Thursday, April 30, 2020

jackson pollock -- call your studio

When I first moved to Mexico, I rented a house on the beach in Villa Obregon.

There was no living space on the ground level, just a patio that was covered by the rest of the house. It was a pleasant place to while away my days in a hammock while listening to the beat, beat, beat of the surf tom-tom. It may have been my favorite place in the house.

It was also the favorite place of the local cave swallows. They would build their nests in the corners of each pillar in the patio to rear their young. There must have been at least twenty potential nursery spots -- and most of them were filled.

I am fond of birds. I like their colors. I like hearing their sing. And as a former pilot, I like watching them soar so effortlessly through the day's sky.

But there is a cost that comes with living in close proximity to birds. All of those mosquitoes that swallows are much-lauded for consuming eventually are processed into excess waste. And that waste starts piling up under their nests until you find British explorers in your backyard assaying whether the guano deposits are worthy of sending in a gunboat to annex another piece of commodity-rich land to the empire.

Marta, the woman who cleaned the house, was under orders from the owner to prevent the swallows from nesting. It was not quite Cnut attempting to hold back the tide, but it was close.

She would knock down the nests with a combination of hose water and sweeping assaults with a broom handle. Anything in the nest would be dispatched, and the detritus of war would be swept up for the next battle that would inevitably ensue.

I thought of Marta and her armory of bird control yesterday.

As you know, I have had a series of nesting birds in my patio palms. It started with a pair of mourning doves last June (tales on wing). They were ousted by a pair of their more-aggressive cousin Eurasian collared doves. (all the world's a stage), who have now raised two broods out of their conquered nest. Last month they lost a portion of that brood to a predator. I suspect it was the garrobo I found in the library.

I have enjoyed the reproduction cycle. Doves are not as fascinating as reproducing crocodiles, but I settle for what I have.

Well, I did until I noticed the cost of what I thought was a free hobby. Sharing my patio with the doves does have a cost.

On Tuesday, I saw three doves perched in the palm. They were indulging in an obvious act of courtship -- completely oblivious to my presence. I pulled out my camera to record this ménage à trois, but was distracted before I could take the shot.

Directly underneath this rather busy love nest was a pile of digested and discarded whatever-Eurasian-collared-doves eat. Remember those British explorers we met earlier? They would have gladly planted their flag on this guano site. A quick review on the upper terrace disclosed three more latrines.

So, when Dora arrived yesterday morning, Omar and I staked out our task -- to restore order to the house's staircase. With a hose and a bucket filled with water, soap, and Clorox, we set to work.

I now understand why those ocean rocks where birds perch are always white with waste -- even in rainy climates. Bird droppings are almost impervious to water. Pressuring the spray lifted off some of the larger pieces. But it took a scrubbing brush and time to get down to the gray paint.

While I was cleaning up the last few spots, Omar took action for the future. He removed the nest from the tree in the hope that the birds would not return to nest there. If my experience with Marta means anything, I suspect the doves may rebuild.

Or, maybe not. After all, they did not have the initiative to build their own nest. They stole it from the mourning doves.

The collared doves would frequently drink at my pool, along with the grackles, when they were in residence. We will see if their eviction cuts back on their visitation.

Or, if like so much in nature, they may simply persist over my desire to control their behavior.

Somewhere in there is a parable about the coronavirus, but that will be for another day. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

sharing my space

Everyone needs a friend in these days of isolation.

And I have a new one.

Admittedly, the relationship is rather one-sided. I did not even know the relationship existed until yesterday.

I was in the process of leaving the house to head over to the local grocery when I noticed something unusual on the screen door of the library. There was no mistaking what it was by its shape. It was a garrobo -- mistakenly called a black iguana by a lot of people, even though it is not biologically an iguana (switching parties). So, we will call him by his local name. Garrobo.

He was not the first garrobo to visit the house with no name. For some reason, the prior visitors have climbed the screen doors, as well. But there was something unusual about this fellow. As you can see in the photo, he is hanging on the other side of the screen. He was in the library and appeared to be looking for an escape route.

Garrobos are a skittish lot -- unlike their distant green iguana cousins. The moment I moved toward the screen, he fell on the floor with the same sound a crow makes when hitting the ground after an unfortunate encounter with a closed window.

He tried hiding inside my movie chair, but he dashed inside the couch when I tried to dislodge him from the chair. No amount of broom-handle prodding or couch-shaking would break him loose from his hiding place. I resolved myself to the fact that he and I would be sharing the library for movie night. Inexplicably, he failed to show up for the screening of 1917.

While Dora and I were cleaning the library this morning, I toild her about my new friend. She said she had found him hiding in the pool bathroom last Saturday. How he made his way into the library, neither one of us knew.

We searched the library for him, He was not inside my chair or the sofa. Dora suggested he might be hiding in the bookshelf. And she was correct. The moment he was exposed, he was on the floor and escaped in what can looked like more of a waddle than a determined sprint.

And so go some friendships -- even the one-sided variety.

I suspect he has wandered off to some other sanctuary in the house. And he is welcome to stay.

All I ask is that he bring his own popcorn if he joins me at the movies tonight.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

blowing in the wind

One of the most powerful scenes in Schindler's List takes place on the streets of Krakow.

Middle-class Poles are going about their daily return when what looks like snow starts falling. Only upon closer inspection do they see it is not snow. It is ashes. Human ashes.

Such images stick with us, even when we know they are merely cinematic. Because they are based on fact.

This morning when I sat down to read the newspaper, ashes started falling into the patio. Even though I knew they were not Holocaust ashes, I instinctively made the connection with The Great Horror.

But not all ashes are equal. These ashes represented one of the things I most appreciate about Mexico -- liberty.

When I was young, there was only one way of dealing with yard debris. Every Spring and Fall when my family and our neighbors tidied up our yards, we would make a pile of trimmings, cuttings, and leave and then set it ablaze. Most people wax romantic about the petrichor after the first rain. But I have always associated the smell of burning leaves with setting things right with nature.

All of that changed sometime in the 1970s. Burn piles soon became nothing more than stuff for nostalgia. A part of childhood relegated to stories told around a camp fire -- without the fire.

Not everyone went gentle into that good night. I met Mildred Sundeleaf in the 1960s through some political venture I was involved with. I do not recall the details, but I will always remember her.

She was a Knight of the Woeful Countenance -- ready to fight any incursions on the borders of freedom. Because of her objection to having her photograph on her driver's license, the legislature added an exception to the statute.

Every summer, she would host a summer party at her home on Oswego Lake inviting political thinkers to discuss the future of governance. As an act of her own civil disobedience, she would cram her outdoor grills with tree trimmings and burn them during the outdoor party. Not to grill hamburgers, but to tweak the nose of bossy authority.

The ashes in my pool this morning were of the liberty sort. My neighbor is clearing the untended lots across the street of the wild growth that has accumulated over the past few months. The ashes are from the pile he set ablaze this morning.

And that burn pile sums up one of the reasons why I moved to this part of Mexico. Not the pile itself, but what it represents.

The Oregon I grew up in is not the Oregon of my youth. It has become dominated by a certain bossy, finger-wagging attitude that made me wonder if there was not still some place in this world where a person could live a good life without a cocoon of regulation.

I found it. In Barra de Navidad. In Villa Obregon. In San Patricio. In Melaque.

Of course, it has taken me some time to accept the fact that if I want liberty, I need to honor the liberty of others, as well. Realizing that was a catharsis. Now, rather than complain about fireworks, barking dogs, crowing fighting cocks, clanging bells, and burn piles, I not only accept them as part of the tapestry of Mexican life, I celebrate them as the very reason I am here.

If I had been inclined to complain about the ashes, I would have realized just how silly the complaint would have been. After the ashes stopped falling, Antonio showed up to clean the pool. They are now gone.

Any inconvenience was transitory. But the sense of living a free life is permanent.

That sense is one reason I am looking forward to shaking off the shackles of home confinement in the near future. The governor of Jalisco announced yesterday that he is considered lifting the order in stages starting on 15 May. Good on him.

As my favorite parody folk song ("A Mighty Wind") puts it:

Yes a mighty winds a blowingCross the land and cross the seaIt's blowing peace and freedom

And that seems to be a good place to stop this love letter to Mexico.

Let me share the rest of that song with you.


Monday, April 27, 2020

just in case

Earlier this month, I told you about an episode where I managed to broadcast information on my telephone using solely the inside of my arm (steroidal pocket dialing). Look, Ma, no hands.

A couple of clever readers immediately saw the underlying problem. If I had a telephone case with a full cover, the whole incident could have been avoided.

As is often the case, I had omitted to include a pertient fact. My telephone case does have a cover -- and the incident should never have happened. Or, more accurately, I do have a case that had a cover.

Because I am particularly rough on electronics, I need a case with a cover to protect my telephone's screen. But, most cases with opaque covers are annoying. If I need to answer a call or merely to look at the time, I must flip open the cover.

I cannot remember which telephone it was (I think it was an HTC back in 2014), but I discovered a case that was perfect. The cover was perforated, and allowed the scren to show a limited amount of information without flipping it open.

When I graduated to the Samsung Galaxy S series, I discovered an even better case. The cover was clear plastic and allowed me to do almost everything on my telephone without opening the cover.

But there was a design flaw. At least, it was a design flaw for me -- and, perhaps, the humidity of Mexico. The cover remains a cover for only about six months. It then tears away from the rest of the case. That was why I was holding the telephone under my arm without a cover to protect it. And you all know the result of that.

My telephone is something of a rarity in these parts. So, it did not surprise me when I discovered none of the local shops carried a replacement. I had seen the case for sale at a kiosk in La Marina shopping center, but I had no idea when I would go to Manzanillo.

Fortunately, there is always Amazon. My usual shopping routine on Amazon is to look on both and to see which site offers what I need. But The Pestilence has put paid to that option. The Amazon site informs me that shipping restrictions prohibit shipping products from The States to Mexico.

That announcement did not bother me, though, because had just what I needed. I assumed Amazon would ship my case from some warehouse in Mexico.

I was wrong. When I tracked the package through DHL, it was shipped to Mexico from Kentucky. The same routing occurred with my Madrid tour book and is happening right now with some thumb drives that should arrive today. I have no idea why I cannot order them directly from The States, but logic seems to have been one of the first victims of this infection.

Frankly, I am just happy that I can get these products delivered to my doorstep by the ever-pleasant Fernando of DHL. It helps to enforce the myth that I am actually deep in self-isolation with a portion of the world. Solidarity is one of my better-hidden virtues.

And I can now keep my telephone in my pocket instead of sending the last thing on its screen to a group of people who will be completely uninterested in what I send them.

Wait a minute. That is the entire business model of Facebook, isn't it? 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

who let the dog out?

When I was growing up outside of Milwaukie, Oregon, we lived next door to a retired couple, Mr. and Mrs. Saywell (because older people had not yet been issued first names that could be used by children), who owned a dachshund named Lucky.

Lucky was not a pleasant dog. He barked at everything and would bit any ankle not fast enough to escape his Jurassic dental work.

But what I remember most about Lucky is that he was an inside dog. Very few of our dogs were ever allowed inside the house. So, I thought Lucky's life was certainly not consistent with his name.

Whenever he saw an opportunity, Lucky would bolt out the front door with Mrs. Saywell in hot pursuit calling his name. She could never catch him. He usually ended up in his prison only when some brave neighborhood kid would whisk him up and take him home, at arms-length, while Lucky bit the air like a frustrated snapping turtle.

This isolation during The Pestilence has improved my opinion of the long-dead Lucky. Whenever my front door opens, I feel like running out with no idea of ever returning to my confinement.

Last Tuesday a friend called asking if I could give her a ride to Manzanillo on an essential task. I jumped at the opportunity. Even though I have come to detest the one-hour drive to Manzanillo, I saw this as a Lucky moment.

Now, I could try to justify the trip with the errands I have put off for the past eight weeks. I needed to buy some medication, that I cannot order elsewhere, from Sam's Club. I had two items that needed to be dropped at the dry cleaners. And I needed to have the film on my glasses re-coated, or, failing that, buy a pair of back-up glasses.

A quick review of that list lets you know why I had not yet driven to Manzanillo. All of the items could have waited -- except for the medication. But doing a friend a favor justified them all.

I dropped off my dry cleaning and then dropped off my friend before stopping at Sam's Club for my tablets. While I was there, I picked up a few cleaning supplies for Dora and some exotic sausages and cheese that I cannot find locally. I almost had the entire warehouse to myself.

My eyeglass task went unfilled. There was a sign in the shop window that the entire chain was closed because they were non-essential. Getting a spare pair of glasses can wait.

While I was at the shopping center (where the shoe shops must be considered as essential), I decided to stop at La Comer. Irene Fairles, a reader on Facebook, told me that the major grocery store in her town has arrows drawn on the aisles making them one-way and restricting one cart to an aisle. We laughed about whether that would be effective in Mexico.

Well, La Comer does have a system. The store herds all customers through one door where three armed security men stand guard. Carts cannot be taken until an attendant thoroughly wipes it down and ensures the customer lathers up with hand gel.

The only reason I stopped at La Comer was to buy some imported Japanese tea that I like. And, because I was there, I picked up a few other new items for experimentation.

It was not until I had almost finished wending my way down the aisles that I noticed there were arrows on the floor -- and I had been going the wrong direction on almost each of them. But I was not alone. Most of my fellow shoppers (and there were very few) were going any which way they wanted. Maybe, like me, they had not seen the arrows. Though, I doubt it would have mattered.

Checking out was a breeze. Five cashiers were open, and all of them were free. I think this is the first time I have been in La Comer and have not had to stand in a long line. Only then did it hit me. It was Saturday -- and a major store had no customers.

Plus the older people who act as baggers were not there. Even though I always tip them, I just take their presence for granted.

Then, I needed just one more stop -- Monkey's chicken. I have been discussing the virtues of Popeye's chicken sandwiches with a New York friend. He was shocked that I had never eaten one. But he did get me craving fried chicken. And, in these parts, that means Monkey's.

There were still a few tables on the periphery of the front patio, so I bought a three-piece meal. That was a prophylactic. I always order a 20-piece bag of chicken to go. But, by the time I reach the city limits of Manzanillo, I usually have eaten five pieces, and chicken grease is smeared over everything in the car -- including my clothes.

My trick worked. Having eaten three-pieces for lunch, I was not tempted to plunder my chickenarian trove. It should be enough breasts, thighs, wings, and drumsticks to satisfy Omar and me for a couple days. I just ate three pieces for breakfast.

Other than the new distancing tools at La Comer, not much would indicate that there was a shutdown order in place. When we crossed over the river to the state of Colima, a very friendly attendant used a stand-off digital thermometer to measure our temperatures. No other questions were asked.

When I crossed over the river on my return solo trip, a masked policewoman ordered me to use the hand gel and then chided me for not wearing my Woody-from-Toy-Story bandana. So, I slipped it on to avoid infecting myself. Well, I put it on just long enough for me to roll up my window and to perform a one-item Gypsy-Rose-Lee.

And did I feel Lucky when it was all over? I am not certain, I can answer that. Trying to figure out what dogs think is a Sisyphean 

I suppose Lucky never liked being taken home. But I was happy to get back to my patio, having had a dog's day out.

Plus, I got a bag of chicken for my troubles. And I know Lucky would have like that.

Friday, April 24, 2020

getting parole

When I was a criminal defense lawyer, I could always tell when former clients were looking forward to parole. They would start sending me letters larded with requests for jobs, money, or a place to live. Often, all three.

I have learned their lesson of anticipation. I too look forward to the return of liberty. And it is about time to start planning.

Yesterday, Fernando, my regular DHL delivery man brought me my first passport for a return to The Good Place. About three weeks ago, I started searching for places to visit when governments throw open the prison doors to let people return to their lives.

In all of my travels, I have never visited Madrid. I have been to every other major Spanish city, but I have never seen the Spanish capital -- the city that had so much influence on the country where I now live. That means I have never seen the Prado or the Reina Sofia or the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection.

I am about to set that right. I found a four-day Madrid art course that will include art instruction and multiple visits to the three museums. The course is in November, so I am gambling that gamboling will once again be on the agenda in Madrid by then.

It appears I am not the only person to be optimistic about the future. When I started looking at travel options, there were multiple flights from Mexico City to Madrid for which I could use my air miles. The choice has now narrowed to one. If I am going to do this, I need to pull the trigger today.

Even if I do not eventually make the trip, I have found thumbing through the Eyewitness Madrid guide has been therapeutic in itself. The section on the three museums covers only 12 pages, but it has whetted my inclination to book the trip.

I wanted to add one word about the book. Anyone who has visited here very often knows I am a big fan of my Kindle. It is my primary reading tool -- along with my smartphone.

But there are some experiences that require a book in hand. Tour guides fall into that category. As well as cook books. When I am done with this tour guide, it will join the shelves of analog books in my resurrecting library.

When I book this trip, it will be the crack in the dam. Inevitably, I will start filling up my dance card in hopes that I will not be the only attendee at the ball.    

Thursday, April 23, 2020

not banking on it

When Melaque was a one-bank town, I did most of my financial business with it.

The service was never very good. But it was the only show in town.

When Intercam expanded its banking services, I switched most of my business to it. But I kept a small checking account at Banamex because I regularly visited its tellers to exchange the 500-peso notes that disgorge from the ATMs to smaller notes I can actually use in the village.

Until the coronavirus passes, Banamex will not be offering me that service. To cut down on the possibility of swapping viruses in the bank, our Banamex restricts entry to anyone unless a teller is available. The people who once waited in chairs now wait on line outside. That is Tuesday's line you see in the photograph. It stretches beyond the frame.

The reason the line is so long is that the bank cut back its service days from five to two. It is open only on Monday and Tuesday. Squeezing five days of customers into two days leads to -- well, what you are looking at. Long lines. Long waits.

A friend waited on line for two hours on Tuesday merely to get through the door and then for two additional hours waiting to talk with a manager. Her purpose for being there was worth the wait. My mission to get change was not.

The only other reason I have to go to Banamex is to pay for my Telcel internet. There is a possibility that I will need to go to Manzanillo tomorrow. If I do, I will stop by Telcel and pay for several months in advance rather than wait for two hours to pay one bill. (I would pay online, but I am having trouble accessing that account.)

After all, we have no idea how long we will need to deal with bank conga lines.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

acts of kindness prevent a downward spiral from solitude to loneliness

The headline is not mine. It is from the current edition of The Economist -- and, for Mexpatriate, it is timely.

Yesterday we discussed the necessity of relief operations when an economic system stops working (when helping hurts -- and helps). That relief can come in various forms -- as it has here. With a dynamic mixture of individual, group, and government contributions.

We tend to think of relief primarily as cash or food contributions. We forget that there are other acts of kindness that we can perform for one another that do far more to help us cope during isolation periods.

The Economist article I read yesterday discussed that very point in detail. Studies have shown that loneliness can be as bad for a person's health as being obese and being a moderate smoker. It is not just bad psychologically; it has physical effects on the body. Loneliness can leave a person more susceptible to viral infections, and it can increase inflammation.

That same study indicates these physiological changes in the body cannot be immediately switched off when the circumstances of isolation change. Even when socialization returns, the physical damage remains.

I will let you read the article for yourself for a more detailed scientific description. I have posted a copy of it on my Facebook page.

Scientists have long-known of the debiliatory effects of loneliness on the body. But there was an interesting twist added this year at the
 conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. New studies have shown asking lonely people to perform acts of kindness to others significantly reduced the offerer’s feelings of loneliness. As expected, the physiological changes in that person's body lessened. That seems to comport with common sense. Thinking of others, pushes loneliness aside.

The preliminary results of a second -- and more timely -- study were also presented. That study showed that acts of kindness need not be performed face-to-face to have a positive effect on alleviating loneliness and its physical effects on the body. Writing a thank-you note or donating to a cause on-line had an equally positive effect as in-person interactions.

One of the toxic effects of this virus is that many of us treat everyone else as if they were Typhoid Mary. We have all read similar comments by acquaintances.  After all, the attitude is the very foundation of social-distancing and self-isolation. The danger is that we will confuse people with the disease.

Kindness is an end in itself. But it also has physical benefits for both the giver and the receiver.

Write those thank-you notes. Donate to causes you believe will be beneficial. Send flowers to someone who is home alone -- or call them to say you are thinking of them and ask if they need anything. If you are up north, call or e-mail your Mexican friends and let them know you care.

In the same vein, calling a truce on the rather disturbing epidemic of judgmentalism would probably benefit us all.

For me, sharing these essays with you is one method I use to keep on an even keel. And this is a perfect moment for me to thank all of you for letting me stay in a form of isolation while avoiding loneliness.

I hope to see all of you on the other side.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

when helping hurts -- and helps

What we know, we do not often do.

That is a lesson I keep learning. I most likely will until one exotic cause or another cuts me down permanently.

I have started to write this essay several times over the past week, and each time I delete the draft. It deals with showing charity to one another. And it is a topic I find deeply personal -- something not to be discussed publicly. I always wince when I see my name posted on a donor list.

Yesterday evening, I entered the final phase Faux Best Picture Film Festival. Gladiator was the choice of the day -- with The King's Speech, The Artist, Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, and Parasite warming up in the director's box.

Gladiator, with its story arc of revenge, battle scenes, and Hans Zimmer kleptomaniac score, is not a quiet film. Once or twice, I thought I heard a slight tapping at my gate, but I stuck with the film. During a lag in the skirted mayhem, I heard it again. There was someone definitely at the door. Barely tapping. But insistent.

During normal times, I almost never answer the door in the daylight -- and never at night. But these are different times, and different responses are called for.

When I opened the door, I discovered a woman and her young daughter. She smiled knowingly and explained she needed food for her family. At first, I did not recognize her. I thought she was the woman across the street.

Then, it hit me. I have written about her and her family before (hawking the hawker). She and her husband make a living selling souvenirs on the beach. For a couple of years, they lived in the apartment next to my house with their three children -- two boys and a girl. She could tell when the penny had finally dropped in my memory.

Theirs is a hard life -- made even more difficult by the government edict that has shut down their business. They never had much income. They now have none.

I told her to wait a moment and packed up some soup and salad -- the meal that I had served that day to the people I feed out of my house directly. She smiled appreciatively and walked off. She felt good. And I felt good.

That is, I felt good until I sat down to watch my movie and realized what I had just done. I had been given an opportunity to truly help a family I know, and I responded in a way that required absolutely no sacrifice on my part.

A couple of years ago, the community services committee of our church reviewed what it was doing to meet the needs of the community. A lot of that review was based on When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

The book is filled with practical templates to improve poverty-alleviation programs, and describes just how donors can actually make bad situations worse.

The situation this area of Mexico is going through right now made me think of the first question Corbett and Fikkert posed. It is necessary to know the nature of the need to be able to customize a response to it.

The immediate need here is that the lifeblood of most businesses (tourists -- Mexican and northern) has dried up. Partly by personal action, but primarily by government orders. No income means no food. During some economic downturns, one or two family members can carry the economic load if they are working. But not this time.

Corbett and 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.

With the almost-immediate loss of jobs starting last month, this community required relief. And it has come. The local government and private groups have been accepting donations to distribute food bags to people without jobs. Other groups have started serving hot meals -- some out of private homes.

Yesterday, I was reading in The Economist that governments around the world have been responding to the loss of jobs in their countries with different programs. Most are doing what the local community is doing here -- providing food.

But some of the better programs are providing money to people who have lost their income stream. After all, food is only part of the problem people without work face. I learned that lesson from my neighbors who have been bartering or selling some of the contents of their food bags. They need money.

All of that was fresh in my mind when I sent my friend and her daughter away with the soup and salad. That donation would feed her family that night. What she needed was money, and I failed in practically applying a lesson I had committed to my brain.

Her family no longer lives next door. The last time I saw her, she said they were living in a different neighborhood in Barra. So, today I drove around for an hour hoping to see her, her husband, or one of the children. I didn't. But I will keep looking. I hope she returns with the empty containers for more soup. I can then set things right.

There are many ways to respond to the relief this community needs. People here and people up north have been generous in their donations. All of that has helped feed hundreds of hungry bellies. But there are thousands of hungry here.

Those of us who live here and have established relationships with neighbors have the privilege of actually helping people we know with their financial needs. And the best way to do that is with direct payments applied wisely.

We know a lot of people here. Mexican neighbors. Waiters. Cooks. Small business operators. We throw around the word "amigo" rather blithely. It is not often that we are given an opportunity to show that friendship in tangible ways.

If you are one of the people who will be fortunate enough to receive a taxpayer-funded stimulus check from your respective government, you might want to consider divying it up with your neighbors in need.

We can then start thinking about working in partnership with our neighbors in the recovery stage, and then encourage them in the development stage.

Mexico has given each of us a lot. We should be able to help pay back a bit of that gratitude. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

inky dinky risotto

There are a lot of positive aspects to being locked up in surroundings that would have made the Avignon popes envious.

Time to contemplate. Books to read. Plays to act out. Movies to watch. An endless terrace for exercise.

But the pleasure in which I have been indulging with abandon is cooking. Not that it ever was, but time is not an impediment to making whatever dish I choose to make. And there are no restaurants tempting me away from my mission.

Maybe it is because I now know I have the time to cook whatever I choose that I have been noticing items on grocery shelves that would have escaped my notice in The Misty Plagueless Past. Yesterday I found a true treasure.

I was sorting through the items in Alex's cold case at Hawaii looking for something new. I already had Tillamook extra sharp cheddar. I didn't need any fresh strawberries. There was tahini at home.

And then I saw it. A jar of squid ink. That is the jar at the top. I initially passed over it, but jumped back to it when I realized I could now make some of my favorite Mediterranean dishes.

Spain and Italy (and maybe other nations surrounding the Middle Sea) have developed dishes based on the ink cephalopods 
spray to confuse predators. Octopus, squid, or cuttlefish cooked in their own inks are a staple in Mediterranean restaurants -- in rissotto, pasta, or served solo. The ink adds a briny breath of the sea to any of those dishes.

My favorite is cuttlefish. And that is exactly what I thought of making. Unfortunately, cuttlefish are an Atlantic product. And even though I have had squid and octopus cooked in their own ink in Mexico City restaurants, I have never seen cuttlefish on the menu anywhere in Mexico.

So, off I went to find some fresh squid or octopus. That was a dead end. Our harbor is closed. So, there is not much fresh seafood on the market right now.

I ended up settling for clams. And it was an adequate, but not bad, choice. Traditional dishes would add only a bit of onion to the seafood that forms the basis of a squid ink risotto. But I am not a keeper of traditions, Instead, I added some shitake mushrooms for a funky layer.

And, even though tradition would be satisfied to serve the risotto on its own, I decided to crown it with a sauce made of cherry tomatoes, garlic, lemon, onion, and fresh basil.

It was good. The clams held back the dish's possibilities. A fresh bit of octopus would have been far better.

And I will still have plenty of time to experiment. Before long, fresh octopus should start showing up on the shore again. And, if I am lucky, my choice will have a full ink sack.

If not, I still have plenty of ink in my refrigerator.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

jelly glass two-step

I bought a piece of nostalgia -- and I did not even know it.

Last week, I went to my favorite grocery (Hawaii) to replenish my supply of Smucker's cherry jam. Alex had none. In fact, the Smucker's shelf was empty. But he did have a couple of jars of strawberry preserves from Braswell's -- a company I had not heard of.

What interested me was the fact that it was a jar of preserves. We do not find preserves here very often. There are lots of jellies and a few jams, but preserves are as rare as Miracle Whip.

Last night I opened the jar to use in a dish I was preparing. It was not until then that I then noticed the next line on the label. "Preserved in Collectible Drinkware."

I had just purchased a jelly glass. And, just like Proust's madeleine, I was back in my mother's kitchen making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with Wonder Bread and Welch's grape jelly to be consumed in front of our 10-inch television while watching "The Flintstones" or "Howdy Doody."

Anyone who lived through the 1950s will remember kitchen cupboards stuffed with drinking glasses decorated with cartoon figures -- glasses that had once been filled with jelly. In our house, that would have been Welch's.

For some odd yet-discovered economic reason, those cheaply-purchased glasses survived more kid's parties and moving house than did the better glasses. Maybe it is a corollary of Gresham's Law.

But I never thought I would see the tradition revived here in Mexico.

As you can see, though, Braswell's has not started a retro attempt to mine our nostalgia. The glasses from Welch's looked like something you would use for a tall glass of cold milk as an accompaniment to your sandwich.

The Braswell's glass looks like something a Faulknerian grandpa would use on his front porch to down a bottle of Bourbon before writing all of his ne'er-do-well relatives out of his will. The Welch's glasses were Clarabelle the clown. This new one is as dark as a play by Tennessee Williams.

Of course, I did not buy the jar for its after-life utility. I bought it for its contents. And, I was looking forward to eating the chunky strawberry preserves inside.

Imagine my surprise when I spooned out the first portion. The contents were so smooth and stuffed with pectin that it would not have even made a decent Hostess Fruit Pie -- another treat of my youth.

The taste was OK. Not too sweet. And it was not encumbered with more than a hint of strawberry taste.

What was most disappointing is that this was a jar of strawberry jelly, not strawberry preserves. I thought this peculiarity might be some sort of regional difference. Maybe it had been manufactured in a country where the distinction between jelly and jam and preserves does not exist.

I was wrong. It was made in Georgia. In the South -- the very heartland of home-cooking where food definitions are held closer to the bosom than a glass of moonshine in a Braswell's jelly jar.

Am I unhappy with my purchase? No. The jelly is a disappointment, but I will find uses for it. What I will have, though, is a nostalgia key to another era when no one would think it improper to drink out of a glass just because it had once served another purpose.

We were free-market recyclers even before we knew the term.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

steroidal pocket dialing

Someone should take my smartphone away from me.

Maybe not that modernly-balaclavaed corporate bandit. But someone.

We all have a relative or two who struggles with the cornucopia of information available through a smartphone. The series of Samsung Galaxies that I have owned over the past decade have almost completely replaced my laptop for matters internet.

I read the newspaper on my Samsung. I read The Economist and National Review on my Samsung. My Spanish lessons are on my telephone. And then there is the whole world wide web with its cascades of information and misinformation. I do not need my laptop for any of that.

The only reason I have kept my laptop is to communicate with you good folk through Mexpatriate. Writing and posting essays with my telephone is not an impossibility. I have done it. Usually when I am in an airport terminal or on an airplane. But the tiny keys and limited screen are a puttery bother.

I appreciate my telephone. But, after yesterday, I am not certain I am qualified any longer to own one.

While in the middle of preparing dinner, I realized I did not have any cream. I didn't even have milk. So, I waddled down to the corner grocery. I had been reading The Economist before I left the house. At some point I tucked my telephone under my arm rather than putting it back in my pocket. I have no idea why I did that.

But in the three-block walk back to my house, I managed to complete an electronic miracle. When I looked at my telephone I had mailed the article I was reading to two Facebook friends. But that is only part of it. Not only did I mail it to them, I also created a Facebook Messenger group.

The mechanics are simply explained. There is a "share" function on each of the articles in The Economist. When pushed, a screen of options for sharing appears -- Facebook, e-mail, Facebook Messenger. That type of thing. If Messenger is selected, a list of contacts shows up. One option is to create a group and then to choose the members of the group. The message is now ready to send.

I am not certain of the odds, but I managed to choose at least five options with my telephone under my arm before the article was sent off to Jordan and Joyce. I am not certain I am capable of doing all that consciously, let alone accidentally.

We have all pocket-dialed someone in error. This is the same thing. Just a bit more complex.

If I did not know better, I would think my telephone is getting a wee bit jealous of being confined so often in the house.

But it did give me an opportunity to talk with at least two people about something other than the coronavirus.

Oh, wait, the article was about the coronavirus.  

Friday, April 17, 2020

mexico in a nutshell

I thrive on small pleasures.

One of my favorites is the free "Pocket World in Figures" that I receive each year from The Economist. And yes, I am fully aware that the champion of the liberal order calling anything "free" is a bit ironic.

Because the booklet arrives by mail, we were well into enjoying the cornucopia of blessings that is 2020 when the 2019 edition showed up in my mailbox.

When I was in high school, I anticipated the issuance of each annual world almanac. I would thumb through and find facts that I found titilating. Who knew that Burma raised that much rice?

I now do the same thing with "Pocket World in Figures." Except my focus is now rather limited. I like to see what has changed in Mexico -- especially those facts that are counter-intuitive to what a lot of people think they know about Mexico.

So, come along with me on a quick trip through the Mexico that we may not know.
  • Despite what some people think, Mexico's population is not bursting at the seams. It has the world's ninth largest population at 127 million, but the fertility rate is only 2.1. Without immigration, Mexico could barely break even with births and deaths.
  • Mexico is not a third-world country. It is a member of the OECD, a club mainly for rich nations. And its economy justifies that membership.
  • Mexico has the world's 15th largest economy by GDP, and the 11th by purchasing power.
  • In a nod to its colonial past, Mexico is #9 in gold production, #1 in silver, #5 in lead, #8 in copper, #6 in zinc. Much of that has come from the investment of several controversial Canadian mine projects that have reignited Revolutionary era memories.
  • It is the world's 8th most popular destination for tourists -- constituting 20.6 billion US dollars.
  • The country is 11th in railroad miles and #19 in road miles.
  • It is a place where divorce does not normally take place --#10 on the lowest divorce rate table. That may be because it is 27th on the lowest marriage table.
  • Mexicans work hard. Only 8 countries work longer hours than they do.
  • The country has one of the highest number of women in parliament -- at 42.6%, being #8 in the world.
  • It is the 15th largest energy producer and the 14th largest energy consumer.
  • It is #7 in sugar production, #7 for meat (think pork), #6 for fruit, and #9 for vegetables -- making it the 14th largest producer of agricultural products.
  • But agriculture is only a small part of Mexico's economy. Mexico has the 14th largest industrial output, 11th largest manufacturing output, and 15th largest services output.

But not everything is rosy here. Every country has its blemishes.
  • Mexico ranks 5th among countries that abuse journalists.
  • It ranks 15th for obesity. Unlike the United States and Canada where there is little spread between the obesity of women and men. Far fewer Mexican men are obese than are women.
  • In endangered animals, Mexicio ranks #4 for mammals, #3 for fish, and #10 for plants.
  • Befitting the size of its economy, Mexico is #13 in carbon dioxide emissions. 

And that last factoid brings me to my piece of solar news.

When I installed my solar panels last year (put that cow on a boat to india), I told you how we had calculated the number of panels I would need to generate enough power to meet my historical maximum electricity load. That meant that if I did not increase my usage, I would be generating more power from my solar panels than I could use.

The idea was that my excess power would be sent back to CFE (the state-owned electric company) who would then sell my power to other customers. I would receive credit for that power, and, at the end of a year, CFE would calculate how much money it owed me, and would then send off a check to me. My own private stimulus fund.

Well, a year has now gone by and there is no check in the mail. Apparently, I missed something very important when Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was inaugurated president of Mexico.

As a populist, AMLO found it untoward that CFE was giving away the people's money to middle-class consumers who could afford the luxury of investing in solar panels. He shut off the payments. Or, in my case, potential payments.

From an economic standpoint, I understand his primary point. It is the same reason the Left in Mexico did not uniformly oppose the termination of CFE's summer subsidies. In the past, depending on several factors, CFE reduced the bills of all Mexicans by a certain amount to ensure the poor would have adequate electricity for ventilation during the summer.

The economic problem with utility subsidies is that they inevitably disproportionately reward the middle class over the poor. So, the CFE summer subsidies were placed on the chopping block by the last administration -- to be replaced by payments directly to the poor through DIF (a government welfare agency).

The solar pay-back program did not suffer the same economic disability. But, on its face, it could not stand politically in a populist administration. So, it too went to the block.

The downside of that decision is that it will now undoubtedly deter the installation of solar arrays. Or, at the best, it wil limit the incentive to install more panels than are absolutely necessary.

As for me, I am going to keep using power as I always have. It appears that the credits are still accumulating on my bill. And I have the altruistic pleasure of knowing that I am both lowering carbon emissions while paying for someone else's electricity bill.

How could things be better than that?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

a mexi-can attitude

This is something you don't see every day.

In fact, I don't think I have ever seen anything like it before. Anywhere.

I had a task to complete on Barra de Navidad's malecon this afternoon. Even during normal times, the place would be almost deserted on a Thursday afternoon after the rush of Semana Santa. So, social distancing would not be a problem.

A couple of sidewalk restaurants were open. And one or two souvenir shops. But that was it it.

Until I got to the entrance of the beach, and encountered another example of Mexican ingenuity.

The owners of one of the restaurants had spread bags of aluminum soft drink cans on the road. While a woman and her daughter swept the cans under the tires of an SUV, the father would drive back and forth over the cans, flattening them. The flattened product was most likely destined for sale at an aluminum  recycler.

I would simply have stomped on the cans. But that is my retail thinking. This was a wholesale operation.

Who says you have to travel to see new things? 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

don't bank on it

Mine is an odd isolation.

"Odd" in the sense that it is really not much of an isolation at all.

With a few exceptions, my routine is about the same as it was before the coronavirus spooked everyone inside -- even though it has yet to show its pointy little body locally. Well, as far as we know. Accurate data is a bit scarce in these parts.

Today is Wednesday -- the day that Dora comes to help me to clean the house, and I go to San Patricio to drop off the laundry and to buy fresh produce.

Dora was a bit late this morning. She had stopped to talk with people who had congregated near the soccer field. Apparently, a dead body had been found.

When I drove over to San Patricio, the police and detectives still had the road blocked and were talking to a few people. And that is exactly all I know about the incident. The rumors, of course, are flying.

+ + + + + + +

My laundress was pleased to see me. She counts on the busy days of Semana Santa to make up for the slower parts of the year. Of course, Semana Santa turned out to be just as slow. I am satisfied with her usual next-day service. Today she said I could have my clothes, sheets, and towels this afternoon. I will leave her a premium for the favor.

While I was there, two northern couples stopped by dressed as if they were bank robbers. That made me pay closer attention to the number of northerners on the street. Some masked. Others not. The former group eliciting smiles from Mexicans. Apparently, I am not the only person who has a rather light definition of staying home.

+ + + + + + +

The bandit crowd made me wonder if any of them have appeared at the bank dressed like that. Armed robberies are not rare here. Customers are asked to remove hats and sunglasses, let alone the classic wear of the Jesse James set.

But I will not find out today. As you can see from the photograph at the top of this essay, the bank is closed. On Wednesday. And it will be closed on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, as well. During the "stay-at-home" request, the bank will be open only on Monday and Tuesday.

That explains why the line waiting to get into the bank yesterday stretched from the door through the parking lot and around the front of the hotel next door. I was going to stop at the bank to get change for my ATM-birthed wad of 500-peso notes. It was not worth the wait.

+ + + + + + +

If I had actually been practicing self-isolation, I would have missed all of that.

And, yes, that is what we call in the law business as justification.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

peeping with pepys

I may be missing a literary opportunity.

If a naval bureaucrat like Samuel Pepys could become famous with his 1665 diary about the plague in London, why can't I take similar advantage of our own private plague?

You probably remember Pepys from high school where we read about his description of watching a louse circumnavigate a woman's hat during a church service. Well, that is how I remember him.

But it was for his plague entries that he is renowned. And I may be missing a sure thing.

Of course, this only seems like the plague to us because of our rather anachronistic sense of history. My almost-isolation in my house is not going to lend itself to any interesting entries like: "Candles are gone. We ate the dog."

But here are a few observations on this Tuesday morning in the year of covid-19.

+ + + + + + + 

There was something odd in the morning birdsong. Usually, there is a mixed chorus of sparrow chirps, grackle impersonations, and the bicycle horn of golden-cheeked woodpeckers. Not this morning. The only sound was several calls and responses from what sounded like the Mormon Owl Tabernacle Choir.

Of course, it was not owls. Not in the daylight. It was several pairs of Eurasian collared doves cooing their hearts out. Unlike the Mourning dove with its somewhat melancholy call, the invasive collared doves have a coo that could easily be mistaken for a cuckoo -- or an owl.

Knowing the source still does not answer the question why the rest of the birds have stopped singing to give center stage to the Florence Foster Jenkins of birds.

Maybe it is similar to Senator Hruska's defense that Harold Carswell, a nominee to the Supreme Court, was a mediocre judge. "Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance?"

The senate did not give Carswell a chance to speak up for mediocrity. Maybe the collared doves can fill that gap.

+ + + + + + +

Today is Omar's birthday. He is 21.

When I was his age, that meant I could vote. 21 just does not have the ring it once did.

We are not having a birthday celebration in the house. He celebrated over the weekend jointly with a friend. I am not certain where the party was, but he says it was well-attended.

If anyone is surprised that a young Mexican is going to celebrate his birthday with a group of friends during a time when the government is requesting people to stay at home, you are expecting too much. Even though the nightly Semana Santa parties did not take place last week, special occasions are not going to be denied.

I did manage to beg off of a birthday abrazo, and that disappointed him. Considering the fact that both Omar and Yoana regularly come and go from the house, I should have made the sacrifice. After all, I stand right next to both of them when I talk to them.

So, happy birthday, Omar. The day is yours.

+ + + + + + +

For a couple of days, I have been anticipating an exchange on Facebook. In The Before Times, the conversation would have occurred over dinner. But personal cordon sanitaires have now pushed the topic to Facebook.

The complaint is how cold our nights have turned. For me, they have been pleasantly cool. This morning, the temperature was a pleasant 65.

But, this is tropical Mexico and people are stunned to see such low temperatures in April. Of course, there are people who tend to politicize everything and blame all sorts of modern living for this iceberg-creating cold wave.

The only problem is that we have the same conversation every April. When the Ides of the month approaches and tax-filing draws nigh, the temperature around our bay cools off for a couple of weeks.

I do not know this, but I suspect the temperature in the bay water must be cool, as well, because the breeze blowing across its surface is pleasantly refreshing -- even a bit chilly.

However, like the collared dove singing monoply, I have no scientific data to support my observation. It just happens every year.

And, just as quickly, it will be gone -- to be replaced by weather that feels as if that fat guy in the sauna has just dumped another coffee can of water on the coals.

+ + + + + + +

Our beaches remained empty during Semana Santa. You can see proof of that from my pal Vern Gazvoda's drone video of the Melaque beach.

During Semana Santa, the beach looks like the third runner-up in the Chinese Holiday Beach Look-alike Contest. Not this year. If J.J. Abrams wants to remake On the Beach, I have just the location for him.

I need to confess something here. I was skeptical that Mexico could enforce (or even attempt) a closure of its beaches during a major holiday. Not to indulge in stereotypes, but most Mexicans do not believe what their government says and they are not inclined to comply with governmental dictates.

This time, it worked -- just as it did in 2009. The beaches were generally bare.

But, not entirely. Last night, I was thumbing through Facebook videos. Most were of the usual humdrum, here-we-are-at-the-pool, me-at-the-kitchen-table, cute-puppy-eating-cat's-food-just-before-being-clawed. You know the type.

Then, something different showed up. One of the local skimboarders showed his disdain for the local authorities. He scanned the deserted beach, dashed across the sand, performed a double twist on the crest of a wave, and skedaddled back to safety.

Having got away with that, he did it a second time. This time without his board shorts.

Now, I do not know how much money was won on that bet (most young Mexican men would never be seen in public exposed), but it summed up the sense of joy that no government orders are going to crush.

Was it foolhardy? Probably. Was it a danger to the public? Probably not. It was simply a good joke well-executed.

There will be those who raise the old philosophical question of: "What would happen if everyone did that?" But, the question has no more validity than the classic: "What would happen if everyone went to the same restaurant on the same night and ordered chicken?"

And the answer is the same. Nothing. Because it is not going to happen. If we cannot laugh at outliers, we have been stuck too long without social interaction.

+ + + + + + + 

OK. Pepys it isn't. But this is also not the Black Death.

I will not be surprised when this is all over that some wag will write: "It was just like Kohoutek."

And he might even be correct.

Until next time.

Monday, April 13, 2020

the way we were -- maybe

Two weeks ago, I started watching the films in my DVD collection that have been awarded the Oscar for Best Picture (move on).

Last night, I had made it to 1993 with Schindler's List. Capturing the horrors of the Holocaust on film is always difficult. How can the horrors of that spasm of hate be portrayed at a personal level without losing empathy in a terrifying cascade of numbers. How can the mind wrap itself around 6 million Jews being killed for just being Jews?

Spielberg did it by letting us look at individuals and how the constant terror of death affected the people with names. Names that are repeated in the film. Names that would constitute Schindler's famous list.

But there was another scene that always makes me catch my breath -- both in this film, other documentaries, and at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

Piles of photographs. Photographs that arrested families gathered up in a hope of cherishing, for at least another generation, memories of faces that would fade in time. Just as the memories would.

But these photographs would no longer accompany families on their journey through life. They were stripped away by German guards who would -- sooner, than later -- gas those lives into oblivion. We now look on the photographs that will no longer be fondled by their original owners.

Photographs are a funny thing. My mother is currently going through her possessions trying to decide which pieces should be given to family or friends. I have talked with friends who have parents making similar decisions.

One item keeps coming up in conversation. Photographs. Most of the people I know are in a quandary. Because family life has changed drastically even during my lifetime, my friends do not have any recollection of most of the people in family photographs. And show little inclination in becoming the guardian of the family heritage.

I once was counted amongst The Indifferent. When I moved from Oregon to Mexico, I threw away handfuls of photographs. I saw very little value in toting them with me to Mexico -- only to see them slowly fade into oblivion.

But, for some reason, I kept a few envelopes. I cannot tell you why I chose some over others. But they are now here in the house with no name.

Maybe it is the same feeling I get when looking at piles of photographs of those murdered in the Holocaust that I realize hanging onto a piece of our former lives is important. Everything we have touched in the past is a part of who we are. Why not bring some mementos along with us the rest of the journey?

I am still reading Ted Kooser's Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems. One line from "A Color Slide" struck me as being particularly poignant today. Kooser is looking at a slide he took of his grandfather sixty years prior.
He didn't look up to see me there, taking
his picture. He was looking for weeds, not
immortality, but this stamp-sized piece
of colored film and three grandchildren,
all in their seventies now, have given him
another fifty years to be remembered,
the blink of an eye.
Photographs may not grant us immortality, but they do give us a brief renewal of life's lease. Maybe just long enough for those who do remember us during their lives -- fingering photographs of people whose names and lives have begun to fade.

We should not be quite so cavalier with old photographs. Because of circumstances, some end up in museums.

But some end up in hands of people who remember us -- and maybe they will smile. For just a moment.

That is good enough for me. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

grace in the plague

Happy Easter morning!

Today is one of the most important days on the Christian calendar -- the celebration of the Messiah's resurrection. That event is a cornerstone of the faith.

Usually, churches would be filled with worshipers. But not this Easter Sunday. At least, not locally. The churches are closed to prevent the gathering of large groups of people.

The move is not unprecedented. When the Black Death revisited England in 1563, the lord mayor of London imposed a quarantine on any house where someone had been infected with the disease. Only one uninfected person from the household could leave the dwelling, and that person had to carry an official white rod. The penalty for failure to comply resulted in a hefty fine or imprisonment.

Needless to say, Easter found the London churches almost empty. By contrast, the Italian churches were packed.

The coronavirus is not the Black Death. But we have learned a lot about the transmission of disease since 1563. The quarantine regimens are more severe, but most of us understand what the authorities are attempting to accomplish -- at huge cost.

I do not count my inability to attend church this morning as one of those costs. There is great utility in worshiping with one another on Sunday mornings. But one of the basic tenets of Christianity is that God does not live in a specific building where we must go to worship him. We can worship wherever we are. And should.

My reading this morning was from Matthew 25:34-48:
Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me."
Then the righteous ones will reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?"
And the King will say, "I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!"
Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, "Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me."
Then they will reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?"
And he will answer, "I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me."
And that is a lesson not to be practiced in a distant building, but in each of our neighborhoods.

No matter where you live, there are people in need. Check on your neighbors who you know are alone. Especially the elderly. Call them to wish them a Happy Easter and make certain you fill their needs as best you can.

The Easter message does not stop just because we cannot don our finery and go to church. We are surrounded by people who are thirsty.

Today is a good day to do something about that.

May all of you enjoy the blessings of Easter.

Friday, April 10, 2020

the wheel of misfortune

Episodes from The Twilight Zone keep popping into my head.

That is understandable. We seem to be living in our own personal twilight zone every day.

On Wednesday I made a grocery-laundry trip to San Patricio. The need for clean underwear and a stocked pantry is no respecters of our plague-ridden days.

I chatted with my laundress. This week is usually very busy for her -- mainly new customers who are in town for Semana Santa. But there are now no crowds. Even though she will normally give me one-day service if I ask, that option is not available when crowds are in town. On Wednesday, she told me I could have my clothes in two hours.

Nothing is more symbolic of the dearth of business than the carnival that sets up shop next to the primary school for each of our local events -- especially, Semana Santa. The adventurous of all ages gladly spend pesos to defy death on the various rather-tame rides.

But there were no thrill-seekers in sight on Wednesday. The carnival was shut tight. Even if it had been open, there would not be enough patrons parting with pesos to justify the carnival's theft of electricity.

That is what reminded me of The Twilight Zone. "In Praise of Pip" is one of several episodes where an amusement park is used as a metaphor for life. A good life in this episode -- with Jack Klugman. Others are far darker.

A metaphor for life. As I looked through the gate at the seedy traveling carnival, it was easy to imagine memorable moments of life spent on that little piece of ground. Some of my own are stored there.

But there will be no new memories created this week. The best we can do is reminisce.

Which brings me to the second episode of The Twilight Zone that has been visiting me lately. "Time Enough at Last." We all know it.

We may even remember Rod Serling's introduction of the episode -- an introduction that has an eerie contemporary familiarity to it.

Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He'll have a world all to himself... without anyone.
Burgess Meredith plays the near-sighted Henry Bemis whose love for reading is constantly frustrated by those around him. One day, while reading in the bank's vault, Bemis's immediate world is destroyed by an H-bomb. He is now the only person alive.

Realizing he is alone in his world, he contemplates suicide -- until he sees the ruins of the public library with its books intact. Despair turns to elation. Being alone is a virtue; he can now read without interruption.

Because this is The Twilight Zone and not a Disney movie, the episode does not end there. While sorting the books he intends to read for the rest of his life, he bends over and shatters his glasses. Without them he is virtually blind. Surviving alone -- with his passion unrequited.

I can empathize -- to a degree. During the last year, I have been more and more reliant upon my reading glasses. Without them, books are just a blur -- and my Kindle can only increase the font so far.

Since my days are generally spent in the confines of my patio and my library is filled with books-I-will-one-day read, as an avid reader, I should feel like Bemis discovering his treasure trove.

Oddly, I don't. I have noticed on recent long-range airplane trips, even though I have plenty of time to catch up on my reading, I tend to get restless after about 20 minutes.

What is that line I like from Anne Lamott? Oh, yes. "If you want to hear God laugh, tell her your plans?" It is the corollary to that faux-Chinese proverb (Aesop being the actual source): "Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true."

Considering some of Serling's other episodes, I am happy that these two are what came to mind.

You will excuse me now, I need to step on my glasses merely to close this writing circle.


Thursday, April 09, 2020

vignettes of the plague

Today was meat day.

Not that there is anything particularly special about this day; I buy meat on most days.

But, I need to buy my meat on Thursdays during Lent. My butcher is an observant Catholic. 

On the Fridays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, his shop is closed on Fridays. Not being Catholic (observant or not) and having the memory of a gnat, I have forgotten the Friday-closure rule, and end up walking the half-mile to his shop solely for exercise.

My neighborhood in Barra de Navidad has kept up a somewhat-subdued rhythm of life during these plague days. Almost all of the shops are open and people are out completing their daily tasks.

The state and county government's actions to discourage tourists during Semana Santa has been mostly successful. But not entirely.

Antonio, the guy who tends my pool, told me yesterday that most of his customers from Guadalajara who own houses here have decided to go back to the Big City. With the beach restaurants and the beach itself closed, what is the point in staying?

But not everyone has left. On my way home, I followed a young couple with a babe-in-arms who were looking for a place to eat. They found it at one of the taco stands that pop up this time of year. About 20 people were crowded together under a small palapa. Culutural norms are difficult to alter.

As circumstances change in our lives, it is strange what jumps to our attention that would otherwise go unnoticed. On my walk to and from the butcher shop, I counted seven people on my way who had racking coughs.

It reminded me just how questionable the reported rose-colored COVID-19 statistics are for Mexico. The numbers are disproportionate compared to other countries. A total of 3,181 cases, with 396 added today. That puts Mexico between Saudi Arabia and Luxembourg -- countries with populations smaller than Mexico; Luxembourg is 252 times smaller.

It may be that the virus is taking its time to wend itself through the population. The death toll (at 174) is higher in proportion to reported cases.

A Mexican friend told me it was reverse-smallpox. "The Spanish killed us off with smallpox. This disease is for you white people, not Mexicans."

I suspect one reason the confirmed cases may be low is typified by the coughers on the street. I do not know, but I am willing to bet few of them have consulted medical help.

Even though the local clinic does not charge patients, most of my acquaintances will not seek assistance because they either do not trust nurses and doctors or they cannot afford the medication they think will be prescribed -- or both. If they do not go, they will not be tested. And, if there are no tests available, the whole process is futile.

What I do know is that my neighbors are already facing financial hardship with the loss of work. I have a neighbor who is a mason. His work stopped because the owner cannot afford to continue building. His wife lost her job in a tourist shop. They have three adult sons. Two are married; their wives live in the household. That is seven people. None working.

When I walked by this morning, the wife had a plastic table set up in front of her house with staple food items for sale. Underneath the table were five food bags -- commonly called dispensas.

She said she had received the bags from family members who had received them from the village government. I was aware that the government was handing out the bags.

When I asked her why she was selling the contents, she said she had kept the items her family could use, but she was now selling or trading the remainder. She needed the money far more than she needed some of the items.

I will confess that I was a bit startled at first. And then I asked myself why. People have donated money to this project to help people who are in need because the government has shut down their jobs. It isn't as if she did not need the help. She was merely using her wiles to make the best of her terrible situation.

The people who have donated to this project should feel assured that their gifts are being put to good use. My neighbor can now afford to buy some fresh meat for her family due to your generosity.

As long as she does not try to buy it tomorrow from my butcher.