Sunday, June 30, 2019

the body electric

I am an electronic junkie.

That confession is hardly headline material. It ranks right up there as another dog-bites-man story. You already know I sing the body electric.

When I moved down here just over a decade ago, The aspect of my northern life I thought I would miss most was ready access to books -- and bookstores. I am a voracious reader. But there was little in the local area to sate my passion.

Amazon soon came to my rescue by increasing the coverage area of its Kindle readers and concurrently lowering their price. I could now buy books wherever there was a wifi signal -- and, in a couple years more, wherever there was cell coverage. The world's libraries were at my fingertips.

I thought it would take me some time to transition from the feel of a book in my hands to the convenience of toting around my library in an electronic device far lighter than my cell phone. But, it didn't. Within days I became a missionary for Kindle with the zeal of any recent convert.

A couple years ago, I drove up to Oregon to retrieve several boxes of books from my mother's garage. They constituted the rump of the library I had donated to Goodwill. Most of the volumes were biographies. Originally, I had left them with my mother because she as fond as I am of learning more about the human condition through the lives of others. She particularly enjoys biographies about her ancestors.

Now that I owned a house, the library was lacking one item. Books. So, off I drove with the books to Mexico to form the core of a new library. I must confess that Jennifer Rose, who sees Kindles as akin to signing up to be a member of the Knights Templar, was a prime spur of my decision to be surrounded by hard-bound volumes that I have read.

I now periodically choose new books from reviews in the periodicals I read. A few seconds on the Amazon app on my telephone, and the books are on their way to a new home in my library.

That is how I received Benjamin Dreyer's Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. A review in The Economist piqued my interest. The book has lived up to its billing.

As a writer, I am always looking for ways to improve my product. Dreyer, a copy chief at Random House, has put together a style book that reminds writers of best practices (Dreyer hates the term "rules of writing") -- all told with the type of wit we wish in our dinner guests.

He starts with a simple challenge. Go a week without writing:
  • very
  • rather
  • really
  • quite
  • in fact
  • just (the one meaning "merely")
  • so ("extremely")
  • pretty
  • of course
  • surely
  • that said
  • actually
 He calls them the Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers. Strunk and White would probably refer to them as flotsam and jetsam.

You get the idea. But, it was not the contents that spurred today's essay.

I have mentioned before that summer has arrived on the tropical Mexican coast. Here, in the untitled house, that means the pool hammock is broken out of the bodega. I pour myself a glass of mineral water spiked with the juice of three limes, choose a book, and mount my water steed for the afternoon.

That "choose a book" step until recently meant "grab my Kindle." But I have been reading hardbound books in the pool lately.

For some reason, I had forgotten that reading real books while floating is a refined art whose mastery I must have forgotten. While holding my book with my left hand, I let my right arm cool in the water. That was well and good until I had to turn the page.

Getting a bit of water on the face of my Kindle is not a problem. It just rolls right off. When I turned the page of the book with my wet right hand, I was quickly reminded of the absorbency of paper.

I dabbed off what I could. As high as our temperatures are, I hoped the rest of the water would quickly evaporate. I had not calculated the humidity into the calculation.

When I was in the Air Force several of my colleagues talked about their past assignments in The Azores. They said their most prominent memory of the place was its humidity. When their quarters were painted, it seemed as if the paint remained damp until it was time to paint again.

I did not have a humidity problem that large today. The pages dried out quickly enough to allow me to start reading again without the danger of tearing the damp pages. Of course, a bit of water on the screen is quite acceptable with a Kindle.

On the other hand, if I dropped my Kindle in the pool (a probability that nears almost certainty taking into account my record with things electronic), I would need to by a new reader. If I dropped a hard-bound book in the same part of the pool, it would be warped after it dried -- but salvageable.

There are undoubtedly some of you who are whetting your comment knives at this very moment to suggest that I keep reading material out of the pool. But you know that is not going to happen. 

Reading material banned from pools would endanger the economic hold of the military-industrial-publishing-floaties complex. And we cannot have that. What next? Banning Neil Diamond songs. (Wait. I would be in favor of that.)

Instead, I will keep flowing along like Old Man Liverspots. Reading. And slugging back those mineral waters. 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

doing what needs to be done

Bill Buckley used to tell the story of what became of the tree that gave its name to the family estate, Great Elm.

The great elm was just that. The largest elm tree in Connecticut. But its size did not save it from the Dutch elm disease that ravaged the trees of the northeast.

Rather than hire someone to cut down the tree, Buckley, Sr. picked up an ax, and in the words of his son, "Did what needed to be done."

For some reason that stark phrase has, for me, long summed up the sense of duty that is ensconced in our daily tasks. We do them because they need to be done.

While indisposed this past week, my household tasks have built up. Both inside the house and outside.

Because we are smack dab in the middle of the tropics here on the west coast of Mexico, everything that grows will grow with very little encouragement. That is, until it is eaten by some insect or melted by a virus.

The ultimate brake on keeping us from being interred in twining vines is the rain. We have a dry season that runs approximately from November to May, and a rainy season that starts in June and keeps us blissfully wet until about October.

During the dry season, the surrounding hills progressively brown up until they turn an almost Tolkien gray. You could easily believe orcs live in the woods this time of year. Once the rains starts, trees start leafing-out.

This year our rain has been playing with us as shamefully as a chorine teasing a stage-door Johnny. Since the start of the month, we have had three separate rain bouts. Enough water to qualify as rain, but barely enough to kick start the greening of the hills.

The boost in humidity and temperature has kicked the vines in my patio into high growth mode. In the winter, I can get by with trimming them once every six weeks. That cycle has now moved to once every other week.

Because they are as cosseted as a Lhasa Apso on a diva's lap, they do not need to wait for the rains. Dora waters them at least once a week.

My patio this morning looked like the mop on top of a 1970s teenager. Cowlicks and hanks everywhere. So, like Papa Buckley, I grabbed my loppers and climbed to the upper terrace to start giving my hippie vines a flat-top.

I wish I could say it was easy work. It wasn't. Because the vines had grown at least a week too long without some discipline, they had managed to intertwine into rather effective ropes that frustrated my attempt to prune to a flat surface.

And it was hot. Very hot. And humid. Both of those factors will increase as the summer drips along. But it was hot enough for me to be satisfied with trimming the tops of the trellises. The faces will wait until Wednesday.

Not every task could wait, though. Dora's husband, Nico, stopped  by to pick her up just as I was gathering up my trimming tools. She asked him if he would help us clean up the palm fronds my neighbor dropped in front of the house. He jumped at the opportunity. Dora grabbed the machete and a bag of leaf bags, and we set forth for the Battle of the Fronds.

Between the three of us, we had bagged all of the fronds and then cleaned up the garbage and weeds in the street in front of the apartment building next door -- all within fifteen minutes. I offered Nico some pesos. He refused in the usual manner. I insisted.

For a few pesos, what could have been the linchpin of a neighborhood feud has been put to rest. For now.

I considered pulling out the ladder again to finish up trimming the vines this afternoon, but, they will still be there next Wednesday when Dora can monitor my balance on the ladder.

There are things that need to be done.

And there are things that can wait.  

Thursday, June 27, 2019

mission pending

James Bond is dead.

At last, the James Bond Festival at the House with No Name has come to a close. I bumped off the last in the series last night. I can now say I have done it. That and 12 pesos will buy me a bottle of mineral water at Oxxo.

The Amazon package that brought me the 25-CD collection of Bond movies also contained three other selections: the Criterion Collection's version of Alfred Hitchock's Notorious, a very writerly-scripted Stranger Than Fiction, and The Mission.

Today The Mission had its turn in my movie machine.

I have no idea why I did not see the movie when it was released in 1984. That was the height of my movie theater phase. Given the choice, I will always watch a movie in a large auditorium. Movies were built for that atmosphere.

Whatever the reason was that I did not see it in the 1980s, I didn't. It was not until our former minister, Ron Klein, mentioned it twice in sermons that my curiosity was piqued.

The Mission is the tale of a Spanish slave trader, Rodrigo Mendoza. He kidnaps Indians and then sells them to plantations in his homeland of Argentina. His life falls apart when he kills his brother in a duel.

A Jesuit priest persuades Mendoza to accompany him as an act of penance on a mission trip to the Guarani, one of the tribes Mendoza had plundered in the past. As part of his penance, he hauls his entire armor and arms in a net over the ever-increasing rough terrain.

When Mendoza finally makes the climb to the top of a steep waterfall, he encounters the Guarani, who immediately recognize him as their sworn enemy. One of the warriors approaches him with an unsheathed knife -- and cuts the rope tied to his baggage. That is the moment in the image at top. Expecting a death blow, Mendoza receives something he could not have imagined.

It is an incredibly powerful moment. Mendoza recognizes that he has just been forgiven for his past and breaks down in tears. Pastor Ron effectively used that example of how we tend to carry around our hurts, and we are not fully released from them without the act of forgiveness.

The movie is a marvelous retelling of the Jesuit states that were formed in South America to protect the Indian tribes from slavers. It also tells the tragedy of the perfidy of politics when Portugal and Spain agreed to eliminate the free states.

Forgiveness was also the subject of our discussion at church last Sunday. Our focus was the parable of the wicked servant, Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus told the parable in response to two questions from his disciples. Who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? How many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me?

A king calls for a servant who owed the king 10,000 talents. (Jesus was a great jokester. The amount was worth about 200,000 years wages.) The king threatened prison; the servant begged for mercy. And received it. Full forgiveness of his debt.

That same servant immediately encountered a fellow servant who owed him 1/600,000th of the debt the first servant owed the king. When the second servant asked for time to repay, the first servant commanded the first servant, his wife, his children, and all he owned to be sold to settle the debt.

When the king heard of the first servant's malfeasance, he turned the first servant over to the torturers until what he owed would be repaid.

The parable is a great launching pad to discuss one of the central tenets of Christianity -- forgiveness. In an hour, we were only able to scratch the surface. But we all agreed we are far better at receiving forgiveness than we are about giving it. That we tend to be far more like the first servant than we would like to admit.

And that is too bad. I know this from personal experience. If I do not forgive, I find myself carrying around the same kind of burden that Mendoza struggled with on his journey of penance.

Worst of all, I allow what someone else did to me to control my life. I worry my scars. I ruminate on the unfairness. Sometimes, I even plot revenge. In the end, the person I dislike starts controlling my life.

I know I am not alone in that failure. A quick perusal of social media is proof positive that hurt feelings are no longer a private matter.

For some reason, I have watched the two seasons of The Crown. I have no idea why I started in the first place. I am not fond of costume soap operas. Especially, when I know most of the dialog is pure conjecture. Who can honestly claim we know what Betty and Phil say in the privacy of their cozy little apartment?

But there was one episode that has pleasantly haunted me since I first saw it. It is entitled "Vergangenheit."

The plot centers on Nazi documents that were discovered at the end of World War II describing the treasonous activities of the Duke of Windsor. (I am not a fan of the Duke, but everyone admits that the interpretation of the documents was exaggerated for dramatic purposes.)

The contents of the papers (and related intelligence) was disclosed to the Queen when the Duke of Windsor sought forgiveness for other past activities in order to obtain a position with the British government. She finds it impossible to do so.

Billy Graham was on crusade in Britain while these events unfolded. The Queen invited him twice to Windsor to discuss her faith. On the second visit, the topic of conversation was forgiveness. And what to do when we find it impossible to forgive.

I will let you watch the scene as it was written. It is one of the most powerful explanations I have ever seen on the topic. And surprisingly it was on my least favorite medium -- television

I have been faced with exactly the same choice this week. Those palm fronds dumped in front of my house hit one of my raw nerves (everything dies). I had all sorts of revenge scenarios running through my head -- as if I had been raised in rural Corsica.

But I spiked them all. A Mexican friend once told me not to start a round of revenge here unless I was willing to take the matter to its logical conclusion. It was wise advice. None of us are inclined to be that foolhardy.

Instead, I will try the forgiveness route. Of course, the other person does not know he has been forgiven. But I do not think that is necessary. It is my heart that needs the healing.

And because I am the person who prefers tidiness, I will slice and bag the palm fronds, and then hope the garbage men haul them away.

If someone else will not use a knife to cut my Mendoza baggage, I will. That just may have been Jesus's point.

Note -- If you do not see the movie, at least sample is outstanding soundtrack.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

everything dies

Take a walk with me.

While I am recovering from my infestation (the word has an Exodus tone to it), I cannot wander too far from the sanctuary of a bathroom. But I started an essay about a walk recently, and never finished it. I will today.

My usual walk is almost a ritual. I hit the four cardinal points of the compass here in Barra de Navidad -- all on paved and even streets. If I bite off the entire course I set out two years ago, I will cover almost 15 miles.

The problem with routines is that they are just that. Routine. And I prefer a lot more variety.

Even though I am the chief fan of the virtues of the rule of law, I am not quite as enamored with order. Chaos is creative. Order tends to be what old men advocate to avoid confusion. It was on that point that I parted philosophical company with Russel Kirk.

Now and then, I walk out my front door and decide to turn right, instead of left. If I do, I will head out to the multitude of rural roads that surround our tourist world.

Within blocks of my house, a person would have no idea that a village of 3000 people exists just around the corner. The unpaved road is as pastoral as any in Devonshire.

Truck farm fields that rotate from tomatoes to chilies to watermelon. Some are longer-standing. Such as this field of overgrown papayas that provide shade and forage for cattle.

I noticed yesterday on my way back from the lab in Cihuatlan that the papayas are now gone. They have been replaced with banana plants.

The far end of my walk that day ended at the cemetery. I always stop in for a visit. No one I know rests there in eternal slumber, but I have always been fascinated with the short biographies of tombstones. In most cases, the biography resides on the hyphen between two dates. And that is it. Born. Died.

Recently, that cemetery has shown signs of vandalism. From whom, I know not. The potential theories are legion.

Angry relative. Revenge for a long-ago hurt. Or just some teenage boys with too much energy and no place to spend it. Of course, it could be nothing more than our tropical climate that, just like a wall that wants it down, as Robert Frost would have it.

The tombs in the cemetery are not the only discordant parts of the walk. Rural areas seem to be garbage magnets. My late friend John used to live on a farm around here. He said people would pull up in vans and dump an entire broken suite of living room furniture on the road in front of his place. He always doubted that the donors were seeking to benefit the cattle with a comfortable place to rest.

It is easy to tut and cluck about such behavior. It is unsightly. Disordered. Northerners now live in societies where the antiseptic is the norm, though that was not the case a half century ago. Garbage still exists, but it is carted off somewhere. Death still exists, but it is done in the privacy of hospitals. Chickens and pigs are not killed in our presence; they just arrive in plastic trays.

However, not all garbage is created equal.

The road I was walking on has a parallel road that was once used as a landing strip for small aircraft.

It no longer serves that purpose. Nor could it. A house has been built right on the strip itself. Its primary purpose now is to provide access to several fields.

But it is also the site where some creative soul (maybe one of those energy-pumped teenage boys) created a bit of street art with discarded garbage.

I should call MOMA to see if it is interested in hosting the piece.

That is the walk that I took a month or so ago. But I have a postscript from this morning.

I took a bag of garbage out to the corner and noticed someone had added a bit of flavor to our street.

There were a pile of palm fronds in the traveled portion of the street in front of my house and the apartment building next door. Haphazardly tossed there like a box of giant pick-up-sticks. But it was not a game.

The fronds are from another house whose gardener decided he did not want them in front of his house, so he dragged them into the street in front of mine.

The charitable interpretation is the gardener thought the garbage men would pick them up. They won't. I know from experience unless the fronds are chopped up and bagged, they will sit right where they are until vermin set up homes and the fronds act as catcher for any garbage that blows from the cans on the corner.

In this particular case, there is nothing to be done but to take on the task myself. I already moved the fronds out of the street. When I am feeling better, I will take out my loppers and a pile of garbage bags to clear the mess.

I started this essay with an assertion that I am not a man of order. But I am. I am a direct result of my culture that likes to tame chaos and restore the semblance of order. (It is, of course, merely a myth. We like to believe we have some control over events in our lives.)

Instead, I now am sitting on my patio surrounded by the manicured plants in my rationally-planned Barraganesque home, where the Moorish water brings the contentment of an oasis.

For now, that is order enough for me.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

two plays and a movie

The day held promise.

When I emerged from my bedroom this morning, I was not greeted by the usual glare of the morning sun. Instead, the patio had the subdued lighting of a good French restaurant. Not quite Maxim's. Maybe La Tante Claire.

The clouds were not the usual too-humid-to-be-weather stratus clouds that tend to just hang around most of the summer -- capturing humidity and offering no promise of rain, like one of those terrariums from the 80s. This morning's clouds had the texture of badly-applied stucco. The dark patches promised the possibility of rain.

Being a man of my times (and that may be the last you will hear that phrase applied to me), I checked one of the handy weather apps on my telephone.

Sure enough. There was a possibility of rain in the afternoon. 40%. Around 5.

That number was not encouraging. I do not know what logarithms the app relies upon,  but that 40% figure shows up far more often than does the predicted rain around here. It seems to be the default for any day clouds show up -- or don't. But the app has accu in its title, so someone must know what they are doing.

And sure enough. There was rain just around 5. Well, not rain. My blogger pal Felipe would probably say something like there was not enough to wet his whistle. On the Oregon coast, we would call it a drizzle.

Some of my readers claim water dropping from the sky here is not properly  called "rain" unless our sewer system, does a passable impression of Mount Etna.

That is wrong. If I stand in my patio and my head gets wet, that is rain.

If this weather incident had been a play, the reviews would remark on its slow pacing. Drizzle on and off through the evening. A few thunderclaps accompanied by indifferent lightning. Three brief power outages.

It may not have been Gone with the Wind, but it will have to do for now. We still need a couple of those Etna spectaculars to green up our browning hills.

Speaking of the weather, I have been under it for a few days. That explains my absence since last Friday.

Whenever I slink off like this, I always appreciate the number of you who write to see if my well-crafted obituary will be published somewhere public. Thank you. 

That event will have to wait, though. I simply have one of those digestive track maladies that lay a lot of my neighbors low this time of year.

This one was a bit more intense. A full-bore Mexidrama in the dark.

On Friday night, the full cast appeared. Vomiting. Diarrhea. Headache. Chills. Fever. Accompanied with that odd form of fever-induced mania that causes my mind to invent endless strings of numbers in some sort of game whose rules are that one mistake will blast my brains all over the bedroom.

The last time I had those particular symptoms was the onset of my cellulitis. I woke up on Saturday morning certain that one of my legs would be bright red. Neither one was. One bullet dodged. But I had something.

The rest of the symptoms, save one, were gone as well. One cast member, though, insisted on sticking around with a diarrheic soliloquy riffing off of "to be or not to be." Apparently, it was going to be -- for a long time.

When it had not subsided by Monday morning, I surrendered and went to the doctor. There are usually three causes for these problems here: 1) a virus, 2) bacteria, or 3) parasites.

My lab results were a bit mixed. But the most likely culprit was parasites. My doctor was a little surprised because the vast majority of her patients recently (she says that during the past two weeks, with the heat increase, her office has been filled with patients complaining of digestive problems) have bacteria infections. Usually contracted through food.

Because parasites are the most likely cause of my problem, she put me on a three-day medication regime. If that does not work, we will probably move on to something to deal with bacteria.

I know that parasites are a problem here. That is why I take an anti-parasite tablet on 1 January and 1 July each year. For some reason, I missed my January dose. I may be paying the price for that now.

While I have been recovering, I am indulging in what some people would call a guilty pleasure. For me, it feels more like penance.

I collect movie DVDs. Streaming is probably going to put an end to that passion. But I still buy what seems to me to be interesting movies. Mostly old movies.

I have never been a fan of James Bond films. I watched the first four when I was in high school. Dr. No. From Russia with Love. Goldfinger. Thunderball. Like most of my friends, Goldfinger was my favorite.

Then the series seemed to go nuts. I saw Moonraker with some law school friends in The Dalles. I could not get out of the theater fast enough. And that was that until my English friends Julian and Andrea Huxham got me interested in the Daniel Craig versions.

To stretch out a long story, I bought the full James Bond collection from Amazon. It arrived along with my diarrhea. I am now up to Tomorrow Never Dies. In a real sense, it feels like the Bond films never die. And that is not a compliment.

I suspect the movies were far more interesting when they were released every two or three years. Watching them from my sick chair simply magnifies their tedium.

Of course, I could just stop. But I am not really in a mood to re-watch excellent movies like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Titus, when my attention-deprived mind is in no mood to analyze anything.

So, there you have it. Two plays -- one to share my dollop of rain and the other to tell you where I have been -- along with a movie at home.

I guess that is not really a bad way to end the day.

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?