear Abby and Carolyn Hax readers cannot slog their way through the sports section to discover what the world of business and finance is doing.

I always thought it was an odd place to put the notice. Not only is it associated with the personal advice column, the notice is slapped underneath that column's headline. It struck me as an editorial disaster waiting to happen.

And so it did. This morning.

The headline for Dear Abby's sob sister ministrations this morning was:

Man's obsession with sports leaves no time for relationship

Followed immediately, of course, with:


I did not bother reading what Abby had to say. What could she say that would have been better than that?

Having had my bit of amusement for the morning, I am heading off to Manzanillo. There are exotic foods to purchase, inexpensive medications to pocket, and utility bills to pay (because no one seems to want to accept my credit card payments online).

Oh, yes. And to buy some Monkey's fried chicken. Some pleasures simply cannot be denied.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

coming out in mexico

I run a day-care facility.

A cicada day-care facility.

When I grew up in Oregon, we did not see many cicadas. I assume they live in Oregon. They live almost everywhere in the world.

Now and then my brother and I would watch one of the chunky-bodied aviators kamikaze into our bug zapper. The resulting flare-up must have been visible to astronomers on a small planet orbiting Regulus A.

But, I have never witnessed the onslaught of the 13-year or 17-year ear-splitting invasions in such exotic places as Ohio or Connecticut. Well, that is not exactly true. Between my junior and senior years of high school my parents showed their love for me by sending me off for a portion of the summer with the American Heritage Association to visit just that -- our American heritage. Ranging from Jamestown to Washington, D.C. to Concord.

One June night outside of Williamsburg I saw my first firefly -- an insect that figures in a lot of childhood literature, but was as exotic to me as a dragon. And cicadas. We had apparently arrived in Virginia just as the cicadas were emerging. The night woods were alive with the desperate mating calls of those periodical cicadas.

Other than that one night, my life has been virtually cicada-free. Until I moved to Mexico.

Even though I had a garden when I lived in Villa Obregón, I also had a gardener. There was undoubtedly evidence of their presence in the trees, but I never noticed them. When I would venture forth each night, my attention was solely directed to crocodiles, leaf-cutter ants, and snakes.

That changed when I moved to the house with no name. There are no crocodiles, ants, or snakes in my patio. I also have no gardener. So, my attention has focused on what lives in my patio. And cicadas are on the list.

My first encounter was a cicada corpse -- like the one in the photograph at the top of this essay. Well, corpse is not the correct word. Even though the body looks as if it could be alive, it is merely the molted shell of a cicada. Or, if you want to wow your dinner guests some evening -- its exuvia.

Usually, cicadas live around trees. But my cicadas are Mexican. They take what is available and make do. In my case, they make due with the cup-of-gold vines.

The vines are pretty, but they are also a nuisance. Since my patio is effectively my living room, I need to clean up the fallen leaves and flowers that the vines carelessly discard. I do that three or four times a day.

I saw my first exuvia attached to one of the vine stems. At first, I thought it was alive. It wasn't. It had no more life than a cadaver in the morgue. It just looked more lively.

Then I found another and another and another. Between the four planters there were enough bodies to build a star-antagonist for the next Godzilla movie.

Our cicadas here are known as annual cicadas. When the larvae hatch from eggs laid on the vines, they burrow into the ground and feed off of the roots for three to five years, molting in the dark. When they dig out of their cozy living womb, they climb the vine, attach themselves, and go through a final molting process (just like a butterfly) to emerge as an adult with a face that only a space alien could love.

They then go in search of a mate. I can hear the adult males in the neighborhood exercising their mating rites. The cicadas here are nowhere near as loud as those in the Virginia woods fifty years ago. But the calls cannot be mistaken for anything else. Well, maybe a Soviet-era nuclear power plant in Pyongyang. But nothing other than that.

This time of year, there is a spot in the mountains between Colima and Ciudad Guzmán where the call of cicadas can be heard echoing across the valley. You  can even hear them in a car with the windows rolled up. I always slow down on that part of the trip to or from Guadalajara just to listen.

When I was in Colombia with my cousin and his Colombia wife Patty (Yes, Patty, you are my cousin, also), she told us one of the most fascinating cicada tales I have ever heard (blowing up jiminy cricket). Colombians believe that the cicadas are crickets who sing with joy, and when they cannot stand the pleasure anymore, they explode.

Now, the science-handicapped amongst us will dismiss that as so much superstition, as if truth is based on facts. They rest of us can enjoy the tale for its poetry. Given the choice between joy and the husk of a corpse, I will take the poetry of joy.

The cicada nymph I photographed has not attached itself to a vine. For some reason, it is about 15 feet away from the nearest planter -- on my garage wall. Maybe the wind knocked it off the vine and it is making do.

When I first saw it, I thought it was an exuvia. It wasn't. The nymph was still inside its chrysalis. A first for me. I had never seen a cicada at this stage waiting for its metamorphosis.

I thought I would conduct my own experiment to see how long it would take to emerge. But, unlike butterflies, who I have seen emerge here several times, I missed the event. Within a day, the adult had come out and flown away. Most likely at night.

So, I will continue to watch the cycle of life in my tiny ecosphere as if I were a scientist or a 12-year old boy (because they are similar). But I hope to go on realizing that facts can only get us so far in a world filled with great mysteries.     

Friday, June 14, 2019

waggling me wig

It is right there on San Patricio's main street.

I must have passed beneath it several times before actually reading it -- even though it stretches across the full length of the street in front of the Kiosko.

I thought it was going to be an announcement concerning the usual suspects. A rodeo. A vagabond guitarist. A gathering of mariachi.

But it was none of those. If you applied your menu Spanish to the sign, you already know it is announcing a beauty contest for Mr. Gay Cihuatlán
 (the equivalent of our county seat) to be held on 22 June -- the winner to be declared by an electronic election. For those of you who still think of Mexico as a third-world country, I would be hard-pressed to think of anything more postmodern.

When I moved to this little fishing village by the sea, the last thing I thought I would encounter would be a gay beauty contest. Of course, my first mistake was thinking I had moved to a little fishing village.

It isn't. It is a tourist town that has learned that pesos come in all colors -- and that there are always new ways to expand the size of the revenue pot. I call it the Atlantic City syndrome.

I knew I was no longer in Kansas the night after my brother and I settled into my temporary digs in Villa Obregón.
 My landlady decided we needed to see one of Melaque's star attractions -- a transvestite show (a night at the opera). She thought it was one of the most marvelous entertainments she had ever seen. Neither Darrel nor I shared her enthusiasm after the performance.

Now, don't get me wrong. Even though I thought the show was an abomination, it was not for the same reason that my friend Cor posited theologically. It simply was not very well-produced.

What did surprise me is that it existed at all. Especially in a small town like Villa Obreg

In The States, I was involved in several projects that centered around political outreach to Mexican families. I worked under the assumption that Mexican culture was socially conservative and based on traditional family values.

That was probably true for my line of work then and there. But the assumptions do not translate quite as well to our tourist village. It would be far more accurate to state the area in which I reside is a "live and let live" community. Governor Edwin Edwards could slip his round peg ("laissez le bon temps roulez") into one of our slots, and the fit would be perfect.

So, when I wait in line behind an attractive young Mexicana at Hawaii, I always have to look twice to see if a bait and switch is under way.

I cannot tell you what the beauty contest next week will consist of. I talked with three young Mexicans who have told me three absolutely contradictory stories -- it will be men in ball gowns, it will be men in dinner jackets, it will be men in dinner jackets and then in ball gowns. That last version would cut my dinner party guest list in half. Apparently, there was a lesbian version a couple months ago, and the auditorium was packed. Mexicans love beauty contests.

Perhaps my English DNA makes me a bit sanguine about the prospect of men dressing in ball gowns. I doubt there is an English gentleman alive who does not dream of 
pretending he is Theresa May feeling the brush of a Dior against his dry knobby knees. Especially when you consider the wigs and robes by the judiciary.

Curiosity leads me to a lot of venues in Mexico. But I doubt I will be settling into my auditorium seat in Cihuatlán 
on the evening of 22 June.

Who knows, though? I could be wrong. How will I ever be able to tell you what happened, if I am not there?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

the constant companion

I am fascinated with death.

I always have been -- as far back as I can remember.

When I was four, I wrote my first two stories. Short. Both a bit disturbing. About death. And death with the sort of violence that could only be imagined by a four-year old -- or a Hollywood scriptwriter. If that is not being redundant.

Eaten alive by rats. Innocent housekeeper snuffed by the state in an electric chair. I told you. A bit disturbing.

Whether my life-long appointment with death pre-dated that juvenile attempt to make sense of our journey to the undiscovered country, I do not know. It seems likely. Most four-year olds would not spontaneously burst forth with story ideas for Quentin Tarantino's next project. The documentary trail stops there.

But I have been building my own trail since then. When I gave away my Salem library, I was not shocked to discover that the most common theme in the titles of my books dealt with death. And why not? It is something we will all experience. Eventually.

Theologians posit that death is merely a major change of address. That we were once free of death. That we gave all that up by our own choice. But one day man will be reconciled with God and all death will cease.

Until then, we are going to board a carriage, a train, a stage coach, a ferry (take your pick) that will one day whisk us off to -- well, that part is not quite certain.

Christianity and Judaism, for instance, is quite explicit what it means to live a good life. The Old and New Testaments are filled with guidance on what it means to be a citizen in the Kingdom of God.

And then we die. The details then get a lot fuzzier. Probably for very good theological reasons.

Philosophers have been toying with the mortality problem ever since the first Sumerian thinker asked: "Why me? Why not take him?" And was no more successful in finding an answer than are modern philosophers.

Even scientists fail us. None can answer what happens when the big sleep sets in. Scientists cannot really answer what happens when consciousness ceases because they have little idea what it means to be a conscious being. We are walking mysteries.

That may be why I find poetry so rewarding. Good poets eschew the what happens after we die question in exchange for answering the question of what death means in our lives.

I have  been reading Ted Kooser's Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems for the past year.

In his review of Kooser's collection, Nick Ripatrazone summed up the work: "There's poetic restraint in offering us a well-drawn map without a required route. That requires patience, a little confidence, and a belief that poems can be about living rather than an explanation of life."

I have applied patience to the book. Kooser's poems are so well-written that I seldom read more than four or five at one time. Each one is a launching pad for pondering ideas. Some new. Most old. But all worth considering.

Last night I was sitting beside the pool as the sun set on a slightly humid, but otherwise quite pleasant day. One of those days that is blessed by a breeze off of the ocean.

Two poems caused me to pause and evaluate my life. Both were about death. Directly and indirectly. And one was about a dog. You can never go wrong with a dog.

Let me share it with you. The dog poem first.

"January 19, still thawing, breezy"

Arthritic and weak, my old dog, Hattiestumbles behind me over the snow.When I stop, she stops, tipped to one sidelike a folding table with one of the legsnot snapped in place. Head bowed, one earturned down to the earth as if shecould hear it turning, she is losing the trailat the end of her fourteenth year.Now she must follow. Once she could catcha season running and shake it by the necktill the leaves fell off, but now they get away,flashing their tails as they bound offover the bill. Maybe she doesn't see themout of those clouded, wet brown eyes,maybe she no longer cares. I thoughtfor a while last summer that I might diebefore my dogs, but it seems I was wrong.She wobbles a little way ahead of me now,barking her sharp small bark,then stops and trembles, excited, on pointat the spot that leads out of the world.
OK. It is about aging, rather than death. Even though the boundary between the two is ephemeral.

What I particularly like are the word pictures. "Once she could catch a season running and shake it by the neck till the leaves fell off" and "point at the spot that leads out of the world."

The other poem is shorter. And has no dog. But is no worse for that fact.


After the funeral, the mourners gatherunder the rustling churchyard maplesand talk softly, like clusters of leaves.White shirt cuffs and collars flash in the shade:highlights on deep green water.They came this afternoon to say goodbye,but now they keep saying hello and hello,peering into each other’s faces,slow to let go of each other’s hands.
I will not tell you what I thought about for the hour after I read both poems. Those are my thoughts.

But I thought you might like the opportunity to enjoy some well-written poetry, and to pause for just a moment without the static of politics and pettiness clouding a quiet moment of considering just what it means to be human and humane -- because the two things are certainly not the same.

And, if you wish to share, that is what the comments section is for.

You might even pry out some of my more private thoughts.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

tales on wing

I am a bird junkie.

To call me a birder would be an insult to those people who study their whole lives to learn all there is to know about birds, and who then go trudging through the wild to make that list a living reality. Compared to them, I am not even a tyro.

But I have loved watching and interacting with birds my entire life. It was one reason I felt the loss of a garden when I moved to my current house. I am not devoid of greenery here. But my palm trees and planter-confined vines are not the avian magnets of my trees in Villa Obregón.

That is why I have been so fascinated with my hummingbird visitors. They were initially the only birds that made it into the secret valley that is my patio. I suspect birds find the space a bit confining.

Over the past year, a few other birds have dared this raptor hole. It started with English sparrows cavorting in the vines. Then the great-tailed grackles started appearing. First on the plastic over my shower chimney. The braver set would occasionally fly down to my swimming pool for a drink, and stand on the edge of the pool with that Grackle affectation of beak-in-the-air like pioneers watching the mesas for the appearance of war parties.

When I returned from my last set of trips, I had a new visitor. A mourning dove. Each day, she (as I would later discover) would fly to the edge of the pool with her widow's plaintive call, and daintily drink a bit of water. She would then fly to the top of one of the pavilions. Cooing all the way in her strigine coo.

She would show up regularly each day. That should have been a clue that she was not commuting a long distance.

On one of my walks on the upstairs terrace, I saw why my pool had become her oasis. She was nesting near the top of one of my twin palm trees. Her drab plumage blended in perfectly with the brown matting of the tree.

No matter how many times I walked around the track, on each lap past her, she would eye me warily. But she never budged from the nest. Immobility is often the best defense for vegetarians at the bottom of the food chain.

Her eye reminded me of something. Something that happened years ago that stoked my interest in birds.

My brother and I were rescuers. If we found a needy or wounded bird, we would scoop it up and take it home.

I have no idea how many nestlings and injured adult birds we admitted to the Cotton Bird Hospital. And I cannot tell you what happened to most of them. But I bet I know. Adding young boys to injured birds is not an equation that most hospitals would boast about.

Our recovery rate must have been about the same as Doctor Kavorkian's. My guess is that our mother acted as a volunteer mortuary detail -- cleaning up the evidence of potential trauma and disposing of it before two young boys hurried to the makeshift cages to see how the patients were doing that morning.

If asked, my mother would not have been the type of parent who lies to her children with such transparent constructions as: "Its mother came and got it last night" or "It wanted to join other birds in the zoo." She would have honestly told us, like all living things will do, it died.

But I honestly do not remember asking. There were always new victims to usher into the afterlife of Birdland.

One day, we found a mourning dove. I think something was wrong with its wing. But it was the largest patient we had ever recovered. Home it went and into a cage.

By now we had developed a routine of researching the favored foods of our patients in the Encyclopedia Americana that was stored in the bookshelf under the row of bird cages we had accumulated. Armed with knowledge, the treatment began. That is how I know mourning doves are vegetarian.

Whatever we did, it worked. Within a week, we released the dove. She sat on the edge of the cage when we opened it outside. I suspect she had considered the possibility that we were young Hannibal Lecters just waiting to pounce on her. Immobility was her ruse.

And with one fell swoop, she darted up into our walnut tree with her distinctive wing whistle and that plaintive call common to her kind. When we returned, she had flown away. I assume. None of our cats had a guilty look. But, do they ever?

So, I took an immediate liking to the nesting mother in my palm tree. She became the repository of my childhood dreams. And I smiled each time I passed the nest.

Last night, I noticed something odd. She was not there. And she was not there this morning. Nor has she flown down to the pool for her drink. It appears she is gone.

I cannot see into the nest because it is too high. To alleviate my curiosity, I tried a few shots with my camera held over my head. The results will remain optimistically inconclusive.

I was about to write that not every nature tale has a happy ending. But this one does.

Just as I was typing "The results will remain optimistically inconclusive," they became conclusive -- and still optimistic. The mourning dove flew down to the pool. With her coo. Her wing whistle. And a packet of happy memories.

And that is why I am a bird junkie. Their very existence, their song, their will to survive are tales on wings for us to learn.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

sign of our times -- and town

I must have walked past it several times and paid it no notice.

Well, enough notice that I knew something had changed.

A couple of years ago, Mexican cities started erecting ego signs where people congregated. Giant public sculptures in super-sized letters spelling out the name of the town. The letters were always painted in bright, but complementary, colors, and local symbols were often splashed onto the letters.

Barra de Navidad was no exception. Ours was a double-stacked affair. I expect because of the length of our town's name. Fortunately, we do not live in Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.

That sign was covered with symbols of our little community. The fallen-arms crucifix. Fish. Flowers. It was even lit up at night. What it was primarily was a backdrop for tourists to shoot family groupings -- or the ubiquitous selfie.

 I rather liked it. But its popularity was its downfall. First, it was people clamoring on the letters who damaged the paint and the structures. Then the lights were vandalized or trampled on -- if there is a meaningful difference there. And the brine started to have its cancerous way with the metal.

So, off went the sign, like a beloved relative, to the sign hospital. And, like a beloved relative, it was missed. There was a hole where there had once been joy.

I do not know the details, but a new sign was quickly installed as a temporary stop gap. That is the sign you see at the top of this essay. My first reaction when I saw it was an eye roll. It looked as if someone had transferred one of the bumper stickers I have seen around town directly to a metal doppelganger.

But that was all I noticed. Walking by every day, I managed to violate the Sherlock directive: "You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear."

That is, until this week. I was on my walk down the malecon when I noticed two Mexican women of grandmotherly age looking at the sign. One was pointing.

I slowed down enough to eavesdrop on what they were saying. At first, I could not figure out what they were saying -- something about what the sign meant. Then the first one asked her companion: What is "I?"

Then I saw it. I had not noticed that the town sign is not in Spanish. It is in English. Just like the Gringo-inspired bumper stickers on some cars here.

Because I can never let an opportunity pass to use my confusing Spanish, I apologized for interrupting them and told them the "I" was in English. And what it meant when translated to Spanish.

They looked at each other, and then at me, with that universal mixture of "Why?" and "You have got to be kidding?" And I understood the look entirely. After I saw the "I," my reaction to the sign was quite different.

I live in an area of Mexico that relies heavily on tourism -- for Barra de Navidad, tourists are the life blood of the community. But it is primarily Mexican tourism. Mexicans have been spending their vacations here for decades. And they have been coming to the beach in droves over the past three or four years as the Mexican economy slowly improved.

Of course, there are foreign tourists here, as well. But, for the overall economy, foreigners are rather a rounding error when it comes to fiscal impact. It is true that in some areas, foreigners do have an inordinate fiscal impact on the community. There are certain occupations that cater heavily to foreigners. If the foreigners did not come, they would have to take a different job tack.

Some shops and restaurants here market themselves to foreigners. Non-Mexican flags flown in front. Signs in English. Waiters who can take a breakfast order as if the traveler had not left his hometown.

And that is smart business. One of the greatest fears of monoglots is being stuck somewhere and not being understood. 

Those businesses are simply tending to the needs of people who need things and are seeking it in an environment in which they feel comfortable. And, even though one of the greatest truths of travel is that the voyager will learn much more by being able to converse in the local language, most people cannot (or will not) do that.

And thus the signs in English, the California accents of waiters, and now a sign on the beach in English.

I have been assured the sign is temporary. And I have no idea how many Mexican tourists have  been angered or befuddled by the sign's presence in Mexico. Maybe the two grandmothers were outliers. Though I doubt it. Mexicans are proud of their language . It is an indicator of national independence.

There may even be a good reason why the "I" was not replaced with either a "yo" or "me."  Maybe the sign maker was caught in the same grammatical conundrum, and just gave up.) It is just as likely that whoever made the decision to use English was one of the people whose livelihood is dependent on foreign largesse.

I don't know. All of that is just my speculation. 

What I do know is that I am as guilty as anyone else about cultural blindness. If I could not immediately see what was out-of-place with the sign, my head is still controlled by my own culture.

Of course, I know that. And it always will be.

People who have moved from another country and have lived here for decades tell me that they often reflexively revert to seeing the world through the cultural lenses of the Old Country, as my friend Jennifer Rose puts it. It is probably the burden all immigrants bear.

But, all is not lost. I have learned to ignore the "I" in the sign -- for one good reason. The "I" is redundant.

It is that heart that matters. It makes a great framing device to catch our summer sunsets.

You didn't think I was going to say something sappy, did you?


Monday, June 10, 2019

lessons from a hummingbird

I do not run a bird house.

When I lived in Villa Obregón
, my garden was filled with a wide range of birds -- plus the occasional crocodile. But not here at the house with no name.

English sparrows (which are neither sparrows nor English) pay infrequent visits to my trellises. Apparently, the vines have everything a weaver finch would want in a sex motel.

The only regular visitors, until recently, have been hummingbirds. Or a hummingbird. I don't know if it is one or more because no more than one is ever in the patio at the same time. Flitting from flower to flower to drink the nectar that powers their flighty wings.

After I trimmed the cup of gold vines on Wednesday, I sat down to write shave and a haircut -- no tip. Just as I started typing, my hummingbird (because I like to think it is only one, and I sit in the only garden it visits) showed up and started darting from trellis to trellis to enjoy the flowers I had not stuffed into the equivalent of a plant body bag.

I will confess that whenever it visits, I stop doing what I am doing and watch its OCD behavior. My presence does not seem to bother it. In its eyes, I am potentially dangerous, but sloth slow. And when it is on wing, it is invincible. Just like any other fighter pilot.

But this was not a usual day. After getting its fill of nectar, it flew to a perch on the vine in the northwestern corner of the patio -- and did just that. Perched.

In my 
Villa Obregón garden, my favorite spot was the hammock strung between the trunks of a mango and a tamarind. Every evening, a male hummingbird would station himself on the end of a dried branch, flash his head back and forth, and begin that Morse code chatter that makes hummingbird song distinctive. I always imagined the message had the same theme: "Get near my territory and I will poke your eyes out with my beak."

But this current hummingbird had a completely different call. It almost sounded as if it were calling to someone or something. The odd thing was that it kept looking inside the vine as it called. Like a frustrated mobile phone customer trying to catch somebody's attention. "Are you there? Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?"

I have long wondered if law school admits students who have no consciences or if the conscience is slowly extracted during the three years of learning "to think like a lawyer." I have always thought the former applied to me.

But, as I sat at the table, I felt a small stirring of ennui. Had I somehow managed to disturb or destroy a hummingbird nest while trimming the vines?

All day, the hummingbird would fly off -- and then return. Always on the same perch. Always with the same call.

During one of its absences, I took a look at the vine near the perch. I could see nothing. I have seen hummingbird nests. They often look like something a cat would cough up. Small. Nondescript. But I could see nothing.

And just as I write this, the selfsame hummingbird has returned. Drinking first and now sitting on its perch. Plaintively calling for -- something.

Considering the tone of my essays recently, I consider the hummingbird a kindred spirit. Thirsty. Searching for something. Often calling into the void.

Maybe we are just sharing this pleasant day together. If that is the answer, it is sufficient for me.  

Saturday, June 08, 2019

if you’ll not be needing me, i think i’ll shut down for a bit

Local folklore (often of the Gringo variety) says that the summer rains will not start before 15 June.

And folklore is often just plain wrong. As this morning has proved.

Let's skip over the fact that summer rains cannot start until after 21 June, because it will not be summer until then. But that type of persnickety trivia-infatuation is for people who, as children, had imaginary friends who lived in their dirty clothes hamper.

Just after 6 this morning, I could hear a familiar tapping on the plastic covering of my shower chimney. The cover provides a multi-use recreational area for the local grackles. They eat and dance and mate up there. It is the avian version of Studio 54.

But this was not the talon-topped feet of dancing grackles. It was rain. Early rain if you are to believe the fabulists.

There is something comforting about the light patter of rain in the dark while you are lying in bed. It is almost womb-like.

My prenatal reverie was broken by the thought of distant thunder. Thunder usually means lightning. Lightning means electronic death to my stable of digital gadgets.

I was just getting out of bed when the power failed. That happens regularly here with the first rain. And lightning is not required as an ally.

Before I took a step, the power returned. I started back to bed. The power went off -- and almost immediately came back on, but at a markedly reduced rate. My ceiling fan was barely turning. And then everything went dead. Again. And stayed that way.

I got dressed and walked around the block. No one was yet on our street, but most of the houses had external lights ablaze.

If I was the only house in my neighborhood without power, I thought my new solar system might be a problem. Messaging my pal Rick Noble put paid to that notion. He told me to check my meters, if the red lights were on, it meant CFE (our local power company) did not have power running to my house.

The lights were red. I thanked him for my continuing education in being a house manager.

I saw a neighbor woman while I was looking at my meters, and asked her if she was without power. She said she had no power in the house. But her external light was on.

That is one of the things that confuses me about our electrical supply system here. When I lived up north, whenever our neighborhood had a power outage, all of the lights went out.

Not here. Some of the street lights were on this morning. Some were out. Some porch lights were on. Others weren't. But it appears the power in all of our houses in this part of town was out.

I first experienced the some on-some off phenomenon in my last rental in Villa Obregon. Often when the power would trip off, almost all of my outlets went dead -- except along one wall. My table lamp, portable telephone, and modem would stay lit. The rest of the house could have been the Carlsbad Cavern.

Apparently, that was the way the house had been wired. And when I looked outside, there was no pattern as to which house had power and which did not.

So, I stored today's lesson away for future reference.

I had intended to report the outage to CFE, but I started drafting this note to you, instead. By 9:30, when I was writing the twelfth paragraph, I could hear the fan powering up in my bedroom.

And to that I had a mixed response. I am pleased how quickly CFE reacts to these outages. But I am always a bit disappointed that an anticipated event (like rain) can pull down a portion of the power grid.

Even with that, I am thankful -- that this event was not a problem with my new solar array, that Rick was immediately at hand to assuage my concerns, and that I can now sit on a refreshingly-cooled patio and tell you a tale of power withheld.

That is a pretty good way to start a day. 

Note -- If you are perplexed at the screen shot at the top of this essay, so am I. How can the current condition show rain and the chance of precipitation be 10%. If it is raining, I think the chance of rain needs another 0. But what do I know? Mathematics may have joined the disciplines where normative rules do not exist any more.  

Friday, June 07, 2019

shave and a haircut -- no tip

It was haircut time. And I was the barber.

The house with no name is not encumbered with plants. I have four large planters in the patio that act as privacy screens for each of the bedrooms. Two are filled with cup of gold vines and heliconia. The other with the same vines and a variety of palm.

The palms and the heliconia need only occasional snips to tidy them up and to battle the ever-present plaga -- a name Mexicans seem to apply to any viral or insect infestation that will eventually bring down the sturdiest of plants.

It is the vines that cause me to haul out the ladder and the pruning shears every three or four weeks. If I do not, the only way to subdue them would be to cut down the entire trellis-worth and let them start anew. The last time I did that, I swore I would keep up with the growth.

So, that is what I did yesterday. Usually, I will not get up on the ladder unless someone else is in the house. Omar was at work, but it was Dora's cleaning day. I had everything set out ready to launch. The only thing I had to do was to wait for her arrival at 9.

But she did not show up at 9 or 9:30 or 10. When 10:15 rolled around I girded my loins and set forth to battle the plants. This job would need to be done solo.

I cannot reach most of the areas that need trimming while standing on the ladder. What I cannot reach on the ladder, I can prune while on my knees forcing my torso under the railing upstairs. In that less-than-dignified position, I can clip away at the top portion of the trellis.

Even so, I do need to scale the ladder to shave the vines' unruly beards.

I do not like ladders. When I lived in Salem, I rode ladders down to the ground twice avoiding any serious long-term injury. I do recall climbing a three-story painter's ladder to rip the Boston ivy off of my chimney and saying to myself, "This is the last time I am doing this."

As we age we become unbalanced. Not mentally. That is another essay. We lose the ability to feel secure on ladders or other heights.

That happened to me yesterday. At one point, I felt as if I would fall backwards if I moved. It was a silly thought. But it felt real.

I finished the trimming without incident. Each of the vines now looks as if the head gardener at Suan Nong Nooch stopped by to tidy up.

And I may have completed my chores just in time. When the rains arrive, the plants in the planters will grow like 12-year old boys. The shears will then come out more often.

But that will most likely not happen for another week -- even though the cities in the highlands in our part of Mexico have already had rain. Lots of it.

We will wait for our turn. Patiently. And welcome its arrival.

And this barber, who never gets a tip, knows another customer will soon be in the chair.

I think of myself as Sweeney Todd.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

breaking the habit

I have a bad habit.

Well, I have a lot of bad habits, but for the protection of my fragile ego, we will deal with only one this morning. And that habit is quoting myself. Not to others. To me.

I concluded yesterday's essay (stop and smell the violet) with what I thought was one of those toss-off lines whose life would end up in the folds of a Hallmark card. Speaking of the beauty that surrounds us here, I wrote: "They whisper in our ear that all pain is fleeting and that the beautiful things in life are just waiting for us to enjoy them."

On my evening walk past the treatment center where Oz is now living, I was barreling by a house when something caught my attention. The place appeared to be abandoned.

Grass and weeds had grown out to the middle of the street. The hot water heater looked as if it had suffered a calamitous fire. Nothing showed the recent loving hands of an owner. Boo Radley could have lived there. Long ago.

But it was not the abandoned soul of the house that caught my attention. Bamboo had grown up to the edge of the house. The border between the house and the vegetation was almost invisible.

I have long been fascinated by bamboo. There were several stands of bamboo in our neighborhood outside of Portland where I was growing up.

The largest was near my classmate Patsy Moffett's house. I do not know if it had escaped its landscaping job (as bamboo is wont to do) or if someone had planted it. But it thrived on the banks of a little stream that cut through the Moffett property. The type of delicate, but resilient, bamboo that boys would cut to make impromptu fishing rods.

My early morning paper route took me past that grove each day. I often stopped on my bicycle, like some mounted circuit-riding preacher, to listen to the birds and sundry furry creatures, who made their homes in the grove, start their idiosyncratic days.

But I think one incident has forever seared that place in my memory. While peeping in on the private lives of muskrats and finches, I heard a whooshing sound. When I glanced up, a line of fire arced across the sky and ended just over the top of the grove.

It was the first time I had experienced a meteor that close. It had been large enough to survive entry through Earth's atmosphere, but small enough to be consumed by friction.

Being the good junior citizen that I was, I contacted the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). They sent out a staff member -- probably to humor the fantasies of a thirteen-year old boy. He did a cursory inspection of the property, and, as he expected from my description, found nothing.

He did tell me, though, that similar meteors burn up close to the Earth's surface frequently. Most go unnoticed because the daylight obscures them and most people are asleep during the night.

The chances are that what I saw was a meteor made solely of stone. Had it been a meteorite containing metals, a portion of it would have made it to the ground.

That made sense to me. If I had not had one of those jobs that require roaming about in the dark like a burglar, I would have been home in bed being attacked by our psychotic tomcat Rajah.

But there was no meteor to catch my attention yesterday. No muskrats. No finches. Just the memory-clotted bamboo. And it made me smile.

I started walking away when I remembered I had forgotten to take a photograph. What I saw when I turned around was what you see at the top of this essay. The house was not being taken over by just bamboo; it was being taken over by a tree.

Or so I thought. It took me a moment to realize that my first impression was correct. It is not a tree. It is guadua -- the green bamboo I appreciated in Colombia. And here is a prime example of it 2500 miles north of where I saw my first example. It turns out guadua grows as far north as northern Mexico.

I have probably walked by that grove hundreds of times on my daily walk, and I have never noticed that what I found so impressive in Colombia was right here in my neighborhood.

Maybe there is a reason I have not fully regained my energy. God sometimes sends us messages that we ignore. Until they are repeated and repeated and repeated again.

I think I have it now.

But there is no need for me to repeat the moral of yesterday's essay. It is for me today. And once again I repeat my quotations. To myself. 

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

stop and smell the violet

It does one good to just pay attention now and then.

Between my newspaper and magazines and talking with friends, it is easy to believe the wheels on our lives are about to spin off their axles at the next curve. Climate change. Incivility. Cost-of-living. Everyone seems to have a favorite horse to flog in the Calamity Sweepstakes.

My obsession these days is a bit more narcissistic. I have not fully recovered my energy after contracting whatever it was off the coast of northern Australia. The result is that I have slowly regained most of the weight I carved off last summer.

I have tried slowly transitioning back into my walking routine. But a thousand steps or so into my walk and I am ready to head back to the house. Whenever I get fixated on something like exercise, I tend to ignore what is going on around me -- especially if I am feeling as fit as the proverbial fiddle.

Last evening I decided to walk no more than 10,000 steps on the upstairs terraza that masquerades as an exercise track. Normally, I like to walk with the speed of a cruiser on patrol. Last night I was a tugboat. Lumbering along with my head down, but determined to at least get back into something of a routine.

For some reason I glanced up. And my timing was perfect. Off to the west, the sun was just setting. The sky above my house had turned violet, and there was an apricot-yellow fringe where the sun had just gone to its rest. I felt as if I had fallen into an Hawaiian postcard.

It was stunning enough that I stopped walking. When I am earning my paces, I almost never do that. But I was glad I did.

That one small moment re-centered my mind. Sure, all of the world's problems were still there. But we are daily surrounded by incalculable beauty that is there for the taking, but sometimes gets lost in our worry matrix.

One thing I truly enjoy in Mexico is that those moments are frequent. They whisper in our ear that all pain is fleeting and that the beautiful things in life are just waiting for us to enjoy them.

Reinhold Niebuhr had just the right balance in his prayer: "
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference."

If a simple sunset can help us do that, there is really hope for the world. 

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

an open letter to theresa may

Dear Prime Minister --

Well, it has been quite a ride, hasn't it? I am willing to bet you didn't quite expect any of this when you trounced Andrea Leadsom without having to bother with a membership vote.

Your last official day in office is fast-approaching. Before you shuffle onto the list of forgotten British leaders along with Margaret Beckett, I have one suggestion that will ensure you are long-remembered after your successor has crashed and burned.

I hear some of your supporters are offering you solace that you would have been a much better prime minister had your time in office not been defined by the sole issue of Brexit. Stuff and nonsense, I say.

You are not the only prime minister whose career was defined by a single issue. Winston Churchill became prime minister on the sole issue of knocking the stuffing out of the Nazis. We often forget that his first months in office were almost torpedoed by the very same crowd who did not want to realize just how odious Adolf Hitler.

But, he survived. Britain survived. And he will be remembered as one of Britain's greatest figures. Because of his steadfastness on that one issue.

It is true that you are no Churchill. And you certainly were dealt an almost-impossible task of ushering Britain out of the budding-federal European experiment. But you managed to make the worst of it.

By creating red lines that you could never enforce and by refusing to forge a unified cross-party consensus for Brexit (let alone one in your own party), you ended up with an exit package filled with enough bad ideas for almost everyone to hate. Britain now faces a Halloween deadline with very few prospects of an acceptable deal being negotiated.

But, not all is lost. You have a moment where you can mount a pedestal and pose for that Churchillian statue on Parliament Square that will be yours if you are willing to sketch out your own profile in courage.

The kink in the cat's tail began on 29 March 2017 when you invoked Article 50 in a letter to the EU. The two-year clock started running. And nothing good happened  after that.

When your successor is selected, he or she will face the same political landscape that now haunts you. The sole fact of your departure will not change anything. The blood on both sides of the channel is so bad, the only option may very well be a no-deal exit from the EU. You will effectively make Nigel Farage look like a statesman.

You can stop it. Rather than simply scuttering away from number 10, you should get up to morrow morning and call a press conference where you will announce the following: 

At 7:23 this morning, I called President of the European Council Donald Tusk to inform him Britain is officially withdrawing my letter of 29 March 2017 invoking Article 50 of the EU Lisbon Treaty. All negotiations preceding this announcement are now null and void. 
I have been informed Parliament has no constitutional authority to revoke this specific act of the executive. If my successor believes it would be appropriate to start the process anew, that is up to my successor. I believe the British people have had enough. I know I have.
Of course, you will not make such a bold move. If you could, Britain would not be facing the untenable situation it is now facing.

Just think about it. You certainly have nothing to lose. You might even find yourself invited to be Donald Tusk's successor by the dreaded EU.

I doubt it. But you never know.

After all, this whole thing is just a fantasy.

Your faithful and obedient servant,


Monday, June 03, 2019

tapping on steve's door

My house does not have an open door.

It is not that I am a hermit. It is just that I do not get many visitors.

And if people show up at the door without first calling, I will likely miss their presence. I have no doorbell, and the house is large enough that rapping at the door is, is for me, simply a reference to "The Raven."

If I am somewhere in the house I can hear the knocking, I will occasionally go to the door. And I am often glad I did.

We have a lot of Jehovah's Witnesses working our neighborhood. I always invite them in for a glass of water and to practice my faltering Spanish on matters theological. The anti-dengue health squad is similarly welcomed. Both are doing God's work as they see fit.

Dora was here on Saturday. Both of us were up to our chests in house-cleaning when we heard a rather insistent knock at the front door. She looked at me with that mix of exasperation and resignation suspecting I was about to launch into another theological seminary discussion.

The knock was mixed with extended "hola"s designed to alert the household that the person at the door had something of great value to share. And then came a surprising "Steve." My interest was piqued. This was not a casual visitor.

I discovered I was correct when I opened the door. No vested-health workers. No Watchtower-toting evangelists. It was my good friend Oz.

His full name is Oswaldo Alonso Gallardo Moreno. Oswaldo to his family. Ozzie to his friends and colleagues. Oz to my family.

The name morph reminds me of the Viscount Stangate, who turned himself into Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, then into Anthony Wedgwood Benn, then Tony Benn. I always imagined his brand strip-tease would leave him being called Mr. T, had that option not yet been taken by a man who would have not taken kindly to a violation of his trademark.

I first met Oz six or seven years ago when he was interviewing for a job at Rooster's. The manager was inclined not to hire him. There was something about him him that caused me to intervene with the manager.

I am glad I did. He was one of my favorite waiters. Even though he had spent most of his life in The States (California, New York, Nevada) and spoke impeccable English, he was willing to put up with my Spanish -- and to help me improve it. Of course, most of the new words he taught me were not the type I could use in polite conversation. But I did learn a lot about the use of the imperative.

You may remember him from four years ago when he and his family took refuge in my house during hurricane Patricia (sawing memories in half). He had just been reunited with his wife and two children when the storm headed our way. We survived the storm together, but the marriage went its own way.

He was at my house on Saturday because he was in the neighborhood selling fried platanos to raise money for the expenses of the volunteers who work at the treatment shelter where he is currently staying. 25 pesos a bag.

I do not care for fruit, and frying does not improve it. But I bought a bag each for Dora, her son Leonardo, and my son Omar. I then donated an extra amount.

If you have visited this area, you undoubtedly have seen young men wandering around town clad in a CRAC t-shirts and carrying a donation canister. I suspect most of us have never bothered to find out what the operation is all about. I know I hadn't. But Oz gave me the scoop.

There is a house in northern Barra de Navidad that offers shelter, treatment, and therapy for the addicted. Some alcoholics, but primarily drug addicts.

When I moved here, drugs were not a large local problem. Most drugs were on their way north as wholesale packages -- just passing through. Our small villages were not seen as retail sites. Of course, there was marijuana usage, with its attendant problems. This is a surfer-skimboard area.

And then something changed. The reason is not important, and I am not certain I fully understand the dynamic. But our villages now have a mushrooming methamphetamine problem. It is inexpensive, and even more addictive and debilitating than heroin.

The house where Oz is staying is dedicated to assisting addicts in dealing with their respective addictions. That is why Oz was at my door on Saturday -- asking me to be part of the solution. An offer I could not refuse.

When I was an attorney in Oregon, methamphetamine was becoming a problem. I watched a number of my young criminal clients start melting away -- in a very real sense. Their skin was jaundiced. They stooped because of calcium loss in their bones. They lost their teeth. And they continually smelled of cat urine.

About two years ago, I started using Facebook as a method to get to know some of my neighbors in the barrio. To my surprise, almost everyone I contacted was willing to have the type of "friendship" created by social media. Shallow. Inconsequential. Ephemeral. But I did not expect much more. It's Facebook.

But there were a few exceptions. I started corresponding with about a half dozen who were more than willing to tell me about their lives -- and to help me develop my Spanish. I would meet regularly with them.

It did not take me long to realize that what I had seen in Oregon was happening in my neighborhood. The blight of methamphetamine had set in amongst far too many talented young people -- for much the same reason addictions are created elsewhere.

I decided I was going to do something. I have no training in drug treatment -- other than what I have learned through experience as an attorney and classes conducted by the Air Force and the Salvation Army. But I also knew that for addicts another therapist is not what most of them need.

Yesterday at church we were scheduled to discuss the parable of the Good Samaritan. I did not attend for a number of simple reasons. But it is one of my favorite parables. It is the story of a man who is set upon by thieves and left for dead along the side of the road. Two religious men pass by and ignore him to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean -- and perhaps out of fear.

The only man who stops is a Samaritan. A despised foreigner. He treats the man's wounds, takes him to an inn, pays for his immediate care, and offers the innkeeper more money in the future if it is needed.

I know it sounds presumptuous to say I feel like that Samaritan when I go out to work with the methamphetamine addicts in our neighborhood. But my role is smaller than his. What most addicts lack is someone simply to talk with. Because of the behavior this odious drug drives them to, most have lost contact with their families and friends. I can offer little more, therefore I offer what I have -- an ear willing to listen.

There is another Samaritan in Jesus' teaching -- this one the woman living in adultery who he encounters at a village well. Philip Yancey relates a story that I often think of when I am talking with my friends.
That scene of Jesus and the Samaritan woman came up during a day I spent with the author Henri Nouwen at his home in Toronto. He had just returned from San Francisco, where he spent a week in an AIDS clinic visiting patients who, in the days before antiretroviral drugs, faced a certain and agonizing death. “I’m a priest, and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories,”  he told me.  “So I went up and down the ward asking the patients, most of them young men, if they wanted to talk.” 
Nouwen went on to say that his prayers changed after that week. As he listened to accounts of promiscuity and addiction and self-destructive behavior, he heard hints of a thirst for love that had never been quenched. From then on he prayed, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.” 
That day with the gentle priest has stayed with me. Now, whenever I encounter strident skeptics who mock my beliefs or people whose behavior I find offensive, I remind myself of Henri Nouwen’s prayer. I ask God to keep me from rushing to judgment or bristling with self-defense. Let me see them as thirsty people, I pray, and teach me how best to present the Living Water.   
I am telling you this for one reason. Certainly, not for self-aggrandizement. What I am doing does not even trip the self-sacrifice meter.

Here is what I suggest. When you see the young men in the CRAC t-shirts wandering around town selling the two varieties of fried platanos they have prepared for you, purchase a bag or two and drop some extra pesos in the can. But, more importantly, stop what you are doing and share a few moments with another soul who is as thirsty for companionship as are you.

The Oz of this world will thank you for it. 

Sunday, June 02, 2019

moving to mexico -- paying the grocer

I am a creature of habit.

Some people in Mexico get a thrill out of shopping for the food they are going to prepare that day by going to four or five different shops. Not me. When I find a store that provides me with a wide-range of good food, I tend to do all of my shopping there.

It helps that I have weaned myself from the Stalinist recipe-oriented method of meal preparation. I tend to look for interesting or new fresh vegetables I can combine in some original fashion with whatever is fresh at the butcher.

If you have been stopping by these pages very often , you already know my favorite grocery store is named Hawaii. In San Patricio.

I have been shopping there exclusively for almost eight years.

The first couple of years here I shopped at various vegetable stands around town. I then noticed I was spending more and more time at Hawaii -- for one very specific reason. Alex, the owner, is a master businessman. He has turned his store into an emporium of the exotic. If you need a bottle of citrus-infused soy sauce or Tillamook extra sharp cheddar, he has it.

Bit by bit, I transitioned to Hawaii, and have been shopping there ever since. Partly because I know the staff and like them. They always make me feel as if I am paying their wages. Which, I guess, I do. In a small part.

One of the most common questions I am asked by friends up north is how much does it cost to live in Mexico? Is food inexpensive? My answer is the same. "It depends. Yes and no."

As a public service, I will show you what was in my two reusable bags when I left the store Friday afternoon. If you have looked at the photograph, you already know.

Because I only had two bags, I was a bit surprised at the price. $961 (Mx). Just under $50 (US). If I had walked out of the Bend Fred Meyer with two bags costing that much, I would not have thought about it. But I hear a lot of people talking about how inexpensive food is here. It is. But not always.

Let's check those bags.

  • 2 packets of ham lunch meat -- $220 (Mx) -- $11.20 (US) 
  • a loaf of bread -- $48 (Mx) -- $2.45 (US)
  • hummus -- $105 (Mx) -- $5.35 (US)
  • a tube of veggie-chips -- $71.50 (Mx) -- $3.65 (US)
  • a bag of vegetables -- $51.50 (Mx) -- $2.63 (US)
  • a large canister of cashews -- $465 (Mx) -- $23.71 (US)
The vegetables were the only bargain on the list. I am willing to guess that the lunch meat. bread, hummus, and snack chips would cost about the same in The States. Maybe a little more, but, at least, comparable.

The outlier is the canister of cashews. At least, I think that is true. Maybe that canister would cost $24 in The States. I don't know. I do know that it added up to almost half of my bill on Friday.

You may have noted the brand name. Kirkland. The cashews are imported. They are American cashews.

When I first started visiting Mexico in the early 1970s, while I was in flight training at Laredo, I would no more have imagined finding cashews in a Mexican grocery than I would finding a fresh serrano chili in Fred Meyer. The border acted as a trade dam for a long time.

When I discovered Hawaii around 2009, Alex had a few imported items. But they were very expensive. Over the next few years, availability increased, and prices came down.

Until the bottom fell out of the Mexican peso in 2016. Because of the unfavorable exchange rate, the price of northern goods spiked. A can of Campbell's tomato soup sells for the equivalent of $3.27 (US). They have remained there ever since.

I have previously written about the cost-of-living in Mexico. Apparently, cost was one of the major driving forces for some people in their move here. I get that impression listening to some northerners talking about groceries. 

"I can buy five bags of groceries for 100 pesos." "100? I can get the same groceries for 25." "25? Spendthrift. I can get ten bags of the same groceries, a side of beef, and three cases of Victoria -- and the grocery will pay me 1000 pesos for the privilege of my custom."

So, that is the reason, there is no helpful answer to the question of what groceries cost here. They cost whatever Alex charges me for the items I pull off his shelves.

One last note, do not be beguiled into buying those veggie-chips. They are perhaps the vilest snack I have ever tasted. And that includes Twinkies.

I should have saved the 71 pesos to buy postage stamps.