Friday, May 31, 2019

recovery road

I love to travel.

Or, at least, I claim to love to travel. The two things may be quite different.

My writer and professional pal Jennifer Rose recently asked me what was happening in my life. She noted my essays written during my last four trips (Panama, Zacatecas, Zamora, and Australia) sounded as if I was forcing myself to appear happy. That some underlying angst was taking the edge off of my travel experience.

She was correct. And she did not have to rely solely on reading the tea leaves of my subtext. I have written about how my last two cruises left me a bit cold.

In her role as my internet psychoanalyst, she forwarded a Youtube clip to me. The clip is an Adam Sandler skit from Saturday Night Live. I almost did not open it.

And here is why. When Saturday Night Live started entertaining us late at night, I was in law school. It was cutting edge. Bracingly unorthodox. "Kill Gary Kilmore for Christmas" was not only outrageous, it was once of the best anti-capital punishment pieces I have seen. Memorable.

When the original cast left, the show began a slow spiral into predictably rather than inevitability. Sure, there were some very talented people on the show. Tina Fey comes to mind. But she was a big exception.

Adam Sandler was not an exception. His humor has never clicked with me. Every film I have seen him in has been painful. "Banal" would be a compliment.

So, I almost did not open the clip. I am glad I did.

Once again, Jennifer has tacked my id to the wall. I should let you listen to the clip before I tell you why. But I won't.

My problem is that I am somehow expecting my little adventures to change who I am. Like most people, I claim circumstances should not affect who I am. We all like to believe we surf on the waves of life's travail.

But we don't. I don't. Try as I may, I can claim that circumstances do not matter, that presence makes the difference. I then live the opposite of what I say.

It is not the trips that were less than satisfying. It was something else in my makeup. Something that has made me less than willing to enjoy what I claim to enjoy.

I don't yet have the answer. But that is never the point of psychoanalysis is it? Sometimes we need to be content with knowing the correct (or close-to-correct) questions.

And that is as good a place to stop as any.

Watch the skit. Enjoy. And consider.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

banking on my modem

They say it is an ill wind that blows no good.

I am not certain what adage could be spun out of a wind that blows nothing but good. But I had one of those today.

After returning from Oregon, Mexico served up two problems: getting pesos for my daily needs and a modem that would have done Camille proud.

I will not trot out my ATM woes. You know the tune well enough to sing along.

For almost a half year, the ATMs in town have been refusing to honor northern debit cards. Usually, it is simply Banamex, the only traditional bank in these parts. But, whatever the affliction is, it also occasionally affects the ATMs at Intercam and the Mexican Army base.

Not many businesses locally take credit cards. But there enough grocery stores and restaurants that do to tide over a starving tourist.

My problem is I do not want to tide over. I want to hoist sails and get on with it. And so I have.

We have a branch of Intercam in San Patricio. When it came to town, it offered investment possibilities. But, years ago, it expanded its operation to include almost all forms of banking. Checking. Savings. Long-term investments. Even an ATM.

For various reasons, I have put off opening an account there. I cannot even remember what excuses I used. But I did. Banamex's failure to resolve its customer service failure with its malfunctioning ATMs sent me over the edge.

I would like to say it is simple to open an account at Intercam. And I suppose it is. But it is a bit more difficult than opening an account in The States.

I needed the usual documents. My passport. My most-recent CFE bill. My permanent residence card. (For those of you who have asked the question, you can open an account with a permanent or temporary residence visa -- or a tourist card. The tourist card requires a few additional documents I did not have to produce.)

But I did have to produce a slough of information. My marital status. My address. Two references living permanently in Mexico. My Social Security number. My former occupation. The name of my former employer. My CURP. A sample of my maternal grandfather's hair. And a partridge in a cashew tree.

Well, maybe not the last two. But I felt as if I was applying to take money from Intercam instead of desperately trying to give it dollars as seed money for my account.

After two appointments, I wrote a check to open my account. And waited. Two weeks. For the check to clear. So said Intercam's representative.

Last night, I received the good news that as of this morning my Banamex shackles have  been broken. I am now a card-carrying Intercamunist. The next time the Banamex ATM acts up (and I predict that will be tomorrow), I will have another port where I can ride out the storm. It is better than tiding over.

But that was just half of my good day. I am now the proud owner of two internet modems. As I already told you (singing the internet blues and hallelujahs), I was surprised on Monday when a Telmex technician showed up with modem in hand to get Mexpatriate zipping down the digital highway.

Even though I was up and running, I decided to put my internet backup plan in motion. On Sunday afternoon I had purchased a Telcel modem that operates on our area's cellular signal. I would have had it up and running on Monday morning when the Telmex modem arrived, but the vendor asked for another day to get it ready to operate.

On Monday evening, I picked it up. I took one look at the setup manual and set it aside. According to the manual, I needed an ethernet cable to enable the modem for wifi. My laptop does not have an ethernet cable connection.

Julio, the manager at Rooster's, told me he spent a couple of hours setting his up his Telcel modem. But he was surprised that the vendor had not done that for me. As he was talking, I realized that is exactly why the vendor had asked for the second day. He needed to contact Telcel to hand me a plug and play modem.

And that is exactly what he had done. With one little tweak, the modem was up and running. And I mean running like a greyhound rabbit. I am lucky to get 10 mps connection speed on my Telmex modem -- even though I am right next door to a Telmex switching station.

My Telcel modem leaves it in the dust. A number is not necessary. Take my word for it, it is fast. If you do not take my word for it, you might say that if it were a speed limit, it would not be just the law, it would be a good idea.

Telcel has offered home internet over its cellular service for some time. It was marketed primarily to people who could not get an internet connection with Telmex. Since then, the service has improved markedly.

So, I doff my feathered hat to Chavita Ruiz at Los 3 Mosqetecnicos (I have no idea which one is Athos) in Villa Obregon. If you live in this area and would like to slip into a digital Lamborghini, Chavita is your man.

You probably figured it out already (because the readers here are a clever lot), but that is the shop front at the top of this essay. On Calle Benito Juarez, a block west of the jardin.

New bank. Better internet connection. What could make a better day?

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

cashew -- gesundheit

You have had fair warning.

Whenever a writer resorts to hoary vaudeville jokes as a hook, you know something is afoot. Or, in this case, atree.

I stopped by Rooster's yesterday to ask the manager, Julio, about his experiences with his Telcel modem. I was a bit unclear about the billing process now that I am online with both Telcel and Telmex. (And you will hear a bit more about that later this week.)

Having finished my electronic mission, Gary, the owner of the restaurant, asked me if I could identify the fruit on top of the table. If I had not seen one a couple of years ago, I probably would have been stumped.

It is the fruit of the cashew tree. What we call cashew nuts is that tiny portion on top of the much-larger fruit. It looks like a stem. The fruit is called a cashew apple.

Most seeds are surrounded by the meat of their fruit. Peaches. Apples. Grapes. Not the cashew. The future generation sits on top like the stem of a jack-o-lantern.

Any time Gary introduces me to a new fruit from his orchard, the conversation quickly wends through a trivia labyrinth. Gary said that none of his staff (including the cooks) had ever seen the fruit.

Being a fellow who is both full of himself and dodgy information, I told Gary I thought the cashew originated in India. Or, at least that is what the Spanish thought. They call it "Nueces de la India." Indian nuts. That made some sense based on our brief survey of non-recognition.

I was dead wrong. Unlike the coconuts, mangoes, and limes that surround us, cashews were not brought to the New World from India. In fact, it was the other way round.

Cashews are local boys. Not Mexican local boys. But they were solely located in the Americas when Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two. The Carribean basin to be exact. The islands, northern South America, and Central America.

When the Portuguese discovered it, they saw that it had potential. First the nuts, then the cashew apple. Within years, they had spread the trees to their Asian and African colonies. Just as they distributed the chili throughout the world in the same time period.

Everyone knows why we call one of America's native birds the turkey. When the Spanish and Portuguese imported the birds to Europe, the English decided to name them for the country where they thought they originated -- Turkey.

It could have been worse. They could have thought the birds came from Greece. Hearing your host ask "Would you like a slice of Greece?" would deflate the holiday table spirit.

This morning I asked Dora if she knew what the fruit was. She guessed that it was a chili, as did the cooks at Rooster's. That is understandable. The nut does look like a stem.

But, the fruit is not new to everyone in Mexico. One of the propane guys who filled my tank yesterday saw the one Gary gave me sitting on my counter in the patio. He called it a marañón, the Spanish name for the cashew apple. I should have asked him f he was from southern Mexico where the cultures of Central America and Mexico mix.

The cashew is still very popular in Central America. At least, the cashew apple is. Most of the nuts are exported as a very profitable commodity.

But there is no international market for the fresh fruit. Probably for two reasons. The first is that it has a very short shelf-life. The apple Gary harvested yesterday has already started going bad.

The second is that it is far too sweet for most people to consume as a fruit. It has that same overwhelming syrupy taste that keeps me from enjoying guanábanas. But, just like 
guanábanas, the cashew apple is used commercially as a sweetener and as an ingredient in agua fresca.

And then there are the Portuguese. During their rule of Goa, they had a lasting impact on the food of that part of India. The use of vinegar is an example. And, of course, the importation of chilies.

The Portuguese put the cashew apple to a different (but obvious) use. They fermented the apple and then double-distilled it to create an 85 proof concoction known as feni. There is also a palm version that sounds similar to our local tuba -- at least prior to distillation.

 is quite popular in Goa and southern India. The Portuguese do not get enough credit for what they did to promote global trade.

So, that is my cashew story. The next time you pop one of those slightly-sweet nut morsels in your mouth, you will know a bit of the long path it took to your stomach to add to your G

Auf Wiedersehen.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

getting gassed

Now and then, I need to remember what drew me to Mexico.

I decided I was far too comfortable in Salem. I wanted to get up every morning and not know how I was going to get through the day.

Mexico has kept its end of the bargain. In spades. And I need to remember that when I encounter the topes. They are supposed to remind me why I am here.

My latest life-affirming experience was getting propane. That sounds like a pretty simple task. I am not aware of any home in these parts that does not use propane for cooking. Some use it to heat water.

It comes in two versions. Propane delivered to your home in cylinders in the back of a truck. Or delivered in a truck with a large tank of propane to fill the tank in your house.

For six years, I was a cylinder guy. Both of my rentals had dual cylinders. When one ran out, I would switch to the other tank and order a new cylinder. If all went well, if the cylinder did not run dry before the delivery arrived. Sometimes, things did not go well. For a lot of reasons.

When I bought the house with no name, it had cylinders. I switched them out for a tank (the largest I could find in town) because I was tired of the cylinder two-step.

The tank has worked just as I planned. I use propane only to cook. My water has a solar heater. So, I do not use much propane. I thought that I had never had it filled other than when I first moved in. The Global Gas records show it has been filled twice.

Last February, the gauge was dropping close to the 20% mark when the pressure is inadequate to force propane through the system. But my timing was terrible.

I tried calling both propane company offices. Neither would answer the telephone. I drove to the office of one company three different times to schedule delivery. A truck never arrived.

There were extenuating circumstances. This was about the same time the Mexican government created its own gasoline shortage by cutting off the gasoline pipe lines in a quixotic attempt to stamp out cartel and free-lance puncturing of the pipe lines to steal fuel. I am not quite certain of the reasoning, but the gasoline embargo also created a propane shortage during the height of the northern tourist season.

Because the propane companies were short of supply and long on demand, they started their own rationing program. They would sell primarily to hotels and other businesses -- to keep them from losing custom. Of course, that meant very few home deliveries. The truck drivers were even refusing bribes. So I have heard.

Just as the propane scarcity was ending, I was off on three trips. Two in Mexico; one in Australasia. When I was home, I set up appointments for propane, but no one showed up.

The dial finally worked its way down to 20% this month. The pressure was still high enough to cook, but I desperately needed the tank filled.

Even with a house guest visiting Mexico, I would stay home for days at a time. I need to be here for two purposes: 1) to let the gas men drag their house through the garage door and 2) to shell out the equivalent of a good lunch in Portland.

Yesterday, I handed the project over to Omar. He called and received a promise that the delivery would occur before the close of business. Because it was now his project, I thought I would also let him wait. But he had both work and school on his schedule.

So, I waited. Not surprisingly to no avail. I was going to call again this morning, but I needed to drive to Villa Obregon to obtain information on setting up my Telcel modem now that it is in my hands.

And then a miracle occurred. Just as I pulled up in front of my house, the propane truck pulled around the corner.

I gave each of the workers a glass of water. Before they could finish them, my tank was filled. I paid the requested $1,200 (Mx) (about $62 (US)), and they were on their way.

The contents of the tank should hold me for about two years or so.

And I can then, once again, go through the do-si-do of buying propane in Mexico. After all, daily difficulties were part of the bargain of moving here.

And I would have it no other way.

Monday, May 27, 2019

moving to mexico -- singing the internet blues and hallelujahs

Part 1 of the Steve Loses His Internet episode has faded to black.

After twice ordering a new modem from Telmex, I received a call this morning from Telmex asking if I had a problem with my modem. My stomach sank. But I remembered the lesson I learned from Omar and soldiered through the questions the Telmex representative felt were important enough to be repeated.

My Spanish often fails me on the telephone. Part of that is caused by being caught off-guard. When I walk into a store, I have a rather good idea of the conversation possibilities. On the telephone, the dictionary is up for grabs.

But, even more important, I still need to sees a speaker's lips moving to catch some of the subtle consonants in Spanish. In English, we call it slurring.

The call enigmatically terminated with a brusque "OK" (one of those terms that appears to be almost universal). And with no explanation why the questions we had earlier answered needed to be answered again.

I was about to call Telmex to verify that our second order had not gone astray in the delivery process, when I heard a truck pull up in front of the house. The reason I happened to be in the house this morning is that I am expecting a propane delivery. (That is another tale that stretches back to last February. You will probably hear a bit more about it.)

But it was not the propane truck. It was a walking, breathing Telmex technician with a new boxed-modem in his hand.

That surprised me because Omar had distinctly chosen the delivery option rather than the technician-delivered option because we were told delivery was faster. But I am glad Telmex switched the options.

I do not need a technician to set up a modem. I do it at least once a year. My age-related dementia has not advanced to the point where I forget electrical operations that easily.

He unplugged the old modem and installed the new one connecting all of my network cables. Everything set up perfectly. Except for the internet. Just like the old modem.

He tried several times. Nothing. The telephone signal was perfect. But no internet.

He checked the internet junction box in the utility alcove. No internet.

He climbed his Flying Wallendas ladder to the third-story connection on the front of my house. Nothing.

Twice he drove off in his tech-mobile to places unknown. Well, unknown to me at the time. Only to return with that look that doctors have when they are about to ask you whether you want the good news or the bad news first.

After returning the second time, he did what every man hates to do. He called someone for assistance.

In this case it was someone who had access to the internet controls. I imagine it as a dark underground room lit only by the glow of hundreds of monitors filled with screens of personal information and selfies of people even in the remotest parts of Malawi.

Wait a minute. I think that is the set for Emilio Largo's hideout.

And then he was done. All of the lights on my modem were lit up like last night's election results for the Brexit Party. I was set to go.

It turns out I had a twofer problem. Not only had my modem died, the internet connection to my house had been tripped off as if I were some deadbeat who forgot to visit Oxxo with my Telmex bill this month.

Of course, I will receive no reduction in my bill for the week of internet service I was not able to use solely because of the failure of two pieces of Telmex equipment. When I jokingly asked the question of the technician, he thought it was one of the funniest things he had ever heard.

I thanked him and released him to complete his appointed rounds while I sat down to fruitlessly await the arrival of the propane truck. Mexico is like a fast-track yoga course in the Elysian fields.

So, you are receiving the first missive on the new internet connection. But I have learned a lesson. This evening, I drive to Villa Obregon to pick up what I hope is an operating Telcel modem. It will mean paying two internet provider bills each month. But, more importantly, like Scarlett O'Hara, I will never be internet poor again. Or something like that.

I suspect the Telcel modem saga will turn into Episode 2 of Steve Loses His Internet. I hope it is a short story.   

Saturday, May 25, 2019

get a job, you laggard

The internet is wise beyond measure.

The other night I watched the only episode of Netflix’s The Crown that has even vaguely interested me. Like most episodes, a dual-pronged story arc threads its way through the hour to conjoin in a grand denouement at the end of the tale.

The first prong is a commentary on Queen Elizabeth’s Christian faith and how it informs her duties as monarch. In the process, she has two encounters with American evangelist Billy Graham. (In the future, I may write about how the issue of forgiveness plays into her faith.)

The second prong is far less interesting, but more relevant to today’s essay. The Duke of Windsor, wearying of his lost powers following his abdication, decides in his 60s that he needs to find a job to make something meaningful of his life. Sort of a delayed mid-life crisis. Like so much else in that man-boy’s life.

Alex Jennings’s portrayal of the maudlin musings of the fallen king triggered that little kernel of doubt that hides in the back of every retiree’s memory closet. “Should I be doing something different with my life?”

And right on cue, the internet came to my rescue.

In my inbox was an invitation from the Kimble Group, which I infer is a head hunter shop, inviting me to join the Law Office of Michael J. Crawford in Waxahache. I skipped over the possibility of practicing law with the Phantom of the Opera and focused on the place name.

Waxahache. Was I being invited practice law amongst the Wixariti with their peyote culture? After all, I had participated in the law suit that challenged Oregon’s restriction of peyote use in religious rituals. My fame must have preceded me.

No such luck. Waxahache is in Texas. Just outside of Dallas. My interest meter plummeted to zero.

Or almost zero. When I read the job description, my meter pegged. Below zero.

The job the Kimble Group “thought [I] might be interested in” was an associate attorney job. Essentially the type of job I would have taken had not my law school friend Ron Gray and I decided to open our own law firm in the late 1970s. We did the same work, but we were our own bosses.

These job notices are good for me. They remind me why it was wise for me to have left law at the top of my game. But that is just one aspect of why I am glad I left when I did.

This morning, while practicing my Spanish, I listened to the lyrical sounds of the mornings here. Birdsong of all descriptions. Roosters. The occasional bus or motorcycle. The stereo next door cranked to distortion levels.

All blending together to let me know a challenging day spreads out in front of me. If the Duke of Windsor had simply paused to enjoy life as it is, he would not have ended up being the black sheep of the family.

And it makes me far more content than being a Broadway star’s tea boy.

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?