Saturday, October 31, 2020

sean connery lives on


Time is a writer's worst enemy -- and best friend.

I told you today I was going to write about the closure order in Jalisco. But that will have to wait for tomorrow. Or, at least, until later.

The newspaper headline this morning has sent me in another direction. "Sean Connery, actor and the original James Bond, dies at 90."

Like most people, I have generally imprisoned myself in my house because of the virus. One of my devices to stave off boredom was to pull out some of my favorite movies. We had a Woody Allen Festival. A Star Trek festival. An Alfred Hitchcock Festival. But my favorite was the Sean Connery Festival.

Most of the obituaries this morning have led with a reference to James Bond -- the movie persona I suspect most people would associate with him. And it is not a bad association.

After all, he was the original movie Bond, and the first three movies in the series would be the benchmark for the rest of the series. A comparison that the other films simply could not match.

Even though I enjoyed the early Bond films (Connery was every teenage boy's ideal of what a man should be), they are not my favorite Connery films. I preferred his work in four other films I watched recently.

The Man Who Would Be King is an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story. Set in the era of the Raj, two British soldiers set off for adventure in the wilds of south Asia in a very clever re-telling of the hubris of Alexander the Great. Connery is the lead and proves that his acting range goes well beyond guns and women -- even though both play a central part in this film. There is the additional benefit that the best friend of Connery's character in the film is Michael Caine -- his real-life best chum. Even though I saw it in England whilst in the Air Force, it appealed to the 12-year old boy who still controls my taste.

The Wind and the Lion was another of those films I first saw while in the military in England. It is another boy adventure. Literally. Sean Connery plays a rebellious Berber leader, the Raisuli, who kidnaps an American woman and her two children in an attempt to topple the Moroccan sultan, his nephew. A lot of the movie is filmed through the eyes of the kidnapped boy.

I was going to write an essay about this movie two months ago because it is one of those genres that could no longer be made without a heavy overlay of irony. It even seemed a bit out of place in the 1970s.

There are several set pieces where Teddy Roosevelt and the Raisuli expound on their philosophies of life. For a lot of reasons, it is hard to imagine any American filmmaker letting Teddy Roosevelt mouth the following sentiments, even though it sounds exactly like the first Roosevelt president, and maybe the second:
The American grizzly is a symbol of the American character: strength, intelligence, ferocity. Maybe a little blind and reckless at times, but courageous beyond all doubt. And one other trait that goes with all previous. . . . Loneliness. The American grizzly lives out his life alone. Indomitable, unconquered - but always alone. He has no real allies, only enemies, but none of them as great as he. . . . The world will never love us. They respect us - they might even grow to fear us. But they will never love us, for we have too much audacity! And, we're a bit blind and reckless at times too. . . . The American grizzly embodies the spirit of America. He should be our symbol! Not that ridiculous eagle - he's nothing more than a dandified vulture.

I just may write that essay yet.

But the star of the film is Connery. And he plays what could have been a cartoonish character with the subtlety he brought to most of his roles. He makes Candice Bergen look like an amateur. That was probably the director's fault -- or perhaps his intent.

Those two films provided Connery roles as a movie star. Bond on horses -- but with greater depth. In the next two films, he took supporting character roles that gave him an opportunity to show his true chops.

Any movie-goer will remember his slightly-shady, but loyal beat cop, Jimmy Malone, who was recruited by Eliot Ness to fight prohibition in The Untouchables. He played a man who knew his faults and lived with them, and we immediately identified with him. Who else could have delivered this throwaway line with conviction and wisdom: "You just fulfilled the first law of law enforcement. Make sure when your shift is over you go home alive." Followed by the film's hook: "Here endeth the lesson."

I suspect my favorite Connery role is Henry Jones, Sr. in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It would be my first choice for a Father's Day movie (Field of Dreams running a distant second).

Harrison Ford and Connery pulled the movie out of its cardboard serial style into something that approximated real life. Certainly, the father-son relationship had all of the hallmarks of love, regret, and detestation that marks any authentic relationship.

I am sure you have your own favorite Connery roles. But these are mine.*

When most of us die, we leave memories behind. But even those are doomed to fade. It is the artists amongst us that leave part of who they were with us for a longer time. When my friend Ed Gilliam died, he left behind a trove of paintings that are tangible parts of who he was.

So it is with actors. Sean Connery may have died this morning. But his work will live on in that silver heaven flickering on the screen.

Or, as my Scottish grandfather would say: "Failin means yer playin."


* -- One of my favorite Connery roles is his William of Baskerville in the film adaptation of Umberto Eco's masterpiece of a 14th century murder in an abbey: The Name of the Rose. I may watch it tonight in a tip of my tam to an actor who will be missed.    


Friday, October 30, 2020

changing with change


I moved to Mexico to wake up each morning to have no idea how I was going to get through the day.

Life in Salem was far too comfortable -- almost as if I were existing amongst the walking dead. That type of comfortable.

I wanted something more challenging in my life. And I found it in Mexico.

This is usually the point where someone asks me if I wanted life-challenging experiences why didn't I move to Havana -- or Damascus. And the answer to that is easy.

I suppose I could throw up the old F. Scott Fitzgerald trope of holding two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, but that would simply be cheating. Even though I thrive on the notion that death may be lurking around the next corner, I also like to add a bit of nostalgia to the mix. Some people regularly say that Mexico is in about the same social and economic position as the United States was 50 or 70 years ago.

I have no idea how data-driven that observation is, but it has the ring of truth for the Mexican villages where I have lived for the past dozen years. Every day here I am reminded of boys on their Huffies delivering the morning newspaper to houses nestled in oak groves.

Except there are no newspapers. The bicycles are not Huffies. And the oaks are coconut palms.

It is more an attitude than stage setting. Barra de Navidad shares the same small town your-business-is-my-business elan as Powers, the little logging town in southern Oregon where I grew up.

It is not nostalgia. By nature, I enjoy visiting large cities and digging elbow-deep into what they offer. For living, though, I truly enjoy the simple rhythms of small towns. Including San Patricio Melaque and Barra de Navidad with their "where did that come from" variety.

That is why some changes jump out at me when they occur. Like when the Oxxo convenience store was constructed in my neighborhood two blocks from the house. A change that was far more apparent on the surface than in operation. The Oxxo store now peacefully co-exists with the local grocery stores, and customers have more choices.

On Wednesday night I wandered down to Barra de Navidad's malecon. I had not been that far south on the beach for a couple of months. Maybe longer.

Everything looked as it has since the walkway was extensively re-modeled several years ago. But not everything was.

At the northern end of the malecon is a public bathroom that also offers shower facilities for those who wish to rinse the bay's residue out of their swimming suits -- or underwear. A woman sat at the entrance accepting the required 5 pesos to use the facility.

But the woman is gone. Her desk is still there, but admittance is no longer controlled by a woman who gladly shares stories of what is happening in Barra de Navidad. The bathroom has been automated. With one of those coin-operated turnstiles that remind me of my jail days.

I am a big fan of change. So, you are not going to hear me rattling on about how awful it is that the bathroom looks like a set for an Orange is the New Black episode. I am certain that there is a rational (if not good) reason for the new arrangement. Perhaps, to provide more hours of operation.

What struck me as odd was the increase to 7 pesos. Most of us, (at least, those of us in my age group) when we need a bathroom, we really need a bathroom. Under the old system I could dash past the woman and plunk down a 5-peso coin while still in flight. Stopping to dig out the proper combination of coins to order the gate to "open, sesame" has plenty of potential essays aborning.

I saw a similar bathroom setup in the bowels of la parroquia in San Miguel de Allende. Even with the correct coins inserted, the gate would regularly not work. The tourists provided a parade of amusement for the cleaning ladies inside.

The state of Jalisco, where I live, is about to enter a very weird two-week shutdown in the slim hope that the spread of the coronavirus here can be lessened. Because residents are not restricted to their homes, I will be out and about to see how that version of change affects the villages. I think I already know the answer.

But we shall see. If you stop by, I may just have some news that will affect the decision of people who are still undecided about visiting this part of Mexico.

See you then.

Oh, yes, bring plenty of change for your walks on the malecon. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

keeping the franchise alive after moving to mexico


I have voted.

If you had asked me earlier in the year the one thing I was positive would not happen in my life, it would be writing that sentence.  Several times in the last three months, I have decided this year's American election could do without  my participation. And that is a big break from my past.

I have been personally involved in every American election (and a few elections in other countries) since 1952. First, as a toddler distributing political literature and impersonating the political convention speakers on the radio. Then, as a voter, and, eventually, a candidate myself. Having turned 21 (the required age at the time), I have voted in every election where I have been eligible since 1970.

Not voting in 2020 would be a break in a long streak. I simply was not motivated to do it.

I was concerned, when I moved to Mexico, that I would no longer have the option of voting. But the county clerk of Washoe County dutifully came to my rescue by mailing a Nevada ballot to me each election cycle.

My first absentee ballot arrived in 2010 with plenty of time to mail it north. But the last three or four elections have arrived too late to post. My sole option was to scan and email the ballot or to fax it back to the clerk. In both cases, I gave up the privilege of a secret ballot.

Because of the virus this year, Nevada offered its citizens another option -- voting electronically. I am a sucker for anything new, so I decided to try it. At first, it seemed rather simple. I typed in my personal information and a ballot popped up for my precinct.

Nevada uses its drivers' license system to verify identity for electronic ballots. In theory, the voter's signature on the license will migrate over to the ballot verification system. Mine did not. But it allowed me to complete my ballot. At first, I thought the system merely masked my signature.

When the ballot is filled in, it is supposed to automatically create a PDF file encoded with a password known only to the county clerk. I tried repeatedly, but the system would not conform my ballot.

The obvious answer was to call Washoe County. After being on hold for a bit, a very helpful clerk came on line. I explained my problem. She told me the problem was exactly as I thought. If my signature did not migrate, the ballot could not be completed. Unfortunately, the registry would now show that I had voted -- even though I had not.

I asked her if I sent in my absentee ballot would it be counted. The best she could tell me was maybe. My absentee ballot may be challenged by the system. The clerk would then contact me -- depending on the number of challenged ballots the office had to deal with. The vague scent of an impending felony indictment hung over the conversation. 

I left it there. After all, it might turn out to be academic. My absentee ballot had not yet arrived, and it might not show up in my postal box until after 3 November. That would make everything quite easy.

While I was in Oregon this last time, I was tempted to fly to Nevada to vote in person. But my stay there was too brief. This week I made a tentative reservation to fly to Reno on Saturday and stay the week there -- for the sole purpose of voting.

But spending several thousand dollars on airfare, accomodations, and food did not seem to be a very good bargain when the only thing I would be doing was voting in an election where my concern meter was pegged near zero. Omar tipped the balance in favor of cancelling the reservations. He needs me to drive him to Ciudad Guzman next week for his university admission examination.

Today's mail provided a better answer. My ballot showed up along with my August-September edition of the Oregon bar bulletin. That is both of them in the photograph. I snapped the lineup shot to give you some context for the size of the Nevada ballot. It makes the bulletin look like a pamphlet. The magazine is a full 8 1/2 x 11. The ballot is nearly 20 inches long.

That is relevant only because I cannot mail my ballot to arrive in Reno on time. If I lived in Reno, there is no guarantee that a ballot mailed today would get there on time.

Washoe County still allows the two additional options I mentioned above -- sending the scanned ballot through email or faxing. In the past, I have not been able to scan the full length of the ballot on any local scanners. I suspect that means my ballots may not have been counted. This year, I even thought of having the ballot couriered north by DHL.

Then, Gord Oliver, a Facebook reader, came up with a solution. After I updated the Adobe Scan app on my Samsung, I was able to scan the front and back of the ballot along with an executed Declaration of Covered Voter. I attached the scans to an email and sent it to the clerk. An automated service notified me within minutes that the ballot had been received. Of course, it did not tell me whether or not my ballot will be counted.

I am no stranger to voting by mail. We Oregonians have been doing that for almost 30 years. There were several problems when the system first went into place. 

Even though I have that amount of experience with mail voting, I was surprised at the number of mistakes I made in both my electronic ballot and then preparing my absentee ballot to send back to the clerk. It will be interesting to see how many of us Nevadans have submitted unacceptable homework. 

That is another issue. I am simply happy that election officials can provide me with new (and sometimes challenging) ways to exercise my franchise -- even if my interest in what happens north of the Rio Bravo ebbs every year.

Life here is enough to sustain my interest. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

welcome home


Every airport seems to have its own particular icon -- a spot that people try to see as they descend to their airport.

The Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. The Statue of Liberty in New York City. The Arc de Triomphe in Paris. They provide travelers with that point of orientation we all seek in life.

Manzanillo airport has one, as well, that welcomes me home after every trip. Peña Blanca. A large white rock island in the Pacific just offshore and southeast of the airport.  

It sits just off the playa de oro.  Beach of gold. Not coincidentally, that is also the official name of Manzanillo's airport.

The name is not unique to this part of Mexico.  There is another beach with the same name a mere 10 miles southeast in Manzanillo.  And almost every Spanish-speaking country has one -- or many.  Even Oregon has a Gold Beach.

In most cases, the name is merely a romantic, aspirational metaphor.  "Our sand is as beautiful as gold."  Or, more prosaically, it represents the cash that flows from tourist hands into local merchant coffers.

In the case of this particular playa de oro, it is the literal truth. Or a mix of truth and legend. A hundred years ago, it truly was a gold beach. 

We need to sift the facts from the legend as best we can.  The facts first.

One of America's fastest steam ships, S.S. Golden Gate, left San Francisco on July 21, 1862 with 338 passengers and crew, and a hold filled with over one million dollars worth of gold that was on its way to the East Coast to help finance the Civil War.  That amount did not include the gold in the money belts of the 337 passengers -- many whom were headed east with their takings from the Sierra Nevadas. 

On the evening of July 27, 1862 something went terribly wrong.  A fire broke out in the engine room.  With the flames quickly engulfing the ship, Captain Hudson put some of his passengers in lifeboats and then steered it to 
Peña Blanca in the hope that other passengers and crew members could seek refuge on its sheer slopes. They couldn't.

The captain then tried to steer the ship to beach, but fell short when it grounded 300 yards from the beach. The fire then destroyed most of the ship. Of the passengers and crew 204 died from burns or drowning. A mortality rate of 60%. Bodies continued to wash ashore for almost a year.

And the goid was gone. In the sand and surf of Mexico.

But because there is gold in them thar tales, the rumors started swirling.

We know that just a few months later, a salvage operation recovered most of the gold in the hold. At least, 80% of it. There were reports that people living in the area may have been successful in recovering a portion of the gold, as well. But that is where the facts end.

And when facts end, legends are born.

Almost immediately, rumors began about finding money belts stuffed with gold on the beach. Then, according to rumor, gold and silver coins started washing up on the beach. 

But the legend that keeps on living concerns Bart Varelmann, a retired American, who claimed to have salvaged enough gold, a hundred years after the sinking, to finance building a bed and breakfast in Manzanillo. Photographs of the hotel would indicate not much gold was salvaged -- if any. But I am certain he had great tales to share with patrons who were thirsty for a little local color. Especially, if that color was gold.

People still come to the beach, some armed with metal detectors, in the hope that prior salvages and the ill-natured sea have not recovered all of the gold -- because everybody seems to know somebody who knew a guy who knew a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales. Even if you have no Jack Sparrow dreams, the beach is worth visiting. It is one of my favorite beaches in the area. Well-signed, but badly-roaded, on Highway 200 just south of the airport.

After all, the place is called playa de oro for a reason.

Monday, October 26, 2020

grounded beef


The world is ready to travel.

Or, at least, some of us are -- based on some recent newspaper and magazine articles. And, even if we cannot hop on a Boeing 777 to Santiago, we can re-create some of the joy of flying without leaving the ground.

Comedians have long made a living off of airline food. Not by eating it, but by ridiculing it. Even Stephen Sondheim took a whack at flight cuisine: "Anything that is white is sweet/Anything that is brown is meat/Anything that is gray don't eat." Even the food in the first class cabin of Emirates is barely a step above a Swanson's dinner.

Not that it matters. After all, who chooses a flight for the food? The beverages and meals are merely there to take our minds off of the fact that we are tempting several laws of physics by hurtling through the air in an aluminum tube.

Well, it turns out that a lot of people rank the food as their favorite part of their air trip. And, for some reason, a lot of those people are Asians.

Last August, The Economist ran an article about Asian airlines that are trying to staunch their revenue hemorrhaging by selling in-flight meals to the public. Garuda, the Indonesian carrier, will deliver a meal to the "passenger's" home with the food packaged in white plastic containers and served with plastic cutlery, on a tray, just as it would be on a Garuda flight. For 30,000 rupiah ($2 US), you can order a satisfying meal. Two choices on the menu are spinach and pastrami quiche and nasi daun jeruk (rice infused with coconut milk and lime leaf).

Some swear the meals are better on the ground than they are in the air. If history is any guide, that may undoubtedly be true. But Garuda is not alone. Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific offer similar services, as do two Australian companies who usually cater airlines.

But those schemes are pikers compared to a story that hit the wire services this weekend. On Saturday, Singapore Airlines set aside two of its A380 fleet for an ground experience in the world's largest passenger aircraft.

The diners went through the same process as passengers checking in and going through security. They were then shown to their respective seats where they could wear masks and practice social distancing while watching in-flight movies.

But the selling point, according to the newspaper, was the meal. Coach diners could dig into soy sauce-glazed chicken with spicy fried eggplant and rice for the bargain price of S$53 ($40 US). 

Business class diners were served a six-course meal for S$321 ($236 US). For the lucky few to be seated in one of the first-class suites, the meal cost a princely S$642 ($472 US). But even that was a fire sale price compared to the five-figure fare it would cost to be in that cabin on almost any of Singapore's A380 flights.

However, Australia gets the prize for creativity. On 10 October, Qantas tasked one of its Boeing 787 to do a seven-hour scenic flyover of a list of Australia's prime tourist destinations:  Queensland, the Northern Territory, New South Wales, the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Byron Bay and Sydney Harbor. Lunch was designed by a celebrity Australian chef. Not surprisingly, the flight quickly sold out even though each ticket cost between $2,700 (US) and $560 (US) to end up right back at the place of departure.

Singapore Airlines had considered a similar "flight to nowhere," but spiked it after local protests concerning pollution.  

So, I do not appear to be on my own in my flighty wanderlust. I have not seen any stories about Aeromexico selling its in-flight meals to the public. That is fine with me. I doubt I would have even taken up Singapore Airlines on its dining offer.

After all, the true joy of flying is to have that airline door slam behind me like a jail door, and then, hours later, have it open on a place I have never been.

One day. 

But today, I am going to make a pasta dish that will be better than anything I will ever eat on an airplane.

And that is good enough for me -- for now.   

Sunday, October 25, 2020

dr. freud takes a walk


There are few rules in the house with no name.

One of them is: Always wears sandals or shoes when walking around in unlit areas. Such as, the patio.

I mention the patio specifically because that is where the rule began. I had stepped on enough cockroaches, slugs, and snakes while walking across the patio at night that it seemed prudent to institute a No Shoes, No Traverse rule. Of course, it is my rules in my house. So, I don't always obey them.

What happened last night was an example of why there is a rule.

It was just before 2 in the morning. I had finished watching an episode of Peaky Blinders and decided to return my ice cream bowl to the kitchen. Because there was plenty of moonlight on the patio, I did not turn on the lights -- even though I was barefoot.

I had walked maybe three paces when I felt a very distinctive crunch under my left heel. The ectoskeletons have a certain feel. I was positive I had sent a cockroach back to its maker. Good riddance.

When I finished washing up the dishes, I returned to my bedroom, picked up my flashlight, and went outside to see what I had just killed.

My readers are a clever lot. You will have already drawn the connection between the crunch and the photograph. I had stepped on one of those nasty beige scorpions that show up with some regularity on this part of the Mexican coast.

This was not my first barefoot encounter with the scorpion clan. It was my third. The other two happened in my bedroom and in the kitchen. I must step on them just right to avoid being stung by the nasty little barb on the end of their tails.

The lack of negative reinforcement, of course, encourages me to do what I have been doing. Despite my own rules.

Now, there may be a Covid moral embedded somewhere in this morality play. Every discussion these days has -- or so it seems.

But, as Freud never said, but I will: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

And a scorpion is just a scorpion.
   

Saturday, October 24, 2020

gaining an hour


Time is like a mafia loan shark.

You may borrow an hour in the Fall, but come Spring, the piper must be paid.

I shot this photograph in the Melaque jardin in late September. Just after Independence Day. That is why the gazebo is gussied up in its fiesta finery. But what caught my eye was how the light from the setting sun was highlighting the sacred while the secular was slipping into shadows.

My initial thought was to share a specific sight most winter visitors never get to see in this particular combination -- primarily because Independence Day is celebrated when most northerners are watching the tree leaves put on their own show in their home countries.

But I never used it. And, even though today’s essay is on a completely different topic, the photograph retains its unless-you-are-here-you-will-not-experience-it attitude.

The parts of Mexico that have fallen to the beguiling song of Daylight Saving Time (there are large chunks that have not) will revert to Standard Time tomorrow morning at 2 AM. Most clocks these days re-set themselves. For those that don’t, you will need to move your clock back one hour.

If you live in Canada or The United States and are now panicking about the time change, you can calm down. You will not revert to Standard Time until next Sunday -- 1 November. That means that for one week, your two countries and Mexico will be on separate times. In the Spring, it will be for two weeks.

And, if you are living in a European country, you will change your clocks the same day Mexico does. Further adding to the twice-annual carnival.

This is usually the point where I mount my Sunkist crate and rant about the absurdity of the whole time-changing system. But I am not going to do that. The world is filled with enough irrational raving about almost anything imaginable. I do not need to add to the manure pile.

And why should I? I am living the life of a retiree in Mexico. With the exception of getting to church on time, I have nowhere to go that requires me to be there at any given time. Nowhere. Time is about as relevant to me as getting sucked into a debate whether consumer labels in Vietnam should be in Urdu.

There is one practical problem, though, that arises during the period The States and Mexico are on different time standards. I rely on the Saturday Alaska Airlines flight out of Manzanillo to whisk me here and there. When Los Angeles and Manzanillo are on their Daylight-Standard mix, Alaska keeps its flights on Los Angeles time. That means that the usual departure and arrival times in Manzanillo will be off one hour than usual.

Because of that anomaly, I always double-check my ticket for the departure time. The only time I didn’t, when I arrived at the airport, the Alaska team was closing up the check-in desk and the passengers were starting to board the flight. It was an interesting experience.

So, there you have it. Those of us who are here will pretend that we are living on Daylight Saving Time starting tomorrow.

For the rest of you, be patient until you can join us in place. If not time.
  


Thursday, October 22, 2020

going to the birds


It is Wednesday.*

That means it is vine-cutting day when I try to establish some form of order on my unruly cup-of-gold vines by lopping off their apical meristems. That means pulling out the tall ladder to do my periodic audition for the Wallendas. And, yes, you are correct, men in their seventies climbing tall ladders is a perfect recipe for an essay ending in tears.

But not today. Today's adventure did not end in tears. Just an essay. And this is it.

I had finished one vine and was busy trimming the one that stands guard on my brother and sister-in-law's bedroom when I felt a small irritation on my left hand. That is not unusual. The vines house all sorts of creatures. But I could not see anything.

Then I felt another. And another. Then another, but this time on my left arm.

I missed the culprits because they were almost too small to see. But they were quickly joined by a small swarm of larger creatures I see quite often around here. Usually, drinking at the swimming pool. They were the small black and white wasps that are common here. Paper wasps.

The source of this buzzing and stinging mayhem was not easy to see. I had to lift a few vines to discover one of those football-shaped nests common in the wasp family. This one was rather small.

It was not my first encounter with the small wasps. Several years ago, when I lived in Villa Obregon, , I discovered the wind had knocked down a basketball-sized nest of the same wasps 
after one of our occasional storms. They were not happy when I started investigated their fallen home.

I called my land lady who then called civil protection. Nothing happened for two days. When the gardener arrived, he picked up the nest and put it in a garbage bag. That is how I learned that, even though the small wasps sting, they were not a true danger. At least, to me. My brother, who is allergic to the stings of flying pests, may not have been as fortunate.

With that knowledge in hand, I grabbed a can of wasp spray and stopped the swarm. Extracting the nest was easy. You can see it at the top of the essay.

These brood factories are an architectural wonder. There are three layers of egg chambers stacked one on top of the other with space between them. All to provide a safe home for eggs and the subsequent larvae. Just like the Windsors.

A Mexican friend told me that when he was young, his siblings would tear the nests open to harvest the grubs. His mother would fry them with salt and chilies. When I asked him why he no longer ate them, he replied: "We have better things to eat now."

I have one more tale about my vine-cutting day. My patio is not simply a breeding ground for insects. We breed birds, as well.

Currently, there are two nests in operation. The bullying Eurasian Collared Doves are once again sitting on eggs in one of the Queen Anne palms. I have done my best to shoo them away because their bathroom habits put them in the irritating bird category. I may as well be housing park pigeons.

The other nester is far more welcome. A few weeks ago, while practicing my Spanish in the alberca (just to show that I do learn something in my language exercises), I noticed a small Ruddy Ground Dove coming and going. She appeared to duck inside the vines in front of Omar and Yoana's bedroom.

I was not surprised to find a tiny cupped nest. But it was too high for me to see if it had eggs or hatchlings.

Daily she would swoop in, usually for an hour or so before she darted out again for a quite trip to the Oxxo or wherever Ruddy Ground Doves goes to refresh themselves. Most small doves are near the bottom of the food chain. When not being devoured by snakes, they can be found on expensive plates at Máximo Bistrot. As a result, they are extremely flighty.

But she is persistent. Every day she endures being attacked by the Eurasian Collared Doves who try to drive her away from her appointed duty. She endures.

Yesterday, the vines where her nest is hidden was my last project of the day. I climbed the ladder and cautiously looked into the nest. I will not include a photograph of what I saw. There was one chick stretched out on its side. As black as a moonless night. For some reason I do not know, it had died.

That did not keep the mother dove from returning to the nest to sit on circumstances that will not feed her instinct to reproduce. Or maybe it does. 

Biologists would call it the drive to replicate genes. The rest of us, falling into the dangerous realm of 
anthropomorphization
, see it as a mother's love in its unadulterated form.

I do not know what the bird feels -- if anything. But if I had to choose between science and a symbol of virtues most humans have experienced, I would choose the latter.

Life is not a Disney tale. It is far better than that. 


* -- At least, it was when I wrote this essay. You will be reading it on Thursday. Just pretend you have crossed an international date line in the Blogosphere.  


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

the quick and the dead


Tradition does not run deep in my DNA.

My family is just as likely to celebrate Christmas in June and Independence Day in November. After all, one day is as good as another for celebrating life. (Social warning. Husbands trying to excise a missed anniversary with those two sentences will discover they are not universally true.) 

That is why I am a little surprised that I have fallen into a tradition of my own. One of the most notable sights in Melaque each October is the appearance of the white blossoms of the Mexican Rosewood. 

Whenever the surrounding hills look as if piles of snow have accumulated in our tropical greenery, it is an omen of three events: the return of the buzzards to my communication tower, the migration south of northern visitors, and the arrival of day/night of the dead.

Of course, it is not snow --as welcome as that occurrence would be. They are the white flowers of the Mexican rosewood. Or barcino as it is known locally. (Interestingly, "barcino" is the Latin name for Barcelona, which has nothing at all to do with the tree. There, I have now given you three answers for your next pub trivia outing. Mexpatriate is here to serve.)

The barcinos start blooming in October, just as the Canadian feet start hitting the Manzanillo tarmac. Those sandal-clad feet constitute the first ranks of the long-term northern visitors. People who will stay for seven or six months, and who are happy to trade the snow of the barcinos for the white stuff clogging their northern homes.

They will be followed by waves of visitors with shorter stays in mind, until the flow peaks in critical mass in January and February. It will then start ebbing.

Even with only the early arrivals, it is possible to discern a shift in the social cycles. Grocery shelves are being re-stocked. Seasonal restaurants are opening. Hotel staff are practicing their English. Masks are making their appearance for theatrical purposes. And tip jars are shiny after a good scrubbing.

During half of the year, this area is a tourist destination for Mexican families. The town has a different aura in the summer. In the winter, the place is simply -- different. Only Christmas and Semana Santa bring back the Mexican aura in spades.

The third event announced by the flowers is day/night of the dead. To a certain extent, the Mexican Department of Education's declaration in the 1960s to turn a regional rite into a national cultural event did not fully take root in our area -- or other areas of Mexico.

Some areas of the country had a long tradition of celebrating an annual conversation with dead relatives before it was tamed and homogenized by the Catholic Church. (Up north, we call that Thanksgiving dinner.) If you go to Oaxaca or Pátzcuaro, you will see the traditional sanitized version endorsed by the Church.

The tradition existed here, but it was certainly not as strong as it is in the highlands. There is some activity in local cemeteries, but most altars are built in the privacy of homes. And, of course, there are the public displays in the San Patricio jardin and on the Barra de Navidad malecon to add a Six Flags over Texas aura to the proceedings.

A couple of years ago, Hank told us that when marigolds, the traditional flower in the Mexican highlands for decorating graves, were difficult to buy here because of transportation issues, people would pick the barcino blossoms for graves. The substitution made sense.

Transporting fresh flowers was very difficult before these villages were connected by road to the rest of Mexico. And the substitution was very practical.

Because the barcinos bloom in October, they were readily available for decorating altars and graves at a reasonable price. Free. It may have also been better-suited to the purpose of the flowers -- to allow the departed soul to find its way through a familiar scent. What could have been more familiar than a local bloom? Otherwise, grandpa may have ended up sniffing marigolds in Tzintzuntzan.

But, if I am reading some other omens correctly, the barcinos may not herald the arrival of the usual mass of northern tourists. There is a very vocal contingent on Facebook who repeatedly spread the news that they are not coming south, accompanied by a subtext that those who are coming must have lost their common sense.

I do not know how many people will eventually not show up. But, while I was out shooting the hills for you, I stopped by one of Melaque's RV/trailer parks.


By this time in most years, the turtle people who travel with their homes have started arriving. Not today. At least, not in that park. It looked like a field waiting to be plowed.


Now, the question is whether the barcinos or the RV Park will be our more accurate haruspex-practicing Spurinna.

I do know that those tourists who plan on spending all or some of their winter here will have an enjoyable time -- as long as they keep reminding themselves that Mexico is not a colony that needs the help of outsiders in managing its affairs.

They may even want to pick a sprig of barcino to celebrate their arrival. 

 

Monday, October 19, 2020

putting your papers in order

 


One of the adventures of flying in these virus days is the addition of paperwork.

Passengers flying into and out of Playa de Oro International Airport (the official moniker of the Manzanillo air strip) are now required to fill out a form attesting they are symptom-free of the virus. Their temperature is then taken to verify at least one of the questions on the form.

For those on outbound flights, that is done inside the terminal before checking in with the respective airline. (Holders of permanent and temporary resident cards still go to immigration first to obtain their hall pass.)

For international passengers, the same process is conducted under the awning of the terminal before entering the airport. And that is what this essay is all about.

The health folks have tried to make the process as painless as possible. They have provided tables and pens to complete the forms that are handed out to each passenger. But there is only a limited amount of space, and it is just one more bottleneck in Mexico's bracing Fall weather.

When I was at the airport on my latest trip north, I asked the health representative if I could have an extra form to share with anyone who may be interested in one. But before I could finish this essay, Linda Bello Ruiz published one on a local Facebook page. I decided to use her version.

My suggestion for those of you who are flying internationally into Mexico is to print out this form, fill it in, and have it ready to hand to the temperature-taking crew.

I do not know if this will speed up the process of getting through the health line to stand in the immigration line. I have two caveats.

The first is that the health folks have started making their process more efficient by filling in a portion of the form in advance. If you copy off the form, you will need to fill in the information that is already completed in the form passengers will receive upon arrival.

I do not know if that will be a problem. Just be ready for the possibility that you may be asked to fill in a second form. And accept it with a thankful smile.

The second caveat is that filling out the form in advance may not save you any time. Passengers will line up in the order they came off of the plane. Having a completed form in hand will probably not move you along any faster. There is no express queue for folks with completed forms.

I know what you are thinking right now. It certainly would be more efficient if the forms were distributed to the airlines for distribution with the immigration and customs forms. But they are not.

And what is really lost by standing in line? Maybe a little time. But there will still be the waiting for immigration and luggage.

Print the form if you like. But maybe waiting in line will be a good transition moment to exercise the virtue of patience -- a virtue best exercised in these villages by the sea.

See you soon.


   

Sunday, October 18, 2020

cycling the buzzards


I am living a western movie cliché.

You know the scene. The old prospector is struggling across the desert in search of water that just may save his life. He looks up. And there they are. The angels of death. Circling buzzards.

That is what we called them when I was growing up in Oregon. Buzzards. But they were (and are) not buzzards. The "buzzards" in the westerns were most likely turkey vultures.

We have turkey vultures here on the Costalegre, as well. Lots of them.

But, when I look up from my reading in the patio of the house with no name, the wheeling birds I see are not turkey vultures. They are black vultures. And I have become quite fond of them.

There is a large communication with a wide array of antennae almost in my back yard. It not only brings me some very good cellular connection; it is also the roosting place of a wake of black vultures.

In the six years I have lived in this house, they have given me an opportunity to watch and learn from them. There are, of course, the obvious moments when they start their day by forming up like a squadron of B-17s off to bomb Regensburg. Only to return at night after a mission fully accomplished.

Then, there are the unexpected moments. The vultures appear to have favored spots on the tower. If a young interloper roosts in a spot claimed by a senior bird, the older bird will push the youngster off of the tower fluttering franticly to gain purchase as it hurtles down the interior of the tower. It appears that the dethroned do not always rise again.

Like all vultures, black vultures are part of nature's cleanup squad. They have great eyesight, but they lack the sensitive smell of turkey vultures. Like a puny nation feeding off of the resources of a great power, the black vultures will often trail turkey vultures and feed off of carcasses they could not have found on their own.

Turkey vultures are happy to find carrion. As are black vultures. But black vultures are not always that patient. They regularly attack and kill new-born calves, making them ready targets for Mexican ranchers.

Black vultures have a tie with Indian tribal culture in Mexico. They are often portrayed in Maya glyphs as bringers of death or misfortune. The veal candidates would most likely agree.

Not too long ago, I read an interesting study in The Economist. Scientists had long known that carcasses that vultures feed on are replete with anthrax and other nasty viruses and bacteria. The question was why vultures were not affected by the less-beneficial riders in their food.

The answer was rather simple. Enzymes in the guts of the vultures protect the meal from killing the diner. Most of the disease-carrying organisms are excreted in urine and feces that all New World vultures use to cool their legs by urinating and defecating on themselves. Or, as my neighbor Mary and I know too well from our patios, clearing the bowels seems to be de rigueur before the birds roost for the night. That makes all of the feathers and white blobs we find around our pools just a little bit suspect.

A blotchy patio is a small price to pay, though, for the enjoyment the vultures provide in their comings and goings.

The only question I have is where they go during the heat of the summer. Each early summer they simply disappear, to return in the fall along with the blooming barcinos and the return of the northern tourists.

I have no idea where they wander off to. According to the experts who write bird books, black vultures are not migratory. At least, not those this far south in Mexico.

On the other hand, there is a very good possibility that these black vultures simply have never read those books. So, they go where they will.

All I know is that the vultures are back. The barcinos are in bloom and ready for decorating local the Night of the Dead altars. And the northern tourists are starting their migration south.

It is a world of cycles. 


Saturday, October 17, 2020

stumbling back to "normal"


Welcome to your flights to Mexico update.

Just a month ago, I connected through Los Angeles airport on one of my recurring trips to Oregon (one is the loneliest number). Because of the virus, the place was almost deserted.

I was the only person in line to check-in. I was the only person in any of the security lines. I was the only person in Alaska's lounge. All but one food venue was closed. And there were only a handful of passengers waiting to fly into the smoke of the western forest fires.

I am writing to you from the Los Angeles airport. In just one month, things have greatly changed. There are long lines to check in, plenty of people in the security lines, the Board Room is half full, all of the take-out food restaurants are open, and the flights are fully-booked (with center seats left open).

Flying is certainly not what it was before the virus came to take up residence with us. But people are adjusting to what is rather-annoyingly called "the new normal."

Most people wear their masks religiously. Meaning they have good intentions, but their consistency is a bit dodgy.

The increase in people in this terminal (especially, children, lots of them, almost all unmasked) is due to Alaska laying on three or four new flights to Mexico today. (Nothing new to Manzanillo.)  So, I assume the bands of families are heading off to such exotic spots as Cabo San Lucas -- or South San Diego, as I call it.

And it is a mixed blessing. It means that people are starting to feel more comfortable venturing forth with their young children. Psychologically, that may be what we need to do to start living with a virus that does not appear to be going away.

But all of that has to be weighed against the resurgent cases in Europe and The States (and reportedly in Mexico though the officially-reported numbers would indicate otherwise).

Based solely on my own risk tolerance, I am willing to fly. In fact, I would like to start traveling further afield as the world continues to open its borders.

For now, though, I will have to be satisfied with only one more entry on my dance card. Late next month, I will fly north for Thanksgiving with my family and to tie up some loose ends for Mom.

Bit by bit we are all going to find our way in a world that is constantly changing. But it always has been. 




Tuesday, October 13, 2020

somewhere under the rainbow


Some readers have asked me whether or not they should come to the Costalegre this year.

Even though the topic has been thoroughly discussed on our local Facebook pages, I will take a shot at wrestling what is a rather complicated question to the ground.

The two big issues, of course, are the flood and the virus (which sounds like the name of a rustic pub in Lower Heyford).

The flood is the easier factor. It is true that portions of West Melaque and Jaluco were adversely affected by the August flood (stop raining on my parade), but the majority of the damage was well on the way to recovery within weeks of the inundation. There are still some major repairs under way (such as, turning Alberto Macias back into a street, instead of a Verdun trench) (breaking eggs). They are the exceptions.

The only major result of the flood that is still with us is the cloud of dust regularly stirred up by traffic. The dust and the pathogens hidden in it, are daily occurrences (dust gets in my eyes). People subject to respiratory infections or people with current respiratory problems may want to consider whether that exposure is appropriate for them.

That, of course, brings us to the virus. And it is a serious consideration for travelers. The first is getting to Mexico with the attendant risks of travel. But we all know the potential risks involved there.

Assuming visitors can get to Mexico without incident, they will face the same virus that is present in their home countries. The virus is present in the villages by the sea. Even though the infection rate and fatalities have been blessedly low, people here do have the disease -- and some die.

The biggest challenge that visitors will face is that the residents of Barra de Navidad and Melaque are not reacting personally to the virus in the same way that its northern neighbors have done. Masks worn on the street are almost non-existent. I see them more often worn in shops. Usually by customers rather than shop owners. Masks are far more common in restaurants. 

All of that boils down to one consideration -- an individual's tolerance for risk. As an example, I tend to have a high tolerance. That is why I have felt quite comfortable on my four round-trips to Oregon in the past few months. The benefit of assisting my mother outweighed the potential cost of the journeys.

The best any of us can do is to follow our personal choice of wearing masks, social distancing, and joining the racoon hand-washing club. If being around people who do not do that makes you anxious and will prod you to activity to tell others how to live their lives, you will find the Costalegre to be a very uncomfortable place to spend your winter.

So, my bottom line advice is that you know yourself far better than I do. If you have a healthy tolerance for risk, if you are willing to follow measures to protect your health, and if you live peaceably amongst people who do not share your particular practices, come on down. 

Everything that makes Mexico a pleasant place to live year-round is still here.

Even those faint rainbows in our future.

Monday, October 12, 2020

things for which we are thankful


Happy Thanksgiving.

My century of Canadian blood keeps me from adding "Canadian" in that sentence. After all, no one would be so rude as to refer to "American" Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is just Thanksgiving -- a day to celebrate the things for which we are thankful.

For almost a decade, I have celebrated this day (the joint days of Thanksgiving and Columbus Day) in Melaque. Traditionally, on the beach at Papa Gallo's. But the current virus has put paid to gathering for dinner in Melaque.

There is also the additional fact that I am in Prineville sitting at my brother's dining room table chatting with you. And we will be celebrating neither Thanksgiving nor Columbus on this day -- because we just don't.

This is the point where an essayist would usually list the things for which he is thankful. The first being that I do not have to face the dilemma of a plate of turkey in front of me.

But these lists are always so individual that I will let you build your own. And I am certain that everything for which you are thankful will be filled with grace.

Undoubtedly, you will be far more thankful than the young cane toad who decided my garage door was a great place to nap.

It has been that type of year.

That is why I am saying it twice, Happy Thanksgiving.
   

Sunday, October 11, 2020

choice shots


This morning I woke up in Los Angeles.

That is fortunate, because it is where I went to bed last night.

Even though my flights to Oregon the last few months have become routine, they are a pleasant diversion. I know the flight route well between Oregon and Manzanillo. Or, at least, I thought I did.

I usually sit in the same seat on the Manzanillo-Los Angeles flight. An aisle seat. So, I miss whatever passes by outside the aircraft.

In the era of The Virus, Alaska leaves both seats open, so I can use either or both. This trip, I spent a little more time looking out the window to share some sights with you.

It all started in the Manzanillo airport with this sign. I must have walked past it several times on trips this year. This was the first time I actually read it.


I am not certain if this is a Mexican political statement on international relations or just an out-dated poster, but "If you were in China, watch your health for up to two weeks after leaving that country" strikes me as a bit ironic in a country whose infection and death rate dwarfs that of China.

Rather than keep my nose in a magazine or book on the flight, I actually enjoyed watching the world pass by. Seeing the world from 30,000 feet above ground gives a traveler a different perspective on the world we inhabit.

The stark beauty where the northern Mexican desert meets the sea is a fascinating contrast of shapes and topography. I am not certain where this little piece of Mexico is located, but my friend Ed could have created a great painting from its inspiration.


Or this peninsula.


Based on its shape, I suspect the city is Guaymas. I have not been there since I had dinner with two fellow bloggers on my move to Mexico. Twelve years ago.

But all of the sights were not out the window. Late Friday night I whipped up my variation of a tortilla española -- using some of the ham I had purchased at Sam's Club. It was a hit. I left most of it behind for Omar, but I packed a piece (along with some salad items) for a late lunch on the airplane.


It tasted every bit as good as it looked.

But, before long, a sight not so enticing appeared. I have always been interested in the shapes that the Los Angeles grid pattern makes. However, it would be a stretch too far to call it a pretty city.


I am not certain how it happened, but I will be in Los Angeles for a few more hours than usual. On my past flights, I have flown out early. 6 or 7 in the morning.

Not this trip. My flight does not leave until after 5 in the afternoon.

When I finish our morning chat, I am going to go for a walk to purchase data for my American mobile. That should get me back to the hotel for a noon checkout, a quick trip to the airport, and three or four hours in the Alaska Boardroom.

Somewhere along the line I should find something interesting to shoot for you.

Friday, October 09, 2020

it's morning in mexico

 


Ham is a cook's best friend.

Like its cousin bacon, it can dress up almost any dish. To me, bean soup without ham is just a bowl of broth.

When I first moved to Mexico in 2009, ham was one of my several staples I could not find here or in Manzanillo. There was plenty of pressed pork sliced as lunch meat, but it was not ham. I thought that odd because the local butcher shops are filled with other pig meat products. ("Pig meat" is what my porcine-adverse mother calls all pork products.)  

During the last few years, that has changed. Alex at Hawaii buys some great ham offerings at Costco when it is available -- usually around Christmas for those of us who would like something other than turkey for our Yuletide dinners. But its appearance is rare. For the same reason it is not sold regularly in the butcher shops.

A reader, whose identity I do not recall, suggested using readily-available smoked pork chops as a substitute. The taste worked, but not the consistency of the meat.

That is why I broke one of my basic travel rules yesterday. Whenever I am preparing for a trip (as I now am -- on Saturday), I do not buy any perishable food. After all, what's the point in buying something alluring only to allow it to rot in my absence? (I have had too many relationships like that.)

But I could not avoid buying what I found at Sam's Club yesterday. Real ham. From Mexico. I justified the purchase with a promise to slice and freeze it. But not before a sandwich yesterday afternoon -- and an egg concoction this morning.

Thanks to the good services of Hawaii and Sam's Club, I had a rather exotic egg muffin to start my day. Mexican ham. Tillamook extra sharp cheddar. English muffins. French marjoram. It was an international fiesta.

At this rate, I might be through the entire ham before I board my Alaska flight tomorrow. I notice that Omar has cooked up some beans for his lunches at the construction site. I may tart up some of them for him with genuine ham chunks. (I will ask first. I have learned that most Mexicans of my acquaintance do not take kindly to someone else messing with their beans.)

The best think about freezing slabs of ham is that I will have some at the ready when I return from Oregon to live my almost-isolation life here. 

And that will not be a bad thing.

After all, it will be something to accompany my mornings in Mexico.    



Thursday, October 08, 2020

fawlty barra towers


Now and then I have a Basil Fawlty day.

This was one.

You may remember him as the social-climbing owner of a rather-seedy British hotel. The "social-climbing," "British," and "seedy" part of that description may not apply to my house, but, now and then, I feel as if I am running a little hotel without a revenue stream. That may merely be a reference to life in general.

The house with no name has about 4000 square feet of living space, four bedrooms, six bathrooms, and four terrace rooms that could be either four additional bedrooms, sitting rooms, morning rooms. or dining rooms -- if I would just set my mind to it. All that space, and there are only two of us rambling around in it. That may be why I do not see Omar for weeks at a time.

Even though there are only two of us, and there is no revenue stream, there are enough floors, windows, and furniture to keep Dora busy on the two days a week she spends here. That means that we also go through a lot of cleaning materials each month.

I like to buy most of the material locally, but, now and then, I get bored enough to put up with the annoying drive to Manzanillo. Once every two or three months. Where I load up the car with enough cleaning material to get us spic and span through a few weeks of cleaning.

Today was one of those days. My optician called yesterday to tell me my spare pair of eyeglasses were ready. Without that call, I doubt I would have undertaken the drive to Manzanillo.

Because I was in the big city, I stopped at Sam's Club to re-stock Dora's butler's pantry. Toilet bowl cleaner. Clorox. Windex. Pledge. Fabulosa. Along with a box of laundry detergent large enough to open my own laundry, a year's supply of dishwashing detergent, some storage bags, Raid (for the recent onslaught of wasps), two gallons of windshield cleaner, and assorted sausages, ham, and tomatoes. All of that for $2,414.72 (Mx). Or about $113 for those of you who think in US Dollars. 

I do not shop at Sam's Club because of cost -- obviously. Even though we thriftily use all of those huge quantities of everything we buy, I do not need to buy that much of anything. I shop there because it is a break in what is otherwise becoming rather routine days for me.

After canceling the Madrid art trip, I gathered together all of the elements of a rather interesting hiking trip on the borders of Armenia. Just as I was about to book everything, I decided to check on something that should have been first on my list. Would I be allowed in?

Armenia welcomes holders of American passports. There was just one problem. All travelers are required to quarantine for two weeks. There is an exception. A negative covid test will free the traveler from confinement -- after arriving. Which means there would be the possibility of spending my entire trip in an Armenian hotel on my own. 

I canceled the trip.

That is how bored I am with routine. But all is not lost. I am flying north on Saturday to see my Mom again. The sale of her house has closed and we need to talk about investing those funds.

At least, I am leaving Dora with enough cleaning products to see her through my absence -- and beyond.

And I may now have a nominated appellation for the house with no name. That is it blazing away in the title.

No need to hurry on it. Basil wouldn't.
 

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

driving in mexico -- phantom signs


This is one of those ongoing topics that is a cornucopia for writers.

Some people will tell you driving in Mexico is dangerous. Not because of the fabled bandits of days yore, but because of the rather chaotic flow of traffic. Particularly, in the small villages around Navidad Bay.

"Dangerous" is the wrong word. At least, from my perspective. And, even though I just used the adjective "chaotic," not even that captures the spirit of driving in the Pacific villages where I hang out.

But this is not a paean to the thrill of driving here. Unusually, for me, this is a public service announcement based on my recent driving experiences. It will come close to be a long-winded version of the two words that most make me cringe -- "be safe."

Let me provide you with a little traffic context. Highway 200 is the major north-south highway along this part of the Mexican coast. Barra de Navidad, my home village, squats on the beach almost two miles from Highway 200, but there is a connecting road.

Because the intersection also houses a major bus stop, a wily traffic engineer came up with a solution. Use a "Y" to merge the traffic. Drivers headed to Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara are shunted to the west, and those on their way to Manzanillo and Cihuatlan are funneled to the east. It is an elegant solution.

But it creates a separate problem. At the crotch of the "Y," four lanes converge and cross one another. The solution was the installation of a stop sign for traffic entering the intersection from the east, leaving the other three lanes free flow and the right-of-way.

In practice, the sign worked well, unlike other stop signs and signals that are often treated by some as being nothing more than a yield sign -- or, worse, the specter of Claude Rains.

Well, the stop sign at the "Y" intersection works when it is there. And it is not there now. I do not know when it disappeared during the last two months.

Several of its predecessors had succumbed to alcohol users. But those signs were replaced in days. Not this time.

I first noticed it was missing when returning from one of my recent trips north. My taxi was following a late-model Suburban with Guanajuato plates. The driver simply barreled through the intersection causing two motorcyclists to swerve to avoid being run down by her.

My memory is obviously not what it once was because about two days after that near-accident, I was driving north and was just beginning my turn to head off to the west. A snazzy black sedan came right through the intersection flashing its LED-rimmed lights and using all the Spanish swear words I know. At least, we did not collide.

I do not blame the tourists. With the now-denuded corner, it is almost impossible to figure out who has the right-of-way. Fortunately, people who live here, whether out of memory, custom, or caution, still come to a full stop at the intersection -- assuming no one is coming from the other directions. Otherwise, the intersection would become a finalist in The Places Where You Most Likely Will Die contest.

So, this is my heads-up to those of you who may be driving here in the near future. As long as the sign stays missing, caution is advised. And, yes, I know I am getting awfully close to saying it.

All right. I give up. Be safe.    


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

moving to mexico -- hazards


"Content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page."

That is how a popular dictionary defines "click bait." And I have been guilty of that particular vice more than once.

But, I am not alone. Headline writers make me look like an amateur -- leaving people, who get their news from scanning headlines, lost in a parallel universe.

That is not to say that "click bait" sites do not carry a modicum of truth. Take today's essay.

Yesterday I walked over to the local Oxxo to buy something. Probably a soda. While I was putting on my mask (because Oxxo is one of the few local stores that requires masking up like Jesse James to enter), I almost stumbled over something.

You may not see the problem without zooming in on the photograph. I certainly didn't. But there is a red hose that drops from the roof and droops across the entry doors. Just at the right height to Pearl Harbor patrons entering and exiting the store.

And I was not alone. Just before I entered, an elderly (you know, my age) Mexican woman was leaving the store with her purchases clutched to her chest. She tripped over the hose. I caught her from falling and then helped her pick up her groceries.

With that memory still stored in my "be careful" file, I almost did the same thing when I left the store.

These are the tales about Mexico that northerners usually turn into Kantian moral imperatives. "There should be a law." "OSHA would never allow it." "Maybe something will be done when someone gets hurt."

A reader, who has long-time connections with Barra de Navidad, will usually point out to me at this point that I am misleading my readers. That I describe Mexico as if it were a mythical lawless frontier town in 1882 Arizona.

Helmets for motorcyclists is a perfect example. I almost never see motorcyclists or their passengers wearing helmets. I suspect a lot of those riders simply do not like the idea of having their freedom impinged -- or maybe they cannot afford a helmet.

But, wearing a helmet on a motorcycle in Jalisco is mandatory. It is the law. If you visit larger towns in the state, almost every rider sports a helmet. The difference is not necessarily a difference in political philosophy between our villages and Guadalajara -- though there may be some of that, as well.

The big difference is lack of enforcement here. Now and then, usually during the busy tourist seasons of semana santa and Christmas, the police will set up roadblocks targeting motorcyclists. Fines for failing to wear a helmet. Confiscation for outdated registrations. There are rumors that donations to the policeman Christmas fund are gladly accepted.

There are all types of laws restricting personal liberty in Mexico. Laws against late-night noise. Burning rubbish. Speeding.

At times, it simply seems that the laws do not exist because problems exist with fairly enforcing them -- or enforcing them, at all. It is simply one of those differences from up north that we visitors eventually adjust to.

Now, I have no idea whether there are any OSHA-style regulations that would prohibit stringing hoses across the entrances of businesses. It turns out that the hose belonged to a fellow who had been hired to steam clean the parking lot. When the Oxxo manager saw what was happening with his customers, he went outside and admonished the parking lot cleaner. Because I had other adventures to net, I went home.

Most of the people who went in and out of the store did what people in Mexico have to do. They were personally responsible enough to be aware of their surroundings and to avoid dangers. The only two people to be tripped up by the hose were the elderly woman and me.

And I guess, if there has to be a moral to this tale (for all of you neo-Platonics), it would be that life is filled with joyous events. But, in every Eden, there is a serpent. We simply have to look out for those dangers ourselves and to help others on the same path.

After all, the law is not always going to be there to catch you from falling.

Monday, October 05, 2020

music in mexico


I know what you are thinking.

The photograph must be of a B-list vaudevillian on the inevitable road of obscurity in 1923. You would not be far wrong.

That plaintive romantic is actually me dressed up in my kids-let's-put-on-a-show costume. The year was probably 1970. That may explain the phony sideburns. At least, I hope they are phony.

While some of our college colleagues were barricading the streets around Portland State University (Portland has a tradition of student mayhem that is almost Parisian), I was in my friend David Cripe's basement celebrating a tradition that has long since gone cold in its its grave. That is, unless you are Milli Vanilli fan.

David's parents owned a large home in one of northeast Portland's early gentry neighborhoods. Mrs. Cripe would put the vast stage of her basement to good (or, at least, diverting) use by producing musical events.

Her cast was both opportunistic and nepotistic. The veterans had all attended high school together. Her son and daughter, David and Barb, and their friends, John Crooks and Carl Falk. I was the new kid on the block.

Because we lacked an orchestra and uniform singing voices, we lip-synched. The tunes were far from contemporary -- probably because "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" does not lend itself to the art form.

Our all-male company version of "There's nothing Like a Dame" was always a hit (for our admittedly small audience of friends and family). My show-stopping number was "I Wish't I was in Peoria."

Of course, the song was a staple of The Smothers Brothers and was even considered a spoof song in 1921 when it was written.

But, I had not yet developed a sense for the ironic. I was like one of those bright, young things who belt out Stephen Sondheim's "I'm still Here" without having been anywhere. But I "sang" it with all of my nineteenth century romantic instincts. 

Vaudeville music was not my genre. Until I met Mrs. Cripe, I doubt I had heard any.

The music I listened to at home was either classical or religious. Even when I was young, I had no interest in pop music. It did not seem to have any bottom to my ear. The exception was movie soundtracks and musical comedy. But I will tell you the woeful tale of how that developed -- but in another essay.


When I lived in Salem, one of my pleasures was to brew a pot of tea, slip a record on the turntable, and sit on my library sofa analyzing the piece using Aaron Copland three planes of appreciating music (why san miguel de allende?). It was one of my favorite ways to find the essence of that "peace at the center" we all seek.

When I moved to Mexico twelve years ago, I stopped doing that. The primary reason was that I had given away all of my record collection. Of course, there was YouTube in its more primitive form, but that was not a good source for me because my internet was too slow to stream audio -- let alone video.

For a couple of years an organization in Manzanillo, Bellas Artes del Pacifico, sponsored a series of performances by ballet companies and Mexican symphonies (pieces of eight). The series helped rekindle my interest in music, especially the Orquesta Sinfónica de San Luis Potosí's performance of Arturo Márquez's Danzón No. 2.

Then the series just stopped. Probably for the same reason all subscription-based organizations fail. The novelty wears off, and people stop subscribing. The series never did generate the interest amongst the local Mexican and foreign communities that I thought it would.

Since then, I have sought out my serious live music fix at the annual chamber music festival in San Miguel de Allende. Because of the virus, that did not happen this year.

Even though YouTube was not a good option for me back in 2009, things have changed. I now have a zippy internet connection perfect for streaming the site's amazing collection of music. Because of the size of the inventory, I do not even think of my old record collection. I have a much better collection (if I can try to adjust my ear to how digitizing has stripped out the warmth of those old analog recordings).

I have even found several very good versions of 
Arturo Márquez's Danzón No. 2That piece is often called the second Mexican national anthem. And it is easy to understand why. Márquez captures the tension between sensuality and the social hierarchy of Mexico in the piece. The constant struggle between the individual and the concept of nation. I have taken the piece to heart (sex on the floor).

So, I may no longer be treading the boards on my way back to Peoria, but I can do even fancier footwork in my underwear on my patio accompanied by 
Márquez's rhythms. That seems to be a very advantageous trade.

You might want to give it a try yourself. Dancing fully clothed is fine, as well.