Thursday, November 28, 2019
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.
We are in the process of cooking the center-piece of this favorite of holidays. Today's dinner will be slow-roasted prime rib with cabernet au jus, citrus balsamic Brussels sprouts, minted peas and onions, and mashed potatoes -- all topped off by apple pie.
Our family gathering has been reduced to four as a result of our untimely winter storm. My niece Kaitlyn and her boyfriend Moon are stuck in Seattle. That leaves my mother, brother, sister-in-law and me to enjoy our time together.
Even though dinner is the main event to share our day together, there have been plenty of other diversions. All of them that tend to the traditional. An NBA game (last night). Documentaries on television (the Paradise forest fire; the rivalry between Ferrari and Ford). And competitive jigsaw puzzles. The last is something we have done for holiday gatherings since I was in grade school -- where my brother and I early learned to hide one piece to have the honor of finishing the picture.
We have also talked about why we are gathering today. What we are thankful for this year.
Mind you, we have not been indulging in those cliché-driven exercises that tend to hollow out the very essence of thankfulness. Our process is far more subtle.
We discuss topics of interest to each of us and share what we have learned over the past year. Even though our family thrives on politics, it simply was not a matter of discussion.
As I pointed out earlier, we are thankful for the good and the bad that has come to us over the past year, because each of those events has given us an opportunity to grow. Or, at least, to better understand why we are taking this fascinating journey through life.
For some reason, I woke up at 3:30 this morning. I suspect I was excited about the presents under the Thanksgiving tree that Tom Turkey left for me.
Because I could not sleep, I turned on my telephone. The first posting I saw on Facebook was from Debrorah Cook. She lives in San Miguel de Allende and is an occasional commenter here.
She raised an interesting question about Thanksgiving. It is almost impossible to talk about thankfulness without touching on people who are less fortunate and how we try to assist them as best we can. She noted: "We all kinda look for redemption with ourselves ... maybe with others, no?"
It is a fair question. Charity can be a good in itself. Certainly to the recipient. But it is fair to ask what motivates us. Deborah's comment comes close to one interpretation of Paul's admonition to "work out your salvation." Or "redemption" as Deborah writes.
When charity is discussed, I always like to ask another question. Is my charity hurting or is it helping? That is an essay in itself. But, I pass it along on this holiday of thankfulness.
So, I have no photographs of a dinner not-yet-cooked. What I will share with you is a photograph Christy took. That is Darrel, Mom, and me. Putting together a new jigsaw puzzle.
Please note, no one has palmed a puzzle piece.
And, for that, I am thankful.
Tuesday, November 26, 2019
A common complaint of book critics is that writers lard their works with too many unrealistic coincidences.
Readers Are smarter than that. They long ago learned that some critics seem to be devoid of life experiences. We have all experienced moments in life that seem almost impossibly coincidental -- but they happened.
Darrel and I had one yesterday. We stopped in Costco while we were in Bend buying supplies for Thanksgiving before the predicted winter storm blows through central Oregon this afternoon. We had just checked out and Darrel was pushing the cart toward the exit when I heard a familiar voice from the past.
It was Kirsten Raftshol (now Groener). Kirsten, Darrel and I had attended high school together in the Willamette Valley during the 1960s. She and her husband now live in Bend.
We spent a little time reminiscing in that holiday aura that makes every nostalgic conversation a little special. She very kindly said that she reads each of my essays. That was a very nice compliment. Considering the number of proofreading errors that show up in my published works, I am not certain I read all of my essays.
I have very fond memories of Kirsten and her family. I remember her as not only being a Christian, but as a person whose actions would cause others to note her virtues of kindness and her unconditional love of God and her neighbors.
As we were driving away, Darrel and I remarked on the coincidence of running into her. It was not the first time. We have seen Kirsten and her husband at Costco a few times since I moved to Mexico. But, even with that apparent frequency, the odds must be incredibly high. After all, I live in Mexico and am not a frequent customer of the Bend Costco.
I thought of Kirsten during another incident yesterday. We had stopped at Fred Meyer as part of our shopping errands for the day. As we were carrying our paper grocery bags across the parking lot, I noticed an SUV with a gaggle of stickers. That is the photograph at the top of this essay.
Stickers and signs are not unusual here. Bend is one of those towns where people proudly display their social and political beliefs and prejudices.
During the 41 years Darrel has lived in the Bend area, I have watched the politics of its residents change -- if bumper stickers are any barometer. It has gone from being a reliable Republican stronghold in the 1980s to a swing region. A lot of that is due to new residents migrating from California or the Willamette Valley.
The sticker that caught my attention was the one with the international "no" symbol imposed on a cross with the caption "bad religion." It is one of those stickers designed to be provocative -- like "Nuke the gay baby whales" or "Have you slugged your kid today?"
As we passed the SUV, I saw a rather prim older (you know, my age) woman sticking a post-it on the SUV's side window. Because we all deal in stereotypes, I had her pegged as a DAR-Women's Republican Club-church lady. Even I, who decry tribalism, fall into that prejudice.
When she pulled away, I noticed she had an aluminum fish and cross on the rear of her car. Those symbols convinced me post-it note she had left behind would be at best a reference to John 3:16, at worst a subtly vulgar attack concerning the anti-Christian bumper sticker.
It was nothing of the kind. This is what it said.
Indeed, the tire was low. Very low.
I had conjured up a political confrontation between two armed camps. Instead, it was simply a neighborly gesture from someone who was living her faith.
Just coincidentally, it reminded me of something Kirsten would do.
Monday, November 25, 2019
Yesterday was a perfect morning.
48 degrees. Overcast. With a very soft drizzle. The kind of morning that tells me to get on with my journey.
I had spent the night at an airport hotel in Portland on Saturday. That was a bit unusual for my trips north. Usually, I can catch a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle to hop on a commuter to Redmond, Oregon, and be done with flying in one day.
But this is a holiday week. The commuter from Seattle was full. So, I decided to overnight in Portland.
It turned out to be a good choice. The airport hotels in Seattle are isolated. Portland has made an effort to develop the area around its airport hotels to offer a bit of diversion for over-nighting passengers.
My usual hotel fronts onto a large shopping mall that is perfectly-designed for my morning walks. I was able to complete my steps just in time to catch the shuttle to the Portland airport for the last leg of my flight.
This week is one of the busiest periods of travel in The States, and the airport bore witness to what would otherwise be a bit of trivia. There were enough children crowding the corridors to populate ten road companies of Annie and The Sound of Music. All of them filled with sugar and joy. And, fortunately, almost none of my flight.
I have always had an irrational affection for prop planes. That may be because the first aircraft I flew during Air Force flight training was a Cessna 150. Whatever the reason, I always look forward to the half-hour flight from Portland to Redmond on one of Horizon's Bombadier Q400 fleet.
It is like riding in a sports car, a rather large sports car, where passengers can feel every bump in the sky. We are one with our environment.
The lady sitting next to me was not quite as enthusiastic. With every air pocket drop, she would cross herself. I don't think she once looked out the window to see Oregon transition from Willamette Valley green to central Oregon stark.
I am now ensconced in my brother's house on one of the gravel shelves above Prineville -- enjoying the cocoon effect of their new house. Its succor was well-appreciated when I looked out this window this morning. It was not 48 degrees. It was not drizzling. But we did have an overcast sky.
This is what greeted me.
The day I left Mexico, a Canadian acquaintance told me an Arctic front was headed to Oregon. He was correct. Even though this morning hardly had a dusting a snow, there is a winter storm watch for the next three days I am here.
I did not move to Mexico because of the weather, and I did not come north because of the weather. I came to spend time with my family.
The snow is not going to change that.
Saturday, November 23, 2019
It is time for Mexpatriate to pull up stakes and move to a new location -- temporarily.
In about four hours, I will board an Alaska flight that will eventually deposit me in the cosmopolitan country of Redmond, Oregon. I am heading north to spend the one holiday my family truly enjoys -- Thanksgiving.
We are not much for traditions. We will nod at the list of Hallmark holidays as they parade by, but we never confuse the ripple with the sea.
But Thanksgiving is different, It is an opportunity for our family to get together and enjoy each other's company without the petty annoyances of the impractical gifts and tangential theology of Christmas.
Thanksgiving dinner is our sole holiday tradition. The meal itself has to be something new and umami-great. Never turkey and gravy with mashed potatoes. We have been discussing some options. Whatever we choose, it will be memorable.
Even the food, though, will not get in the way of the purpose for the whole affair -- being grateful for the good and the bad we have experienced this year.
I do not know if I will go essay-free on the trip north. We shall see. I do know I will be back at one of my favorite tables in Barra de Navidad or San Patricio late next week -- picking up where I am going to leave off.
Friday, November 22, 2019
You may or not remember that lead-in to one of Safeway's most successful advertising slogans in the 1970s. "Since we're neighbors, let's be friends."
It was a brilliant slogan. Rather than seeing Safeway as a corporation from the big cities, customers starting noticing all of the people who worked in the store were their neighbors. The stock boy was your son's best friend. The produce guy was your second cousin. The cashier was your first wife. It was not a foreign entity; it was family.
I have not thought about that slogan for decades. But I am now wondering if our new Bodgea Aurrerá in town (soon to open) should think about stealing it.
Just after I moved to Villa Obregón, a sports park was opened on the other side of Highway 200. The park includes several facilities. A jogging track. A multi-purpose court where young Mexicans play tennis and basketball in the evening, and older Canadians play pickleball in the morning.
But the star facility is the indoor soccer field. That is it at the top of this essay. (Yes. It is outside. But the "indoor" refers to the size of the field, not where it is located.)
I have no statistics, but I am willing to bet that the soccer field is the most-used facility in the park. And it looks it.
Rooster's and Papa Gallo's each have teams that compete in a local tournament on that field. My son plays for one of the teams.
I enjoy soccer. It was one of my favorite sports in high school. Watching Omar play brings back memories of attending my nephew Ryan's games.
That Parenthood Thing may be one reason I was very concerned about Omar playing on that particular field. A decade of hard play has left the artificial turf full of holes and pulled-up seams. It looks like the carpet in a Cat Lady's trailer house.
All of that is about to change. Thanks to the good graces of our new neighbor, Bodega Aurrerá, the field is going to be repaired. Starting next week, the artificial turf will be pulled up and replaced with a new surface. The process is scheduled to be completed in two weeks.
I know some people here are unhappy with the arrival of Bodgea Aurrerá in our community. Other people are looking forward to the doors opening.
I am agnostic on the topic. When I first moved to this area, I would drive the 15 minutes to Bodgea Aurrerá in Cihuatlán once or twice a month. But, with each visit, the number of items in my cart decreased -- until I arrived at the point of leaving with no purchases. I have not been to the Cihuatlán store for almost two years.
But I know a neighborly gesture when I see one. And, for that, I say good on you, Bodgea Aurrerá.
I can now spend less time calculating how much it will cost to repair torn ligaments in Omar's ankle.
Thursday, November 21, 2019
Being an insect is tough.
That is not a testimonial, just a fact. A fact that was rather tragic for the bug starring in today's essay.
Like every boy who ever lived, insects fascinated me with their wide-range of shape, color, and locomotion. I upped my bug game during my sophomore year in high school when Mr. Kilmer required each of us to create an insect collection.
What had been a juvenile diversion now had a rigorous analytical framework. Insects were once a random mixture of bugs. Now, they were magically turned into categories of beetles, flies, moths, and grasshoppers -- not to mention their just-as-fascinating young grubs, maggots, and caterpillars.
There are some insects that live amongst us that are not great neighbors. When I saw this guy in my bedroom, I thought he was one of them.
At first glance, it looked like an assassin bug -- the carrier of chagas, a debilitating tropical disease. The disease is not as common as dengue here. But cases are periodically reported.
It is not a disease you would like to put on your infection résumé. Immediate symptoms of fatigue, fever, and muscles aches that can lead to a life-time disability where the disease slowly attacks the heart and the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract.
The disease is transmitted by the assassin bug biting a sleeping human around the mouth or the eyes. That is not the method of transmission, though.
When the bug feeds, it defecates. Because the bite itches, the person will rub their lip or eye while simultaneously wiping the feces into the bite, mouth, or eyes. The virus lurks in the feces. And the disease begins.
For good reason, assassin bugs are not welcome in my bedroom.
This little parable is about fear. Without looking further, I labeled the assassin bug as something to fear, and did what the powerful do to the weak. I crushed it in my hand. It accepted its fate without any struggle -- as is often the fate of the weak.
Only after I had assassinated what I thought was an assassin bug did I start researching what I had done. I made a grave error. Or, at least, it was grave for the insect.
It turns out that it was not an assassin bug. It was not even a bug. All of you have probably already identified it as a beetle. And you are correct. It is a beetle that takes its name from its over-sized antennae. Longhorn beetle.
I had killed without cause. Or, at least, the reason I killed it was based on a false assumption. But I was not wrong in killing it.
I know a bit about this family of beetles. I had several in my high school insect collection. As adults they are amusing to watch with those more-hat-than-cattle antennae.
They problem is with its young. As larvae, longhorn beetles are very destructive. They are borers. Not bores -- the type of people who unanimously parrot back what they heard from some television news commentator, as Joel Stein put it: "I have never been part of of a more heated conversation in which everyone agrees."
Borers. Wood borers, to be precise. The young of the longhorn beetle love wood. Living trees. Untreated wood. They are a pest wherever they breed.
My house has very little wood in it. But there is some. Doors. Bed headboards. Desks. And, most precious of all, books.
So, what sense of guilt momentarily existed after the coup de grâce quickly dissipated as soon as I discovered that comical beetle could have been up to no good.
My mother's side of the family lived in Canada long enough that I can claim some loyalty to steal just one line from its anthem.
When it comes to insects: "I stand on guard for thee."
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
First things first.
Happy Revolution Day.
109 years ago today, a war started in Mexico that would alter its very character. We are celebrating it today.
I had hoped to write a couple of essays about some of the causes of the war earlier this week, but time got away from me. So, I will tell you only one tale.
Prepa students performing acrobatics. Ten-year olds dressed up as the historical figures who led a revolution and ended up killing one another (the leaders; not the kids).
And, of course, my favorites -- horses.
One dress-up figure that has been missing from every Revolution Day parade I have ever attended is José Guadalupe Posada. You might recall that we all met him during our conversation about Day of the Dead (hello, dollies).
Posada was one of Mexico's best political cartoonists -- with a pen far sharper and wittier than Herblock. Think Jules Feiffer with a Latin flair. Or Jeff MacNelly.
He did his best work during the late 1800s, skewering the powerful, sometimes finding himself banned from publishing. And, even though we may not now immediately recall his name, everyone knows one of his favorite satirical inventions.
The late 1800s in Mexico were contradictory. Dickens could have been describing Mexico, as much as 1789 Paris, when he wrote:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.Since it attained its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico had suffered a series of wars that had left it struggling socially and economically. All of that changed during the long dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. During his presidency, Mexico entered the industrial revolution and started accumulating wealth unlike any time in its past. And Mexico was at peace.
But Mexico was paying a big price for peace and prosperity. Peace came at the cost of political repression (including Posada's cartoons). And even though Mexico for the first time in its modern history was able to pay off its massive foreign debts, that prosperity meant that the foreign investment that drove the growth resulted in vast British-owned agricultural holdings; Canadian mines; American railroads.
Even though all Mexicans shared in a country whose wealth was growing, it was the elite around President Porfirio Diaz who pulled in most of the wealth. Mexico's elite has often looked to Europe to be its social and fashion guide. Initially, it was Spain. During Porfirio Diaz's reign, it was France and England.
Mexico's cities are filled with French Empire buildings from this era. That is ironic because Porfirio Diaz made his name in the army by fighting the French invasion at mid-century.
One of Mexico's architectural oddities comes from this period. Porfirio Diaz built metal-framed gazebos in almost every town square in Mexico. They were so French, it is easy to imagine they were built by Eiffel. Some were. But almost every gazebo has faux-gargoyles -- Welsh dragon heads. Their foreigness is jarring.
Posada found the perfect satirical target in the elite's European infatuation. What could better describe corruption at the top than native Mexican women dressing up as if they were having dinner at Maxim's while the rest of Mexico remained poor?
And he then took it once step further. To emphasize the absurdity of such pretense, he stripped the women of their flesh. They became walking skeletons dressed in Paris finery.
And thus was born La Calavera Catrina, a symbol of revolutionary resistance against European intrusion, rather than a caricature for Day of the Dead. It is as if Thomas Nast's Democrat donkey and Republican elephant morphed into the symbols for Valentine's Day.
The rest of Posada's story is a bit tragic. Even though his Catrina helped to inspire bourgeois revolutionary fervor against the elite, his career faded to the point that when he died during the height of the revolution in 1913, he was almost unknown. Legend has it that of the three neighbors who certified his death, only one knew his full name.
One of these days, it would be nice to see both José Guadalupe Posada and his Catrina restored to their rightful place in the revolutionary pantheon -- or just on a parade float.
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Last year, I visited a local doctor about a pain in my left heel. She said it would most likely go away on its own. She prescribed no treatment and no medication.
We then talked a bit about some of her community projects. When our conversation got to that natural ending point, as all conversations do, I asked her how much I owed her for the consultation. She told me, and I paid.
As I was leaving, she took on a very serious face and told me that recently she has experienced something new. Northerners, who have arrived recently, will come into her office to discuss their current health. They inevitably bring a long list of prescriptions. She will often spend a half hour or 45 minutes with them. And then they leave without offering any payment.
That was the first time I had heard of that type of behavior. I told her that people in Canada and the United States may have become so accustomed to someone paying for their health care that they do not think about how medical care works in other countries.
Being gracious, she smiled, and said I might be correct. But it did feel a little bit insulting.
I thought of her last week. I visited my favorite telephone-computer guru here in town. I had experienced trouble resetting my password on one of my multiple Telcel accounts.
When I arrived there was another northerner talking with him about the various ways to buy telephone time in Mexico. The conversation then switched to a series of problems the northerner was having with his telephone. My guru walked him through each of them. The northerner missed a lot of the information because he was intent on arguing that the Mexican telephone system was all wrong.
I do not know how long the full exchange took place, but I waited for twenty minutes. When it was over, the northerner said "thanks," and simply walked off. My guru just stared as he left. Having received what he wanted, the northerner simply walked away without paying -- the technological equivalent of a dine and dash. According to my guru, it happens to him more often these days. Always with northerners.
Because I am a generous sort, I do not ascribe bad intentions. In both cases (the doctor and the telephone guru), I suspect that it never enters some minds that the consultations were exchanges of expertise. That expertise is a commodity that has value.
The same people would never think of picking up a diamond watch in a jewelry store and walking out the door without paying for it. But that is exactly what happens when we seek expert opinion and that opinion is given.
Let me offer a gentle reminder. If you seek out advice from a professional, the coda of your conversation should be: "How much do I owe you?"I can almost guarantee that you will be pleased with how low the price will be.
It is just another blessing of Mexico.
Monday, November 18, 2019
I love telenovelas.
At least, I think I do. I have never watched a single episode of Mexico's serial television episodes of lust, passion, lust, relationships, lust, class distinctions, and well -- lust. But saying I love telenovelas sounds a little bit classier (and more Mexican) than confessing to having been duped into watching soap opera after soap opera.
What other explanation is there for my choices of Roma, La Casa de Papel, and Downton Abbey? There was nothing in any of those story arcs to keep my attention. It was all about relationships. Only about relationships -- and the worst aspects of celebrity infatuation.
So, I did not surprise myself last night when I sat down to watch the first episode of the third season of The Crown. For those of you who may have escaped its Jupiter-gravity pull, The Crown is a ten-year Netflix project to capture the life of Queen Elizabeth II (Queen Elizabeth I to the Scots amongst us) in the amber of television digits.
The first two seasons have been filmed and aired. The third season premiered yesterday.
The series is the most expensive television production in history. And the lavish sets and costumes leave no doubt the money has been well-spent (other than the occasional obvious clunker where the American White House looks as if it was filmed using Tara as a stand-in).*
But the story is pure soap opera. Lust. Passion. Lust. Relationships. Lust. Class distinctions. Lust. I suspect we viewers think because the characters are not stuck with Mr. and Mrs. in front of their names, but instead are HRM, HRH, and his grace, that we will not notice that the dialog is little more than tittle-tattle lifted from the headlines of The Sun and The Mail. Still, we watch. I watch.
I told you I was going to view only the first episode of the third season. I did. But not "only." I ended up watching seven of the ten episodes. There is something about telenovelas that is binge-worthy.
And that is not the only thing I binged on. A night at the movies deserves a good dinner.
By coincidence, I had discovered that my favorite grocer, Alex at Super Hawaii in San Patricio, had stocked some new Italian products. Alex is a smart guy. When the United States started tacking random tariffs on goods, he decided to cover his marketing bets by looking for other sources of goods for his customers. Britain and Germany were his initial sources.
His Italian shelf on Sunday included various sizes of well-crafted pasta. I bought several varieties.
I then saw something I have not seen in years. Jars of datterino giallo and pomodorino giallo -- the yellow plum and cherry tomatoes that give several Italian dishes their distinctive taste. Mexico may have first cultivated tomatoes and introduced them to the rest of the world, but Italians turned the fruit into a culinary marvel.
The sight of the jars triggered one of those memories that lie dormant in my mental food closet tucked under two unused winter coats. On 10 August 1973, I left Athens to drive to my new assignment at RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire. I remember the day because the president had resigned the day before.
I took the ferry from Patras across the Ionian Sea to Brindisi and then spent about a week exploring Italy. Just north of Rome, I stopped in Fiano Romano for lunch. I do not recall the name of the restaurant. It was nothing fancy. And it certainly was not a tourist attraction.
What I do recall is my first taste of spaghetti all'ama amatriciana. It was a simple dish. Yellow tomatoes. Bacon. Pickled pepper. A small sprinkle of grated pecorino romano. Simple, but memorably delicious.
I have attempted to replicate the experience, like some opium addict forever chasing The Dragon. I have never been able to re-live that same experience -- because it is an impossible quest. The memory is in my closet, and it does not want company.
But, I have learned from those experiments. If you have a high-quality pasta, the sauce is simply an adjunct that will bring out the flavors of the pasta. It should be simple, and it can be made of any ingredients that will suit your palate.
Last night, the foundation was an easy choice. I used the jugged Italian tomatoes I had just purchased at Hawaii along with some fresh cherry tomatoes to freshen up the taste. Shallots. Onion, Garlic. Ginger. A serrano. Kalamata olives. Italian green olives. Bacon. And some feta. All of that seasoned with basil, oregano, and thyme -- with a dash of balsamic to finish it off. I then folded the sauce into some fettuccine.
I almost added lemon zest. I am glad I did not. It would have taken the taste in an entirely different direction. But, if I try something similar in the future, I will probably add a bit of fish sauce to the balsamic. Without it, the balsamic was just a bit too sweet; it probably augmented the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and onion.
Lord Mountbatten once described the food served at Buckingham palace as having "less flavor than nursery food." I hope that Betty and Phil were not offended with my choice of dinner.
* -- The White House substitute is actually an English manor house in Essex -- Hylands Park -- that makes the White House look like the provincial lodgings of a renegade nation. But the series seems to bear a 250-year grudge about American independence -- including two episodes designed to knock down Jack Kennedy's legacy a dozen pegs or so.
Saturday, November 16, 2019
My hubris may not be as bad as Niobe's. But it is in the running.
I am sure you remember her. The Theban queen whose boasts before the gods ended up in a list of Homerian tragedies. Six dead sons. Six dead daughters. Eternal weeping. Turned into a rock.
Job thought he had it bad. At least he did not end up stoned.
By that standard, I am just a modest pensioner trying to make some sense of a confusing world. Except when it comes to my electricity bills. Then I Niobe up.
The CFE guy pushed my two electric bills for September-October under my front door this morning. I did not even need to look at them to know what I would need to pay the government-owned electric company in the next few days. 42 pesos on one; 43 pesos on the other. Or, for those of you who still think in those terms, less than $4.50 (US) for two months of electricity.
The amount is what I would pay if CFE supplied all of my electricity and I decided to shut the house down for two months and turned off everything that used power. It is the CFE's connection fee for all customers -- whether or not they use any of the CFE-provided power.
As most of you know, I no longer need to use any of CFE's power because I installed a solar array that has been my sole source of electricity for the past six months.
I was not certain I could write that last sentence with the veracity of Sister Teresa. When we installed the array, I purchased enough panels to meet my maximum historical demand. Even with that calculation, I suspected I might need to draw on the energy credits I have been banking with CFE during most of the year.
It turns out the arrays are sufficient to meet my maximum demand. And I did put some demand on the array this summer. As you can see by the usage graphs on the back of the bills. That is not the profile of a green advocate. Especially, since most of the electricity went to power the air conditioner (one of the most-polluting appliances) in my bedroom. Air conditioners make Greta weep. Just like Niobe.
Of course, my power is not free. Certainly not until I recapture my capital investment. By that time, I suspect there will be a sizable tax on recycling dead solar panels -- another of those activities high on the pollution list.
So, the power is not very green, and it is still expensive to produce (until I recapture that rather large capital outlay for installation). But it is still a cool toy.
And I hope by falling back on a fatuous argument like it-is-cool will be an excuse good enough to keep me from being turned into the weeping cliff Algodón. We already have too much of that.
Friday, November 15, 2019
You are probably thinking the same thing I did when I saw that photograph.
It could be the cover of the November Bon Appétit -- under a headline: "6 Holiday Soups You Can Make Without A Bit of Arugula."
But, it isn't. It is simply my daily produce purchase from Hawaii. This time, fruit only. And that is unusual.
I am not a fan of fruit. Sweet foods hold little interest for me. The big exception is limes. We go through two dozen in about three days. If the house were not an alcohol-free zone, I would think someone was making a killing in daiquiris.
Even though I do not care for fruit, Omar is quite partial to it. The apples and the mandarins were for his school lunch and snacks.
But the oranges were for me, not him. I had purchased what I thought was an excellent piece of pork loin that called out for Cuban treatment. By that, I do not mean beaten and then tossed into jail. I was thinking of pork marinated in sour orange.
Unfortunately, sour oranges are very difficult to find here. But we do have oranges and limes, and they make a passable substitute. Combined with rice and black beans (along with an appropriate measure of the aptly-named habanera), it would be a dish that had it been offered to Hernán Cortés, he may never have set sail from Havana, and Moctezuma XXIII's signature would appear on the visas of tourists driving down from Huron, South Dakota.
Pork is my favorite meat to work with in Mexico. It has a porky taste that I remember from my childhood. But pork loin (or lomo) is a tricky piece of meat. My butcher always grimaces when I request it because he knows that even when cooked perfectly, it can easily turn tough as shoe leather.
To retain its tenderness, it needs to be cooked for a very brief period at a high temperature -- and without liquids. That is why it is a perfect candidate for stir-frying.
I skipped that method yesterday. Instead, I decided to cook it under pressure for three minutes in the Instant Pot.
There are as many marinades for Cuban pork as there are recipes for carne adobada. I alter mine each time I make the dish. Sour orange juice and zest (or or a combination of lime and orange). Fresh oregano. Garlic. Cumin. Habanero (of course, with its capital-inspired name). Salt. Pepper. And one or two other things that I do not recall this morning.
I should have realized I had a problem when I cut the loin into three pieces. My freshly-sharpened knife labored to slice through it. I was successful only by cleavering it.
And I was correct. When it came out of the Instant Pot, it was cooked perfectly with a nice rosy hue in the center, but it was just as tough to eat as it was to slice.
My original plan was to serve it sliced atop the rice and black bean dish I had just made. Without bragging (but I will), it was one of the best rice dishes I have concocted. But the disparity in texture with pork would not have been a good combination. So, I diced a few slices of the pork, mixed it in with the rice, and then topped it off with a cabernet au jus from the freezer. It was palatable.
This morning, I tried an experiment. In the past, I have noticed that if a piece of meat is tough while hot, sometimes it will become tender when cold. To test that theory, I made a bowl of cold pork and rice for breakfast. It was superb. The meat was still a little chewy, but it had somehow turned tender in the refrigerator. And, while cold, I could taste each layer of the marinade on the pork.
I guess my bottom line is that even though I am not fond of fruit, it can often make a great adjunct to salvaging a meal almost-gone-bad.
As Julia would say: "Bon Appétit!"
Thursday, November 14, 2019
I am not a sentimental guy. Or, so I say.
But my periodic ramblings on things nostalgic belie that claim.
It happened again last night.
Our weather pattern here on the Mexican Pacific coast has been a bit akilter. November is a tad warmer than usual. By mid-October, I usually turn off the air conditioner in my bedroom at night, throw open the door to the patio, and live beneath the breeze of my ceiling fan until mid-December when even the fan rests until late in the spring.
Not this year. I have tried turning off the air conditioner three different nights during the past two weeks, but only for about ten minutes. Then, it goes back on.
Last night may have been a turning point. We had had drops of rain during the afternoon yesterday. Just enough to barely dampen the sidewalks enough to raise the memory-inducing petrichor. It is better than the smell of oranges at Christmas. But it was just a rain tease.
By November, our rains are usually at an end. But we were treated to one in the evening. Not a tropical sewer-washer. Just a soft pattering that would have felt at home with a brogue.
And that is where the nostalgia part of this tale kicked in. I do not know if it was the mist or the imagined accent or just one of those moments where memories intrude on the present. But, for a moment, I felt as if I was back in my seventeenth century cottage in the foothills of the Cotswolds, where I learned the rejuvenating nature of tea.
So, I brewed up a pot of ginger green and sipped it while eating a cookie or two while watching the rain fall on the surface of the patio pool. Sitting quietly. Just listening.
Until I had had enough of that. I ran down the list of my DVDs and decided I would sponsor an eccentric double feature film festival just for me. The Darkest Hour (Gary Oldman's take on Churchill during Britain's -- well, darkest hour) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (with the badly-drawn Jessica Rabbit).
The Churchill choice was obvious. Rain. Tea. Memories of the sceptered isle. But, Roger Rabbit? I told you my choices are eccentric.
It turned out to be a pleasant evening. And it is the answer to those people who ask me: "If you do not drink alcohol and have not been on the beach in years, what can you possibly do in Mexico?"
A lot. All I need is a little rain, and to then stir it gently into an essay.
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
It is an old joke. But it is no less true because of it age.
And it appears to be a universal rule of driving. No matter the country in which I have driven, traffic control devices only partly control what drivers choose to do. Mexico is no exception.
As far as I know, the flow of traffic through Melaque on highway 200 has not been impeded by electronic signals since the highway was laid out. That all changed last year when two intersections entered the era of nanny government.
The signals are quite sophisticated. They have to be. They manage the control of traffic coming from eight lanes at one intersection and six at the other.
This summer I discovered, almost to my cost, that it is dangerous to assume that because a driver has a green light, drivers coming from other directions will comply with red lights. Not true.
I was driving Ed and Roxane over to La Manzanilla for dinner. We stopped at the intersection where Calle Alvaro Obregon meets Highway 200. I waited for the light to change and then started to turn left onto the highway.
I am not certain what made me take my foot off the accelerator. Intuition. Pilot instinct. Movement out of the corner of my right eye. Whatever it was, it was the right choice.
A white delivery truck barreled through the intersection, barely missing us. Followed by a second one. Had I not paused, someone else would have been writing on Facebook about the terrible accident on the highway.
About a month ago, I was waiting at the other controlled intersection behind an SUV with northern plates stopped at a red light. The driver noticed that the traffic to her right had started moving. So she did, as well. And ran into another SUV that was turning right. She failed to notice that she still had a red light. The traffic on her right was legally turning left on a green arrow.
With those two personal experiences in my memory backpack, I decided to do an informal survey at one of the intersections -- just to see how drivers were complying with the signals. I was going to stand there for an hour.
The hour stand did not happen. After about 12 minutes, I had had enough of the sun. But that experience gave me a better appreciation of the jugglers, windshield washers, vendors, and beggars who spend most of their day out in the heat.
In the brief time I stood there, I saw a good sampling of what I expected to see. Almost everyone complies with the signals. But a large portion do not.
The most common violation is driving through red lights. On each signal change, at least three cars in succession drove through the intersection immediately after the light turned red. But that behavior is common throughout the world.
The more dangerous maneuvers are the motorcyclists who will pass stopped cars and zoom through the intersection weaving between the cars entering the highway. Or the cars that ignore the red lights on the lateral streets and nearly collide with cars entering the lateral legally.
I did not include the several cars that stopped on a red, cleared for other traffic, and proceeded through the intersection. As if the light were a stop sign. I have done that myself. The trick is adequately clearing. Common sense trumps the law. I suspect that is exactly what the motorcyclists are thinking when they violate the red wall. Despite all of my tut-tut-ing.
Today's essay does have a moral. If you come from a culture where everyone complies with traffic signals (I assume that place would be on some planet far, far away), you may make assumptions that could lead to harm.
If you have a green light at those two intersections, carefully assess the offensive array that may be aimed at you before you enter the intersection. Right of way is a very tenuous argument when talking to the surgeons in ICU.
Similarly, do not assume that moving traffic next to you means you can also move. Left-turn lanes here are usually to the right of the main traffic flow. Moving at the wrong time is a good way to test out just how responsive your insurance agent is.
I love driving in Mexico. I moved here because I wanted to live in a place where, when I got up in the morning, I have no idea how I would get through the day. Driving here has perfectly met that criteria.
One of the first driving lessons I received from my father came with a moment of philosophy: "The moment you put your tires on the road, you are a dead man. If you return alive, it was a good day."
Here's driving with you, dad.
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
This is not the photograph I wanted to show you this morning.
Today is one of my favorite worker holidays -- Mexican postal workers to be exact. This is the day we recipients of everything mailed get to recognize the people who bring us the wanted and unwanted, and send off our letters and packages to people who often may as well be living in another geological era.
The mail has long been my favorite government service. I suspect it started when I was about six. I had shipped off some box tops and a dime to receive some now-long-forgotten doodad. Whatever it was took three to four weeks to arrive in a large envelope addressed to "Master Steven Cotton" -- and thus was I introduced to the Emily Post of Post Toasties.
I was hooked like a prostitute on crack. People, whether friends or strangers, would send me letters or cards or birthday gifts directly to my parents' postal box in Powers.
The post office lobby had a gum ball machine that was managed by my mother's father. I would often make the rounds with him of all the machines owned by the Lions. It never occurred to me how a town of less than 1500 residents could justify all of that over-sweetened chicle. But it was time I could spend with him -- in the post office.
During my five years in the Air Force, the APO system was usually my sole life line to The Other World. And almost daily, there would be letters, magazines, or banana bread from my grandmother. Even when mail workers would go postal in The States and take out their anger on their formerly-living colleagues, I never lost my attraction to the post office.
And it has been just as true here. I have had my current postal box for almost a decade now. If you are an occasional or regular reader, you know how often I tout its virtues.
So, when 12 November rolls around, I am ready to swoop down on the post office to distribute peso-stuffed envelopes to the men who work there in thanks for their faithful service.
I happened to be in the post office yesterday to mail birthday cards. Rather than wait for today, I left one envelope with the new postmaster -- whose name just slipped my memory, and an envelope for long-term postman Julio, who was out on deliveries.
I dropped by this morning in hopes of shooting them for a portrait that would introduce you to the two of them. But the rather rustic (and admittedly colorful) sign on the door informed me the post office was closed today. As we know, for postman day.
So, the best thing I can offer you is the closed sign -- and a reminder of what day it is. It may not be too late for you today (or tomorrow) to catch up with your local postal workers and give them some tangible appreciation for what they do for you all year.
There may even be something from those three pixie-rascals on the front of the Rice Krispies box waiting for you in your postal box.
Monday, November 11, 2019
Life is fragile.
That is a fundamental truth. We all know it. But we live as if it just is not so.
Aging is one of those topics I muse about often these days. It may be that now that I am whittling off the days of my eighth decade, each day seems to be (or should be) just a little more precious.
Yesterday at breakfast I was talking with two retired ministers (one Lutheran; the other Presbyterian) about getting older. I told them I keep my small congregation of pills in individual containers labeled with the day of the week.
Every time I pick up my daily dosage, it reminds me that my days are literally numbered. I just do not know when the day will be that I will take no more pills.
As I was driving to dinner tonight, I paused on Nueva España -- the main street in the portion of Barra I call home -- for an elderly woman to make her slow, but dignified, way to the other side of the road. As I watched her, I thought she was once just like one of the little girls playing on the sidewalk blocking her progress. Had they looked up, they could have seen what life eventually had in store for them. Of course, they would not have believed it.
To reach my dinner spot, I had to drive from the "Y" intersection where the road to Barra joins Highway 200 and cross the largest fresh-water laguna on the Pacific coast of Mexico. You can see the laguna on the satellite image. Most of the water surface is covered by aquatic plants.
I know that stretch of road well. I walk it at least once a week on my way to church Sunday mornings. Because it is a causeway, it has rather narrow shoulders. That does not keep the shoulders from being a multi-purpose bit of asphalt. Walkers. Joggers. Runners. Bicycles. Horses. Motorcycles. Parked cars. They are all there.
It is a dangerous bit of road. I have witnessed two deaths on motorcycles there. Both times, dogs ran into the road causing the motorcycle to cartwheel. The result was fatal for both the dog and the biker. Both times.
Today, I may have witnessed the aftermath of a third death. When I pulled onto the highway, I could see a long line of cars stopped in both directions with several police cars with lights flashing about half-way down the causeway. It was not a good combination.
As we creeped by at a pace to give drivers in the cars more than adequate time to gawk, I could easily see what happened. There was a crumpled piece of metal that was barely recognizable as a bicycle.
My heart sunk. The bicycle had obviously been hit at high speed by a vehicle. Everything I learned in Physics class told me it could not have been good for the bicyclist.
For a moment, I grieved at the loss of someone's life. I then started thinking about who the deceased might be. Could it be someone I had seen riding along the highway while I walked? Or someone I knew in Melaque or Barra de Navidad or Jaluco? Or could it have been a close friend? A relative?
I still do not know who it was. I am certain though I will soon find out through my network. Death is seldom anonymous here. We are a small community.
What it is for me is another not-very-subtle reminder that we can be enjoying one of the best moments of life -- only to have our existence here snuffed out. In a moment. With no warning.
This is the point where moralists and the writers of horoscopes point out we should be living our lives as if we might die any moment. And I agree with the sentiment -- as hollow as it is.
The point is, we won't. We will be as oblivious to these daily reminders of how tenuous our grasp on life is, as those young girls on the sidewalk were when the wisdom of aging passed by. Or when I pop open today's day-numbered pill container.
Life is fragile. We just do not treat it as if that were true.
Tonight, my prayers are for a grieving family. Whether or not I know them, I too grieve.
Saturday, November 09, 2019
Yesterday we talked about the catrinas on Barra de Navidad's malecon -- and a bit of the history of why they were there (hello, dollies).
Between the time I shot them and posted, the catrinas suffered an ignominious fate.
I shot them on Tuesday. Even then, you can see that someone has had his way with this catrina. One arm was amputated and the other pulled out of joint. She looks as if she had fallen into the hands of ISIS.
Well, apparently, that analogy is not quite as offensive as it first seems. I received news yesterday after my essay was published: "Somebody went down to the Malecon yesterday and dismembered several of the Catrinas. For no reason. They cut of hands and heads and clothes. So very sad! What is wrong with the world??????"
What is wrong with the world, indeed. We could easily discuss the theological implications of that question for days. But we won't.
What I did do was listen carefully to how people here reacted when I told them what had happened to the catrinas. Almost everyone immediately jumped to the "who" question -- and several had their own theories. It was like a Rorschach test of personal prejudices.
"An angry American."
"A drunk Canadian."
"Teenage Mexican gangs." (I always find it funny that a bunch of old men from Ontario are not called a Canadian gang. It must not translate well.)
Of course, no one knows who did it -- except for the person who did. But we are humans and we have opinions on everything. Even things where there is not a shred of evidence to support our conclusion.
I have no theory on who vandalized the catrinas. Cutting off the leads and clothes was just a bit too creepy for me to contemplate.
These incidents always dispirit us. I feel the same way about this as I did when the Taliban blew up the Bamyan Buddhas. Or when ISIS destroyed the ruins of Palmyra. Or when I read about Christian missionaries tried to turn Hawaiians into New England township dwellers.
The best way to fight that, of course, is to get back on the horse and keep chasing the fox. There will be other fiestas to relieve our minds of the inhumanity that too often intrudes in our lives.
May the catrinas rest in peace. We have a revolution to celebrate in a week -- and I have an inkling that the catrinas may be sticking their heads back into our lives.
See you on the other side of grief.
Friday, November 08, 2019
Last Saturday, I mentioned in the valley of death that I was a bit disappointed that our tourist-magnet Barra de Navidad Day of the Dead display failed to provide the promised giant skeletons. Instead, we were treated to plyboard skeleton heads advertising local businesses.
My friend Christine Yoast sent me a helpful email the next day informing me that the skeletons had appeared on the malecon the night after I was there. And they would be there a couple more days.
She was correct. Skeletons there were. But not exactly what I had expected.
Mexico has become very creative with its skeletal presentations. In Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, giant skeletons appear to be rising from the grave through the street asphalt. Murals with amazing 3-D effects celebrate similar scenes.
Nothing of that sort was on our malecon. Instead, there was a small chorus line of tall catrinas (or las Calaveras Catrinas to give them their formal name). But nary a catrin was on display. It was ladies' night.
Years ago, Rooster's had a large catrina in front of the restaurant. An acquaintance asked me at breakfast whether I thought it was appropriate to display it other than during the Day of the Dead.
She thought the catrinas were similar to nativity scenes at Christmas. Someone had told her that the catrina pre-dated the Spanish conquest and that the tribes displayed them in cemeteries.
I suspect someone had been pulling her leg. But who knows? There are plenty of false historical anecdotes told in these parts as if they had the blessing of Clio herself.
The silly stories about the origin of gringo being the most prevalent example. Even though it is well-known that the term has been used in Spain and Portugal since the 1700s to describe a "foreigner," the tales persist that Mexican peasants, using perfect English, derided American soldiers in either the Mexican-American War or the Pershing incursion or the Veracruz invasion (you take your pick) with "green go." As internally inconsistent as the tale is, it persists.
Some of that is true with the catrinas, as well. They are not a pre-conquest Mesoamerican tradition. In fact, they are a relatively recent creation. Nor was the catrina originally created for Day of the Dead.
|A catrina and that annoying English sign|
The catrina became a Mexican cultural symbol when Diego Rivera made her the centerpiece of his 1947 mural "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon along Central Alameda" -- Rivera's satirical anti-European work satirizing George Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte."
That is a lot of irony for one bony lady to bear. But she thrived. From the mural, she ended up as copies in art houses and tourist souvenir stands, and became the very essence of death in Mexico. The last step to being the star of Day of the Dead was simple.
So, she is a relatively new addition to the public celebration of Day of the Dead. Even though its roots are pre-Hispanic, a lot of forces have managed to modify and modernize Day of the Dead's image. First, it was the Catholic Church that unified the regional celebrations and then lightly modified them. Then the Mexican government in the 1960s decided it should not merely be a regional celebration, but a national cultural heritage. Even the Bond film Spectre inspired chamber-of-commerce types into sponsoring a Day of the Dead parade that owed far more to Rio de Janeiro than to Pátzcuaro.
That is why the asphalt-defying skeletons are so fascinating. They represent a traditional figure in a new guise. Just like the arrival of the catrina as a tradition that is no older than I am.
So, I did get to see my giant skeletons -- even though they were not what I expected to see. And they were quite amusing.
|Two Catrinas and a Steve|
Or maybe even something better.
Tuesday, November 05, 2019
While sitting in my patio surrounded by flowers that bloom year-round, I imagined the meeting of two architects to discuss what constituted a perfect home, on a similar sunny day in Andalusia in 712 AD.
One was a Roman; the other a Moor. Both were conquerors and colonizers, and they did what imperialists do best -- they were do-gooders out to improve the lives of the tribes on the Iberian peninsula.
"The perfect home," said the Roman, "is the plural domūs -- a house that looks inwardly without exterior windows built around a central atrium, open to the sky for natural light, with all of the rooms leading onto the atrium. A place where the family is the center of all life."
"What you say is good," said the Moor. "A home must reflect the poetic sense of the universe. We live our lives around the edges of the central atrium. But you are too practical, Roman. You have the soul of a tradesman.
"The atrium is not an agora for the unworthy chatter of children, fishwives, and merchants. It is the very essence of paradise on earth. A garden filled with the blessings of God and the water that nourishes our very being. It is what our souls seek -- to be reunited with the presence of God in that first garden. That, Roman, is a perfect home."
"All right, then," responded the Roman, "we seem to have a plan for the perfect home. A windowless house with rooms built around a garden filled with trees and stuff and some water. How much money do you think we can make off of each unit?"
"I weep for you, Roman."
Of course, there was never any such conversation. The imperial Romans had been forcibly melded with the Visigoths before the Moors conquered what we now know as Spain in seven short years -- 711-718.
What we do know is that Roman and Moorish architecture merged into a distinctive Hispanic form that can even be seen in Mexico. When the Spanish conquered Mexico, they brought their notions of what the perfect house should look like. Formidable fronts facing the street with a central patio featuring some form of water pool. Even some modest Mexican homes reflect that style.
In the twentieth century along came one of Mexico's greatest architects, Luis Barragán, with his nationalistic version of the European modernist movement led by Le Corbusier. But rather than function following form, he rejected the mechanistic attitudes of the minimalists.
His would be an architecture based on Latin passion. He revived the old elements of Roman-Moorish architecture to create inward-looking homes, usually windowless, that were centered around a garden patio (always with water). Even though not all of his rooms were atrium-centered, the atrium and its natural light was always the soul of the home. And the lines of the home would define its spatial presence.
It was those lines that resonated with me when I first saw the house with no name. It is not a Barragán-designed home. But it is a Barragán-ish home. In my first fifteen minutes in the house, I knew it would be mine.
And it has served me well for five years now. And just as the Moor predicted, it is in my patio sitting amongst my cup of gold vines and the heliconia that look as if they were bred for residents of Tralfamadore that I find what we Quakers call peace at the center.
My wish for you today is that you can say the same wherever you are.
Monday, November 04, 2019
Barra de Navidad is not a big village. Three to four thousand -- depending on your source. That number, of course, is augmented throughout the year with tourists from Mexico, the other two-thirds of North America, and the odd European and South American.
But this would be the fourth convenience store in Barra. The other three (two Oxxos and a Kiosko) are in the core of the tourist haven of centro. But the latest Oxxo was well out of the amble-room of most tourists.
As it turns out, even though the new Oxxo is frequented by tourists of all variety, its bread-and-butter business is from my Mexican neighbors. They primarily use Oxxo's financial services (transferring money, paying utility bills, recharging telephones). But, they also treat it as if it were a tienda de abarrotes, buying beer, soda, snacks, toilet paper, or cleaning supplies. Or just seeking refuge from the summer heat in the air-conditioning.
I quickly discovered, though, that my analysis proceeded from a false assumption. I do not think of this part of Barra as being part of the tourist milieu. I should have known better by the number of eateries that have popped up recently within four blocks of my house. The tourist habitat is expanding.
And, as I told you last September (sleeping with heat), we are getting a hotel in the neighborhood as part of that same process. Or, at least, that is what I was told when the footings were being dug. Looking at its size, bearing the grand title "hotel" may be a bit more-sombrero-than-cabras than it can bear. Bungalow may be more accurate.
Whatever it is to be called, it is almost ready to receive guests. When construction started thirteen months ago, I thought it might be ready for the northern season last winter. It wasn't.
But it looks as if it will be ready this month. When I saw paint being slapped on its façade late last week, I suspected the Veuve Clicquot must be on ice.
The foreman verified my suspicions -- about the readiness, not the champagne. The building should be ready before the feast of Guadalupe arrives.
An acquaintance asked me last year how I felt about all of this development in the neighborhood. I really had not thought about it. She said she would be a little upset if she had bought a house thinking it would have a certain atmosphere, and then some developer had ruined it all.
So, I gave it a little thought. I did not feel the least bit upset by the changes. And then I realized I had not bought the house with any real expectation in mind. I did not buy it as an investment. I did not buy it as a bit of unchanging paradise. I bought it because I liked its lines -- and my neighbors are Mexican. Neither of those things has changed with the arrival of a boutique hotel, family-run pozole and taco stands, and a boutique hotel.
I cannot remember who said: "The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings." It sounds as if it came out of a cookie at Chang's. And it may have.
But even the most inane thought can hide a bit of wisdom. And that one does.
If a captain of a sailboat rails against the wind like some modern King Lear, his journey will be over. That is why the gentle art of tacking was developed -- to let us survive on the seas, and to learn how to deal with changed circumstances in our lives.
I moved to Mexico to experience daily challenges. So, bring them on. I am trimming my sails.
Saturday, November 02, 2019
According to the Roman Rite liturgical calendar, yesterday was All Saints' Day and today is All Souls' Day.
As good Catholics, most Mexicans celebrate those days at mass. But, as good Mexicans, they also celebrate dia de los muertos. Yesterday for dead children. Today for dead adults.
Or, at least, those are the days that the church has allowed Mexicans to celebrate those days. Before the Spanish arrived, some of the Mesoamerican tribes honored their dead at various times of the year with their own idiosyncratic traditions.
When the Spanish conquered Mexico, the Catholic church considered prohibiting the rituals as pagan. Instead, the church did what it often did best when confronted with ingrained cultural practices: it simply incorporated them into the Catholic culture. That is why Christians celebrate Christmas on the day of a Roman pagan holiday and why we still use the word "Easter" (in English), the name of a pre-Christian goddess.
The church agreed to allow the traditional rites of the to be practiced, but only under its terms. First, the tribes would need to abandon their own celebration dates in favor of the two church calendar days of 1 and 2 November.
Second, the tribes were free to place their traditional elements of wind, water, earth, and fire -- and whatever else they wanted to put on the altar. But they would be required to include at least one Catholic symbol.
Modern altars incorporate all of that history. That is why you will often see a pitcher of water, candles, paper banners, and food (especially, the deceased's favorite foods and drink) displayed -- along with photographs of the dead relative along with the ubiquitous marigold lane whose scent provides a path to the living. Or, at least, that is the myth.
For the past couple of years, families and merchants have been building altars tucked between the various businesses on the street that leads to Barra de Navidad's beach. And that seems appropriate. After all, the altars celebrate life, not death. In one sense, they are an affirmation in the Christian promise of resurrection. Why shouldn't Adam Smith's invisible hand be at work amongst us?
Most of the altars had family members in attendance who were happy to talk about their relative -- or friend. I have now lived here long enough that I knew a number of the people attending the altars.
But, because it was a celebration of life, the traditional mechanisms of joy were also in attendance. No Mexican party would be complete without a carnival. Including this boat pond for children, which was more an homage to Esther Williams than to The Serpentine.
Or this game of chance that attracted no one as if it were less an amusement and more a Faustian contract table.
For adults, there were the more-dubious pleasures of alcohol served at temporary bars on the malecon. The stools were eerily empty. As if it was some dadaist day-of-the-dead performance art commemorating those whisked off by the bottle.
I had heard that there would be giant skeletons displayed on our malecon. That enticed me. I had just seen some amazing sculptures in Mexico City that gave the impression giant skeletons were rising through the asphalt.
This was our local version.
Plyboard skeleton heads advertising various bars and restaurants in Barra de Navidad.
A group of decked-out women were selling bread. One called out to me that I needed some. I responded that my stomach was far too fat. She laughed and told me I walk too much; I needed some bread.
It turns out she has regularly seen me on my exercise walks. Barra de Navidad is truly a small town -- and that is one of its charms for me.
Were the altars worth the walk? Certainly. They were something different. And I had the pleasure of just pausing and talking to people. Of course, "pausing to talk" means I stood in one place for no more than 30 seconds.
And that has to be considered a good evening spent.
I believe the altars will still be there today and this evening.