Tuesday, June 30, 2020

europe bans mexicans

I confess. The title is click bait. But it also has the unhappy aspect of being true.

The European Union (EU), that conglomeration of European countries that could easily choose the platypus as its closest-living relative, is in the process of getting its citizens back to work. Part of that work is opening the EU to tourism.

For a good reason. Most of us do not often associate European countries with a reliance on tourism to boost their economies. But that is not true. There are four countries on the top ten tourist destination list: France (1), Spain (2), Italy (5), and Germany (8).* Not coincidentally, all four have been leading the fight to conditionally open the borders.

But not everyone is being invited to indulge in a "if-this-is-Belgium-it-must-be-Tuesday" experience when Europe swings wide its tourist gates on 1 July. The nationals of any country that bans the entry of Europeans because of the coronavirus will be on the "do-not-bother-to-ask" list. The list is all about reciprocity.

Well, reciprocity and a coronavirus infection rate that is equal to or better than the EU's. That is why tourists from most countries in the world will not be admitted on 1 July.

Here are the fortunate few: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia (the country, not the peach-growing state), Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay, and China (if it drops its ban on European travelers).

Yeah. I know. I wonder how a couple of countries ended up on the "come-on-in" list, but that has been true with the reporting vagaries since the virus started having its way with us, instead of hanging out with the bats.

The absence of the United Kingdom from the list is the most striking to me. Had it remained in the EU, the UK's infection rate would have notched up the curve enough that even Mexico might have been included on the visit list. But it isn't because the Mexican infection rate is currently far higher than the current EU rate.

I have been watching this issue for the past month as the EU deliberated. I have one question that has not shown up in any news article. I am curious how each tourist is classified. By their passport -- or where they actually live?

Take me, as an example. I have an American passport, but I do not live in The States. I live permanently in Mexico. How would I be categorized?

The answer to the question does not matter for me. As a Mexican resident or as an American citizen, I would be twice banned. (Well, it does matter in practical terms for me. I am trying to determine whether my October trip to Madrid is on or off.)

But it will matter for some people. Jose Enrique Salazar Gallardo is a Mexican citizen, but he has been residing in Canada for years as an art dealer, and has permanent resident status. He now decides to fly to Madrid for an art conference at El Prado on 2 July. Will Europe let him in?

Right now, all of my Mexican neighbors and I will be in the same tourist boat on 1 July. No matter how much money we are willing to lose in Monte Carlo, how many photographs we want to take of us saving the Tower of Pisa, or how desperate we are to be culture vultures at the Louvre, Mexicans (and Americans) will simply not be allowed in the door. Of course, that calls for a recitation of the Groucho Marx club membership joke, but I will avoid the temptation.

Because the infection rates in the EU and all other countries are still a moving target, the EU says it will continue to monitor its admission policy -- maybe as often as every two weeks.  
That gives me some hope that the Madrid trip may still happen. I have this image in mind that when I arrive in Madrid, Spain will have hired Jean-Claude, the snooty maître d’ at the Ritz, who will check his reservation book and tell me in that far-too-familiar Continental way that he has never even heard of anyone named "Cotton," let alone that such a name would be in his book. He would then be dismissively wave me away.

I have four more months before I discover whether I can travel to Spain as a Mexican resident or as an American. I may end up taking my art course at MOMA, instead.  

* Mexico is also in the top ten, at #8. The United States is number 3.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

operation recovery -- mexican style

I may have violated one of Mexpatriate's prime journalistic directives. I did not tell you the full facts when I briefed you about Operation Recovery in a tale of two wallets on Tuesday.

The problem may be in the operation's name. I am recovering nothing. What was in my wallet (along with my wallet) is long gone. We are now in the replacement stage. And the most important piece of identification that I need to replace is my Mexican permanent resident visa -- my green card.

Legally, I have to carry the card with me because it proves I have status to remain in the country. And, without it, I cannot leave or re-enter the country.

Because it is so important, it topped my list of pieces of identification that needed to be replace. The afternoon in early May when I lost my wallet, I performed an internet search and easily found the procedure for replacing my card. The INM website includes a section on "The Loss of a Mexican Temporary or Permanent Residence Card" with a detailed list of what I would need to start the process.

I had heard a rumor that getting a replacement card was just as difficult as the original application process. It wasn't. At least, it hasn't been.

According to the website, to apply, I needed to go to the nearest Immigration office (the one in San Patricio) with:
  1. My passport
  2. Identification
  3. "Travel documents that prove you have a condition to stay in Mexico"
  4. The original receipt for my lost card
  5. An application completed on the INM website
  6. Photographs ("2.5 x 3 cm, two face frontal view, and one of the right side of the face, white background with forehead and ears uncovers, no glasses")
Even though the list is clear on what is required for the process, two items briefly confounded me.

I was not certain where I had filed the receipt for my original card. One thing I learned early on in Mexico is never to trash a bill or receipt. The need for those little pieces of paper crop up frequently here.

It turned out I had filed it in a folder labeled "Mexico -- Permanent Resident" that also included the ream of financial documents I was required to produce years ago. For once, my forethought actually worked.

What baffled me was the requirement for "travel documents that prove you have a condition to stay in Mexico." Because I live here permanently, I could not think of what would meet that requirement. What could I use to prove I lived here?

And then it hit me. The document I present everywhere to prove my residential status. My CFE (electric) bill.

Armed with all that, I showed up in the Immigration office the morning after I lost my wallet. The initial interview went well. I had guessed correctly that my CFE bill would be sufficient to prove I lived here and was not traveling anywhere -- at least, not without a replacement permanent resident card.

Then, the inevitable requirements that are not on the list were revealed. I needed copies of everything on the list, of course. That was easily done at the paper store around the corner.

I also needed a Mexican citizen with a voter card to be a witness that I am who I am. The choice was obvious. My son, Omar.

After getting my copies, I called him, and he showed up to sign a series of documents that swore he knew me and that I was the kind of guy who would keep his nose clean -- most of the time.

The immigration official told me the documents would be sent to Guadalajara for review. I would hear about the next step in two weeks.

It turned out to be closer to a month because of staff shortages due to COVID-19. I received an email to come to the office with my passport and photographs -- and to be fingerprinted. 

For some reason, I thought I would then get my card. Not so. The official told me the only thing that had happened so far is that Guadalajara had verified my information, and the application process would proceed to the next stage.

After fingerprinting me and receiving a new set of photographs, she told me she would call me when the card had been issued. In two weeks.

That was just last week. I think. This is just another example of time slipping away with no meaning while we wait out the virus.

What has been consistent with this process is that the immigration official I have been working with in San Patricio has been efficient, effective, and professional. It also helps that whenever I enter her office, she treats me as if I were a member of her family. I am not comfortable dealing with forms. She has made the experience, if not pleasant, as least bearable.

At one point, I was a bit impatient with the process. I still have two items I must complete in Oregon (plus a Homeland Security interview in Los Angeles that I keep putting off). But looking at how the virus cases are yoyo-ing both here and in The States, I am not certain I want the process to speed up.

This saga should be coming to an end soon. Then, I can make my decision to stuff myself into an airplane.

Friday, June 26, 2020

a lena horne day

Well, that may be exaggerating just a tad.

We have had some thunder and lightning lately, but not a lot of rain.

For the past two days, we have had a very welcome soft rain that puts me in a London mood. That may be why, for just a moment, as I was eating my veal picatta at Simona's, I imagined myself in the St. James's Club dining room. (Or, more likely, that bit of spatial legerdemain was caused by Erik Larson's The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz lying open next to my plate.)

Whatever it was, these last three days have been pleasant. Here it is, 5 PM with a cool 84 degrees under a fashionably gray sky. For this time of year, the combination is almost perfect. Neither fans nor air-conditioning are required.

But that type of hubris can mislead the unwary. June is the start of hurricane season in the east Pacific. Our most common visitors are tropical storms or depressions, but unlike Alan Jay Lerner's that in "Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen,"* they do happen here. And, during the summer, a wise observer keeps an eye on the horizon -- or, at least NOAA's National Hurricane Center.

I did just that this morning. We have already had two named storms this season. There are two more disturbances off the coast of Mexico vying for named status. Even if the one on the west side of the map turns into a depression, storm, or hurricane, it will most likely not come our way. It is possible that a pressure system could re-direct it back to the Mexican coast, but it is unlikely.

The far more interesting candidate is the one off the southern coast of Mexico, but it is still in its birthing process. Disturbances go on the map with a yellow "X" whenever there is a 10% chance of cyclone formation in the next 48 hours. That disturbance already has a 20% chance. The weather activity will either decrease and peter out, or it could increase.

If the disturbance intensifies, we might have a depression, storm, or hurricane on our hands. Or, Baja California may. The usual weather patterns push those storms north just offshore of Barra de Navidad. Now and then, they visit us.

So, we will celebrate our current bounty of weather -- knowing full well that they eventually may be a piper to pay. Or a Lena Horne to enjoy.

* -- Until I wrote that sentence, it never occurred to me that Spanish and Cockney share the dropped (or silent) "H."

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

hair after

When I walked into Yolanda's shop on Saturday, I am certain she wished one of her other barbers was on duty.

I am not certain when I had my last hair cut, but I know that when I was in Oregon for Thanksgiving, I needed one then. I will let you do the math.

Plenty of people are sporting corona-dos. But the virus was only one reason I my hair that looked like a cross between John C. Calhoun and Jeremiah Johnson.

Yolanda and I had a laugh about the state of my appearance. She asked me if I wanted it cut with scissors or clippers. I never know the answer to that question, so, I told her it was her choice. After all, it is just a bunch of dead cells that needs tending now and then.

She then asked how I wanted it cut. For whatever reason, I told her "corto" and then slipped into the next chapter of Erik Larson's The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz -- on my Kindle.

Something about the sound of the first swipe of the clippers made me look up. I had not heard anything approximating that sound since my first trip to the barber in Officer Training School. The left side of my head looked like a hillside of clear-cut timber.

By then, there was nothing to do but to wait for it to be over. When she trimmed up the edges, I was ready to head off to my Air Force history class.

Overall, it is fine. And very utilitarian. Last week, both the temperature and humidity edged up to summer levels. Both will continue to climb until they reach their peaks in September or October. For the entire summer, we will welcome every drop of rain that falls.

Taking a lesson from Yolanda, this morning I trimmed up the vines in the four planters that surround the swimming pool. At this time of year, if they are not trimmed weekly, they will be launching imperial attacks on the upper terrace.

The more important news is that we finally had a storm last night that comes close to being counted as a rain storm. Plenty of lightning and thunder, but very little rain. The rain was sufficient to prod a growth spurt in the vines. But it is not really a rain storm here until the sewers start burbling like fountains -- and what is supposed to flow below, flows above. For weeks.

I may not call it a rain storm, but a young snake, who got trapped in what some of my friends call a "water feature" but is nothing more than the pool overflow, would call it at least perilous.

I am not certain what type of snake it is, but it had no notion that my hand was going to rescue, and not crush, it. It kept striking at me with each rescue try. And I understand why. Young snakes are pretty low on on the food chain. Kindness is not expected.

With the help of Antonio the Pool Guy, I managed to get the snake into what is now being called The Rescue Bucket, and released him in the lot in front of my house.

I went several years living here without seeing a snake. In the last two months, we have seen four. My house seems to be a way-station on some serpent highway.

And who says I was going to be bored without traveling?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

a tale of two wallets

Losing a wallet presents all sorts of challenges -- especially, if the wallet contains almost all of your identification and bank cards.

That, of course, is exactly what happened to me in early May. Interestingly, replacing my drivers' license, Medicare card, credit cards, and ATM cards was simple. It took either a couple of minutes on the computer or talking on the telephone with a customer representative.

Even starting the process to obtain a replacement permanent resident card was simple. (More about that later this week.)

As unlikely as it seems, the hardest part of Operation Recovery was the wallet.

It should not have been that difficult. Even though my lost wallet was only two years old, it was already showing signs of wear. The seams were coming undone and the leather was torn in several places.

I tend to be rather conservative when it comes to clothing and accessories. Almost two decades ago, I found a pair of Ecco shoes that were the most comfortable I had ever worn. When one pair wore out, I would buy another just like it.

About five years ago, Ecco slightly changed the design, but they still worked for me. But the store clerk delivered bad news. The line was being discontinued, and Ecco would no longer make anything similar.

So, I bought all of that design in my size -- five pairs. I am now down to the last of those shoes.

The wallet I lost had replaced a wallet that looked just like it. Dark brown leather by Columbia. I knew I was not going to find one in town. But, as soon as I received my permanent resident card, I had planned to fly north to retrieve all of my lost cards and to obtain another piece of identification I could only do in person in Oregon. I could buy another wallet there -- just like the one I lost.

My resident card has taken longer to process than I had anticipated. I did not want to buy one of the local Mexican wallets because the leather is too thick and rigid for me.

My niece Kaitlyn came to the rescue. Several years ago she made a wallet for me out of computer circuit boards. The idea was as clever as she is. It turned out to be the perfect temporary wallet. Light-weight and novel.

Then my son Omar came to the rescue. Last Sunday on Father's Day, he gave me a black leather wallet. It is my first Father's Day gift, and I truly appreciate the sentiment behind it, but, even more, I appreciate its utility.

So, I am now ready to become an airline warrior again. Immigration has promised my permanent resident card will be in my hand in another two weeks. When, it arrives, I will book a flight to Oregon to stay for a week gathering up what I need to fill my wallet.

And when I return to Barra de Navidad, my wallet will remain stripped of anything but what I need to do business on any given day. (Of course, that was how I lost everything last time.)

I will have two handy wallets to fill with the fruits of my travel.

Monday, June 22, 2020

flunking my test

Someone posted a very odd question on Facebook the other day. "What did you learn in school that you have never used in life?"

The answers were the usual suspects on the Never-Used list: algebra, biology, Latin, math, physics. I am certain some teachers were weeping into their tea that morning because, in reality, everything we learned in school has become part of the way we think. Sometimes, it merely means dusting off the cobwebs.

Today's trip down memory lane will be high school biology.

The presence of the coronavirus in our lives has created an avalanche of news stories -- especially around the issue of testing for the virus. There are essentially two types of tests. One that indicates a person is suffering from a current viral attack. The second is an antibody test that indicates a person has been exposed to the virus in the past.

When I returned home to Mexico from Oregon in early March, I came down with some infection that kept me in bed for almost two weeks. It started with a surge of diarrhea accompanied with a debilitating headache. My joints ached along with my chest. I lost my senses of taste and smell. And every time I stood up, I was incredibly dizzy. As luck would have it, WHO had just added a couple of those symptoms to the coronavirus list.

By the time I could make my way to the doctor, most of the symptoms had receded, but they had been replaced by a consuming fatigue. The fatigue was bad enough that I drove to the doctor rather than taking my usual walk.

We talked about several possible diagnoses. My doctor doubted I had contracted the coronavirus because my lungs were perfectly clear. At the time, there were no tests locally to rule out the virus. The fact that my joint pain passed so quickly ruled out the three mosquito-borne disease. And, even though the symptoms sounded like a resurgence of my cellulitis, there were no signs of that.

After about three weeks (two weeks in bed), I was as fit as I had been before whatever it was had hit me. The possibility that I might have had an early case of the virus hung around in the back of my mind, but I pretty much ignored it as a bit of academic interest.

That changed when our local laboratory in San Patricio received a shipment of antibody (post-exposure) tests.

Because you all learned this in your high school biology course, there is no need to go into a lot of detail about antigens. But here is a comic book version.

When the body is invaded by disease-causing organisms, the body reacts by creating soldiers to fight the invasion (antibodies). After the disease is defeated, those antibodies remain in the body prepared to fight a similar invader. That is why people who have suffered one strain of flu may retain some immunity when the same strain rolls around again.

The theory is that once a person has been exposed to the coronavirus, a specific antigen will be formed in the body to fight that disease, and that some of those antibodies may survive after the disease passes.

Even though I knew there were problems with the antibody test, I decided to take one. After all, it might let me know if I had developed some antibodies to deal with what will most likely be recurring waves of the disease.

So, into the lab I went on Friday. I paid my one thousand pesos (less than 45 dollars), the technician drew my blood, and I was sent on my way. An hour later, I had the test results and a receipt on my telephone. Mexico's medical system is that up-to-date.

I was disappointed. The results were negative. But I was not surprised. My friend Rick Noble, who arranged for the installation of my solar array, and his family had suffered similar symptoms to mine about the same time. They were as positive that they had experienced a bout of the coronavirus as was I.

We were all wrong. All of the tests turned up negative.

I mentioned earlier there are problems with the antibody test. The false negative ratio is as high as 15%. That may not sound like much, but it is a far larger margin of error than most tests approved by government agencies. Some agencies have discussed decertifying the tests for that reason, but there is not currently an alternative.

A number of governments once discussed the possibility of issuing post-lockdown health passports to people who tested positive on the antigen test, on the theory that they would be immune from a second infection and they would not be carriers of the disease. Those plans have been scrapped for two reasons.

The first is the combined false positives and false negatives inherent in the current tests. The second is that it is far too early to know how long the antibodies remain in the body. There have been some preliminary studies that show some immunity exists for an undetermined amount of time. But it will be a long time before double-blind peer-reviewed studies can be conducted.

The passports remain on hold.

I suspect Rick's family and I simply had one of the many nasty infections that are passed around the villages here. And even though not all infections come from the north, many accompany northern visitors, as happened with my infection that I brought from Seattle. As a result, we are just as likely to contract the coronavirus as anyone else.

It was a small hope.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

a fount of kindness

Today is Father's Day.

Children will be sitting down today to tell tales -- some sentimental, some tall, some that may have even happened as related. But they will all have a common theme. Their Dad was someone special. And it will all be true, if not exactly factual.

Every Dad is special -- because, like mothers, we only get one of each. At least, I did.

By the time I arrived Dad and Mom had been married just over two years, having lost my older brother Craig Allen as an infant. My brother Darrel would join our happy clan two years later.

Dad loved his family, but I suspect he loved work almost as much. And that work almost always revolved around trucks. Logging trucks. Car-hauling trucks. Semis. Being on the road seemed to make him happier than anything else.

The photograph is a rare one. You saw its twin in early May in celebrating life. That is Dad with his two rug rats. I suspect we were two and four.

It is rare because the background looks like the Oregon coast around Bandon. We were not a vacation family. In fact, I can remember only two major vacations -- a trip to Detroit to buy a new car, and a loop of the whole Oregon coast. The trip in the photograph was probably a day trip from Myrtle Point where Dad's tire shop was about to become the victim of arson.

Dad was a dreamer. He thought the next big thing was just around the next corner. He would make good money, then invest it badly. But he never regretted any of the decisions because there was always a brighter day coming up. It never occurred to him that optimism might require a bit of realism.

Probably because he was from a generation where men were supposed to be tough and gruff, he wore a thick outer shell that hid a very soft soul. "Hid" is the wrong word because he exercised that kindness daily. He would give almost anything to someone in need -- even when he gave more than he could afford.

One of my favorite memories of him was at each Thanksgiving. Mom never knew how many place settings to place on the table because Dad would inevitably bring people home for dinner -- people he had only met that day -- because they had no place or no family with whom they could share one of his favorite holidays. For us, it was a great opportunity to meet new people.

But what I remember most is his humor and his boyishness -- rather like those TV dads that never quite grow up. The Phil Dunphies of the world. Dad could turn anything into a joke -- and he usually did. He never took himself seriously, and he could not understand why anyone would do that.

Once we "became interesting" (as he once put it), he would spend his rare free time with us. He recognized my "lone wolf" personality and gave me plenty of space to pursue my goals giving me one piece of advice I have never forgotten -- "Don't do anything unless you want to do it. And if you don't want to, don't."

Darrel loved motorcycle racing. Dad threw himself into supporting Darrel, eventually buying a motor home to tour the circuit with him. I think he thought of the motor home as essentially being a truck.

Dad died in 1996. It is hard to believe that is almost a quarter-century ago.

I hear some children say that they think of their Dad every day. I don't think I do. But I hope some of his humor, his family commitment, optimism, and especially his grace lives on in me.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. You will always keep on truckin'.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

seems like old times

I got it wrong.

Just a week ago, a group of of us on a local Facebook page were discussing how the infrastructure here has improved over the last decade. I had mentioned that when I moved here, the first rain would often result in power failure, but that does not happen anymore because the electricity transmission hardware has been replaced and updated.

I thought the days of temporary rain-related power outages were behind us. They are not.

About 5 this morning, I woke up to the sound of a soft rain tapping on the top of my heat chimney in the bathroom. I don't think that is what woke me up, though. It was probably the sound of thunder with flashes of lightning thrown in for effect. Maybe we were going to have our first big rain storm of the year.

Then the power went out. I knew that because the ceiling fan stopped rotating and my telephone and exercise watch started whinging like nestlings about not being fed.

The outage was brief. Maybe a minute. Maybe less. But the storm had not yet made its point. About five more outages followed the first. They were all just as brief.

So much for my lauding of the area's water-proof transmission system. One of the participants in our Facebook discussion said he certainly had no expertise in the area, but he wondered if the brine buildup on transformer might be a cause of the outages.

I certainly do not know. But I do know that the rain this morning was not the arrival of Tlaloc. I doubt it was even the arrival of one of his lesser minions. When I went outside hoping to see a thoroughly-drenched patio, I saw one little puddle. A puddle smaller than what Dora leaves behind when she waters the plants.

Mind you, I am not complaining. Even a bit of rain will help to start greening up our hills. Before the rains fall, I almost feel as if I am living in the equivalent of the Tillamook Burn.

And even though one rain drop does not a storm make, Diane Keaton lets us appreciate that nostalgia does have its uses. Even when it is just a faulty electrical system.

Friday, June 19, 2020

dropping my ballot

I found an unexpected treasure in my postal box this morning.

My primary election ballot from Nevada.

It was a surprise because I do not remember filing an absentee ballot application this year. But I must have because there was a ballot in my box.

Then it occurred to me. Nevada is one of those states with poll voting that allows its citizens to apply for a "Permanent Absent" ballot -- which sounds like a nice term for my forgetfulness. I had submitted that application two years ago. Far too distant in the past to recall any details.

I eagerly opened the envelope because I have been following several hotly-contested races: for a seat in Congress, two Nevada Supreme Court positions, and a family court judge job. I had my favorites in each race.

After marking my choice for Congressman and Seat B on the Nevada Supreme Court, I glanced up at the top of the ballot to see what you have undoubtedly already seen in the photograph. The ballot is due on 9 June 2020. Or, to be accurate was due. That was ten days ago.

I first thought I might be the culprit for the ballot's tardy arrival. I have not visited my mail box for a couple weeks. If I had opened the envelope on 9 June, I could have scanned my marked ballot and submitted it by email. I have done that in every election cycle since I moved here. But it was too late for that.

Then I checked the "received" stamp. The envelope did not arrive until today. For whatever reason, my ballot took far longer than any other letter mailed to me from Nevada in the past. It is just one of those things we immigrants face.

I am a big fan of the Mexican mail system. And, for all I know, the Mexican side of the delivery may have been just fine.

What I do know is that I am fine with not voting. One of my favorite authors is P. J. O'Rourke. I may have simply adopted the title of one of his books as my unintended motto. Don't Vote! -- It Just Encourages the Bastards.
Tomorrow (or some time) I will tell you about my trip to our local clinic to undergo a Coronavirus antigen test. But that drama can wait for a day -- or more. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

shooting on the beach

My camera habits have changed.

Each iteration of my smart phones has had an improved camera. So improved that I find myself shooting primarily with my phone camera rather than my Sony NEX-6.

I bought the Sony on the recommendation of fellow blogger Gary Denness, who, at the time, was living in Mexico City. He has now moved back to England and continues to publish some of his photographs at Mexile 2.0.

His recommendation of the Sony was a perfect fit for me. But I do not take it out as often as I once did.

That is a shame because as good as the camera is in my Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, it cannot capture the depth that the Sony can with its interchangeable lenses.

Last week I took the Sony out of the backpack, where it spends most of its days, and wandered off to the beach in west Melaque to see if I could find anything interesting. To me, "interesting" is a shot that catches the essence of what I am shooting without becoming cliché.

My first shot is at the top of this essay. What could better encapsulate being at the beach than a shot of fishing boats in the foreground and the ocean behind them?

Of course, that is about as cliché as a photograph can get. That exact coupling can be found on post cards around the world -- whether in Greece, on The Seychelles, or even in west Melaque. It was definitely not the shot I was looking for.

When I looked at the ground, I saw what I thought would be a far better shot. If I wanted to capture the essence of a fishing village, what better way to do that than with a shot of a fisherman's tool?

Nets almost always make good subjects for photographs because of their depth and detail. But this one had the added value of looking as if it might be a sea creature -- some sort of Irwin Allen jellyfish plotting the downfall of western civilization.

But all of this is mere musing. What I need to do is take the Sony out for other strolls.

And I am going to do that right now. I need to wander down to the immigration office to get a shot to accompany my essay about the process of obtaining a replacement permanent resident card.

We will talk again then. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

my roommate the snake

Last night was one of those nights when sleep was a stranger.

I finally drifted off around 6:30 this morning, but I thought I heard construction going on in the house. It turned out I was not delusional. Omar had decided to clean the solar panels on top of the pavilions on his own.

I had not yet figured out what he was doing when he knocked on my bedroom door and excitedly told me to come. On the way, he told me there was a snake in his bedroom. My first thought was that the adult coachwhip snake that has visited us three times was putting in an encore (slytherin patio).

I was wrong. There was something sitting on the ledge behind the toilet seat. But it looked more like a long worm. Almost like one of those Guinea worms that work their way out of human arms on the Nature Channel.

Omar was correct, though. The moment it saw our movement, the snake was on the run. In its fright, it kept getting further and further from the bedroom door.

Omar grabbed the squeegee he had used to clean the panels and I grabbed a plastic bucket. Between the two of us, we managed to corral it in the bucket. I then freed it in the lot across the street.

I have looked at the photographs several times trying to identify what type of snake it might be. My best guess is that it is a very young coachwhip snake. For a moment, I thought it might be a young green vine snake, but the head is wrong. Snakes are one of the few animals that have their life-long shape the minute they crack out of their eggs.

Omar is not as fond of snakes as I am. But I imagine even I would have been a bit startled if I had discovered a snake on (or in -- because that does happen) my toilet.

If you have any identification suggestions, please add them below.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

sign of the times?

Some signs are simply funny on their face.

Or is it a subtle social comment?

Monday, June 15, 2020

what's your point?

One of the challenges (and blessings) of driving in Mexico are direction signs.

They are simultaneously a challenge and a blessing because getting lost on long-range journeys is almost guaranteed. And any journey that does not include at last a few minutes of being lost is not an adventure.

Before the state of Jalisco built the ring road south of Guadalajara, on my journeys from Barra de Navidad to San Miguel de Allende, I had to drive into the central part of Mexico's second largest city. That was not too bad because most of the trip was on thoroughfares.

That was true as long as I did not miss one very important turn. Using the Mexico red guide map and direction signs should have made transiting Guadalajara a snap. On the advice of a fellow blogger, all I had to do was follow the "Mexico City" signs.

On my first trip, I learned to my cost that the sole major shift from one thoroughfare to the other held no clue where the Mexico City route went. It did give me an opportunity to get acquainted with a portion of the city I had not planned on touring. When I switched over to GPS, I dumped the red guide and was happier for it.

We do not have any major route choices like that in Barra de Navidad. But all small beach towns everywhere in the world seem to have their own idiosyncratic traffic eccentricities. One of ours is the street on the sand bar that gives Barra de Navidad its name.

The malecon access road is a one-way loop. When drivers enter the loop, they have a choice to make -- continue driving straight or turn to the right. Even though driving straight is the more intuitive choice, drivers who choose it will come front-bumper to front-bumper with oncoming traffic. Turning right is the correct option.

There is a small arrow tacked high on a building at that corner. I am willing to bet a large number of driver do not see it. Why do I say that? Because on most of my visits to the malecon, I will see at least one car obstructing the bowels of the loop. Or maybe the driver is doing his best impression of a Copper River salmon.

Someone with apparent authority to do such things decided the intersection needed more clarity in providing guidance. A street-yellow arrow now adorns the intersection, guiding traffic up the hill.

It is a good idea, and one I heartily endorse. The lack of a large arrow certainly was not the worst local problem, but it is still helpful.

I am just not certain how long the arrow will survive. Now and then, yellow paint shows up on the streets here. Topes (those denture-jarring speed bumps) are a common canvas.

But the paint fades faster than my memory of popular music. Within weeks, sometimes days, the paint will wear through from the friction of tires. If you take a close look at the new arrow, it is already wearing through. It may survive for some of the early summer tourists (who are starting to arrive in noticeable numbers), but the winter tourists will have only this and similar photographs to know that once upon a time a yellow arrow lived below a big tree.

My snarkier side cannot help wondering if someone's brother-in-law owns the Temporary Paint Company.

Unless the arrow is re-painted in November, I doubt many of you will get to see it.

Enjoy a good idea before it fades.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

a beautiful day in the neighborhood

I need to make a change.

For the past couple months I have been starting my day by catching up on posts in Facebook. It is a bad habit. I come away from the process feeling sad and no better-informed.

Yes. I do recognize the irony in that statement since most of my readers seem to read the Facebook edition of Mexpatriate. But, there it is.

Today I made a deal with myself. Rather than start the day by reading Facebook, I would go out for a walk. It was a good idea.

I have mentioned before that tourists are starting to make their way back to these little fishing villages by the sea. Most seem to be either day-trippers or weekenders. But they are here.

To some people on Facebook, they are nothing more than dangerous, marauding hordes of Goths bringing their viral death to our pristine shores. This morning, all I saw were small knots of families walking on our malecon on a particularly pretty morning. Hardly the stuff of the next Tarantino film.

Sun. Soft breeze. The scent of the sea. Children swimming on the remnant of our once-grand beach. A far better composition than anything Facebook offers.

People move to Mexico for a lot of reasons. But I have discovered each day brings its own reason for why I moved here.

If you are in Mexico, turn off Facebook and go outside -- even if it is only to your patio. Life is far too short to spend it in the clutches of fear.

And if you do venture outside the confines of your wall, you will enjoy what the day has to offer. There is plenty of social distancing space and you can always disguise yourself as Billy the Kid.

Friday, June 12, 2020

water water nowhere

The title is not quite Coleridge.

His point in the "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" was that the sailors on a becalmed ship were surrounding by water, but none that they could drink. And that is an analogy that would fill a book, let alone the small confines of an essay.

Our problem here is just the reverse. We have no water. Or, at least, we have no water in the form of rain, and our hills are beginning to show it.

There is a spur of the Sierra Madre Occidental that marches off laterally into the sea just west of Melaque. It serves as a perfect rain gauge.

At the close of the rainy season (around October when the northern tourists start drifting back), the hills are decked out in almost every shade of green imaginable. But the next six or seven months will be almost without rain. By June, the hills are a shade somewhere between gray and brown. Taupe or dun, perhaps.

Our skies lately have been teasing us. A couple of days ago at sunset, I went outside to shoot some sky shots. Looking up over the edge of my house's lines, the skies had been drained of all color.

That shot is in color, not black-and-white. The sky looked just like that.

There is a famous photograph of a civilian Frenchman in Marseilles watching the colors being trooped out of France to northern Africa after the Germans invaded in World War Two. It would be easy to imagine the sky I saw was witness to those tears of humiliation. Certainly, they were the harbingers of much-needed rain.

But they weren't.

Last night I woke up to the sound of rain Bojangling on the sky window at the top of the heat chimney in my shower. It must have tapped me to sleep, but when I woke up this morning expecting to see at least a few puddles in the patio, there was nothing.

We get these teases just before the rainy season sets in. I have an acquaintance here who believes the rainy season does not begin until enough rain falls to short out the electricity. When I first came here, that took only a few drops. I suspect that test is not very helpful now that new electric lines have been installed.

So, we wait for our hills to be alive with the sounds of raindrops. Until then we need to keep conjuring up new adjectives to describe the hills.

Dapple-gray, anyone?

Thursday, June 11, 2020

crossing the lines

In almost every saga, at one point the way will  be barred.

Roland in the pass. Horatio at the bridge. Gandalf before the locked doors of Durin.

San Patricio is having its own "the way is shut" moment.

Yesterday I drove into town to drop off my laundry and to pick up some groceries at Hawaii. I usually park on a one-way street in front of the funeral parlor. At least half of the cars were parked facing the "wrong" direction. I had never seen that happen before.

The reason was Holmesean elementary. The connecting street -- the street that runs through the middle of San Patricio -- was closed. For only a block. But it is a long block.

Street closures here are an informal matter. In this case, three small cones were placed to stop vehicles from driving down that portion of the street. Some cars simply ignored the cones and drove right through until they encountered the reason for the closure.

CFE (our government-owned electric company) has hired contractors to replace aging electric lines. The main lines get replaced regularly following tropical storms or hurricanes. The lines to houses do not get replaced with the same regularity -- unless something falls on the lines. The result now is of lines to residences and businesses.

I know very little about electric lines, but watching the installation is fascinating. It is a bit like watching a rodeo cowboy deal with a very unwieldy lariat. But these guys seemed to know what they were doing. And I am a sucker for watching any job done well.

I tried to get some additional information from the men installing the lines, but my accent defeated the possibility of sharing details. I must be really slipping because on two other occasions I made a joke in Spanish and what I said had to be repeated by people I know. A joke explained is an opportunity missed.

But back to those cones. San Patricio has a street grid that is mixed with two-way and one-way streets. Because street closures usually have no warning of the closure until the driver arrives at the blockage, improvisation is required.

Up north, a sign would announce a detour, and, if traffic needed to be re-routed, the streets would have signs announcing the driving path. Not here.

Cars driving south coming to the cones would appear to have only one option. The cross street is one-way to the east. Drivers wanting to drive west can do so legally merely by making three left turns and driving around the jardin.

No one was doing that. If drivers were driving west, they simply turned right -- right into oncoming traffic. Fortunately, the street is not well-traveled. But it is crowded. Drivers park on both sides of the street even though parking is prohibited on one side of the street.

I have always been amazed at the Mexican ability to improvise when circumstance change. Turing a one-way street into a two-way is simply an example of the economic theory of conservation of resources.

The only downside is when buses need to use the street. In the past two days, I have seen two mirrors on parked cars become victim to the choice of illegal parking. It is probably more expensive than a parking ticket.
As for the new electric lines, they certainly look sturdy. But I have nothing more I can tell you about them. Maybe the residents of the block will be able to tell us in the future how valuable the new infrastructure is.

Monday, June 08, 2020

on the road to colima

A reader on the Facebook edition of Mexpatriate wrote this morning that she is feeling very dispirited.

On a walk back from the bank this morning, she noted that no one was wearing a mask in the businesses or on the street. That concerned her because, as the villages here are once again providing work for the residents, precautions are not being taken to maintain social distancing.

I concur with her observations. Other than the fact that people are not legally allowed to enter the ocean to swim or to fish from the shore, there is little evidence here that there is a COVID-19 infection on the loose. Masks are unworn. People are gathering in large groups (there was a children's birthday party across the street from my house last night, and an even larger adult party just around the corner.) In other words, people are getting on with their lives.

Mexico is probably at the height of its COVID-19 infection curve. At least, for new cases. The numbers go up and down, but the trend is up -- keeping in mind there is no general testing for the virus in Mexico. These numbers are based on survey extrapolations.

Even though, deaths seem to have started a downward curve.
Best practices would suggest that I stick around the house as much as possible. But circumstances do not always lend themselves to practicality.

As you can probably guess, there is a parable to accompany that bit of folk wisdom -- a parable that sums up the dilemma Mexican families are facing in this round of infections.

Omar informed me last week that a family member was going to a hospital in Colima. As is the practice in Mexico, family members needed to accompany her for her hospital stay. Between the two of us we made that happen. They rode the bus to Colima.

On Saturday he asked if I could drive to Colima to pick them up. I couldn't. I was in charge of facilitating our church service. So, we agreed to make the trip early this morning. They would have returned on their own, but there were bus problems.

We left the house at 6:45 AM and made good time to Colima. I will confess that I was a bit concerned about driving into one of the urban hotbeds of the virus until I realized I had driven to Manzanillo whose numbers are even higher.

I should have set aside those concerns because we stopped at a relative's house without mingling with the general population. Instead, we created a general population in my SUV. It seats four comfortably. If the fifth person is added, it is tight. We had a total of seven passengers.

There is something alluring to me in Mexican families. I am only an accessory, but I get to experience life I never would from the outside. The only person who spoke English in the car was me. We had barely pulled away from the curb when the conversation began. 

Apparently, there are no rules about one person speaking at a time. And I do not think there was a lull in the two-hour drive back to Villa Obregón

When Omar or his sister would address me directly, I participated in the conversation. I will confess, though, that I usually lost the thread of the general discussion.

There were two reasons for that. The first is the most obvious. My Spanish is not up to snuff to be a full combatant in these exchanges. Part of it is vocabulary. I could understand separate words, but quite a few were not stored in my memory.

The second reason was out of my control. I have trouble following conversations when people talk over the top of one another. It is one reason I stopped watching television news commentaries thirty years ago.

By the time we got back to the beach (a mere 4 hours from when Omar and I had left), I was mentally exhausted -- and exhilarated. It was a pleasure for me to share part of their lives on the drive back, and to learn more about the human condition.

One of those things learned is that the people who live and work here have been anxious to get back to work. They are informed about the virus, but the more immediate need is to support their families. For that reason, they welcome the return of the Mexican tourists.

I have noticed an uptick in the number of out-of-town cars that have been arriving in Barra de Navidad over the last two weekends. Some of the cars have brought families who own or rent homes here. I now recognize some of them by sight. But the two cars that stood out to me were parked across the street from the Oxxo. Two new Mercedes-Benz S class sedans. Gray. Twins.

We also followed a tourist bus from 
Cihuatlán to Barra de Navidad. It turned off while we continued to Villa Obregón. I do not know where it finally parked.

So, it is true. Almost all of the town is open (other than swimming or fishing in the ocean -- for now). And people are happy to see their livelihoods returning.

The big question is how many tourists are going to make their way to the beach? 

Sunday, June 07, 2020

a whale of a shark

It is called a whale shark.  For good reason.

Even though it is large enough to be mistaken for a whale, it is a fish. The largest fish in the world.

I have seen only one in the wild. We were in a small boat scooting along the Persian Gulf a few miles out of Dubai when we saw it. This was not a tourist outing -- one of those "See the Whales" trips. We had other things on our mind.

The first thing I noticed were the white dots. It looked as if a small school of some type of organism was swimming along in unison. Then I saw the brown outline. It was huge.

Even though we had other business to tend to, we all agreed to slow down our speed to move slowly, but purposely, as the whale shark gorged itself on plankton. Everyone was tempted to reach out and touch this massive shape -- as if simply touching it would transfer some of its magic to us.

But our captain suggested that we just look. The shark is harmless, but he was concerned that the whale shark would not be wary of boats in that heavily-trafficked area.

I must have shared only a minute or two with the grand fish. Maybe it was what the author of Jonah had in mind as the great fish that took on the prophet.

It is also easy to see why some sea-faring cultures including the whale shark as part of their creation myths. Large. Gentle. Powerful. They are ready-made to fill any role that calls for the better qualities of our own natures. It reminded me of C.S. Lewis's description of Aslan: "He's wild, you know. Not a tame lion."

The video at the top of this essay brought back a lot of memories. It is from a young Mexican friend who encountered this whale shark in the Pacific off the coast of Barra de Navidad this past week.

I have to confess I am a bit jealous as he reaches out to caress that slow giant. It is a juvenile. But, even in its youth, it is easy to see its power and grace.

I doubt I will ever see a whale shark while I live here. I just do not head out into the open ocean very often. But it is nice to know there are undiscovered mysteries just off our shore.

Friday, June 05, 2020

the last trial

Sandy Stern is an old friend.

Scott Turow introduced him to me in the 1980s in Presumed Innocent. Stern was then a middle-aged trial attorney at the top of his game defending the chief deputy district attorney charged with murder. (Raul Julio played him in the film version. I cannot read Stern's dialog now without hearing Julio's voice in my head.) 

Since then, he has appeared as a central or minor character in all of Turow's Kindle County novels. I suspect the novel I finished reading last night may be his last appearance.

Sandy Stern, at eighty-four, is retiring from the practice of law. But he takes one last criminal case before he hangs up his gloves -- to represent a life-long friend who is a Nobel-winning scientist, and is now charged with murder and fraud involving a cancer drug he has developed.

Turow then takes us on a ride through the fun house of our lives where mirrors distort perceptions of others and ourselves. Sandy learns things about his friend -- and himself -- that he may never have learned without the artifice of a trial.

In the end, Sandy throws off the shackles of comparing himself to other people, and accepts the fact that he has led a good life. Throughout the novel, the theme of grandchildren plays in the background.

I have already told you one reason I enjoy Turow is that he is not a hack writer of legal pulp fiction. He writes what rightfully can be called literature.

Here is the only example I will provide right now. During the course of the trial, Pinky, Sandy's teenage granddaughter, has discovered that life is not quite as black and white as she thought it was. They have a conversation.

"I mean it's just not fair, Pops. Life isn't fair,"
"Well, dear Pinky," he says, again taking her hand, "it has been fairer to me than to many other people. And to you, too, I dare say, although it may not always seem like that. But in the end, Pinky, we must heed the response of a revered philosopher -- I forget his name -- who was famously asked by a student if he believed life was fair."
"What did he say?"
Stern stubs out the cigar, tightening his grip somewhat on Pinky's soft fingers.
"He answered, 'Compared to what?'"
I have probably seen the last of Sandy Stern -- unless I decide to read any of the Kindle County novels. And this could be the last of Turow's novels. He is only three months younger than I am. He takes time writing his work, and there may not be enough time remaining for him to provide us with another.

That would be fine. All good artists live by one rule.

Leave them wanting more. 

Thursday, June 04, 2020

waiting for justice

I am not very fond of novels. At least, not novels published these days.

They tend to be something to read when you just cannot bring yourself to clean the aquarium or wash the car.

There is only one contemporary novelist that falls outside that proscription for me -- Scott Turow. I was hooked with his first novel, Presumed Innocent, in 1987. In the following thirty-three years he has written a total of twelve novels. The twelfth, The Last Trial, was published last month.

It would be easy to say that I like his writing because he is a lawyer who writes knowingly about his profession. And there is some truth in that. I do like reading stories about my former profession.

But that is not the sole reason. I like Turow because he writes literature. His colleagues jokingly refer to him as F. Scott Turow. He delves into the human condition while telling us interesting tales. "Donne had declared that no person is an island. He had it exactly wrong. We all are."

When DHL brought me my copy on Saturday, I decided to clear my reading calendar starting yesterday, I am now two-thirds of the way through its 450 pages, and I am not the least bit disappointed. He has chosen to narrate all of the court scenes in the present tense -- a choice that adds just the right amount of attention and immediacy to his story.

About five minutes ago, I read this paragraph that sent me off on a little reverie:
Like all trial lawyers, Stern has mixed feeling about juries. On one hand, Stern venerates their role as fundamental to liberty. Yet back in the jury room, they will sometimes construct a reality that bears little resemblance to what they've heard. As a lawyer you are trying a case according to century-old rules, and they retire and decide they are playing SimCity or another game his grandchildren liked, where the universe constructed bears only occasional resemblance to your own. 
The year was 1985. I had been hired by a young black man, Billie, to represent him in a Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants charge. The outcome of the case would have a big impact on his life because he had twice been convicted of the same charge.

It was late on a July night when Billie and his brother drove from Portland to one of its suburbs to pick up Billie's wife and children. The town was one of those former mill towns where almost all of the residents were working class. As far as I know, almost no minorities lived there.

Billie and his brother got out of the car to let his wife know they had arrived. A town police car saw the car pull up, and the police said they saw one figure walk in front of the headlights.

By their own admission, the police said they stopped because they were curious what two young black men were doing in town. During the conversation, the police noticed Billie had been drinking; his brother had not. After a few agility tests that Billie flunked, the police arrested him for what we slangily call "drunk driving" even though both Billie and his brother told the police that his brother had been driving.

It seemed to be an airtight defense. At trial, the police officer testified that he thought Billie had walked in front of the car as he was driving up. But the officer admitted it was hard to see with headlights shining in his face, and he was candid in testifying that he mixed up Billie and his brother at the scene at least once when talking with them because they were physically similar. They were brothers.

Billie's brother testified that he had driven the car.

When I completed my closing argument. I felt like Atticus Finch. I had even stolen a line from Harper Lee as my last sentence: "Having taken an oath to God to give a true verdict based on the evidence provided, I deeply hope and trust that you all perform your duties as moral and lawful citizens."

Then, came the part of every trial I always dreaded. The wait while the jury deliberated over the evidence. I was positive that it would be short. It wasn't.

Jury deliberations are considered to be one of the most solemn and secret rites in the judicial system. Once the door closes them in, they live, as Turow wrote, in a world of their own construction. What happens in the confines of the room remains there until the jury renders its verdict.

The jury deliberation room was badly positioned in that courthouse if confidentiality was its purpose. The door opened onto a long marble hallway that opened onto a central staircase. It was essentially a megaphone.

Billie and I were sitting half-way down the hall. When jurors spoke in a normal voice, we could hear nothing. But if they raised their voices, we could hear it all.

And raise their voices they did. A male juror was upset at someone's stupidity. Then he bellowed: "Of course he's lying. They always lie for each other."

Billie looked sheepishly at me. My better nature thought the juror might be referring to the obvious point that familiy members stand up for each other -- an argument that the prosecutor was well within the law to make when he made it.

Then, there was no doubt that I was being painfully naive. "Niggers always lie for each other."

I shot up from the bench ready to object, mistakenly thinking I was still in trial. Then, I recognized my dilemma. The juror was out of line, but I should not have heard what he said.

The bailiff was sitting in front of the jury door. I asked him if he had heard what I heard. He had.

I asked the judge's secretary to call the prosecutor to the court room. I told him what I had heard and he talked with the bailiff. Now, we were all in the same morass. There was no option but to talk with the judge.

The judge had the power to interview jurors, though it is a power that is seldom used because it undercuts the myth of confidentiality. And lawyers are loth to see that happen when a jury is still deliberating because no jury can then deliberate without the interview tainiting their process.

In this case, the prosecutor saw what I considered to be the obvious way out. Neither of us would have trusted the jury's verdict under the circumstances. He decided enough harm had been done.

The judge discharged the jury, and Billie went home. Unfortunately, because alcohol is the poison it is, I saw Billie in two subsequebt cases -- including a rather acrimonius divorce.

I was talking with a lawyer friend yesterday. We served in the Air Force together before we both wandered off to different law schools.

I called him to discuss the death of George Floyd. My former school-mate is one of the few black friends I have, and I was interested in hearing his take.

He currently practices in DC. Not surprisingly, we sounded as if we were in an echo chamber because we kept repeating similar sentiments.

He then asked an interesting question: "What do you think is going to happen when the four policemen are acquitted?" I was taken aback.

"Steve, certainly you don't think any of them will be convicted do you? What are the odds of that happening? The jury system is sacred to me. Without it, we would be socially poorer. But the odds of a conviction are not there. It is possible. But I doubt it will happen."

I realized that he was talking out of experience. He had represented several police officers over the years.

It is extremely difficult to get a conviction of a police officer even with the most damning evidence. A lot of people (I would venture a large majority) see the police as a line of defense between order and mayhem. The feeling is international. The Chinese Communist Party uses the same tactic in claiming it is the only institution that can prevent the Maoists from carting off the Chinese middle class to re-education camps -- or worse.

That is why I am interested to see what will come out of the protests over George Floyd's death. The Congressional Black Caucus is discussing the possibility of essentially federalizing all local police procedures with yet-to-be-disclosed standards. There certainly will be a lot of constitutional issues raised with that aopproach.

A better (and far more lawful) move would be to enact reforms at the state and local levels. Reforms that take into account the difficult job we ask the police to perform and to protect the rights of all citizens from abuse.

Maybe Turow's next novel will tackle that issue.