Monday, November 30, 2020

safe travels

I hear it often -- or its kissing cousin: "Have a safe trip."

On my trips north this year to deal with family matters, they were the most common comments on Mexpatriate and Facebook, and they startled me a bit. 

I was tempted to answer similar to Gandalf's response to Bilbo Baggins's when he first meets Gandalf and Bilbo says: "Good morning."

“What do you mean?” [Gandalf] said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”

Unlike Gandalf, I know exactly what the "Have a safe trip" wishers mean. They are being nice. If they give any thought to the phrase, they hope my trip will be uneventful and that I will not end up as a bloody heap along some rural road.

No one should get themselves wrapped around an axle over a heart-felt concern. Most of the wishers are simply trying to defend the ever-crumbling infrastructure of social niceties.

I usually just smile in response to the comment or I will say "I hope I have an adventurous trip." Anything more would simply be churlish.

In the scheme of life, it is a personable quibble that ranks no higher than wearing brown shoes with blue trousers. It lives next door to that social tic "How are you?"

But our choice of words is a reflection of our souls. It is not always true, but most often it is easy to determine what a person feels about the world with their choice of words.

It seems as if this tendency to greet departures with "Have a safe trip" is a new phenomenon. In the recent past, the usual response when I told someone I was off to places exotic was: "Have a fun trip." And that was a perfect reflection of why I was vagabonding around the world. For fun. For adventure. But never for safety.

People who say "Have a fun trip" see the world like that. A fun place where adventures are awaiting around every corner. Where there are new people to meet and new foods to be eaten. Where conflicts will inevitably arise with new lessons to learn.

Even though it is a nice thing to say, "Have a safe trip" reflects a different view of what the world offers. A world that is dangerous and may hurt you if you are not careful. It stems from the belief that going away from home is filled with worries when you could stay nearby in a cocoon of safety.*

I tend to be Hobbesian in my worldview. Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. I take that as a given because I can do nothing to change it. I then play out my life against that background scenery -- searching out all of the good that this bounteous creation offers us during our brief sojourn here. Adventures are to be anticipated and savored. 

When Mom sent Darrel and me off to school, she never once said: "Have a safe day." What she did say was "Have fun. Learn something new."

I am hardly a Pollyanna. See my Hobbes confession above. I am what I call a hard-headed realist with optimistic overtones. I know that travel has markedly changed its perceived danger in these viral days. That is simply a reality we are learning to live with.

Even though I have already suffered a bout of the virus, I do not travel these days unless the necessity outweighs the risk. My family's needs were greater than the risk on my trips north this year. I cancelled my planned trips to Madrid, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan because the need disappeared under the weight of the risk. I guess I was being safe before I even left, which does create an apparent illogical loop in this essay.

I wonder how we would start viewing the world if we adopted my mother's approach. When one of us is heading off somewhere, why not imagine the traveler is heading off to school. "Have fun. Learn something new. Don't lose your jacket."

And, if you have time to slip an encouraging note into my Roy Rogers lunch box, you will make mothers throughout the world smile.

If only a little. In these days, that will be miracle enough. 

* -- 
Yes, I know these reductionist arguments are subject to an inherently weak intellectual foundation. Very few things in life are so simple that they can be reduced to two tiny categories -- even in this case. There is a lot of sliding scale between those two poles.      

Saturday, November 28, 2020

heading home to mexico

It is almost like getting stuck in one of the original Grimm Brothers' fairy tales.

Well, maybe the bowdlerized American versions where things turn out well in the end. But you are still stuck.

I am in  the Los Angeles airport once again. It has long been one of my favorite stops because it means that I will be home in Mexico in about three hours. But the airport itself has its own charms. Bustling. Crowded. Efficient. Creative. All of the virtues I enjoy in traveling.

If you have been tracking my five trips north to Oregon since August, you already know that the Los Angeles airport has not been "bustling" and "crowded" on any of my trips. I expected they would be back in force on this Saturday after Thanksgiving -- traditionally, one of the busiest flying days of the year.

I was wrong. There are a few more passengers in the terminal, but check-in took only five minutes and getting through security even less. I was once again the only person in the security area -- at 8:30 a.m. on what should have been near-record numbers of passengers. The waiting areas at the gates have a few more people than usual. But "crowded" it is not.

That is why I was surprised to see the Alaska Board Room was about at half-capacity. That is a mob compared to my past flights when the place was nearly empty. The gangs of children were a perfect harbinger that Thanksgiving had just passed.

California is in the midst of a resurgence of the virus. A big resurgence. To de-plane at the airport, I had to complete an on-line form acknowledging that I understood the state's restrictions (none of us had any idea what they were) and verify that I would at least give a passing thought to quarantining for 14-days.

All of us in my area of the airplane had a good laugh because we were all spending just one night at an airport hotel and then flying off to our various destinations -- most to Mexico. Good theater is based on the premise of shared good intentions coming into contact with The Absurd.

Some travelers showed their own disdain for the governor-imposed restrictions. There is an area in the terminal that combines a Wolfgang Puck cafeteria, a bar, and a pizza joint. The common tables and chairs have been taped off with "closed" signs on the tables on my previous trips.

The bar patrons had grabbed their drinks and deemed that it was not appropriate to stand while drinking. So they broke through the tape, tore the signs off of the tables, and unstacked the chairs to create their own sitting area. Maybe they were conducting their own scientific study to determine if drunks cannot catch the virus. The action was less pitchfork-and-torches, than it was merely juvenile. 

Apparently, no one enforces the restriction because wave after wave of alcohol-wielding passengers took up the place of the study members who moved on. And here there is a lesson. Unless government is willing to enforce restrictions on personal liberty with authoritarian efficiency, there is little sense in imposing the restriction. And that, of course, creates its own problems.

I am a bit disappointed that people do not show a bit more responsibility for their own health. Lacking that concern, it is philosophically impossible to care about the health of others.

But, before I start a debate that I have no intention of being part of, I will close. 

In about an hour I will board my flight home. And I will say good-bye to the vagaries of this airport until late December.

The story never ends. At least, not with a Disney tag-line.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

on my brother's couch

I do not know when it first began.

But my brother's couch has long been a comfort place for me. Decades ago when I would tire during a heat-infused Central Oregon summer day, that couch was my invitation to spend an hour or so wandering the fringes of Morpheus's realm. These days, it serves as a secondary place for me to alight while wandering around my brother's house when I am unable to sleep.

I suspect it is more than that. There is usually a sad tale to tell when someone says: "I am sleeping on my brother's couch these days." And it is usually not a tale devoid of woe. Think of Niles being relegated to Frasier's couch.

For some reason, I have considered "On My Brother's Couch" to be a great title for a short story. And I may actually write it one day.

Today was Thanksgiving in the Cotton household. Even though Thanksgiving was not the primary reason for me to be in Oregon this week, it has turned out to be a pleasant confluence.

Being who we are, our family chose to celebrate Thanksgiving today -- one day early. We brought Mom over to Prineville from her apartment in Bend, combining three households for our celebration. That sounds far more grandiose than it is in reality. Those three households end up totaling only four people. Mom, Darrel, Christy, and me. Time and space has whittled our clan.

But it does not take a lot of people to a pleasant Thanksgiving make. And this was a good one.

We have a long tradition of trying new concepts for our holiday meals. Today was no exception. Instead, of popping a turkey into the oven with little ceremony, Darrel and Christy decided to spatchcock the bird, soak it overnight in a citrus and apple cider brine, and then slip butter and orange slices under the skin. Only then was it ready for its oven experience.

The bird was accompanied by ham, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and a turkey gravy that I improvised this afternoon. Plus a heaping bushel of things for which we are thankful during this past year. The fact that the four of us were here to celebrate with one another was our primary prayer of thanks.

While Darrel, Christy, and I were preparing the meal, Mom rested on the couch reading a book. She was bundled up to ward off the day's chill. Watching her, I thought back about 35 years ago to a Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt Naomi's house.

In those days, our dinners were truly a gathering of the clan. There must have been almost 25 people there that Thursday afternoon -- almost everyone with an assigned task. My maternal grandmother had recently moved from Powers to the Portland area. She would have been 84 years old at the time.

She sat on the couch near the kitchen, warmed by an afghan, and watching the dinner take shape. At one point, she had been in command of the family meals. She was now an honored guest. To her, it must have seemed that her functional place in the family had been usurped.

When I looked over at Mom today, I realized that must be exactly what she feels. For Darrel, Christy, and me, it was our way to return the favor of all the meals she has cooked for us -- and for which we are thankful.

But, to her, it must feel strange to be sitting in the same position her mother sat 35 years ago.

We are not the first generation of this family to go through these Thanksgiving family cycles. In Mom's case, they stretch back to her Mayflower ancestors. One generation after another giving thanks for the blessings they had received in the previous years.

And those cycles will continue for future generations of our family. And we can be thankful for that, as well.

For me, I am thankful for my brother's couch and its part in stitching together my own memories.

For those of you of a more traditional American bent, I wish you a blessed Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

seat hog heaven

We all have encountered them.

The people at the airport who look as if they are impersonating refugees fleeing war by interpreting the internal cabin rule of "one carry-on bag and a personal item" to mean four shopping bags, a satchel, a large suitcase, and a purse that could include a sizeable portion of Imelda Marcos's shoe collection.

How they cope with the limited space on board, I have no idea. And it is not today's topic.

I am far more interested in what happens after they get through security and before they board. All of that baggage needs to go somewhere. And where it goes in waiting rooms is on the seats surrounding them. Sometimes on the seats facing them. They are what we generously call seat hogs.

Under normal circumstances, their imperialism takes away seats for four or five other people. About a year ago, I posted a photograph in the Manzanillo airport waiting room. A northern couple had seized four seats with their luggage, forcing a young Mexican family to huddle together in the remaining two open seats. Most of the comments were (not to put too fine of a point on it) emotional. I finally deleted the post when at least a quarter of the comments blamed the Mexican couple rather than the arrogant tourists. 

I am currently in the Los Angeles airport on my way further north. It appears that one of the beneficiaries of the social distancing rules are seat hogs. This is the Sunday before Thanksgiving -- usually one of the busiest flying days of the year in The States.

Based on my last four trips north since July, there are more people in the airport than on those trips, but not by much. The place still looks as if it is underserved  by at least 60%.

I bought lunch at one of my favorite eateries in Terminal 6. Everything is essentially take-out because all of the tables and chairs at the restaurants have been roped off. Instead, passengers who buy food wander about 100 feet to the nearest waiting area to chow down.

I would call that counter-productive, but the chairs in the waiting area have been labelled with stickers that look like parking violations. Sitting cheek to jowl is not a possibility for people who are inclined to not be compliant.

You can see the result. If a seat hog wandered in with his carry-on collection, he would have more than enough space to rest his stuff before doing battle with the gate clerk while trying to board.

I should have turned the camera around to shoot my position. I had occupied the chair on my left for my spaghetti and meatball tray, and the seat on my right for my backpack. I looked like the poster boy for You-Too-Can-Look-Like-A-Stymate-While-You-Travel. And I had the virus to thank for my entry into a club that has raised my hackles in the past -- if hogs have hackles, which I doubt they do.

In about a half hour, I will return to my role as The Compliant Traveler. For just one magical moment, though, it was nice to feel that frisson of being someone else.



Saturday, November 21, 2020

on the road again

You would think that I would be happy to settle down at home for at least one week. After all, I just returned from an interesting (but short) trip to Ciudad Guzmán.

But I am heading north this afternoon -- for just a week. When I left Oregon last month, there were several tasks that I still needed to accomplish with my mother. And because they are time-sensitive and I have to be present as we work through them, I need to climb aboard this afternoon's Alaska flight to Los Angeles. On Sunday morning, I will fly directly to Redmond for a six-day stay. And everything will then switch into reverse on Friday.

And, yes, I am fully aware that this is not an opportune time to be traveling. I will be flying from a virus hot spot (Mexico) into two other hot spots (California and Oregon). My only consolation is that I have canceled all of my near-term trips to Europe where matters are currently even worse.

This will either be trip number four or five to Oregon since the Manzanillo airport re-opened in July. I can do nothing about the existence of the virus, but I do my best to minimize exposure . As I have written on earlier trips, Alaska Airlines has instituted some impressive measures to protect the health of passengers -- and to put butts in seats. Only half of the first class seats are sold, and the middle seats in coach are kept open.

The fact that this is Thanksgiving week is an unexpected bonus. I doubt I would have flown north solely to gather with my family. But I may have.

Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. Unlike some families that celebrate Thanksgiving as a gathering of the clan, there will only be four of us. I would be happy if we simply made hamburgers for dinner. The importance of the day is being together, not what we eat. (I will probably be excommunicated from the Epicurean Church for such heresy.)

I need to be at the airport in three hours. So, I will sign off and start packing.

If I go silent for a week, you will know where I am -- and what I am doing on the latest episode on Steve's antique road show. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

on the road to ciudad guzmán

Yesterday was a big day for my son. He took his university admission examination.

Because the examination was held at the University of Guadalajara in Ciudad Guzmán, it also would give me an opportunity to explore a city I had seen only once (and that was briefly) last October (back to school). So, on Wednesday morning, Omar, Yoana, and I loaded up the car to head for Ciudad Guzmán.

I had looked for online hotel reservations the week before, but the only available rooms I could find were in a hotel that did not receive very good ratings. Its advantage was that it was located only a ten-minute walk from the university where the examination would be conducted. Omar said we could wait until we arrived.

As luck would have it, we ended up at the hotel I had found on-line. From the exterior, it looked fine.

But here is road trip tip number one. If you know the town where you will be staying, book on-line instead of at the desk. In this case, the same rooms had a tariff of 1000 pesos (Just under 50 US dollars) each. The on-line price was 382 pesos. 

And I quickly discovered why the reviews were mixed. Everything in Omar and Yoana's room worked perfectly. My room had no toilet paper, the overhead fan was broken, and one of the twin beds had only been partially made. For all of that, the hotel had a quaint charm. Outside it looked like one of those retro Los Angeles motels -- or something in north Miami.

Besides,  I was in town to see sights, not to live in my hotel room.

I did just that yesterday morning while Omar was in his examination. I doubt Ciudad Guzmán will ever be listed as one of Mexico's top five cities. The area we stayed is rather new and is filled with convenience stores, supermarkets, and used car dealers. It reminded me of Ankara -- as do a lot of Mexican cities of thos vintage. Functional, but not without a dash of charm. Street scenes like this are common.

I was looking for something a bit less contemporary.

I knew that prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the valley in which Ciudad Guzmán nestles was part of the Kingdom of Zapotlán -- one of the tribal kingdoms that would shift between the Kingdom of Colima and the much larger Purépecha Empire. That all came to an end when the Spanish forces of Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán, one of the cruelest of the conquistadors, conquered the area in 1526. With that conquest, Zapotlán el Grande, as it was still known, took on a new history.

The city did not receive its current name until the Spanish had been evicted in the War of Independence and after the area became part of the battleground during the War of Reforms in the 1850s when the Conservatives and the Liberals (or federalists) took up arms to settle political questions.

One of the war's early victims was retired General Gordiano de Guzmán. A local boy who was a hero of the War of Independence and the American-Mexican War, his federalist views disturbed one of Mexico's historical scoundrels, President Antonio López de Santa Anna, of Alamo fame. President Santa Anna ordered his henchmen to assassinate General Guzmán. Which they did. Most likely, to the annoyance of Santa Anna, the citizens of Zapotlán el Grande renamed the city Ciudad Guzmán.

With all of that history, I knew there had to be a colonial town square that would be worth visiting. Somewhere between the hotel and the square, I could tell I had entered a different planning zone. My canary in the mine for those changes are Oxxo stores. In most neighborhoods they sport their circus red and yellow colors. In "preservation" areas, the colors are subdued.

And I was correct. About three blocks later, the rather claustrophobic street opened onto a classic colonial Spanish square with the joined powers of the state and the church standing shoulder-to-shoulder around the perimeter -- along with the usual commercial ventures.

Usually, the star architectural of colonial-era squares are the churches -- or, cathedrals, if the city is also fortunate enough to be the local see. And Ciudad Guzmán is.

Unfortunately, la Catedral de San José is not star material. Built between 1866 and 1900, it was once far more magnificent, with towering bell towers, than its present version. The culprit is earthquakes. There is a volcano that sits just outside of the city -- one of the same volcanoes that impress tourists driving along the tollway from Colima to Guadalajara. And earthquakes mean geological faults that, in turn, mean earthquakes.

Even though the cathedral is relatively young, its bell towers have Humpty-dumptied several times, killing people in the process and giving rise to the local myth that the cathedral is haunted. No mere hunchback for them.

The last toppling was the result of the Mexico City earthquake in 1985. The authorities decided enough people had died in town from falling cathedral masonry. Instead, the church has only stubs where tall towers once grew. It gives the cathedral the look of a run-down villa in Tuscany.

The cathedral's interior is well-suited for its purposes, and a bit gaudy to my Quakerish eyes. The church was being used for its intended purpose while I was there, so I did not get to explore the nooks and crannies that make most cathedrals worth spending time.

Instead, I went outside to look at the square. The most impressive feature is the Porfiriato gazebo. In most Mexicans cities, they are cast iron art nouvea constructions. This one is of monumental concrete in the neoclassical style.

Visitors who climb the stairs into the gazebo will be surprised by a mural on its dome that is rather jarring considering its classical surroundings. I could not find anything to confirm my immediate (and un-researched) conclusion that the mural was painted by another famous local boy, José Clemente Orozco. But, it certainly is in his style.

The choice of classical architecture for the gazebo may not have been the aberration it appears to be. A lot of institutions and cities have nicknames (such as, Emory University's claim to be the "Harvard of the South" or Merida's to be the "Paris of the West"). I have often suspected that some local wag made the suggestion knowing that everyone but the people in the city or institution would see that it was self-deprecatory.

Ciudad Guzmán is the self-proclaimed "Athens of Jalisco." And, even though some of you will be tempted to ask if that is the same thing as the old Mel Brooks joke about being "world-famous in Poland). this nickname happens to be apt.

The city has produced more than its fair share of composers, artists, writers, and intellectuals. This is just a sampling:
  • Priest-natural scientist-archaeologist, José María Arreola
  • Composer, concert pianist, and recording artist Consuelo Velázquez Torres 
  • One of the first short story writers to abandon realism, Juan José Arreola Zúñiga 
  • Classical violinist, composer, and populizer of mariachi music, Rubén Fuentes 
  • Novelist Guadalupe "Lupe" Marín
  • Actress Esmeralda Pimentel 
  • And the most famous of favorite sons José Clemente Orozco, who was one of the big-name artists who initiated the Mexican Mural Renaissance with his complex portrayals of symbolic and real machines that led to human suffering

The city has honored them all (and others) in its square.

With symbolic sculptures. For artists

For writers

For musicians

And with plaques. You can see one in situ in the photograph above.

It says something about a city that it is willing to honor its intellectuals with public displays of honor and affection.

I was just getting into the rhythms of the city when Omar called and informed me he had finished his examination. So, the three of us checked out of the hotel, and made a speedy two and a half-hour trip back to Barra de Navidad.

For a dozen years "Ciudad Guzmán" was only a name on a road sign as I sped past on my way to or from Guadalajara. I now have a reason to return.

To complete my unfinished journey through another piece of Mexican history.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

death by tortilla

Last week, I had run out of some sort of food item.

I don't remember exactly what it was. Italian pasta. Pickled ginger. Kalamata olives. American butter. I only remember that it was something imported.

When I need imported food, I have one reliable source: Hawaii. If it is in town, it will be there. But, whatever it was was not on the shelf.

I asked Alex, the owner, if it had been discontinued. It turns out his source was Costco, and Costco had not stocked the item for months because it was caught in a constipated supply chain. And that constriction was due primarily to a new Mexican government regulation.

If you purchase food in Mexico you have probably already noticed a large label that announces its theoretical healthfulness. Three categories are graded: calories, saturated fat, and sodium. If any of those categories exceed the limit set by the Secretary of Health, that category turns a deadly black.

All of this probably sounds vaguely familiar to you. It is the same philosophy that drove governments to put all sorts of warnings on cigarette packages about the risk to health (including the ultimate risk: death) could arise from smoking cigarettes. It was a strange combination of enlightenment marketing combined with the same threats of the local Mafia enforcer. "You gotta a nice store here. Pity if it should burn down."

It is a bit odd to see Mexico taking this route. Recent studies have shown that the cigarette warnings were not very effective. After awhile, photographs of tumorous lungs become part of the marketing background.

The most effective anti-smoking measures have turned out to be the same two things that drive most social behavior. The second most effective method for reducing the rate of smoking was economic. By adding taxes onto each pack of smokes until they were affordable only by the elite who had decided to quit the habit, smokers were left with the choice of giving up the habit or buying their cigarettes from their local drug dealer.

And why had the elite abandoned smoking? Through social pressure, the method that had the most effect.

Governments banned smoking in public areas. Then the public took over. When Bette Davis lit a cigarette in All About Eve, it was a symbol of power-driven sexuality. Now, television includes warnings about sex, violence, and smoking -- as if they are all in the same category. And they are -- according to the public. Smokers are now a social pariah. If a character in a movie smokes, you just know she is the villain.

All of that makes me wonder how successful this new labeling program will be to convince Mexicans to eat a healthier diet. The program is not limited to labels, though. The government imposed a tax on sugary drinks and foods. A small one. I suspect it is just a start. But I doubt social opprobrium on food will ever be as effective as it was on smoking. Who knows?

After all, it took a long time for the anti-smoking campaign to be successful. The Surgeon-General's warning about smoking was issued in 1964. A lot of smoke has gone over the lungs since then.

Some nutritionists have long argued that the basic Mexican diet is not healthy. Restaurant Mexican food has long been a target of the calorie-saturated fat-sodium brigade. And it looks as if the Mexican government has been persuaded by that particular denomination of the nutrition religion.

If our experience with the anti-smoking brigade is any indication that success comes only when the public joins the bandwagon, I am not certain that attacks on tortillas are going to be a rallying cry for the peasant pitchfork and torch rising.

I am not a fan of tortillas. But my son Omar is. And I suspect if asked, he would probably respond: I'll give you my tortilla when you pry it from my cold, dead hands."

For me, this is a great opportunity for a bit of virtue signalling. When asked if I want a tortilla. I can now respond that I would prefer something healthy.

Like a cinnamon roll.      

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

dog days of winter

"Can I bring my dog on the bus?"

It is one of the most common questions I am asked by northern visitors. And my usual response is to fall back on parsing the question.

"It depends on the type of the bus, where you are coming from, and where you are going." We lawyers are prone to taking a hypothetical cottage and turning it into a palatial maze. That is, when we are not turning them into castles in the sky.

And the entire cross-examination is unnecessary for one simple reason. I have ridden only one bus since I have lived in Mexico -- and my dog was not accompanying me. But I now know there is an easy answer to the question.

This morning, while walking past the bus station in San Patricio Melaque, I discovered Primera Plus (one of Mexico's premier passenger bus lines) has come to the aid of their passengers. That large banner is a typically-thorough Mexican response to the bus-riding dog question.

And if the banner is not sufficient, Primer Plus has provided a customer service dog to fill in any details lost between the warp and the woof. She told me that she also acts as the bus equivalent of Shimbleshanks the Railroad Cat, welcoming vagabond dogs on their arrival.

I still do not know the answer to the question, but I know where I can now refer questioners. 

Because they are barking up the wrong tree with me on this one.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

feliz día de la revolución

You may think that I, like Billy Pilgrim, have come unstuck in time.

That I am five days early with my revolutionary greeting. But I have the Mexican holiday calendar on my side.

Last night, I attended the season opening of Papa Gallo's on the beach in San Patricio Melaque. I knew some big event must be afoot in town.

Several of the side streets were packed with tour buses and the main street in front of the restaurant had nary a parking space. It has been a long time since I have seen that many cars in town for a weekend.

When I saw the beach, I knew where the occupants from all of those buses and cars had gone. The beach was not completely full, but there were more people than I had seen since at least March -- probably for the entire year.

Part of that could be attributed to the fact that Friday was the last day of the Jalisco mini-shutdown. People were now free to leave the confining retritions of their urban lives to head for the beach.

But the real reason is that this a Mexican three-day weekend. Mexico has only three of them: Constitution day on the first Monday in February, Benito Juarez's birthday on the third Monday in March, and Revolution day on the third Monday of November. Even though the day honoring the start of the Revolution is on 20 November, Mexicans will get tomorrow off to celebrate the most important event in the defining of Mexican culture.

Mexico's current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (or as he is commonly-known, AMLO) is not happy with the notion that those three very important days have been disassociated from the true day of their occurence.  In February, he declared that the three-day weekends would be discontinued, and celebrations would return to their original days: "I know that it will create controversy, but those who don’t know where they come from don’t know where they’re going." (strike three)

Before he sent the required legislation to Congress, he wanted to consult with educators. Well, that did not happen because of the virus outbreak. Mexico's attention was diverted from switching dates on the calendar to trying to avoid hospital beds being filled with dying patients.

And that is why we are all celebrating Revolution Day on Monday instead of on Friday. Usually there would be merchants on the streets selling Revolution Day paraphernalia: flags, Emiliano Zapata moustaches, Pancho Villa ponchos. I suspect that is because the usual street parades of children dressed up as Heroes of the Revolution Who Would Soon Be Assassinated will not happen this year.

When it comes to patriotic holidays, I am something of a traditionalist. I like celebrating the birthdays of George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. on the days they were actually born. Not on some random third Monday. And, yes, you are correct, all that is from a guy whose family once celebrated Christmas in July with hot dogs and potato salad.

I am not certain that Revolution Day is the hill AMLO should choose to die on, however. Mexico has chosen to date the start of its Revolution on 20 November 1910. But the events of that day are not quite as propitious as the storming of the Bastille or the Potemkin mutiny.

When President Porfirio Diaz announced in 1910 that he would not seek re-election after being president for almost 30 years, reformers thought they there would be a peaceful transfer of power to Mexicans who wanted to improve their country's social system. Francisco Madero, the son of wealthy northern landowners, announced his intention to run for President.

Porfiro Diaz changed his mind and ran for another term against Madero, and stole the election. For good measure, Porfirio Diaz locked up Madero, who, like all good revolutionaries, escaped imprisonment and fled his country to organize what would be the Mexican Revolution from his refuge in San Antonio, Texas. He had a plan. The Plan de San Luis.

That plan called for all Mexicans to rise up against The Dictator en masse at 6:00 PM on 20 November 1910. (Madero was a bit obsessive about such matters.)

Fully expecting he would be met by hundreds of armed men on the Mexican side of the border, Madero crossed over the Rio Bravo with ten men and 100 rifles at the appointed time.  To find only another 10 men on the other side. He returned to Texas hoping for a reset.

Eventually, the Revolution gained strength. Six months later Porfirio Diaz was no longer president, having fled to exile in Spain -- dying in Paris in 1915 during another great war.

Historians had to pick a date for the start, and 20 November 1910 seemed to be as good as any. The fact that it can now migrate to the third Monday of November does not strike me as being heretical. The date chosen seems to be inherently elastic.

But, that is the reason why so many people are in town -- celebrating the exploits of Francisco Madero, first president of The Revolution and his revolutionary cohorts. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

goobye and hello to our favorite nun

Season 4 of The Crown debuts tomorrow -- introducing some new cast members and dropping others.

The Bank of Mexico has been doing the same thing since 2018 with its banknotes. Like all countries, Mexico uses its currency to celebrate its history. And Mexico has a lot of history to celebrate.

This will be the third set of new banknotes since I moved to Mexico. The Bank of Mexico regularly shuffles around the historical cast members featured on its notes -- or replaces them with new faces.

A little bit of both is happening with the new series. In 2018, the stern visage of President Benito Juarez was moved from the 20-peso note (that is being discontinued) to the new 500-peso note (money makes the words go round). In 2019, 
José María Morelos y Pavón was moved from the 50-peso note to the 200-peso note where he joined Miguel Hidalgo (old heroes, new money).

Yesterday the Bank unveiled its latest revision. A 100-peso note featuring Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz to represent Mexico's history as a Spanish colony. It is the first note in this series to be produced in portrait orientation instead of landscape.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is not a new cast member. If you look in your wallet, you will see her on an older version of the 200-peso note. 

Most of us were very happy to hear her face would continue to grace a note because she is one of Mexico's greatest literary figures. A
 woman, a nun, a writer. She fills a lot of cultural boxes.

If you have taken a Spanish literature course, you will have read works written by Juana Inés. Especially, her poetry. She is acclaimed as one of the great writers of the Spanish Golden Age of Literature.

But she is an interesting choice to represent the Spanish colonial period in Mexico. First of all, she is a woman. In the 1600s being a woman gave a person very few social rights. Worse than that, she was born illegitimate.

She did have one leg up, though. Her mother’s family was very wealthy. Juana Inés grew up in the hacienda of her grandfather. And, in that hacienda, there was a library that would change Juana Inés’s life -- and Spanish literature.

She learned to read and write Latin by the age of three. She composed music. By eight, she was writing poetry. In her teens, she was known as a philosopher. She even learned to speak and write Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs).

The chief road for a colonial woman to get ahead in life was to marry well. But an illegitimate young woman who was far better-educated and more intelligent than most of the men who would court her, was not prime marriage material.

She briefly served as a lady-in-waiting to the wife of the Viceroy of New Spain. But she found it stultifying. When courtiers would propose marriage, she turned them down. She showed absolutely no interest in becoming a man’s wife.

Instead, she became the bride of Jesus by taking the only other social road open to her. The church.

She became a nun. In her convent outside of Mexico City, she acquired a library and set up a salon where the intellectual elite of Mexico City could (and did) meet.

Her writings, that she shared in her salon, could be very biting.

If you have not read any of her poetry, you can still read it on the old 200-peso note -- a couplet from her “Philosophical Satire.” (I am not certain if the couplet survives on the new note. The photograph appears to include some of her work.)

Hombres necios que acusáis

a la mujer sin razón,

sin ver que sois la occasion

de lo mismo que culpáis.

In English:

O foolish men who accuse

women with so little cause,

not seeing you are the reason

for the very thing you blame.

You can feel the acid dripping off of the couplet.

The church did not mind that this very intelligent nun was willing to write about feminism and controversial theology -- even writing some rather explicit lesbian poetry. But the Bishop of Puebla was not going to allow her to attack the social patriarchy -- especially to call it incompetent and hypocritical.

He ordered her to get rid of her library, her compositions, and her musical and scientific instruments. She complied and refocused her duties in nursing the ill. Within a year, Juana Inés was dead -- from the plague, contracted while attending her fellow stricken nuns.

Juana Inés is a noble figure. She seems almost modern. Her sex and illegitimacy may have been a social handicap for her, but there was another that infected colonial life in Mexico

Spanish society was notoriously hierarchical. Being near the top of the pyramid mattered a lot to people who wanted to be successful.

The big social distinction in Mexico between people of Spanish blood was whether they were born in Spain or whether they were born in Mexico. Men born in Spain had won the social lottery. All positions were potentially open to them.

That was not true of men born in Mexico of Spanish blood. The Spanish considered these criollos to be inferior to them. The criollos could serve in the church, but they could not be bishops. They could serve in the army, but they would never be generals. They could serve in government, but they would not reach the top of the greasy pole.

During the 300 years Spain ruled Mexico. Mexico was merely a Spanish possession, with the Spanish born in Spain riding herd on the rest of society. It was just a matter of time before the tension broke the order.

But, that is another story -- the Mexican War for Independence -- that is already honored by the new 200-peso note.

Before yesterday, the 100-peso note featured Pre-hispanic Mexico with the portait of 
Nezahualcóyotl, a poet-king. The appearance of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz on the new 100-peso note consigns him to the role of former cast member -- along with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo who were removed from the 500-peso note.

When all of the shuffling is done in 2022, Mexican banknotes will be a chronological list of Mexico's history. Or, at least, the major events we are all familiar with.

50-peso: Pre-Hispanic Mexico

100-peso: Colonial Mexico

200-peso: War of Independence

500-peso: War of Reform; Restoration of the Republic

1000-peso: War of Revolution

2000-peso (if necessary): Modern Mexico 

But, for now, we welcome back 
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in her new role as the representative of New Spain. She deserves her place in our wallets as a representative of her era.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

tipping the couriers

Today is the day I get to show my postman -- or postmen, in my case -- how much I appreciate the Mexican postal system.

It is Dia del Cartero -- Postman's Day.

I had a brief tryst with Mailboxes, Etc. (a mail service) in Manzanillo when I first moved to Mexico. Every week I would drive an hour to Manzanillo to pick up my mail. It was usually the same mix. My magazines from the prior two weeks and the inevitable 16-page letter from Houston mayor Bill White urging me to send him 55-gallon barrels of money to support his itch to be governor of Texas.

The solicitations would have been mildly interesting to me if I lived in The States. But I was not a Texas voter and each of his letters were as heavy in arcane political matters as they were heavy in weight when Christopher put them on the scale. I paid a rather heavy price for each piece of political arcana. 

That is because Mailboxes, Etc. not only charged a monthly fee, it also charged for the weight of each piece of correspondence I received. And all I was getting was old magazines and unwanted junk mail. After about eight months, I decided there was little value in maintaining my relationship with the company, though, fortunately I regularly see Christopher on my frequent comings and goings at the airport. He is now an immigration officer.

So, I closed that account and signed up for a Mexican postal box. For the cost of what a weekly trip to Manzanillo, I now had a drop closer to my house for about $15 (US) annually. When I opened the box, I was receiving all of my mail faster than it arrived with Mailboxes, Etc. The political correspondence stopped, but letters from friends took about 10 days to 2 weeks to arrive. Even my magazines were a day or two earlier. (I eventually solved the timeliness problem by switching to electronic delivery.)

Even though correspondence is now taking longer, the Mexican postal service has been very reliable for me. But the best aspect of having a box is that I get to know the postmen. They provide me with local gossip for Mexpatriate and one of them gets great fun over the past four years of physically comparing me to President Trump. Julio frequently wants a selfie with me to show his friends. It is all in good fun.

That is why I need to finish up this essay and my breakfast* so I can drive over to Melaque and give each of them a peso-note of a certain denomination in a gift card. It is a small token to let them know how much I appreciate their service.

It is true that we may not have snow and not much rain, but we do have heat and gloom of night, and our couriers always complete "their appointed rounds."

If you have not already done so, I suggest you go to your local post office and tangibly show your consideration by paying consideration. 

* -- I will confess that I have loitered over my breakfast this morning. It may be because of its international flavor. Indian fry bread toasted in bacon grease topped with a melange of beans, chilis, tomato, onion, garlic, and ginger. I then added two eggs seasoned with ghost pepper salt and marjoram. I washed it all down with a Ginger Mojito tea (green tea, lemon peel and mint) from Tess -- a British-Russian consortium, that sounds like a company from a World War One novel. It was a breakfast to savor.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

aztec warriors for freedom

It is Armistice Day. Or Remembrance Day. Or Veterans' Day.

The day has gone by several monikers in different countries at different times. Initially, the day was set aside to honor those who had fallen in The Great Imperial War of 1914-1918 as a reminder that nothing so horrid should ever happen again.

But it did happen again. Over and over in the Twentieth Century, and the day, by the sheer weight of thankfulness, expanded to honor the veterans who battled the forces of totalitarianism.

That is why we still set aside the day the armistice went into effect with two minutes of silence. On the almost-talismanic 11th day of the 11th month at 11:00 AM. 

Under normal circumstances, I would be gathering with a group of Canadians, Americans, Europeans, and Mexicans at Rooster's to mark the day with the obligatory two minutes of silence, tales of heroic relatives, reading of "In Flanders Fields," and singing the Mexican national anthem. But the virus has claimed another of our civil rites.

During the First World War, Germany did its best to drag Mexico into the war on its side (an affair to remember). But Mexico maintained its foreign policy of neutral non-intervention. Mexico was far too busy trying to settle its own Revolution to worry about how the European imperial powers were going to carve up Europe.

The Second World War was a different story -- as the result of several serendipitous factors that coincided in the early 1940s. Mexico's relations with the United States and the other European allies were strained following Mexico's Revolution. They worsened when President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated foreign oil holdings to create Pemex. Therefore, when Manuel Ávila Camacho, a close ally, was elected president in 1940, no one expected Mexico's foreign policy to change. But it did.

Initially, President Camacho wanted only to improve relations with the United States. President Roosevelt was open to the overtures and offered infrastructure aid to Mexico, as well as a reduction of the onerous debt Mexico had acquired through its years of internal turmoil. In turn, the United States purchased strategic resources from Mexico: copper, zinc, mercury, cadmium, graphite and lead. That assistance, along with other factors, tripled Mexico's annual income from 1940 to 1946.

And that is where matters may have remained had not German submarines pushed Mexico into the camp of the Allies. Immediately after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Mexico severed diplomatic relations with Japan, Germany, and Italy. But Mexico withheld its hand from declaring war.

Six months later, Germany responded to that political generosity by sinking two Mexican oil tankers in the Gulf of Mexico. Germany refused to apologize. On 1 June 1942, Mexico declared war on all of the Axis powers.

President Camacho attempted to limit Mexican participation in the war to logistical support. Mexican citizens decided they were not going to be restricted to that role. At least 15,000 young Mexican men went north to enlist in the American armed forces. President Camacho eventually saw the wisdom in deeper involvement; it would provide Mexico with a strengthened diplomatic position following the war. And it did.

The Japanese gave President Camacho the cultural hook it needed to increase its participation in the war. Mexico has strong connections with The Philippines. Between the mid-1600s and 1821, Mexico had been the hub in the Spanish Galleon trade between The Philippines and Spain, and the same Viceroy who ruled Mexico on the king's behalf, also ruled The Philippines. Some Mexicans had settled in The Philippines as part of the Spanish Empire, and Filipinos had settled in Mexico as part of the importation of the coconut plantation culture. (I understand there is still a Filipino community in Colima.)

When the Japanese invaded The Philippines, President Camacho could (and did) exhort Mexicans to help "liberate our brothers."

And so they did. Mexico organized an air squadron (Squadron 201, also known as the Aztec Eagles) and sent the squadron north to the United States for training in at Laredo in 1944. They were called the best and brightest Mexico had to offer the war effort. When I underwent my Air Force pilot training at Laredo almost 30 years later, the squadron was still honored on the walls of the headquarters and training facilities.

By the time their training was complete and they were shipped to The Philippines in April 1945, there was still a lot of war to be fought in the Pacific. The squadron (consisting of 300 volunteers: 30 pilots and 270 ground crew) did just that in their P-47D aircraft. Between May and August, they flew 90 missions including infantry ground support, and bombing raids on Formosa and Luzon to dislodge Japanese defenders. They were credited with putting 30,000 Japanese troops out of operation.

Upon their return to Mexico City on 18 November 1945, they were feted with a parade of honor. 

But, as is true with all tales of military heroes, not everyone returned for that parade. Of the 300 volunteers that left Mexico, 34 pilots and ground crew were casualties of the war.

For the 15,000 Mexicans who fought as part of the American armed forces and for the 300 volunteer members of the Aztec Eagles, we celebrate you this Veterans Day. Even though the day is not a holiday in Mexico, the service you provided helped the Allies win a war against the terror of totalitarianism.

We thank you, as we thank those who served. On this hallowed day.

And because there will be no public celebration today at Rooster's today, I offer this anthem. The same anthem that we would have sung together had we met.


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

enjoying art with ed

My smartphone is not very smart.

Of course, it is only as smart as the information I tell it. And that makes it not very smart, at all.

I woke up this morning to the usual chimes my telephone emits when it has something it thinks is very important. With the insistence of a four-year old child. "Daddy. Daddy. Listen to me."

When I looked at the screen, my first reaction was momentary mild concern. "Your Emirates flight from Madrid to Dubai is now boarding." I say "momentary" because it did not take me long to put my life back into context.

In a parallel world, I would have spent the past three weeks in Madrid upping my game on Spanish art at the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection. My head would have been filled with the works of the masters whose works my artist friend Ed Gilliam visited in his youth.

Right now, my body would be nestling into a seat on a flight that would have been on my bucket list -- if I had had any such thing as a bucket list. I suspect I had been looking forward to the Emirates flight as much as I had been anticipating the art course.

But the resurgence of the virus in Europe had put paid to the whole trip. Had I managed to maneuver my way around the border restrictions for flights from Mexico, none of the collections I wanted to view would have open. And there would have been no Emirates flight. It too was canceled in the world I actually inhabit. 

Instead, I have been enjoying myself in Mexico doing what anyone does who lives here all year.

To sate my art thirst, I have been studying the textbook from my college art appreciation course I took when I was a freshman. Even though it was the only course I ever took in college that started at 6:30 in the morning, it was my favorite. I can still hear Mr. Huntington's voice planting seeds of interest as I thumb through the book.

Several readers have suggested a good substitute for my trip would be looking at the three collections online. They are correct that the internet has given all of us access to great works of art without having to brave the vagaries of modern travel.

But the internet can only offer substitutes, not good substitutes. The images online are no better than the posters one can buy in museum gift shops or the plates in art books. I suspect that is even true of the new three-volume set of detailed prints of the entire Sistine Chapel -- at a cost of $22,000 (US). 

It is impossible to fully appreciate a piece of art like Velazquez's Las Meninas without being in its presence to see the detail of its construction. I had been looking forward to seeing it in person after seeing Picasso's reconstruction of it at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona -- a work that helps the viewer understand Picasso's use of abstract imagery.

Ed and I would often discuss art during our breakfasts and dinners. He first visited the museums of Europe as a college-aged backpacker. Of course, we talked about the art. It is why he went to Europe. But most of his stories related to the people he met on his journeys.

I am longing to travel again. Like Ed, I have some very specific things I want to see and do. However, it is the people I meet along the way that make the trips worth the travel. Because I am an optimistic person, I have booked trips to Japan next September and to Italy next October.

That does not mean that I cannot enjoy travel and people before then. Northern visitors are arriving here in the villages almost daily. There is nothing keeping me from doing what Ed did in Europe in the 1960s. Meet people. Listen to the tales they have to tell. 

So, beware. I am on the prowl for new adventures and new stories.

You just may turn out to be the next essay on Mexpatriate.

Monday, November 09, 2020

locking down with sherlock

We are now in week two of the governor-ordered Jalisco lockdown.

"Lockdown" is a bit too dramatic of a term. Of course, hyperbolic social intercourse has become the coin of the conversation realm these days. So, "lockdown" it is.

I promised to keep you updated on how people are complying with an order that had all the complexity of the Babylonian Talmud (partial shutdown). But, being the lawyer I am, I realized the question I posed is not the correct one. We should not be concerned with whether people are complying with each detail of the restrictions on our activities, but whether the purposes of the order are being met.

For all of its hokey-pokey details of when people can go to the tienda de abarrotes and when they cannot, the governor's stated purpose for the rules was to minimize our contact with one another while simultaneously recognizing that people have economic lives as well as health lives. In that sense, the order appears to be working. At least, on its face.

I feel sorry for all political leaders who are faced with this virus. Even though scientists know very little about this particular virus, they do know a lot about coronaviruses in general. The first thing they know is that it is transmitted from person to person by close contact -- primarily in the air. 

The obvious solution would be to imprison everyone in the world in their homes for a month or so to let the virus run its course. No deliveries to homes. No visitations. But, even that would not work because there would need to be armed forces ensuring the recalcitrant did not sally forth as Typhoid Marys. The armed forces would simply be a breeding ground for the virus.

The other extreme is to simply ignore the virus while we all go merrily through our days letting the virus work its way through the population creating herd immunity -- and vales of tears for the fallen.

So, we end up with the hodgepodge Jalisco order that mirrors, to a great extent, what is being imposed in Europe as its infections and deaths increase. It is easy to mock the order, and a lot of us have, especially those who are caught up in the Mexican political drama that now colors every move here.

But the bottom line is that activities have been noticeably reduced during the shutdown. Most restaurants were operating as ordered, with a heavy emphasis on take out. Stores generally closed during the proscribed hours. And the beaches, which are usually busy on a normal November weekend, are lightly attended.

What no one knows, and no one will know, is the extent to which the two-week restriction will affect the infection rate. After all, that was the ultimate goal -- to reduce the increase in infections. Without a rigorous testing regime (and that is not going to happen), we will never know if this restriction of liberty paid a dividend or it was simply a bad investment.

I have been spending my time at home with a few sorties to Hawaii for groceries. There is plenty to amuse me here with reading and writing topping the list.

And there are movies. In the last two days, I have used both my Netflix and Amazon Prime accounts to watch two movies that coincidentally involved Sherlock Holmes -- one of my favorite characters from English literature. Both had something of interest, but I could not recommend either one unless you had absolutely nothing to do in the middle of the Kalahari.

Let's tackle the oldest one first -- Mr. Holmes on Amazon Prime. Ian McKellen plays a retired 93-year old Holmes in post-World War Two Sussex. He is trying to write an account of his last case, but his memory is steadily disappearing. His housekeeper's young son, Roger, is the foil that helps him find snippets of the past. In turn, Roger finds a father figure to Roger; his father died in the war.

There are at least five story arcs that are cleverly interwoven into the film -- all of them designed to challenge Holmes's reliance on logic (the character aspect I most admire about him) in favor of the far less-rigorous pursuit of human relations.

It is not a Baker Street escapade, though the screenwriter allows himself the interesting conceit that most of the Sherlock tales written by Dr. Watson were a smoke screen to protect their privacy. It is almost like the alternative timeline device so beloved of Star Trek. The screenwriter is then free to plunder the Holmes canon.

Even with all of those plot devices, new insights into the Sherlock mysteries, and outstanding acting in what turns out to be an ensemble cast, when the whole thing is put together, it is not as good as its parts.

The story arcs come together in what sounds like a Holmes mystery, but they are not very satisfactory. In fact, the resolutions are almost perfunctory. It almost feels as if the producers ran out of funds to properly conclude what they had wrought.

But it is a better piece than Enola Holmes, a Netflix film about the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes who sets forth to find her home-leaving mother. Apparently, it is based on a series of books, The Enola Holmes Mysteries, juvenile books that have missed my attention.

The good stuff first. Like all films of this genre, it is a good adventure -- all Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.

Enola was raised rather unconventionally by her mother, who taught her fencing, chess, jujitsu, and home-schooled her by requiring her to read every book in the Holmes library. Oh, yes, she is every bit as intelligent as her two much-older brothers.

She has developed a knack for codes from the games her mother taught her. When Mom scampers off on Enola's sixteenth birthday, she leaves behind a trail of clues that feels like something out of an elementary video game.

So, Enola is off to London to find Mum -- with brother Sherlock always nearby to offer suggestions. Pretty normal stuff.

But the movie strives to be more. It wants to be a Message movie. Feminism. Gender roles. Political oppression. Voting rights for the common man (and woman, eventually).

The juvenile novel foundation is not sufficient to withstand the weight of every social wrong since Neanderthals were shown the cave door by racist homo sapiens. As a result, the plot totters along as Enola uses her one-trick pony talent of decoding messages to usher us through a world that looks less Dickens than something that would appear in a debutante's diary.

None of that offended. It just disappointed. If you want to take on Big Issues, do not pretend they can be resolved by simply disguising yourself as a boy -- over and over again. And then de-coding a message the audience had already figured out a half-hour earlier. 

Oddly, the thing that annoyed me most was the sloppiness of the script. On the train to London, Enola encounters a damsel in distress that she must save. Well, she saves a young man who looks as if he was auditioning for the part of Lord Alfred Douglas. And, in fact, he claimed to be a lord -- "the Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether."

Knowing this was a Holmes mystery, I immediately knew the boy was a fraud and would soon be found out. His story was that his father had recently died and he had just inherited the Marquess title.

But that was the problem. Even though Viscount Tewkesbury may have been his courtesy title during his father's lifetime, upon Dad's untimely demise, the boy became a marquess -- a title that outranks viscount. Stated properly, his title would be Marquess of Basilwether, Viscount Tewkesbury, or just drop the viscount all together.

It was such an obvious clue that when the story progressed and it became evident the boy was a marquess, I could not get it out of my head. Was it just a badly-researched mistake? Or did the screenwriter fail to include something in the novel? Or, worse, did the screenwriter think so little of his audience that he thought no one would notice?

Whatever it was, it was sloppy. And that sums up my thoughts about the movie. It is a good adventure romp where Nancy Drew becomes one of the Hardy Boys. And that is a lot of fun.

But the Message part of the movie is mutton dressed as lamb -- where social complexity is reduced to a set of cartoonish platitudes. 

After watching both movies, I am anxious to return to life outside my house.


Sunday, November 08, 2020

the bat cave

“Bats frighten me. It's time my enemies share my dread.”

That was Bruce Wayne's answer to Alfred's question why he had chosen the bat as his symbol to fight crime.

Well, I do not dread bats. I am rather fond of them. That is fortunate because I have my own private bat cave in the house.

There are two utility alcoves at the front of my house. Both host bats, but the one on the east side of the house seems to offer what bats want most in a resting place. 

That is all it is. A resting place. They show up only in the night. Drinking from my pool and snatching dinner from the clouds of mosquitoes that plague this part of Barra de Navidad. They then hang out together during the night in that alcove.

By the morning, they are gone. I have no idea where their home is, but I do know a lot of them permanently reside in a cave north of Melaque. Perhaps that is their voting address.

That was true until last week. On Wednesday, Dora was in the process of retrieving the trash can from the alcove when I heard a sharp shriek. When she moved the can, it must have startled bats who had stayed on after their check-out date. I would estimate 20 flew out, and there were at least 10 more who were either too drowsy to fly or who simply did not find any threat from us grounded predators.

For about three days, I thought I had a growing cauldron of bats to keep the mosquito onslaught under control. It turns out it was a passing fancy. When I looked this morning, I was batless in Barra.

It may have been some sort of mating ritual foreign to me. Or maybe that group was simply trying out new homes. The cave in Melaque always seems to be crowded with bats. I don't know.

I do know that the bats still return at night and entertain me with their dining swoops and Naval Aviator in-flight precision of drinking from the swimming pool. It is not often that amusement can also be utilitarian.

And that is not bad for a fly-by-night operation.    

Thursday, November 05, 2020

bob barker wants you

Yesterday, we were talking about life cycles in Mexico (a day like the others -- and no other). Here comes another.

One of the big adjustments I had to make when I moved to Mexico was the lack of seasons. I had a friend in Minnesota who claimed Californians did not age because they did not have to survive hard winters; their days just melded from one day into another day just like it.

That is not true for the area of Mexico where I live. We have seasons. Two of them. One of them is dry and warm. The other is wet and hot. The former passes as winter, the latter as summer.

This year our summer seemed to be hotter and less wet (if you do not count the torrential rains that brought the August flood) than usual. And the heat has lingered longer than usual. We have started November and the temperature and humidity are doing a very good impression of early September.

Now, I have absolutely no scientific data to back up that assertion. The heat may just be one of those perceptions of grumpy old men, who search out easy complaint targets -- when they are not running for president.

The only data point I have is very subjective. Most years, I turn on the Barco Rubio Memorial Air Conditioner starting on August nights, and turning it off somewhere in early October.

Not this year. I started using up my solar credits around July, and the air conditioner has been running each night I stayed in the house. I will confess I even ran it during the daytime if I was doing work in the bedroom.

In Oregon, I was accustomed to seasons transitioning into one another. Certainly, there were winter storms that barreled in to challenge the rule. But they were the exceptions. Spring seemed to magically turned into summer over a couple of weeks of sprummer.

Here, the two seasons change abruptly. The end of winter is heralded by a spike in the humidity somewhere around late June. It feels as if the fat guy who violates the sauna towel rule has just dumped a 5-gallon can of water on the hot rocks. And winter arrives just as abruptly.

I could feel a change in our nights during the past week. Our days were still hot and humid, but the nights were starting to take on a subtle chill. In three days, the water in my pool dropped four degrees.

Last night, I had turned on the overhead fan (but not the air conditioner)in my bedroom while I finished writing yesterday's essay. The room was still a bit warm from the day's heat. When I finished writing, I decided to traipse over to the kitchen to wash a salad bowl. (Sorry Joan. No ice cream this time.) When I stepped out my bedroom onto the patio, there must have been a ten-degree difference. Winter had arrived.

When I returned to my bedroom, I opened both main doors, closed the screen doors, and turned off the fan. I slept better in the chill of the night than I have for months. Winter is finally here.

I knew it was coming. For the past week, my son Omar has been wearing a heavy hoodie while riding his motorcycle. Just as the blooming barcinos promised, the weather has slipped into another cycle. And I can stop looking each morning at NOAA's National Hurricane Center website -- at least, for another six months.

This refreshing weather has arrived just in time to welcome back northernern visitors -- at least, those who have determined their risk tolerance is high enough to migrate south for a few months.

As Bob Barker used to say -- "Come on down!," The weather is fine.