Wednesday, September 30, 2020

a visit to the city


I am going on a road trip.

An unplanned road trip. But a road trip, nonetheless.

Omar told me this afternoon that he has an appointment at the University of Guadalajara in Ciudad Guzmán at 1:30 in the afternoon to pay the fee for his next admission examination, and to get the paperwork necessary for the test. Actually, he may have told me of the trip earlier, but I do not recall. That must be a universal plaint of parents.

This is our second road trip associated with signing up for examinations. You may recall our fun trip to Tepatitlán de Morelos driving adventures -- part 2 for a similar purpose. A five-hour drive turned into an all-day tutorial in repairing tires.

In the past, I would now be writing to you about how I am confounded by the idea of driving hours for a 10-minute appointment where money and documents pass hand, and to then ponder why such a transaction must be done in-person rather than on-line. Instead, I will do what I did on the trip to Tepatitlán de Morelos: I will stow my chauvinistic questioning and get on with what has to be done.

Mexico has taught me many things. One of them is if I just get on with what needs to be done, and stop kicking against the traces, things get done and I am the happier for it.

This trip is so spontaneous that I am not even certain whether Yoana, Omar's girlfriend, will be accompanying us. He has not told me if she is. But I will assume that she is because he spends all of his non-working hours with her.

I doubt this drive will be as fun-packed as the last one. But, who knows? Omar seems to believe that my road trips are filled with enough death-defying moments that he wanted us to leave two hours early. I suspect, he would have been happier if we had left two days earlier.

Maybe he will once again be prescient. He wanted us to leave early on the February trip. As it turned out, leaving early would not have mattered. But the two-day rule would have been wise.

So, I will report back to you as soon as I can. Even if it means posting from my telephone on the side of the road.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

death and memory

All things die.

We know that intellectually, but our hearts tell us it is a lie. And maybe both are true. Things die, but, as long as we live, we hold on to the memory.

Some of you will recognize the photograph. It is La Güera, one of the many neighborhood dogs. When I first met her, we were not friends. She would bark at me all abristle whenever I would walk past her house. Barrel-chested and territorial, she was the queen dog of our street. To her, all people and animals were a threat.

That all changed with the arrival of Barco Rubio, my golden boy, in December 2015. For some reason, La Güera took a maternal shine to him. He looked like the kind of youth who needed a stern maternal paw. And she provided it.

She taught him to sort through the garbage stack on the street corner to find the choice bits. (Barco never got the knack; he would swallow whole small bags of garbage -- plastic bag and all.) Or how to chase down and dispatch the fastest of chickens.

No matter how I would admonish him, he would ignore my rules in favor of La Güera's. After all, she was a cool dog nanny and I was nothing more than a fascist human trying to crush his dog-ness.

Whenever Barco was out of the house, he was with her. As time went on, Barco would outgrew her in size, but she was always the alpha in the relationship. She would accompany us on our walks -- no matter how far we went.

I started to think of her as my secondary dog. She would not let other animals or people (especially children, who she detested) get near the three of us. She was not a sharer.)

The only time she ever showed fear was during thunderstorms. She would run to my house and hide behind the propane tank. That was when Barco's gregariousness would blossom. He would coax her out and they would play. He eventually taught her that thunder, fireworks, and gun shots were not to be feared; they were to be celebrated as just another part of life.

I shot the photograph in June 2016. I had no idea that in four short months Barco would be dead. When he died, I suspected that La Güera would revert to type. After all, Barco was her charge, not me.

That did not happen. Every time I walked past her house, she would accompany me wherever I was headed. Every night she was at my front door for a slice of pepperoni. And whenever I would drive up to the house, she was there to greet me.

About two months ago, she stopped appearing at my door. I should have known something was wrong. And it was.

While preparing to go to the airport on my last trip to Oregon, I thought I saw her under her owner's pickup. But she looked misshapen. I walked over to see her, thinking she would jump up and greet me. She didn't.

Her stomach was horribly distended and I could see her ribs and spine. She looked up at me with barely a wisp of her old spirit in her eyes.

I asked my neighbors what was wrong. They had taken her to the veterinarian and were treating her with medication, but she had continued to worsen. They told me she had been under the pickup for days.

I then felt a nudge on my right hand. It was La Güera. She had managed to struggle to her feet and was trying to induce me to pet her. I did.

My walk back to the house was not a happy one. Barco's nanny did not have much life left to live.

When I started setting out my luggage, there was La Güera sitting on my front porch expectedly waiting for a slice of pepperoni. She could barely choke it down.

I hugged her very carefully and walked her back home to talk with my neighbors about what needed to be done.

On my return last week, my first stop was my neighbors' house. La Güera's absence hung in the air. After my talk with them before I left, they took her to the veterinarian just after my car had pulled way on its way to the airport.

So, like all things, La Güera has died. But, as long as I live, I will remember her and Barco frolicking as thunder rolls in the background.

Because she knew how to live. And catch chickens. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

why that fur coat is not necessary in mexico

Sorting acquisitions is like a treasure hunt.

No. It is a treasure hunt. Even when the acquisitions are not mine.

As you know, my brother and I have have been assisting my mother in transitioning to a retirement apartment. That meant sorting through 92 years of things she had accumulated.

It turns out my name showed up often. Either because the item was mine or I was included in the photograph or document.

I am not a sentimental person, but I am an historian. And I thought you might like to strut down nostalgia promenade with me. We may end up in a cul-de-sac, but it is the journey. Correct?

Let's start with one of my favorites. I have been hospitalized only three times (not counting my birth, which technically was my mother's hospitalization): in 2009 to repair a shattered ankle following an unfortunate landing while ziplining in Mexico; in 2015 for a bout of cellulitis in my left leg in Manzanillo; and the tale I want to share with you today -- the only hospitalization I have had in The States.

Unlike most of my peers, I managed to get to my junior year in high school before I had my tonsils removed. They probably should have come out sooner. I had suffered years of tonsil infections, beaten back each time by a variety of sulfa drugs -- fungus put to good use. When my mother was my seventeen, penicillin had just been put into general use. When my father was seventeen, it was still in its experimental stages.

But one fateful day in the Spring of 1966, my family physician, Dr. Burnham surrendered to the inevitable. My tonsils had to go. And, to do that, into the hospital I went for my only experience of having a part removed from inside my body.

You may well ask yourself why I thought you would be interested in such a pedestrian tale about my adenoids. And you would be right. My interesting find was not the almost-lost memory of my tonsillectomy. It was the bill.

I assume you have already scanned it yourself. But, here is the summary. $58 for two nights in the hospital. $13.10 for drugs. $20 for lab work. $37.50 for miscellaneous. For a total of $128.60. 

And then comes along an interesting figure. Western Teamsters health insurance paid $108.60. The hospital did not handle the extra $20 as a deductible. It was simply written off as a credit.

I am not certain where to start with this bit of history. As far as I know, the procedures used by the hospital were first-rate, or, at least, adequate. And that $128.60 is in 1966 dollars.

But, even extrapolating to 2020 dollars, the total gets pushed up to just over $700. I have not had any reason to price tonsillectomies these days, but I am willing to bet they cost more than $700. Even though I cannot vouch for its accuracy, the median price for a tonsillectomy in Oregon these days appears to be around $7400. Over ten times what the procedure would have cost in 1966 using constant dollars.

And there is the rub. What happened? You can ask any guy at the end of the bar for an opinion, he he will give you the simple answer. Greedy doctors. Greedy Lawyers. Greedy insurance companies. Greedy politicians. Greedy pharma. Or any other cartoon villain that can be plastered on a bit of cardboard.

I suspect, though, the answer is far more complex, and the roots of the answer are the same as why I could work my way through college and come out with no debt while today's university students owe the purchase price of a house in Huron, South Dakota. In education and health, the consumer has been reduced to a bystander and economic cipher. And there are consequences for governmental meddling.

But, I am not really interested in heading off into that bramble patch, and I hope none of you will be tempted to do that, either, in the comments.

I am happy to look at that bill and remember when health care was not only affordable, but easily accessible. Just as it is in Mexico where health insurance is about as necessary as a fur coat -- at least, for me.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

dis-satisfied students keep politicians awake at night

"I just spent four years of my life and a lot of money to graduate from university. I cannot find a job. Even if I did, it would pay less than if I had avoided university all together."

The rant is hypothetical. But it is based on the facts reported from a recent study: "University grads earn 10,400 pesos per month on average."

Of course, the article could have been referring to university graduates in almost any country. They are all struggling to find employment. It is the call of the wildly disillusioned.

It was the bemoaned income that caught my eye. Being the parent of a son looking forward to dental school, I pay attention to headlines like these. The study found that for the 43.5% of graduates who were lucky enough to find employment, their average monthly salary was $10,400 (MX). That translates to less than $470 (US) a month. For a university graduate.

Granted, those 10,400 pesos buy quite a bit more here in Mexico than they do in Canada or The United States. According to The Economist's Big Mac Index, Mexico's peso has a 61% positive valuation against the US Dollar. That still only increases the monthly salary to a comparable $760 (US).

Even so, it is a lot more than some local waiters, with limited hours during the recession and covid restrictions, earn. Without tips, $350 (MX) is not an unusual weekly wage right now.

But the complaint that university does not increase the pay check for most graduates appears to be a fair complaint. Obtaining accurate data for the comparison is not as easy as it should be. But Mexicans with prepa degrees earn about the same as newly-graduated college students.

I can hear some of you scrolling to the "comments" section" because I have discussed this issue with you before. University is more than merely a vocational school to get a job. There is value in having an educated public capable of critical thinking. (Though I am beginning to doubt that has been the result of the western university system.)

However, increasing one's socio-economic position is very important to young Mexicans. It is the first reason cited by students for attending university. And that is understandable, even in a middle-income country like Mexico, its inertia-ridden social stratification offers few exits to a higher tier. Education is the main one. Or marrying well.

Like elsewhere in the world, Mexican students who graduate with mechanical engineering and metallurgy degrees are the highest paid, at an average of $16,394 (MX) monthly salary. And there is another similarity with the rest of the world, only 24% of arts and humanities graduates ("do you need salsa for those fries?) had found employment. 74% of the holders of health-related degrees were employed in their field.

So, where does this leave Omar? As a prospective dentist, he should be able to find work -- or to open his own office in a large city. And because his well of self-confidence is well-stocked, he knows he can make more money as an entrepreneur than as an employee.

Both of us will put this article on the top-shelf of things that may not apply to his life. But the facts are certainly an incentive to get that dental degree.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

no man is an island

At times, I am not so certain that John Donne was correct.

Sure. He was simply trying to make a philosophical point about the connection of humanity. But I like to feel as if I am an island when I am floating in my pool. 

If the analogy is true, an illegal alien attempted to  cross my borders this afternoon.

I read when I float. I was in the middle of a fascinating article on the ineffectiveness of the Indonesian bureaucracy when I felt something climbing up the inside of my right leg. 

That is not that unusual. My pool is often visited by a variety of insects. Usually it is the small black beetles who have the annoying habit of biting. I suspect they are merely eating sloughing skin, but they often bite to the quick. I dispatch them as soon as I see them.

But it was not a beetle this time. It was a true bug. Or, more accurately, a rantara. We sometimes call them water stick insects because they look like their landlubber relatives. 

There are certain insects found in God's Great Plan in the "Jokes" section. The most unfortunate is the tailless whip scorpion (locally known as a "cancle") that looks ferocious, but is one of the area's most docile and beneficial insects (laughing at heaven's door).

My visitor in the pool fits in that same category.  Its rather startling appearance has earned it the name "water scorpion." It is easy to see why. Those arms, designed for grabbing, and that tail, looking like a stinger, could fool the unwary.

But it is not a scorpion. The arms really are used for grabbing -- just like a scorpion. However, the tail does not hide a stinger. It is far more utilitarian for a gill-less aquatic insect. It is a breathing siphon.

The water scorpion does carry a "venom," though. To "calm" its prey, the water scorpion inserts its proboscis into its prey and pumps in a sedative. The proboscis acts as a defensive mechanism, as well. In fear, the water scorpion will "sting" humans, though the effect is not as a bad as a true scorpion sting.

This is probably the third one that I have seen in my pool over the past six years. And I am not certain why they troll my waters. Their usual prey are tadpoles, small fish, and other aquatic insects. With the exception of the water beetles, my pool appears to be devoid of likely prey.

Of course, I may simply not be thinking like a water scorpion.  Maybe this guy had the same ambition as the spiders in one of my favorite Gary Larson cartoons.   

Friday, September 25, 2020

ranting in the wind

I was talking with the owner of a Mexican business in Barra de Navidad earlier this week.

He asked me why some northerners seem to complain about everything without having a culturally-workable solution on offer. I chuckled because I have been writing this essay in my head for over a month. It is a complaint, and I have no alternative solution. So, rant I will.

It concerns education in Mexico. Or, more specially, the education of my son in Mexico.

Most of you who stop by here for a chat know Omar. He grew up in Villa Obregon and Melaque in a family that was economically poor. Not the type of genteel poverty of Pearl Buck. The hard-scrabble kind. Think of Faulkner's Snopes clan.

Omar withdrew from school for two years before his high school years, but he decided that was a social cul-de-sac. He wanted to do something better with his life, so he returned to school.

At the time, he was a waiter at Rooster's in San Patricio. His managers and colleagues told me tales of his dedication at work and his determination to finish high school. I was impressed.

Skipping several steps in my tale, he told me he wanted to eventually become a dentist. I knew I could help with that, so I adopted him.

Moving three years forward, Omar graduated with very good grades at his high school. The next step was university. He had chosen the dental school at the relatively new campus in Tepatitlán de Morelos. You may recall our road adventure in 
driving adventures -- part 2) when we drove to Tepatitlán to pay for his admission test.

Back in the 60s when I took my SAT for college admission and in the 70s when I took my LSAT, we simply walked in and took the examination. I think I may have looked at a book with practice questions, but I do not believe any preparation courses were offered. At least, I did not take them.

Things are now different. Students regularly take courses to help them pass the admission tests. They are less about teaching the material than about teaching how to take a test. There is probably another Andy Rooney moment buried in that sentence, but I will let it pass for now.

Omar took one of those courses. Because of COVID, the test dates were moved.

I did not know what to expect in results. Omar did well in school, but one of my neighbors, who also did very well in the same school Omar attended, took the admissions test four times before he was admitted.

Omar recently discovered his test score was not adequate to be admitted to the dental school at 
Tepatitlán. His dentist mentor told him that an unusually high number of students took that examination this year. In a normal year, his test score was good enough to admit him.

When I asked Omar if he had difficulty with the questions, he said there was only one area-- algebra. His school did not cover the topic in detail.

That is consistent with what I heard from my fourth-time-a-winner neighbor. He attends the University of Guadalajara. During the first week, the professors lectured using terms he had never heard, but the other students obviously did. He said if it had not been for friends from Guadalajara and Colima (whose schools had taught the concepts), he would have had to give up his dream of higher education.

I was also not surprised at Omar's algebra comment. I have looked at his workbooks over the past three years. The material did not seem to be high-school level teaching. They looked like the textbooks from my seventh-grade science class.

No one disagrees that Mexico has an education problem. Almost all Mexican children get an education. But it is a rudimentary one.

Every year, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a 37-member of rich nations, conducts a test of 15-year old students throughout the world to assess their skills in reading, mathematics, and science. The test is called the Program for International Study Assessment (PISA).

Mexico consistently scores at or near the bottom in all three categories. In the most recent test, only Colombia scored lower in each category. (I guess that is in the same vein as a friend of mine from Louisiana used to say: "Thank heavens for Mississippi.")

The details are even more disheartening. 35% of Mexican students tested did not achieve a minimum level of proficiency in all three topics. The OECD average is just less than a third of that -- 13%.

Not surprisingly, socio-economic factors seem to depress scores. Impoverished students scored an average of 81 points less than wealthier students. A bright note, though, to prove that poverty is not destiny, is that 11% of impoverished students scored in the top quarter of the combined scores.

Those numbers are a dry representation of a rather cloudy future for students who manage to get through the current system. Young brains are being squandered.

If I were a parent in the United States, I would have been sitting in his high school principal's office three years ago asking for an explanation of why my tax dollars were not being properly applied to my son's education. In The States, I would also know my options -- chief being to remove him from the public school system.

But that is not an option here -- primarily because he has completed his secondary education. It is now on to university.

That, of course, was one reason we drove to Manzanillo on Wednesday -- to pay the fee for his admission test to the university at 
Ciudad Guzmán. The fee is paid. We now await the test date. If all goes well, he will start classes in January. And, if the virus has ebbed, it will be classes in person.

For all of  my fretting, Omar has remained unfazed. Perhaps, the answer is in the PISA.

One of the questions in the test is how satisfied students are with their lives. The average of positive responses in the OECD is 67%. Amongst the Mexican students, the positive response was 83%.

This is yet another lesson I need to keep re-learning from Mexico, Be content with today. It is what Jesus taught: "Don't worry about tomorrow -- tomorrow will worry about itself!

So, as my businessman friend suggested, I am just gong to shut up and follow Omar's lead. Because, as I often say, everything turns out well.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

death in madrid

It is a bit like watching an elderly beloved relative slip away in intensive care.

The slowly-decreasing beeps record the ebbing of life. But you hang on to the belief that everything will be all right. It will all change. Or, as Mel Brooks would have it: "Hope for the best; expect the worst."

Last April, I told you I was planning an art trip to Madrid in October (getting parole). A month into the pandemic and I was already jonesing about the travel shutdown.

My thought was that by October the worst of the pandemic would have passed. Europe would be open, and my American passport would take me anywhere. I even managed to score a first class return flight on Emirates Airline. I should note that those suites are a rare find. It would cap off two weeks of building up my data base on Spanish art.

I have reserved my hotel (next door to the Prado) and I have hired an art professor to walk me through the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection -- all outside of tourist hours. It appeared the only factor was the passage of time.

Of course, it is not that simple. There are two problems that need to be resolved before I can fly next month.

The first is getting there. Spain currently allows tourists from only 21 countries to enter its borders: Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, Georgia, 
Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Tunisia. Mexico and the United States, like most American states, are not on that list. For two reasons. Both have infection rates higher than Spain allows, and the United States excludes European tourists.

I do have an alternative method to enter Spain, but it is one of those options that, if used improperly, can get a name at the top of a "no-fly" list. Even though my tolerance for risk is high, a cost-benefit analysis tells me that path is not the best one for an art tour. 

The second problem is being there. Even though Mexicans and Americans are excluded from entering Spain as tourists, Spain is currently suffering a surge of infections and deaths whose rates rival both Mexico's and the United States'.

As a result, the Spanish government this week has requested Spaniards to stay home, but has not yet ordered a lockdown. That could easily change. And one of the first places to close will be the museums -- even for private tours.

That would be the great irony. Fly all the way to Spain, be allowed in, and then being prohibited from doing what I came to do.

So, like the relative who holds an advance medical directive, I may soon be reaching out to pull the plug on that beeping machine. I will put off the final decision until the first week of October. My trip to visit Mexico's former colonial masters and to see Spain's artistic masters will have to wait.

After all 
Velázquez's work has been hanging around for four hundred years. He will wait for my visit. I doubt he will notice I am not there.


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

driving on the left

The photographs I post with my essays have but one purpose. They are supposed to enhance the telling of the tale.

And, despite the fact that this shot appears to be seriously amiss, the story it tells is not in the frame, but off-screen. As is true with most of life.

Yesterday Omar asked if I could drive him to Manzanillo. He needed to pay a university admission examination fee. Unfortunately, the banks in both Melaque and Cihuatlan have been closed because of Covid infections. Because he cannot take his examination until the fee is paid, he needed to head south where the banks are still open.

I am not fond of the drive to Manzanillo. But I had tasks of my own to accomplish -- drop off dry cleaning, get replacement lenses for my spare pair of eyeglasses, and pick up miscellaneous items at Sam's Club. Because we were going to the bank, I decided to pay my annual tribute for the bank being so gracious as to hold my "trust deed" and to allow me to live in my own house.

For those of us who belong to the "do one task in Mexico and thrive, do two and crash" school, I knew I was pushing my luck. I dropped off the dry cleaning without a snag. But, on task two, I hit a wall. The optician shop was closed and displayed a sign designed to elicit chuckles: "back in one hour."

Sam's Club was a charm and, other than a rather unorganized line waiting outside to talk to tellers inside, the bank process went smoothly -- as it did for Omar. With a lucky pot of birria like that, Omar suggested we try the optician again. I did. He was in this time; the sign was not a ruse. My spare pair of eyeglasses should be there in two or three weeks.

So, what does all of that have to do with that poorly-shot photograph?

It turns out that Manzanillo has not yet fully recovered from the flood that hit here while I was in Oregon. The main street that comes into town (and goes out of town, for that matter) has a number of surprises for the unwary. While the road crews are restoring the surface of the street, they have closed down one lane of traffic in three places and re-directed it into the other lane.

If you live in the United States, the protocol for such an operation would be to place warning signs, the first being about 1000 feet away from the detour. I suspect it may be even more distant in Canada. Then, there would be additional warning sides every 200 feet or so informing which lane merges where.

Mexican road crews are far more imaginative. In today's three detours, the only warning that something was amiss was right at the closed lane of traffic. And there was nothing warning the other lane that one lane of their travel would now be occupied by cars hurtling hood-first at them. I felt as if I were an American driving in Oxford again.

I had hoped to snap a quick shot of the last barrier -- just on the verge of Santiago. But, when I pulled up my camera, I discovered a car coming directly at me in what was supposed to be my detour lane.

Yeah. Yeah. I know. A good photographer would have taken the shot. And I should have. After all, I am the guy, who when people tell me to "be safe," I tell them I would prefer to be adventurous.

Well, today the drive was adventurous. It almost made me enjoy what I now find to be a rather boring drive.

So, if you are headed to Manzanillo, I hope I have not ruined what could be a fun day for you by giving away the swerves in Mr. Toad's ride. Adrenalin is our co-pilot

Go have an adventure.


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

hawaii to the rescue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Monday, September 21, 2020

cristina potter, call your office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it worked perfectly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 18, 2020

mission accomplished

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 14, 2020

when adventure comes knocking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 13, 2020

the loneliest number

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

Depending on your risk tolerance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts of crowds can wait for another day.  

Saturday, September 12, 2020

missing in action


I am flying north this afternoon.

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

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

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

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

And I will smile.

Friday, September 11, 2020

fogging the question

Life is made up of compromises and trade-offs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fog on.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

instruments of peace


The paperboy was late this morning.

The digital paperboy, that is.

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

"Brown puts state on high alert."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

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

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

graden davis

The news was unexpected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

breaking eggs

I apologize for my absence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 05, 2020

while we slept

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 04, 2020

one eye on the sky

We are a bit skittish about the weather these days.

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

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

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

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

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

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