Tuesday, September 22, 2020

hawaii to the rescue


OK. A couple of you over on Facebook caught me out with yesterday's photograph in cristina potter, call your office.

I was being a bit impish. The photograph did display my dinner last night, but it is not how I would have served the spaghetti had you stopped by.

There are two primary methods of serving pasta: the American "glop plopped on top" and the Italian, where the pasta is mixed with the sauce before serving. My pasta last night was American. My lunch today was Italian. You can see the difference it makes.

If you had arrived for lunch this afternoon around 3:30, you would have had the "all-dressed-up-in-Monday-best" pasta complete with salad. You will get no argument from me that today's version is far more enticing. But last night's photograph had one purpose -- to elicit the reactions I got because of the color the squid ink imparts.

Now, do I think today's version will change people's reaction to the food? Nope, If so, only marginally. People who reacted to the black last night will react to the black today. And that reaction is not surprising to me.

When I was in Venice several years ago with my cousin Dennis, I ordered cuttlefish cooked in its ink, served with spaghetti. The sight was too much for Dennis. He erected a tall menu in front of him to prevent seeing what was undoubtedly the best cuttlefish I have eaten.

Even though I will not win anyone over to the inky side of this particular culinary chasm, we can all admit that the presentation of this plate is far more attractive, even if it is not more appetizing. I was going for an Italian look with the salad. And then it occurred to me the colors are Mexican, as well.

And that is why we are discussing it on Mexican sites.


Note -- Oh. The title? Everything on today's plate comes from my favorite grocery in San Patricio. If you stop by, I am certain Alex can outfit you for your own experiments with squid ink.    


Monday, September 21, 2020

cristina potter, call your office

Sometimes, culinary experiments result in memorable dishes. Sometimes, they result in trash bin catastrophes.

And then there are the anti-Goldilocks moments. They are not quite right, but they take some time to consider.

In my earlier life, I regularly frequented a local spaghetti house in Salem. Usually, I ordered the same meal. Spaghetti: half with meat sauce, half with clam sauce. The clam was my favorite. And like a five-year old eating ice cream in Sioux City, I would often mush the two together.

Even though clam sauce is easy to make, I have experimented with it here only a few times. That is partly due to the problem of finding heavy cream or half-and-half. Now that Hawaii stocks it regularly, it was time for me to whip up something new.

The clam sauce is nothing more than a roux-based white sauce with chopped clams. If I prepare the clams myself, I use the broth to flavor the sauce. If I use canned clams, I use the liquid in the can. (Calling it a broth would be a culinary transgression.)

And that is the weak point in every clam sauce I have made. It does not have enough sea-taste. Any lover of clam chowder knows what I mean. The sweetness of the roux hides the magic taste of the clams.

At first, I thought it was the sweetness of the butter and cream and that I could counter with serrano chilies. That did not quite work. The serranos added a surprising bitterness.

Then, I tried the obvious for a sea flavor. Oyster sauce. Fish sauce. Even mixed with Worcestershire sauce, they just did not add the taste I wanted.

While looking in the refrigerator tonight for a solution, my eye caught a yellow and blue jar that I had almost forgotten was there. You met it in inky dinky risotto earlier this year. Squid ink. It was a natural.

And it worked perfectly.

Yes. Yes. I know what you are saying. The photograph looks as if I had dumped axle grease on my spaghetti.

There is no denying that the inky look is not necessarily pleasing to the eye. I am not certain why, but black foods are not universally enjoyed. I was going to dress it up with a mint sprig, but I decided to give you the full frontal deal without embellishment.

I do not mind the color because I know what the ink does to food. It adds an umami layer to seafood-related dishes that cannot be duplicated. I was introduced to inky food in Venice with cuttlefish cooked in its own ink, and I have been hooked ever since.

I will admit that the visual impression is better with dishes where the ink is added to oil-based dressings. The thickness of the floured sauce tonight gives it a heavier look in black than in the traditional white -- just the opposite of the slimming effect black usually gives.

I do not see squid (or octopus ink) used much in seafood dishes here. But it is very common in some parts of Mexico. I suspect the Spanish imported the practice with their Mediterranean-based cooking. Whether or not the pre-Colombian tribes used the technique, I do not know. But I bet Cristina Potter over at Mexico Cooks! does. How about it, Christine?

For me, the dish is a welcome return to Mexico. I will be in Barra de Navidad for about three weeks, and then I need to once again fly north to wrap up some loose ends with Mom.

Until then, I may be slipping ink into several other dishes.

Friday, September 18, 2020

mission accomplished

OK. The phrase does not have the cachet it once did.

But I do have some good news. At least, good news for the family Cotton. 
I came north to help my brother put my mother's house on the market. A month ago, we moved her into her new retirement premises. You know the tale (vignettes of a northern visit).

When I flew back to Mexico at the start of this month, there was plenty of work to be done before the house could go on the market -- two rooms of Mom's possessions and a thorough cleaning. Darrel, Christy, and Kaitlyn (my pistol-packing, snake-rearing niece) did yeoman work.

The next task was listing the house for sale. Darrel was waiting for my return, but we were both a bit concerned our timing was off. Even though Bend has a very seller-friendly housing market, on Labor Day we had slipped outside of the traditional best time for selling a house.

Because of my cancelled and delayed flights, Darrel thought it was a better idea to list the house immediately. It turned out to be a very good idea.

Mom listed the house list on Monday morning. Within an hour, the first offer came in. By the end of the day, there were a total of four offers -- all above the listed price. Tuesday afternoon, Mom chose the offer she preferred. Within three weeks, she should have cash in hand.

If circumstances were normal, I would simply stay in Prineville until the house closes. But I have some university admission matters for Omar that requires my presence in Mexico. So, when Mom has her money, I will fly north to Prineville.

That last sentence sums up my feeling about flying in this virus outbreak. It appears we will be living with the virus for some time. And, just like climate change, we will need to adapt our lives to our circumstances. Alaska Airlines is doing a serviceable job of keeping their passengers convinced that they are flying in a secure environment -- as secure as a person can be stuffed into an aluminum tube hurtling through the atmosphere.

I wrote two versions of this essay in the Redmond airport. They disappeared somewhere in the great rolling plains of the internet. I am now awaiting my connecting flight in Seattle to fly down to Los Angeles. Tomorrow I will fly home to Manzanillo.

We can then chat a bit about matters other than airplanes and smoke. I look forward to it.   

Monday, September 14, 2020

when adventure comes knocking

When we were last together on Sunday, I was sitting in the Los Angeles Airport at 5:30 in the morning -- almost by myself.

My flight to Seattle was almost as lonely. Alaska's first class seats are arranged in a 2-2 configuration. But the virus has altered that formula. Seating is now 1-0-0-1. That means that half of the seats in First class remain unsold. 

That is how my flight to Seattle went -- with only six of us in the cabin.

It seemed as if everything was moving along just as it had been boringly planned. That was about to change for me. I was going to get the adventure I had hoped for.

When we landed in Seattle, my telephone informed me my flight to Redmond had been cancelled. I knew the reason why. From Los Angeles to Seattle, we saw nothing but smoke. There was not a single break until we were within 500 feet of landing in Seattle. That type of visibility presents problems for large aluminum tubes hurtling toward the ground at high speeds -- what we call airplanes.

There was a line of about fifty passengers waiting at the Alaska customer service desk. All with the same problem. Delayed or cancelled flights.

All flights to Redmond were cancelled. Alaska had booked me on an alternative route. I would fly back to San Francisco with the hope that the Redmond flight from there could make it through the smoke, though I was told the possibility was extremely low.

Rather than backtrack that far into California, I asked the service representative to check if there was a possibility that not all Portland flights had been cancelled. She found one. But she told me I would lose my first class seat. I took it.

The flight was short. Just an hour. But it was pregnant with social commentary. The coach cabin was jammed with refugees from cancelled flights. But I could see into the first class cabin. Those passengers had not been required to give up their sanitary ways. Thoughts of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie came to mind. Talk about social distancing.

But that was not my sole Marxist pondering of the day. After we landed, the flight attendant chirpily asked us to practice social distancing by not standing up before the people in the row ahead of us had moved 6 feet down the aisle. After we had been seated cheek to cheek for over an hour. "History repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce."

And you already know what happened next, if you have been following the subtle arc this tale is taking. The last flight to Redmond from Portland had been cancelled while I was still in the air.

My options were limited. I could rent a car and drive the two and a half hours to Bend -- or I could re-book my flight to Monday morning and spend the night in Portland. I chose the latter solely because I had been up since almost 3 in the morning and driving through smoke is not the wisest course when fatigue is your co-pilot.

Portland looked like London with smoke the consistency of Victorian fog. You could easily imagine Jack the Ripper lunging from his cover in a dark alley. It was a wise choice to wait.

But this morning the smoke was no better. I took the hotel shuttle to the airport fully knowing that bad news awaited me. I was wrong. My flight had been delayed, but it was not cancelled. As I walked away from the counter, I noticed the clerk had made a mistake on my boarding pass.

In the two minutes it took me to get back to her, my destiny had changed. The clerk informed me my flight was now cancelled with no prospect of later flights. I retrieved my luggage, paid Hertz the price of a first class ticket from Manzanillo to Los Angeles, and I was on my way through the smoke of scores of Oregon forest fires.

When one or two forest fires are burning in the summer here, you can actually see the plume of smoke and occasionally the tongues of fires devouring old and new growth without a pang of conscience. Not today. It was simply smoke. Everywhere.

No grand vistas. No insights into mother nature's grandest works. Not even a good view of oncoming traffic.

Fortunately, I did not get caught up in any evacuation traffic because there was very little traffic. It appears that others were not interested in joining my adventure through the great smokey mountains.

I love solving riddles. Getting from place to place is usually child's play. Not this week-end. It has turned out to be quite the interesting time. It is too bad that it comes at others' costs.

And a cost it is. Not calculating the loss of natural resources caused by these fires, they have burned homes, portions of cities, whole towns, and they have taken lives. The smoke is a nuisance for everyone. But there are others who have given up far more to these bonfires of the vanities. At least, one of the fires was caused by lightning. Others are still under investigation for their unusual frequency and origin.

The bottom line is I am now ensconced amongst my family. Together we can weather a lot. Even the weather.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

the loneliest number

For people who do not like the hassles of crowded flying, the days of the novel coronavirus may offer up just what you are looking for.

Depending on your risk tolerance.

When I flew north to Oregon, last month, I did not know what to expect. That is not exactly true. Alaska Airlines -- or the public relations staff at Alaska Airlines -- has been filling my inbox with sugar-coated words about the steps it has taken to make my flights with them reassuringly sterile.

So, I knew I would be wearing a mask. Everything else was supposed to have been done before I boarded the aircraft. Hospital-quality air filters. No touching. And crews that would sanitize the plane's interior with the dedication of massaging Kobe beef.

I am currently in the Los Angeles airport awaiting my 6:00 AM flight to Seattle. (Whoever made this reservation is going to get a good talking to, said I to myself when rolling out of my hotel bed at 3:15.)

The staff at the Manzanillo airport have developed a standard of performance art that would please any Homeland Security agent. Before heading off either to Immigration or the check-out counter, passengers are required to fill out a Covid-19 form declaring they have not experienced a list of symptoms in the last-whatever days.

Wise travelers automatically check "no" just as they do on their customs form. The difference is that after the form is filled out, it is corrected to 100% by a temperature reading.

Other than the presence of masks and no one touching anything (like boarding passes), the boarding process was as normal as any airline boarding process can be -- where aging businessmen traveling alone think they are included in the "children under 2" category.

The only unusual thing most people would notice during the flight is the lack of food service. The disappointing hot chicken sandwich has been replaced with a cheese and fruit "plate" in the type of plastic container that usually contains arugula at the market. I really did not notice because I always pack my own in-flight meal.

What is really different is the lack of people at otherwise teeming airports. Last month, I was the only person going through security. The only one. Today, there were two of us. And, as you can see, the terminal looks more like a set for On the Beach than LAX airport.

The sense of separation extends to the cabin. The usual 2-2 seating is now 1-0-0-1. I realize that the airline cannot make a profit with that arrangement, but I do enjoy the additional space. Maybe this is some sort of marketing scheme to induce passengers to buy a second seat as a cordon sanitaire once the virus drops off of our trauma screens.

I do not dislike crowds. But I will confess the lack of crowds has made flying feel a bit more like an adventure rather than a field trip to the bee farm.

In about an hour, I will be on my flight to Seattle to catch a connecting flight to Redmond. If all goes well, I intend to use those two hours to Seattle trying to salvage some sleep.

Thoughts of crowds can wait for another day.  

Saturday, September 12, 2020

missing in action


I am flying north this afternoon.

My airport ride is picking me up in just under two hours, so, it is time to start packing. I had just zipped up my duffel when something occurred to me. Even if I only stay for a week in Oregon (my current plan), I am going to miss one of my favorite days in Mexico -- Independence Day.

The grito. The sky rockets. The parades. It is one of those days that Mexicans love airing out their national pride. And I suppose I like it so much because of its small town character. The Mexicans celebrate kicking over the traces of the Bourbon kings. Americans celebrate kicking out the Hanoverian overlords. We are kindred anti-monarchist spirits.

I am not certain what parades I will miss this year., Last year, both the Independence Day and Revolution Day parades were whittled down into separate min-parades that seemed to pop up almost spontaneously. Divided like that, they missed the national unity so important to the day. I suspect the flooding and the ongoing novel coronavirus may have some effect here on parades.

Instead, I will have to amuse myself with photographs of parades past on 16 September. But, if I listen closely, I may still hear the refrains of El Grito -- "Will you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government! Death to the [Spanish]!'

And I will smile.

Friday, September 11, 2020

fogging the question

Life is made up of compromises and trade-offs.

Today's topic is about a small trade-off -- that may have larger consequences.

The area of Mexico where I live is home to one of nature's deadlier predators. Aedes aegypti -- to use its formal name. Or, as it is often commonly-known, the yellow fever mosquito.

The common name is not really fair. The mosquito does not cause disease. It is merely a carrier. Like those asymptomatic people who are infected with viruses, and unknowingly spread them to other people.

Aedes aegypti does exactly the same thing. It carries around viruses that it has picked up from feeding on the blood of people infected with the virus and it then spreads the virus when it sucks the blood of another person. Never being affected by the virus it carries.

Yellow fever is not a major threat where I live. But the mosquito does deliver three other viruses that are a problem here: dengue, zika, and chikungunya. Just like the novel coronavirus, there is no vaccine or treatment for any of them.

The non-blue areas are where Aedes egypti hangs out. Oddly enough, not in Egypt. Not coincidentally, those areas are also where viruses for dengue, zika, and chikungunya have their way with humans.

In our villages, we have had serious outbreaks of all three diseases since I have lived here. Because the treatments are limited, the best approach is preventative. DEET and other first defense lines offer some protection.

There is an additional defense here. The fogger truck. Mosquitoes take advantage of their environment. To breed, they need pools of clean, calm water. Our rainy seasons offers plenty of that. The small pools that form where palm fronds meet the palm trunk are perfect nurseries for wigglers.

The mosquitoes have bloomed this summer. So have the fogger trucks. They came through our neighborhood three times this week.

I do not know what chemical is in the fog they produce, but I do know that it is effective. After each fogging, my patio is filled with the corpses of butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and wasps (pictured above). What seems to be missing are the corpses of mosquitoes. Of course, they are small -- and my eyes (along with the rest of me) is aging. I may just not see them.

The proof is in the sitting, though. After the trucks pass through, I can sit for a couple of days on my patio DEET-free without becoming a mosquito buffet. But that soon passes and the mosquitoes return.

My friend Dan Patman reminded me of an experiment that was conducted in Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Scientists have isolated a bacteria that blocks the replication of pathogens carried by Aedes egypti. When the bacterium-infected mosquitoes are released into the wild, the bacterium infects native mosquitoes. Preliminary findings show a reduction of dengue, chikungunya, and zika in the area of release.

That may be a more benign way of dealing with the problem than fogger trucks. But it is still under study, and the mosquitoes will not wait. There is also something else to remember. If we learned anything from Jurassic Park, it is that nature will find a way to reproduce. Viruses are good at that.

I started to write that at least we are not being hunted by velociraptors -- until I recalled the wise words of H.G. Wells. After all, it was not to dinosaurs that the Martians succumbed in War of the Worlds, but to viruses. What humans often fail to do is to show some humility in the face of nature.

I will mourn the passing of the dragonflies and butterflies (not so much the wasps) in mankind's ongoing battle against viruses.

Fog on.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

instruments of peace


The paperboy was late this morning.

The digital paperboy, that is.

I have subscribed to my former home-town newspaper, The Oregonian, on my Kindle since I moved to Mexico, primarily to follow politics in Oregon. But, the headline in today's newspaper was not about politics. It was about another natural tragedy.

"Brown puts state on high alert."

At first, I thought the novel coronavirus had had its way with Oregonians, once again. When I was in Oregon less than two weeks ago, the virus was still a problem, as it is in Mexico.

But that was not the reason for the alert. During the last week of my visit to Oregon, smoke from two nearby forest fires had started obscuring the view of the Cascades from my brother's living room. The situation has worsened.

There are fires in the Coast Range and in the Cascades. One town on the road between Bend and Salem has burned. Some of my family members in Clackamas County have been evacuated. There is good reason for "high alert."

And, it is into that smoke and fire that I will be flying on Saturday. I need to return to Bend to tie up some loose ends on Mom's move to her retirement apartment. The big one is to help my brother get her house on the market.

A friend asked me this morning whether I was concerned about flying back to Oregon right now. She characterized it as "the whole state is on fire."

Well, it isn't. It is bad, but the Four Horsemen have not yet been loosed. It is bad enough. 

Fires in Oregon. The pandemic in The States and Mexico. Floods on the Costalegre. At times, I feel as if I am flying from one hot spot to another. A Henry Kissinger of plagues.

There is a bit of truth in that. But we humans are a resilient lot. And we are often at our best when troubles arise. Not always.

Today, a northerner commented on our local Facebook that he was considering not returning to Melaque because he did not want to encounter citizens of another northern country. It was a rare sour note in the discussion concerning the winter tourist trade.

It would be easy to strike out at such comments. But, for all I know, something terrible had just happened in his life that found its outlet in subtle bigotry. I try not to build windows into men's souls to test their motives. It is not profitable, and the result is almost always inaccurate.

I believe the first time I had St. Francis's "instrument of peace" prayer when Margaret Thatcher recited it upon becoming prime minister. It strikdes me as a good guide for all of us as we face the travails nature brings our way.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Every time I fly Alaska Airlines these days, I miss the prayer cards on the meal trays. Maybe I should print out this prayer and take it with me on this trip.

We could all use a bit of reminder in tuning our instruments of peace. 

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

graden davis

The news was unexpected.

I had just arrived in Oregon last month when my sister-in-law informed me I had received a telephone call from my high school pal Joe Stewart (and occasional commenter here) telling me that Graden Davis had died of a heart attack.

As I grow older, there are times when people tell me someone has died, and I need a moment of reflection to remember who they are talking about. Not so with Graden. He was one of those people who was a big part of my high school years. And those relations -- and memories -- matter.

I have some friends who were school chums and neighbors from the fourth grade through high school. Stephanie Reed. Jim Hunt. Colette Justice. David Eikrem. Daurel Colony.

Graden was not amongst that group. His father was in the Navy, and he was a military brat. I think he is the only person I ever met who was born in Saipan. Having lived all my life in Oregon, I found his background exotic when he finally joined the rest of us at Rex Putnam High School outside of Milwaukie.

We formed one of those relationships that young men rely on in their teens. It turned out it was a good match. We shared a lot of eccentricities. He owned a piranha. Nothing could have been more fascinating to a teen-age boy than studying how, even as an individual fish, the piranha was perfectly designed to strip the flesh from a screaming porter in one of those serials we enjoyed.

We were also experimenters. One of us came up with the brilliant idea of putting the piranha in my family's swimming pool and then inviting unaware guests to take a dip. It never worked as planned -- as none of these pranks do. The shock of the cold, chlorinated water left the piranha floating on the surface of the water where we quickly rescued it.

Graden was one of the few people in high school who owned a car. A boat-like convertible. During one of Oregon's worst snow storms, we decided to take the convertible to Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood to spend the day skiing. Apparently, we never considered the fact that the blizzard would shut down the chair lifts. It did.

So, we decided to head over to Mount Hood Meadows, instead. We never got there. Just past the turnoff to Hood River, a small (but effective) avalanche barreled down the mountain and trapped about five cars. We were one. Being trapped in an avalanche (even a small one) is not what most people would call an adventure. Especially, in a convertible.

But we were unfazed. We broke out some small Hostess fruit pies, a bag of potato chips, and some French onion dip and had ourselves an impromptu picnic while listening to the soundtrack of a recent movie on his 8-track player. The highway department soon had us on our way home -- with a Dad-voice admonition that we should not travel in weather like that.

That convertible would add another thrill when, on a double date, while driving along the freeway at teenage speeds, the hood popped open and wrapped itself around the windshield like a plastic bag. Graden, completely blinded by the hood, calmly pulled across three lanes of traffic to the shoulder where we used an old hanger to tie it down -- laughing the while time. Our dates failed to see the humor in the situation.

I have always wondered at the rhythm of relationships. After high school, I saw Graden occasionally in college. But that contact ended when I joined the Air Force. Even though we lived in the same metropolitan area, I saw him only at those mileposts in our lives. High school reunions. We always took up immediately where we had last left our conversations, but we would not see one another until the next reunion.

The last time I saw him was just short of a year ago. My high school class had organized a 70th birthday party for all of us 
(putting the granfalloon to the test). Even though we had just had our 50th reunion two years before, it was a good opportunity to get together and catch up on our lives.

Graden, Joe, and I talked about the range of things all old guys discuss. Death was one. Someone had compiled a list of our classmates who had died. Some additions were surprising. How could such a young group have so many fatalities? The fallacy in the question, of course, is that we were not young. Well, we were. But, we are now old.

The next time we gather, Graden's name (and undoubtedly the names of others, perhaps mine) will be on that list. But none of them (including Graden) will be forgotten.

While the three of us reviewed the list of the fallen last September, we told stories about each of them. They were our comrades. No. They are our comrades. Because every one of them has added something to our lives and made us who we are today.

I will miss Graden at the next reunion. But I will have stories to share.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

breaking eggs

I apologize for my absence.

I have been out in the community helping with and observing the heroic effort to recover from the historic levels of flooding suffered by Jaluco, Villa Obregon, and San Particio Melaque.  Even though the primary problem for all areas was water and mud, because of their particular geographies, each area suffered differently.

Most of San Patricio is up and operating. West Melaque and Jaluco are progressing, but there is still a lot of mud to clear out of houses and the streets.

Villa Obregon suffered similarly, but most of those homes are now free from mud. What will take far more work is the infrastructure.

The Costalegre Community Church sits on a street just a block from one of the arms of the laguna. During Jova, it became quite apparent that the street in front of the church was part of a flood draining system leading to the laguna itself. The flood was strong enough to erode the street below the water and sewer lines.

The same thing (not surprisingly) happened again. But the trench is much deeper. The water washed away the street and left a six-foot deep trench well below the sewer and water lines. The sewer now runs down the trench directly into the laguna. A house on the corner has toppled into the trench.

The next street over from the church was not affected severely during Jova in 2011. The houses there were not so lucky this time. That street is also gone -- along with all of the property around a house that is now teetering on the edge of survival. The soil around the base of the house was once at the level where the smooth concrete begins.

I have already told you how valiantly the Mexicans who live in the flood areas have sprung back to what passes for something near normalcy. Well, as normal as one can be while still dodging piles of mud in the neighborhood.

Families. Volunteers. Government agencies. As well, as donations from up north. All have helped the villages to start moving again.

But, the area has not returned to its antediluvian status. People will still  be looking for ways to replace what was lost. At least, that process has begun.

In their book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself,by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert point
 out that all aid can be categorized as one of three categories, and the response to each will be quite different: relief, rehabilitation, or development.

"Relief" is the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis. The aid should be designed to halt the economic free fall. Because the recipient is incapable of helping himself, it is the donors who take most of the action. We often think of the model of the Good Samaritan in supplying relief.

"Rehabilitation" starts when relief stops. It attempts to restore the community to its pre-crisis conditions. Aid in this stage involves donors and recipients working together to restore the status quo ante.

"Development" is a process of ongoing change where the community improves its economic status. That change is driven primarily by members of the community, and not by outsiders.

During this flood, the "relief" stage was very brief -- if it existed at all. Shelters were opened for the de-homed. Kitchens were established to feed them.

Most of what is happening now is "rehabilitation" -- with neighbors and the government trying to pull things back together. And it will be a difficult stage.

The flood has scared off the last surge of Mexican tourists. It was a big loss because the merchants here really count on that last bit of summer vacation business to hold them over until the northern tourists start arriving. The level of Mexican tourism during the entire summer has been anemic for a lot of reasons.

That sole fact may be one reason why the "development" stage of this area's economic advancement may be on hold for some time to come. I know a number of northerners who have been coming here for years who will not be returning this winter. The flood is not the reason, though some people are concerned about contracting diseases from the dust that will be hanging around for months.

The biggest reason, of course, is the virus. I have been advising people that, if they have a low tolerance for risk, they should avoid coming this year. Based on what I have read from comments by northerners who are now here, a lot of people simply will not enjoy the social practices they will encounter here this winter. And that is too bad. The village economy may appreciate the business.

My risk factors are expended elsewhere. Today it was in front of the stove.

I am flying north on Saturday, so, I am trying to avoid buying any fresh groceries. But I needed some necessities from Hawaii today.

One of my food disappointments here is tomatoes. They tend to be something you find at Safeway. Probably because that is their target market.

Today was different. Instead of the usual collection of pied tomatoes, Alex displayed a stack of Romas at their peak. Red and just slightly yielding to the touch.

When I scored a package of Spanish serrano, I knew what I had to make. A dish I have not experimented with for years. Tomato jam.

I say "experiment" because like any jam, it is open to all sorts of manipulation. Today it was rosemary and ginger ground with a dried chili, a small touch of honey, habanero salt, balsamic, and a dash of apple cider vinegar simmered down for an hour and a half to a jam.

I found an English muffin exiled in the back of the freezer. Fried in butter, spread with the tomato jam and slivers of serrano ham, and then topped with a basted egg. The only glitch was the egg. I was distracted by the frying muffin and missed The Moment for my eggs.

But, over all, it was a nice combination. Even better than my first encounter with tomato jam (and a rather eccentric tale) in Alabama in 1985.

Now, if you wish to take me to task for including a recipe in an essay about flood recovery, feel free. But, my point is that even though disaster may surround us, life goes on.

It is a lesson I have learned from my neighbors. I just hope I can exercise it with the grace they do. 

Saturday, September 05, 2020

while we slept

We have been keeping an eye on Disturbance 1 off the Pacific coast of Mexico.

It started as a tropical depression in the Caribbean, lost oomph when it transited Guatemala on its way to the Pacific, and has been trying to regain its cyclonic formation. Fortunately, so far, to no avail.

But it is trying. Overnight, NOAA upgraded the possibility of cyclonic formation in the next 48 hours to 70%. This morning, it is meandering about 150 miles south of Acapulco. That would usually mean that it would not yet be a weather concern for us.

Ironically, though, it is already affecting our weather without yet turning into a cyclone. Or, as NOAA's morning bulletin puts it: "This system is producing a large area of 
thunderstorms well to the west and northwest of its center and a 
smaller area of showers near its center."

Translated into reality on the ground, that means the disturbance is already causing weather changes without turning into one of the three dreaded cyclone types. Early this morning, a thunderstorm, being pushed by the disturbance, passed over us with one of those amazing lightning and thunderstorms we usually enjoy. But there was no joy in this storm because it also dropped quite a bit of rain.

The rain, of course, is a problem for those areas here that are still undergoing recovery operations. Water-saturated mud is difficult to move -- even though there seems to be little risk of additional flooding. Unless we get more rain.

I need to get back to one of the recovery sites to do what I have been doing -- and to see what affect the rain has had. The weather forecast indicates there is a possibility of more rain today. The clouds seem to concur.

And what about the disturbance? Is it really going to grow into something more formidable?

I will let NOAA field that question: "Although conditions do not appear to be favorable for much further development, overnight satellite-derived wind data indicated that this system is already producing winds near tropical-storm-force and only a small increase in thunderstorm activity near the surface center of circulation would result in the formation of a tropical depression or tropical storm."

NOAA then adds what I call its boiler-plate State Department warning: "Regardless of development, this low could produce locally heavy rainfall along portions of the southwestern coast of Mexico."

After Hernan, all of us give far more credence to the caution. We have witnessed how a tropical storm can completely miss us, but its attendant weather can be damaging.   

Friday, September 04, 2020

one eye on the sky

We are a bit skittish about the weather these days.

While mucking out houses, everyone is keeping one eye on the sky. The weather report predicts a high possibility of rain during the next eight days. Whether it will be a light rain that will help clear the mud from the streets or a heavier rain that will complicate clean-up, no one can be certain.

But there is another concern. Two days ago, Tropical Depression Nana slipped across Belize and Guatemala from the Caribbean to the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Today, it is merely a disturbance, but it has a 30% chance of cyclonic formation in the next five days.  That could mean anything from a depression to a hurricane.

Once again, the what is not as important as the predicted path. NOAA has issued a prediction. You can see it at the top of this essay. If the prediction holds true, our area could possibly experience far more rain than what has been predicted for this week.

Tropical Storm Hernan did not hit our area directly. It was hundreds of miles away in the Pacific. But its power was enough to draw other weather patterns (and their attendant rains) across us.

This disturbance is well-worth watching while we continue the local clean-up.

P.S. As of this afternoon, NOAA has increased the possibility of cyclonic formation of Disturbance 1 to 60%. That yellow "X' has been upgraded to orange. 

Thursday, September 03, 2020

dust gets in my eyes

This morning I thought I had awakened in Turkmenistan.

As you know, isolationist Turkmenistan is one of the last countries to claim it is coronavirus-free. A claim it shares with North Korea. But the country has suddenly adopted a number of social-distancing precautions, including what one one news agency described as "mandatory mask-wearing -- to protect against dust, rather than germs."

Whenever this area of Mexico suffers from floods, a natural cycle sets in. After the water recedes, mud needs to be shoveled from houses and into the streets. Some of the mud is collected and dumped elsewhere. But a large portion of it dries where it is piled. And when it dries, it is easily sent into the air by traffic.

That cycle has now entered the dust phase. When I drove to Melaque this morning for breakfast, the visibility on the main highway through town was noticeably diminished. I doubt the cloud that covered the Israelites in their Exodus from Egypt was less dense.

The concern about the dust is not that it will permeate almost every surface in town. After all, we live in an agricultural community where dust is simply one of the facts of life we contend with daily.

But this dust is a bit different. The mud that invaded houses and streets was also mixed with sewage that burbled into the street. In past floods, the contents of the dust has caused many people to become infected with what is not-so-pleasantly called "the Melaque Crud." Hacking coughs combined with fever and diarrhea -- suspicious symptoms in this coronavirus era.

Mask-wearing here has been a hit-or-miss affair before the flood. Mainly miss. But, on my drive, I noticed a large portion of mask-wearers, especially, those on motorcycles. Like Turkmen, they appear to be seeking protection from dust, rather from germs.

But any excuse to wear a mask is good.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

britannia waives the rule

Late last Spring, my blogger chum, Gary Denness, told me he was going to conduct an experiment. He was going to mail a post card to me in Mexico and another to Michigan (if I remember correctly), and we would discover which mail service was superior.

Let me confess a rather embarrassing fact. I had completely forgotten about this Aesopean reenactment of the hare and the tortoise until this afternoon. I stopped at the post office to pick up mail, something I had not done for six weeks.

Because it had been such a long time since I retrieved my mail, I thought I would have enough mail to entertain me this afternoon. But I needed to find other post-noon dispersion.

There were only three pieces of mail. My July 2020 Oregon State Bar Bulletin. (I have yet to read the previous four editions.) My May/June Impremis from Hillsdale College featuring an adapted lecture by Heather MacDonald: "Four Months of Unprecedented Government Malfeasance" (and it is not necessarily about who you think.)

But, it was the third piece of mail that first caught my eye. An envelope bearing the postal visage of the Hanoverian Queen -- with no return address. I thought it might be from an ex-girlfriend.

I was wrong. It was from a current friend. The envelope contained the post card that Gary had promised me.

Here is where the tricky part arises. Even though my post office clearly stamps when a piece of mail is received (or, at least, the day it is stamped, which could be two entirely different things: 22 August), in this case, the British postal service provided me with a blurred mailing post mark. I suppose it was some sort of quantum comment on how the British postal service is faster than the speed -- of something or other.

Gary tells me he mailed the post card in mid-May. The fact that the card was in an envelope is a bit of a cheat. I long ago learned that post cards on their own seem to settle into the bottom of mail bags until some enterprising employee dons a miner's lamp and sallies forth into the deep strata of the past. Many a soul is memorialized in post card cave-ins. 

I once mailed a post card to my parents in The States when I took up a posting in Greece. The card was not delivered until I had taken up another posting just outside of Oxford -- over a year later. Whoever said "news travels fast" was not familiar with the vagaries of post cards.

Gary's new post card now sits beside another I received from him years ago. I think I won some sort of contest on his blog. It is of The Queen -- looking very hip in her regal gear and wearing cool sun glasses.

For some reason, the stamp on today's envelope and the photograph of the queen as a denizen of Studio 54 reminded me of an episode of the third season of "The Crown." The Queen has just returned from a visit to one of Wales's most memorable tragedies at Aberfan. Prime Minister Wilson is commending her for her "prompt response."

The Queen: "They didn't get one. They deserved a display of compassion,

of empathy from their Queen. And they got nothing. I dabbed a bone-dry eye,
and by some miracle, no one noticed."

In an attempt to turn an embarrassing response, Wilson replies: "In a way,

your absence of emotion is a blessing. No one needs hysteria from a head of state."

A very British response.

Similar to one of my favorite lines from The Iron Lady. When her doctor asks her how she has been feeling, an aging Margaret Thatcher responds with what has to be one of cinema's most-telling moments:

People don’t "think" any more. They "feel".
"How are you feeling?" "Oh I don’t feel comfortable with that" "Oh, I’m so sorry but we, the group were feeling..."
D’you know, one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than thoughts and ideas.
Now thoughts and ideas. That interests me.
As you may imagine, I am not really writing about either Queen Elizabeth or Margaret Thatcher. Gary's post card made me think about my mother. Especially, its "Keep calm and carry on" message. It perfectly embodies my mother's nature.

Like Margaret Thatcher, whom she adores, my mother is a person who cares about thoughts and ideas. She is extremely distrustful of emotion -- especially, hysteria. To her, they are tools of manipulation.

An anecdote will illustrate. When I was in grade school, the kitchen stove plug caught on fire and started a blaze while my mother was cooking breakfast. She walked into the bedroom where was father was still abed and calmly said: "Bob, the house is on fire" -- in a barely modulated voice. He did not stir. She repeated: "Bob, the house is on fire" -- with an emphasis on "Bob." He then jumped out of bed blustering on his way to perform his spousal duties. Unlike my mother, my father had a tool kit of well-honed and oft-used emotions.

In the 72 years I have known her, I cannot recall ever seeing my mother cry. I suspect she considers such displays to be unseemly. Or, like The Queen, her eyes are simply bone-dry by nature.

I have inherited a bit of that myself, though I have also inherited my father's  moments of losing control. I want to talk about that in relation to a few of my possessions I discovered at my mother's house last month. Particularly, the fact that I do not feel music; to me, music is "thoughts and ideas."

But that will wait for a few days.

I need to catch you up on what is happening in the flood recovery here -- and somewhere I may even slip in a reference of my love affair with the Mexican postal system. But, I guess, I just did.

"Keep calm and carry on."

Monday, August 31, 2020

stop raining on my parade

Steve owns a house in Barra de Navidad. During the recent rains that were dragged along in the wake of off-shore Tropical Storm Hernan, his house suffered no flood damage. Not even from a rumored sewage backup.

The only rain damage was from the usual ceiling cracks, and subsequent leaks, that plague Mexican homes. In this case, in his son's bedroom and in the library.

Valeria lives in a house in Jaluco. As a result of local flooding brought on by the rains, her house was completely inundated. The only visible part was a portion of her roof.

When the water receded, it left behind a thick layer of mud that was a bit reminiscent of what a box of chocolate cake mix bought on sale at a discount grocery outlet would produce. Her family has lost everything.

Most of the people here fall in the Steve category. With a bit of tinkering, their homes are in fine fettle. But there are hundreds of families and businesses who have suffered the same fate as Valeria's home.

These mud deluges are not new. There are certain areas of Villa Obregon and Melaque that have minor floods from the annual heavy summer rains. During those rains, the streets of Barra de Navidad do not flood as much as they act as conduits for sewage bubbling out of the ground.

Melaque is a bit different. Like many towns built on alluvial flood plains, a good portion of the town is built in a low trough between the highway and the beach. That trough was once part of a drainage system that fed into the largest fresh water lagoon on the west coast of Mexico.

When it rains, the system returns to its natural course -- and the houses and businesses built in its path pay the price. Think of New Orleans on a smaller scale.

In 2011 Hurricane Jova hit just north of us. The winds howled through town -- as would be expected of a type 2 hurricane. But most of Jova's destruction came from the rain it dropped. Houses were invaded by mud and water. All caused by 313.9 L/M² of rain.*

Tropical Storm Herman was far more generous. In a 36-hour period, it dumped 393.8 L/M
² on the Costalegre. As a consequence, the same areas that were flooded in 2011 were once again flooded -- but the flood covered a much wider area.

For some people, that meant the loss of everything. Bedding. Furniture. Food. Refrigerators. Stoves. And, most of all, memories and the loss of peace of mind when a home is visited by tragedy.

But, this is Mexico. And the story never ends on a sad note -- even though the best Mexican ballads do.

By the time I returned on Saturday afternoon, it was apparent on the drive in from the airport that heavy rains had had their way with the countryside. The night before I arrived, the road from the airport had been under water. Other than a few patches where the road bed had been undermined, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

That was not true when I drove through the business center of Melaque. The streets were still mired in mud, and business owners were attempting to salvage their inventory. 

Government teams were spraying down the streets and scraping up mounds of mud** with front loaders. Other teams were clearing off the almost-foot thick mud that still encrusted the benches in the jardin.

But the bulk of the work was under way in homes. Family members gathered to help one another by shoveling and raking mud out of houses to give the bucket brigade some room to work effectively. I drove over to help Dora, the woman who helps me keep my house clean, get her home in shape. But she and her family had already done that.

And that is the lesson I learned on my journeys today and on Saturday.

I ran into my accountant on Saturday cleaning out the mess that had once been his office. He repeated what we all already knew. This was the worst flood most of us had witnessed in Melaque. But he added a coda: "And I fear it is going to get worse in the future."

He may be correct. Those businesses and houses that are built in the historical flood plain may see these types of storm-based floods with some regularity. 

If it does happen, though, I know one thing. Individual Mexicans working together will get the job done. Certainly, the government is doing its part to help. Cash disbursements are already being delivered through Banamex to those who have suffered losses.

But the road repairs, families cleaning houses, and businesses getting back on their feet have been accomplished within days of the flood -- and all done by people who, out of necessity and grit, have learned how to face what life has next on its agenda for them.

For those of my friends who still ask why I live in Mexico, I can think of no better reply. 

* -- Litres per square meter is the calculation meteorologists use to measure rain. I tried relying on my high school math to convert that reading into inches. The absence of that calculation gives you some idea how successful I was.

** -- One of the side effects of the mud is that it will long be with us. Every year when it floods, but especially after major storms, the mounds of sewer-infused mud dries out and hangs in the air along major roads for months. It is best not to think about it too much. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

floating home

I am on my way home.

For the past month I have been in Oregon assisting my mother in moving from her house into a retirement apartment. That sounds simple -- except to the people who have participated in this rather esoteric form of torture.

Things accumulated during a 92-year life that have been stored in a house do not easily fit into a one-bedroom apartment any more than my 72-year old body can fit into my first Air Force uniform.

The analogy is not apt, though. I simply threw away my old Air Force uniforms. My brother and I did not have that luxury with our mother's life.

About ten years ago, I went through a similar exercise when my house in Salem sold. Most of my clothes, my art collection, years of correspondence, my library, my record collection, my kitchen filled with every cooking device known to man, and assorted furniture and memorabilia purchased on my travels -- all had to go. A few items went to family and friends. But most were passed either to Goodwill or the dump.

That process was simple. Because I was vetting my own life. My house in Villa Obregon was filled with what I took south in my Escape. I needed nothing more -- and, even if I needed it, there was no room for it.

Clearing without sentiment is easy if you are getting rid of your own possessions. It is not that easy when dealing with someone else's property, especially when you have shared in many of the items that need to be cleared.

Mom went into her new apartment a week ago, and is now undergoing a two-week semi-isolation. But there are still three rooms untouched that need to be triaged before the house can be placed on the market. And that needs to be done. The housing market is so hot in Bend right now that houses are selling in bidding wars within a day or two of being listed.

Then, why am I headed home? I had originally planned on being in Oregon for only three weeks. Because there was still so much work to do, I extended my stay for a week, running out of some of my medication.

I wish I could have stayed longer, but I needed to return to Barra de Navidad to take care of various financial matters and to set up Omar for his first semester of university -- now, only on-line.

And there is one more reason. Earlier in the week, Tropical Storm Hernan rolled north well off of the Mexican coast. But its influence was felt on shore when it altered weather patterns. As a result, the little villages where I live my life were hit with rain. Rains that Noah may have recognized.

Based on comments from people who are there, this is the worst flooding I have seen in the 12 years I have lived in the area. All of the usual areas that flood each summer have flooded once again -- just more so.

My house in Barra has never flooded since I owned it. That appears to have changed -- slightly. Omar reports that the sewers backed up. I am not certain if that was in the house or just in the street. Sewage in the street here is a regular summer phenomenon.

I am currently waiting in the Alaska Board Room for my flight. So far, it is scheduled to fly. Friends informed me yesterday that the road from the airport to the highway was under water. In the past, the force of that much flood water has washed out portions of the road. I can only assume that Alaska knows best on this.

So, if all goes as planned, I will be in the house with no name around 5 this afternoon. Otherwise, I will be sitting on a pile of luggage on the shores of an engorged Marabasco looking like the forlorn refugee that I will be.  

Monday, August 17, 2020

genevieve on the sea

When we last talked, Disturbance 3 was just a headline waiting to be written. It has now grown up.

On Friday, it was sitting off the northwestern coast of Panama. Yesterday, it finally developed into a full-blown tropical storm. Genevieve by name. And it will be a hurricane by this afternoon.

But the two questions we discussed on Friday are still helpful. It does not only matter that there is now a potential hurricane hanging out in the Pacific off the Pacific coast of Mexico. What is really important is where it is going to go.

NOAA has some good news for us. Based on current weather conditions, Genevieve, after turning into a hurricane today, will head off on a northwesterly trajectory paralleling the Mexican coast, but staying far out to sea. Along the way it will morph from a hurricane to a tropical storm as it passes over cooler water off the west coast of the Baja peninsula.

So far, there are no hurricane watches or warnings on the Mexican coast because the cyclone is too far from the coast. But this one bears watching -- for caution's sake.

My guess is that on-land weather patterns may be affected and you may get some wave action, but, if Genevieve stays on her predicted course, that will be about it.

You adrenalin junkies will have to seek your thrills elsewhere. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

weather competition -- round one

Good evening from your vigilant weatherman up north.

We are expecting a 101-degree day tomorrow in Prineville followed by a chilly 100 Monday and a shivering 97 Monday. But that is just heat.

Looking at the cyclone map of the eastern Pacific, the ocean appears to be alive with weather activity. And it is.

Those red and yellow blobs with their accompanying arrows look like something a football coach would draw. Fortunately for you folks still enjoying the sybaritic life of the Costalegre, there is very little likelihood that you will be pummeled like a linebacker.

The only disturbance that offers any hope of excitement is that red "X" off of the northwestern coast of Panama -- rather blandly named Disturbance 3. There is a 90% chance of "cyclonic formation" in the next five days.

Despite the image of Dorothy's house being whisked away in the first act of The Wizard of Oz," cyclonic formation" can range from a tropical depression to a tropical storm to the ever-dreaded hurricane.

But, as anyone knows who has been through this annual summer weather phenomenon, what the disturbance will become is only the first question. It is a bit like following your favorite music artist. You need to know not only that the artist is on tour, but where the artist is going to be.

Or, in the case of a cyclone, where it is going?

As you can see, the current prediction for Disturbance 3 is that it will not directly affect the Costalegre. It will most likely pass by the two or three hundred miles out to sea. But, if we are lucky, it will bring some more much-needed rain by affecting closer weather patterns. Or closer to you. Because I am still looking forward to the desert heat of central Oregon.

This briefing comes to you during a break in moving Mom into her new retirement apartment in Bend. Tomorrow, she will get the key to her front door. Darrel, Christie, and I will move over her linens, some kitchenette items, and a much-reduced collection of clothing. On Sunday, two young men will show up to move her large furniture pieces to the apartment.

Yes. Yes. Yes. I know. Choosing this weekend with its heat advisory warning may not be the best choice for lugging heavy items from her house to her new apartment. But that was the die we rolled.

I will check back in with you later in the week letting you know if I have fared better moving than you have with whatever Disturbance 3 turns into.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

vignettes of a northern visit

A friend contacted me the other day to tell me I had been far too coy about my visit to Oregon this month. All she knew was that the visit centered around my mother. Speculation ran rife.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Mom is doing fine. I am up here helping my brother put Mom's house on the market because she is moving into a retirement community in Bend -- Stone Lodge.

Over the years, Mom has been forced to downsize. Eight years ago she moved from a 4000 square foot house in Gladstone to a 1200 square foot house in Bend. Her apartment will now be half the size of her current house.

On our extended hike through life, we tend to accumulate a lot of -- to be generous -- stuff. That is especially true for Mom who has had a career as a model, owner of a motorcycle shop, vendor of home decorating pieces, and real estate agent. She gave up the last only a few years ago. With vocations come the attributes of success.

Mom has lived 92 productive years. As a result, she has the correspondence, files, and life detritus to go along with that history.

And that is where this current exercise of downsizing comes in.

A good portion of her furniture will fit into the new apartment. But there are boxes of possessions that will not make the space cut. That is what Mom, Darrel, and I have been doing. The criteria are strict and utilitarian.

1. Will she absolutely need any given item? 2. Will it fit into the apartment's space? If the answer to either question is "no," the piece must go.

That creates a pile of memory pieces that will not make the cut. We have started piling them in the garage in the hope that Dad's grandson and Mom's niece can get here before the end of the week to pick through the pile for what they consider treasures.

On Saturday, we take possession of the apartment to start testing which pieces of furniture will fit. When we are satisfied, Mom will move in and start a 14-day virus quarantine.

But there are still days of sorting before then.

Last night while she was shorting through papers from the motorcycle shop, she started to watch a Trail Blazers game. Of course, the sorting stopped.

Other than her love for God and her family, she is passionate about her favorite basketball team -- and I am not certain the Blazers do not outrank at least one of those groups. Having cable access to the Blazers games will be one of her treats -- despite the exorbitant costs.

For her, it was a nice break from the tedious task of sending memories in front of the firing squad.

There have been others. Every night we have desert sunsets made up of colors I normally do not see on the Mexican coast. The line of mountains are certainly a novel addition.

And, then, there is the wildlife. Deer. Porcupine. Rabbits. I suspect it was the latter that attracted a new sight two nights ago.

We were cleaning up the supper dishes when we heard, from the front of the house, the hooting of a bird that was so distinctive that we all recognized it. Then it stopped. Only to be resumed in back of the house.

Silhouetted against the vestiges of the sunset were two owls on top of a juniper. Great Horned Owls. A mated pair.

It was the first owls Darrel and Christie had seen on their new property. Even though they are a common bird here, I am always pleased to see them.

I would have liked to share a photograph of both owls. But, by the time, I could slide the screen door open, one fled before I could shoot. The other joined its mate almost immediately. They were off to have a bit of rabbit or porcupine tartare.

So, that is what I have been doing here in the wilds of Oregon. Big events are afoot. But not as drastic as some readers have imagined.

My return date to Mexico is still pending.


Monday, August 10, 2020

the death of a friend

News of this nature never comes at a good time.

The first message I opened this morning was from my friend, Roxane David, in Villa Obregón
. The message was brief and to the point. Her husband, Ed Gilliam, died around midnight today of a heart attack.

No life can be easily summarized in an essay. And it is even more difficult when larger-than-life personalities enter and exit our lives.

Most of us knew Ed from his art. His love was abstract expressionism, a passion he acquired while studying art at Berkeley. Art formed the core of my relationship with him. But it was not how we met.

A couple of years after I moved to Mexico, I heard about a project that caught my interest. Our area of Mexico is surrounded by farms. During the planting and harvesting seasons, migrant workers from southern Mexico come to the area with their families to work in the fields. They are primarily Mixteco.

My doctor at the time was instrumental in setting up a compound that provided housing and food for the families and schooling for the children -- schooling that would not have been available to the otherwise. I was invited to join two other men who had some responsibility for raising funds for the food. Ed was one. The other was John Alexander.

We would meet each Friday morning at Lety's, a local Mexican restaurant with the best huevos rancheros I have ever eaten, and discuss business. We also came to know each other personally. When our project was over, Ed and I continued to have breakfast each Friday morning, eventually being joined by Roxane.

The three of us added another regular date on our social calendar -- summer dinners at Magnolia's in La Manzanilla. To most people in the tourist villages where we live, simply sharing two meals a week hardly sounds like a firm friendship. But, for the three of us, it was.

Ed was a raconteur. Over breakfast and dinner he shared stories of his Navy days on an aircraft carrier, witnessing an atomic test in the south Pacific, surviving polio, witnessing the Free Speech movement at Berkeley, being an all-state hockey star in Colorado, sharing tales about his cousin Michelle Phillips and her father, and recounting his art adventures as a student in Europe. We must have talked for hours about "What is art?" and "Why is it important to the human condition?"

Certainly we had our differences. Politics. Religion. The ever-raging tension between Pascal and Descartes. But our shared love of art mortared over those inconsequential divergences. For one important reason. We tried to respect each other despite what would otherwise have been relational chasms.

A fellow blogger noted the other day that keeping a family heirloom is seldom important solely for its material value. Its true value is in the memories it triggers.

If that is true, and, to a degree, I think it is, I will daily be surrounded by memories of Ed. When Ed first saw my new house, he thought the upstairs terrace was perfect for a gallery. We tested that theory with some of his favorite works.

He was correct. The lines of my house were a perfect complement to his art.

The result? I purchased 15 or 17 of his paintings for the house with no name (the good life). The house looks as if it had been built for the paintings, and the paintings look as if they had been painted for the house.

As is true for everything in life, we never quite complete what we had attempted to accomplish. Ed had promised, as soon as the tide of the virus had ebbed, that he would touch up portions of my paintings where the sun had had too much of its way. That will not happen now.

But I have a far more mundane (and human) memory. Ed loved canned baked beans. Somewhere along the line down here, he decided to use plain beans and doctor them up to appear as if they were baked beans.

About two weeks ago, I was going to try my hand at some beanery doings. I had taken out my telephone to send a message asking Ed what he added. Something intervened, and I never asked the question. Now, I will never know.

The fact that I will not know what Ed added to his beans is not important. What is important is that I failed to have the opportunity to share another moment with my friend.

Instead, I will rely on the rich trove of memories I shared with Ed over the last twelve years.

We will miss you, Ed.