Sunday, September 29, 2019

in the still of the day

There is nothing quite as disconcerting as nature in repose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 28, 2019

storm sa brewin'

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

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

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

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

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

Here are two interesting pieces of data:

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

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

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

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

It is that time of year.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

falling into the season

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

The first day of fall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 23, 2019

don't slip on that peel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

not cottoning to politics in my mother's garage

Change comes in increments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 16, 2019

independencia from afar

Today is my favorite secular Mexican holiday. Independence day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long may it live.  

Saturday, September 14, 2019

don't flush this essay down the toilet

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

A trip to the bathroom proved me wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 12, 2019

putting politics in perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

putting the granfalloon to the test

Kurt Vonnegut was a master at creating words.

One of my favorites is "granfalloon."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 07, 2019

plugging in

Mexico never fails to surprise. In pleasantg ways.

That photograph is a good example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 06, 2019

the sound of music

Some things are just not what they seem.

Take that photograph. It looks as if one of Manzanillo's exclusive peninsulas has been transported to Kansas. But it hasn't.

After waiting for months for the rainy season to start here, our patience was rewarded with one of those rainstorms that always make for good essays. The architect who designed my house created a very efficient drain system. Most rain water disappears from my patio as fast as it falls.

Not on Wednesday. Even though the drains were free of debris, the water in my patio was ankle-deep while the rain was falling. When I opened the front door, I could see why. My street was a river. There was simply no place for the patio water to go.

Once it stopped raining, though, the water disappeared -- just as promised.

The storm itself was one of our usual summer shows in the tropics. Along with the rain came wind, thunder, and lightning. The lightning was muted by the daylight, but it was there.

We also had an added feature -- a waterspout. A non-tornadic waterspout, to be more accurate. What Mexicans call culebra de mar (water snake). Not here, but in Manzanillo. 25 miles to the southeast.

That is a photograph of it at the top of this essay. Even though it looks like a tornado over land, it is merely a waterspout in Santiago Bay.

I suspect it may be because people's storm angst has been heightened by Dorian or the fear that anything that looks like a tornado elicits, but a lot of winter visitors posted on our local Facebook pages that they were concerned a "tornado" may have caused damage in Melaque or Barra de Navidad.

It hadn't, of course. It was too far away. And even if it had occurred in our bay, it was a waterspout. They can cause some havoc for sailboats, but waterspouts die when they touch land. At least, that type does.

But, it is nice to know that people care about our well-being down here.

Speaking of well-being. I got up early this morning to do a little writing. I just have not felt like sitting down at the computer this week. So, I brewed up a pot of mint tea and sat on the patio enjoying the morning.

I have always been amazed at how quickly we accommodate to our surroundings. Unless, I listen very carefully, I do not hear the dogs barking, the cocks crowing, the birds threatening each other with what we think is birdsong solely for our enjoyment, the religious skyrockets, or the motorcycles and buses whirring by on our main street.

Usually, I do not hear the constant sound of music in our neighborhood. It is just part of the usual background noise. This morning I could hear the regular daily sources: the guy two blocks away who plays rock music loud enough that I can hear the fingering on the guitars, and the older woman next door who plays her ranchera music with a bit less volume.

What is missing is the source that is usually the loudest -- the young man who likes the music from his truck loud enough to distort it to the point it could be industrial machinery malfunctioning. But his truck stands silent because he is away for a prescribed time period.

The only reason I was listening to all of the music was that there is a new source from across the street. The young mother who lives there likes her American popular music loud, but not distorted. Because my house is built like a guitar soundboard, it collects all of the music in the neighborhood and amplifies it. It does the same in reverse when I am in a mood to analyze music.

This is one aspect of living in Mexico that still amazes me. I understand playing music at a high volume. I am wont to do that myself (even though I am always concerned that it will bother my neighbors). But some Mexicans seem not to mind that their music is being distorted by their speakers because their equipment is not up to the job they demand of it.

And that brings me back to my main point. Within a week, I will most likely not even notice the music coming from across the street -- just as I have sublimated the other sources into tranquility.

I had lunch the other day with some acquaintances who have been coming to Mexico for years. Most of the conversation centered around things that annoyed them about Mexico. When I asked if there was nothing they liked about the country, the wife responded: "No. We love it. That is why we come here every year."

Maybe humans are just attuned to grousing. I suppose that is why the exchange in Gosford Park between Kristin Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith is so funny upon arriving at the manor house ("Did you have a horrid journey?" "Yes, fairly horrid.")

Whatever it is, I am glad our compatriots to the north worry about us when faced by waterspouts and rising patio waters. Concern trumps annoyance.

But that is not why we live in Mexico. We live here because even what seems as if they should be annoyances are part of the tapestry that adds color to a life we could not lead elsewhere.

Monday, September 02, 2019

squaring things up

A couple years ago, a reader from Ajijic spent a week in Barra de Navidad.

She was singularly unimpressed with my hometown on the beach. She described it as "what Six Flags would build as a Mexican Village." (The next time you need a good example to prove Benjamin Dreyer's distinction that "Funniness is not irony. Coincidence is not irony. Weirdness is not irony. Rain on your wedding day is not irony. Irony is irony.", feel free to use the first two sentences of this paragraph.)

I reacted the same way all provincial chauvinists do. I was morally indignant. In that same way grandparents get when you point out that their granddaughter's rendition of "Feelings" at her grade school recital was not going to eclipse the memory of Maria Callas's E flat in the Mexico City performance of Aida -- and their best defense is: "Well, she was no worse than the others."

My defensive grandparent mode lasted just as long as it took me to realize dying on that rhetorical hill was not worth the effort. She did have a point.

Barra de Navidad looks as if it was built to lure tourists. THat is true. It was.  But, then, so does Cancun or San Miguel de Allende or, to my earlier point on irony, Ajijic.

Last week I took a stroll to the central part of Barra, the very core of our tourism magnet. When I have guests here or when I am on my walking routine, I see that part of Barra regularly. Because neither of those conditions precedent have existed lately, I do not get down there very often.

There have been some changes.

Last May I told you that a building that once stood at the entrance of Barra de Navidad's malecon was no more. 
(can you spare some change?) It was now a small rolling plane. I believe it was Hank who had the correct (and Immediate) response. It was to be the parking lot for the Restaurante Colimilla.

Parking on the sand spit that gives our town its name is always at a premium -- especially for people who drive to the launches that will take them across the lagoon to the restaurants in Colimilla. Those patrons now have an exclusive place to safely abandon their vehicles.

And there is no doubt now who has the sole privilege of parking there.

The lot has a sign almost as large as the demolished building giving notice as to whether sheep or goats have parking privileges.

For those of you who live here or are frequent visitors, you may have noticed something new to the right of the parking sign in that previous photograph.

The archway welcoming visitors to the malecon has long been there. But it now has a new set of clothes.

There is certainly no missing it. At first, I was not certain of the color combination. But it has now grown on me to the point I am perfectly capable of putting up a grandparent defense of my own. 

Some things have not changed. Barra may have only a rump of its former beach, but tourists still flock to take advantage of the narrow strand of sand that remains.

Even the Marines come occasionally to dip their toes in the sea. Because their profession is a bit dangerous, some of their colleagues loiter in the shade of umbrellas providing a modicum of security. They are such a common sight that I do not even notice the automatic rifles in the shade any more.

Where my reader from Ajijic was right on in her "Six Flags" comment is our rather lamentable town square.

Town squares are not unique to Mexico. They form the heart of a lot of cities around the world -- including the United States. But the Spanish turned them into an art form (thanks, in part, to their own Muslim overlords). The Spanish then shared their aesthetic lessons with their colonial possessions.

Almost every Mexican city that has a colonial past also has at least one grand square. Usually, fronted by the town church and government offices. The squares tie functions together and offer visitors a place to relax at the heart of the city. The grand z
ócalo in Mexico city. The jardin in San Miguel de Allende. The plaza grande in Pátzcuaro. Even the small jardin in San Patricio pulls together all of the elements of a good town square.

Unfortunately, the town square in Barra does not. Part of the problem is location. It really is not at the center of anything. True, the post office and the local government building face it. But, until they are pointed out, most people miss the fact that they are tucked away in a tiny corner.

There is a stage. The standard-issue gazebo (this one appears not to be Porfirian; most are). And even a tsunami-warning tower that worked years ago. Otherwise, it looks as if a series of shops had been torn down to make way for a parking lot that has not quite yet been installed.

In short, it lacks the architectural form and soul that people expect of their squares.

But spending resources on developing a better town square for Barra would be money squandered. The focus of Barra de Navidad is the sea. It is why tourists visit and leave pesos. And we have one of the best town squares in Mexico. We  call it the malecon.

When the newly-appointed Spanish Viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza y Pacheco, disembarked here on 25 December 1540, while searching for appropriate ship-building sites, he named the spit of land our malecon rests atop as Barra de Navidad -- Christmas Bar.

The Spanish hand rests lightly on Barra de Navidad and the surrounding area. Even though it was the site where the ships that opened the Pacific trade routes with China were built and launched, the Spanish soon moved on. 
Thus, the lack of a colonial town square. Or much of anything else Spanish.
Instead, for decades, the town has been the focus of Mexicans who want to spend time in the sea, sand, and sun. More recently, they have been joined by northerners.

And where better to appreciate that history than standing on Mendoza's sand bar, now refined by the hand of tourism experts -- to enjoy the sunsets toward which the ships of the conquistador 
Miguel López de Legazpi sailed on their way to The Philipines to prove Columbus's theory that it was possible to travel west to China and to establish a global trade regime.

Who needs a fancy colonial town square when you have all that?