Thursday, July 29, 2021

understanding place


"To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi."

So said William Faulkner.

I do not know about the Mississippi part of that sentiment. But I think I know exactly what the Sage of Yoknapatawpha County meant when he wrote it.

While I was finishing up my daily walk on the house's upper terrace this evening, I started wondering how Faulkner would understand the village I call home. I do not know about Faulkner's reference to Mississippi because I have not spent a night there. Unlike the secessionist arc of states from Texas to Florida where I have spent quite a bit of time, my visits to Mississippi (just like prosperity) have simply been passing through to someplace else.

That is too bad because Mississippi, if Faulkner is to believed, is one of the regions where People of Place live. They seem to draw their very essence from the soil as much as any grand crus from its terroir.

I have been sticking close to home for the past two days. On my trip north, I developed a rather nasty allergic reaction to something that masqueraded as a summer cold. I did not think much about it until I returned to Mexico and received an email from two friends here. They too had been fighting what they assumed to be persistent colds. When the coughing did not let up, they went to a local lab and tested positive for The Virus.

They suggested that our group should get tested just in case we had been infected. I put it off until yesterday.

The vines in my patio tend to get out of control while I am gone. So, Wednesday, while Dora was here to watch me fall off off the ladder, I started pruning. I had almost completed the third of four planters, and was at the top of the ladder. Without warning, my head felt as if it had gone into orbit in advance of the billionaire astronauts. Everything was in a multi-G-force spin.

Fortunately, I made my way down the ladder, put away my tools, and put myself to bed where I slept away 5 hours of the afternoon and 10 hours of the night. (I usually get no more than 5 hours total each night.)

Because I was still weak this morning, I trundled off to a local lab to get my too-long-neglected covid test. My procrastination did not cost me (or the people I had been in contact with) anything. The test was negative for covid. And, oddly, my cough was gone. By the afternoon, I had my strength back. What has not gone away is some immediate bowel issues. Thus, my walking was restricted to the upper terrace.

While I was up there, Barra de Navidad experienced one of those sunsets that I doubt are seen Jackson. Maybe in Biloxi. But it was not the sunset that caught my immediate attention.
 
One thing this area shares with Mississippi is heat and humidity. At 9:33 in the evening here, it is 84 degrees with 82% humidity. In Jackson, it is 82 degrees and 88% humidity. We are almost kissin' cousins.

In this heat at this time of night, sounds carry. For the past two nights, I thought the vector control trucks were on their assassin rounds to bring the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes under control. We have had a surge of dengue here -- along with a wave of Delta variant infections. 

But I was wrong. There were no spray trucks killing off the insect population. When I listened carefully, I knew exactly what the sound was. The song of cicadas. Or, as my Colombian cousin Patty more-poetically describes them -- exploding crickets (blowing up jiminy cricket).

Every year about this time, they emerge from the soil, sluff off their larval carcasses, and fly off to sing their Reddy Kilowatt songs to attract mates for the next reproduction cycle.

I could almost imagine a modern-day Dilsey Gibson returning home from his law office and sitting down under a Spanish moss-bearded oak in his back yard to watch the last streaks of purple disappear below the horizon while he listened to cicadas imparting their buzzing wisdom accumulated over thousands of years to be imparted from one of God's creatures to another in a place where people had lived for generations and relied on the other strengths that God gives those who love his creation and the creatures in it.*

It made me happy tonight.




* -- My homage to Faulkner. Mrs. Richardson did leave her mark on me.    

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

killing me softly


Yesterday may have been an "if-it-isn't-one-thing-it's-another" day (gandhi smiles). But today was its first cousin once removed: a "one-thing-leads-to another" day.

Some time ago (the earth's crust was cooling at the time, if my memory serves me well), I decided I was going to grab ahold of my health with both hands and a sturdy shillelagh. My diet, though high in aesthetic appeal, was a nutritionist's nightmare. I was sorely overweight. And I had several medical conditions that needed tending to.

So, I did what my obsessive self is prone to do. I threw myself into a diet and exercise program that would have made Torquemada's day.

I religiously walked 15 miles (or more) each day. I stripped out as many carbohydrates from my plate as I could. (That was a bit difficult because the low-lying fruit had already been picked. I do not care for most fruit and I am not a user of alcohol.)

Nancy Dardarian over at Countdown to Mexico convinced me to try intermittent fasting. I ate only two meals a day at 2 and 6 in the afternoon. The result was that within 6 months I had carved off 50 to 60 pounds from my Falstaffian body. 

And then one day, for no apparent reason, I stopped the whole process. Just stopped. And I am not certain why. No more walking -- and, worse smashed potatoes and bread returned to my plate. And no more daily blood tests -- for over two years now.

I have some theories. The first is that my Mexican neighbors started talking to me in hushed tones asking if I had cancer. When they did not suspect cancer, my friends were kind enough to point out that I looked horrible. The most common comment was that I looked 20 years older. And I felt it. Losing the weight left me fatigued. I did not particularly like the look of the guy I had become.

But that was all vanity. I think I just got tired of sounding like one of those people you dread will sit next to you at a dinner party whose depth of conversation is solely Their Health Numbers. You know those moments: when you wish that Western Civilization held seppuku in higher regard. Perhaps that is why butter knives are so dull.

That is why I was a bit shocked when I suggested (to myself) it was once again time to put some discipline back into my diet and exercise. As of Sunday, intermittent fasting has reappeared and walking is back on the schedule -- with a personal restriction of no more than 10 miles each day. I am trying a bit of moderation.

Because of the summer heat here in the afternoon, I decided to take most of my steps on the upper terrace. It is a perfect walking track. One circuit of the square (what I call "circling the square" just to raise the eyebrows of mathematicians) is 1/20th of a mile. You can do the easy arithmetic from there.

Well, it was not so perfect on my first circuit. Two fronds of  a Queen Anne palm hit my head as I walked under them. There must have been an arachnid convention in session on one of the fronds because I was showered with multiple spiders and scorpions. (The land crabs must have been caucusing elsewhere.)

When palm fronds sprout from the palm's trunk, they are a perky lot. But age and gravity, as we now know from Gillian Anderson, will affect both homo sapiens and palm fronds. The fronds needed to be trimmed -- or I was going to be forced to play George of the Jungle on each lap.

I put my walk on hold and went downstairs to the bodega where I retrieved two limb loppers. In less than two minutes the Ho Chi Me trail was back in operation.

Then, I saw some loose pieces on the palm trunk and used the pole-topped lopper to pull them off. Then another. Then another. Two minutes stretched close to two hours.


On Sunday I was eating a tuna salad sandwich in the swimming pool and dropped a tiny piece of fish on the pool apron. Because this is the tropics, a line of ants appeared almost immediately, and carried the tuna across the patio and up the same tree I was lopping. I suspect it was the equivalent of a human (with the help of some friends) carrying a grand piano from Portland to Seattle. I was impressed.

But, while clearing off the base portions of the dead fronds, I discovered where the ants were homesteading. In my cleanup process, I broke open their nests. They frantically rushed around trying to save as many eggs as possible, including up my arms and legs.

Within minutes they were organized enough to carry off their young to better homes. I suspect we humans could learn some lessons from them.

All of the dead fronds are now collected in seven large garbage bags for tomorrow's garbage pickup (despite the creative suggestion of a Mexican friend who suggested I should just pull them out into the middle of our dirt road in front of the house, and set them on fire). I will need to give the garbage men a sizeable tip. They usually refuse to pick up yard debris due to the limited space in the truck.

My walking track is cleared and the patio is tidied up -- and I am now eating in my four-hour envelope.

Despite what I said about lifestyle changes yesterday, this is one that will need to be permanent.

Monday, July 26, 2021

gandhi smiles


Today was a "if-it-isn't-one-thing-it's-another" day.

I started the day in the pool by combining my morning exercise routine with my Spanish lesson. All was going swimmingly until Antonio the Indispensable Pool Guy showed up to clean the pool. He suggested that I continue my eccentric high-stepping routine and he would return tomorrow for another battle in the Summer Algae wars.

Because I had not seen him in close to a month as a result of my travels and odd-hour bedtimes when I am in residence, I invited him in and hopped out of the pool. If "hop" is the appropriate word for an overweight old man. It turned out to be good that I did.

I had barely pulled on some clothes when Antonio called to me from the pump room. One of the pipes to the pump had decided to rehearse its Old Faithful impression for the Great Pump Show. Without a quick fix, either the pump room would be flooded or the algae would have its way with the pool. Antonio was having nothing to do with either option.

So, off he went to one of our many local hardware stores and returned with various PVC pipes and joints. He obviously was re-engineering that entire section of plumbing.

With a lot of sawing, cramming, and gluing, I was the proud owner of a new and more-effective intake for the pool filter. And it looked far more aesthetic than its cracked predecessor.



While I was writing this, I realized I had partially fallen into the trap of home-owner lamentation. You know how it goes. "How the house has lost its luster/ How the fine house has changed." That sort of thing.

Since August I have been flying north to assist my mother with a new chapter in her life. Last week, Mom, Darrel, and I attended two memorial services: one for the husband of my father's cousin, the other for a friend I have known for almost 40 years (dancing in the beat of god's heart).

During times like this, people have a tendency to fall back on such hoary chestnuts as:"we need to appreciate each moment of our lives" or "we need to constantly focus on the relationships that surround us." The problem is that we never do. At least, for very long.

Even though those thoughts are larded with good intentions, they always crash on the reality of our self-created reefs of life. We want to do the right thing, but there be dragons here, and their wages are not paid in sentiment.

After Antonio's ministrations in the pump room, I returned to my exercise and Spanish in the pool. And it made me content.

There might be a lesson there. Rather than attempting to completely remake who we are after the death of loved ones, perhaps we could simply change our focus from the annoying broken pipe to the small grace notes that come our way every day. 

For you it may not be exercise and Spanish. Gandhi had a great suggestion that just might apply to our current situation. He advised discontented people to seek out people who held different views from theirs (religion, politics, how to properly fix sewer leaks on Melaque streets -- OK, he did not include that last one).

Then listen to what they have to say. Learn why they believe as they do. And then share with them in a similar manner. We all might learn something new.

You just may make Gandhi smile.
 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

i am a line man


Today I spent the morning honing my skills as a line man.

And not a Glen Campbell county-type of lineman. More like a queue master.

Tomorrow I will be boarding my regular monthly Alaska flight to Los Angeles and then on to Redmond. Before the clock turns Cinderella back into a victim of involuntary servitude, Mrs. Cotton's elder son will be wishing her a good night.

To fly tomorrow, I need a certificate, not more than three days old, that I am as free from Covid as an old guy can be. Without the certificate, I cannot even check in my bags (or body) at the Alaska counter.

There is a testing site at the airport, but I like to have all of my paperwork in hand when I arrive. There have been tales of people arriving at our airport only to discover the testing site is not open that day, leaving them to scurry back to town for a rapid test -- or rebooking a flight.

Early this morning, I drove over to my favorite lab in San Patricio. This must be about the fifth test I have have taken since the requirement went into effect. In the past, there were usually no more than two people waiting in line in front of me. That is why I was a bit surprised to see a sizeable line waiting for the lab's services.

Surprise should not have been my reaction. For the past week I have seen similar lines in front of our local medical offices. The delta variant of covid is making its way through our community. Some people (not me) predicted that this community's light covid infection rate might be an anomaly just awaiting the next wave. They may have been correct.

What was usually a five-minute wait was much longer. But I only had one more task to accomplish for the morning, so I waited patiently -- as if there was an option.

When my turn came, I was in and out in less than two minutes. An hour later, I had my transit papers signed by General DeGaulle (oh, wait, I think that is a different story arc). I am now ready to head over to the Manzanillo airport tomorrow afternoon.

Just a suggestion. If you are going to use local labs in the next few weeks, I suggest getting the test done early on the morning before you leave.

I was then off to pay my electric bill. Or, more accurately, leave a deposit for future months of service.

My household is based on the fiction that I live here permanently. And, disregarding my travels, I do. I have attempted to set up my recurring bills to be paid electronically and automatically. But that has never quite worked as planned. And it does not usually matter -- as long as I am here to make my payments.

CFE, our government-owned electricity agency, is another office that takes very little of my time. Today was different.

When I went to the main door of the office in Cihuatlán, a workman told me to go to the entrance off of the employee parking lot. The reason was obvious. Workmen had gutted the office area to remodel it.

So, I walked around the corner to encounter a line of about six people standing and sitting in the shade. After just under an hour, the line was reduced to me, That is when I took this shot.


As soon as I sat down, four more people arrived. Unusual for the CFE office, I was in the chair for another half-hour before I was admitted. My deposits took only three or four minutes and I was on my way.

My helpful hint for CFE was going to be that you should expect your CFE transaction will take longer than usual. And it would be a good hint. But a short-lived one. The contractor told me the work should be complete in another week. Operations will then be back to normal.


There you have it. Two hints to deal with lengthening lines due to changing circumstances.

Now, maybe someone can tell me what the new surprise at the airport processing will be tomorrow for me. There almost always is one.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

he's back


My swimming pool is my combination recreation-dining-reading room when summer settles into this part of the world.

For the past couple days, our temperatures here on the tropical Pacific coast of Mexico have taken a distinct leap forward in humidity. At the least the humidity has. The temperatures have sauntered around the upper 80s and lower 90s, as they will until the rainy season lets up in late October.

But it is the humidity that adds that extra bit of oomph to the pit-watering heat index that graces our summer weather. One day, the weather is practically perfect in every way. The next it feels as if that fat guy in the company sauna, who flouts the towel rule, has poured a gallon of water on the heater.

Thus, the aforementioned "past couple days" coupled with "my swimming pool."

This is the time of year when I spend the greater part of my day standing or walking around in my pool. This morning, I was catching up on the news in The Economist -- how the teacher unions in Colombia have endangered the education of the students they should be teaching -- when 
I felt something climbing up the inside of my right leg. 

That feeling is not unusual. My pool is often visited by a variety of insects. And most of them are no more interested in human beings than we are interested in them -- with the exception of insects who need us as an integral part of their sex lives.

The only insect visitors to my pool who violate that rule are some sort of small black water beetles with an annoying habit of biting. Me.

I suspect they are merely eating sloughing skin, but they often bite to the quick. I noticed yesterday that they are starting to show up along the water line of the pool again. I dispatch them as soon as I see them.

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

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

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

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

The water scorpion does carry a type of venom, though, as do most hunting insects. To calm its prey, the water scorpion inserts its proboscis and pumps in a sedative. When the prey drifts off into twilight, the rantara dines.

The same proboscis acts as a defensive mechanism, as well. In fear, the water scorpion will poke humans with it, though the effect is not even close to a true scorpion sting. I have been nipped at least twice now. It is nothing more than a little pinch.

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

That may be why they do not stay long to enjoy my company. As soon as they discover the water-filled pool is a dry prey-hole, they crawl out on the edge of the pool, do an uncanny imitation of a praying mantis, and fly away like some strange alien in an 
M. Night Shyamalan film.


Of course, I may simply not be thinking like a water scorpion.  Maybe this guy had the same ambition as the spiders in one of my favorite Gary Larson cartoons, and knew just where he could find a more resplendent meal.


Sunday, July 04, 2021

simona -- thanks for the memories

 


Happy Fourth of July.

For Americans, it is the time we celebrate winning our independence from a tyrannical, imperial oppressor (with a large dose of assistance from another equally-tyrannical, imperial oppressor). And between bites of mustard-laden hot dogs and majestic mountains of potato salad, some of us may actually reflect on the founding ideals of the Declaration of Independence and what we need to do to be more true to them.

For various reasons our area of Mexico did not host the usual gatherings of Canadians on 1 July and Americans on the Fourth. Instead, I spent this evening on a bittersweet voyage. I must have taken my celebratory advice from that old impresario George M. Cohan, who always played the sad scene against a happy background.

This evening was the last night Simona Hügli, the owner and creative genius of the eponymous Simona's Restaurant and Bar, would be offering up her dishes to her customers. I am very bad with time, but I have known Simona since she opened her restaurant on the beach before she moved to her current location.

One evening at the old location, she offered one of her new creations -- a pork lomo encrusted with coffee and cocoa (amongst other ingredients). I am not a coffee or chocolate fan, but the combination brought out the best in the pork loin. 

That began a long-running conversation between the two of us about seemingly-unusual food combinations that would enhance the underlying taste of each dish. And these were not merely foodie gabfests. She actually put that creativity into the meals she served to her customers.

There are two types of restaurants in these parts. The workhorses that strive to put out consistent meals from a seldom-changed menu. And the show horses that have a constantly-changing menu that challenges the taste buds of customers with new dishes based on cleverly-combined ingrdients.

Simona's was one of the show horses. My meal tonight was a grilled salmon served on a bed of mint couscous and accompanied by a mixed green salad. Her dishes have always been well-presented. Unfortunately, I started eating before I remembered I was there to take photographs.


The deck on her restaurant was rather empty when I arrived.


But it soon filled as well-wishers arrived for their last supper with Simona. By a twist of fate, I knew each of the evening's diners. It was almost like having a reunion of distant relatives. Unfortunately, the evening had the feel of a memorial service. Admittedly, a joyful memorial service, but reality was also a guest. The reason we were all there was to celebrate the memories we have shared with Simona. And to wish her business a final farewell.

There are very few showhorse restaurants in this part of Mexico. For that reason, the closure of Simona's will be a real loss because there are only one or two other options available in the same category.

Of course, that is us mourning our loss when we should be offering our best to Simona in her new challenges.

Thanks for the memories, Simona. Godspeed.  

Saturday, July 03, 2021

going to pot


One result of Hurricane Enrique has gone unremarked on our local message boards -- probably because we have become so accustomed to the problem.

The deterioration of our roads. Poholes to be specific.

Highway 200 is the sole north-south coastal road in this part of Mexico. Everyone relies on it. Businesses. Tourists. Local folk going to and fro in their daily lives. It is what a northern traffic engineer would call a survival arterial.

American politicians are involved in a vigorous debate about infrastructure. What is it? Who should pay for it? Who has enough clout to pick off low-hanging fruit for the good of their constituents, if not for the nation's?

I live in a country that imposes the lowest rate of taxation of all 37 of the OECD countries. 16.5% of GDP. That compares with an OECD average of 33.8%. (If you are curious, the highest is Denmark at 46.3%. Canada is 33.5%. The United States is 24.5%.)

Mexico's current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), a populist leftist, believes that level of taxation is just about right for Mexico. He is trying to squeeze out more revenue by fighting corruption in what sounds like an almost-Reaganesque fight against "waste, fraud, and abuse."

For the time being, that leaves Mexican infrastructure where it is.

And where it is right now is exemplified by Highway 200. The portion of the highway that runs through our area is well-travelled by buses, trucks, and cars. The result of that traffic is always apparent.

As long as I have lived here, the road surface continually cracks -- as do all roads everywhere. Eventually, water works its way into the cracks and the roadbed subsides resulting in a pothole. Once breached the pothole will continue to grow.

The section of the highway that wends through Melaque underwent some minor cosmetic surgery in the early Spring. Potholes were filled with sand and then covered with asphalt patches. For about three months it was like driving on the autobahn to Bonn.

Then came the summer rains. The road held up well for the first rain. But the inches dropped by hurricane Enrique were just too much for the surface.

The highway did not flood. Or, at least, not in the way we think of floods with torrents of water tearing up things with gravity assisting its flow.

But the highway did flood in the sense that the rainwater had very few places to go. Vehicles driving through the water transferred enough energy that the seeping water combined with its churning tore away large hunks of the asphalt. The result is now a stretch of highway almost a mile long that looks as if it was set as a trap for Patton's 761st Tank Battalion. 

The road currently is unsightly. But, more important, it is a bit dangerous. To avoid disappearing into one of those next-stop-realignment holes, drivers have to learn to be expert slalom competitors.

The problem with that is that when drivers focus on the potholes, they are prone to not notice that their vehicle has strayed into the oncoming lane. I have seen several near-misses during the past couple days. I have been the cause of at least two.

So, what is to be done about it?

Not much. At least, until the state government can cough up enough funds to once again bandage the road with asphalt patches. Without a separate source of revenue (like tolls), waiting is what we do.

When you have a low income, you just make do with what you have.
  

Friday, July 02, 2021

no iguanas here


When the sun comes out, you never know what tp expect.

Yesterday I headed to the swimming pool to complete my Spanish lesson. There is nothing like immersing oneself in a new language.

I was just about to step in the pool when I noticed movement on the other side of the patio. Not just any movement. It was that distinctive rapid waddle of large lizards -- somewhere between an athletic roll and the gait of an overweight opera diva.

And I was correct. I knew it either had to be a green iguana or its very-distant cousin, a black spiny-tailed lizard, erroneously often called a black iguana.

Distinguishing adults is easy. Iguanas are green. Black spiny-tailed lizards are -- well, black. Or gray. Juveniles are more difficult to identify because the young of both are a brilliant green. (Rather than sparking the oh-so-popular "is it an iguana?" debate, I will refer you to switching parties. This discussion seems to arise every two years or so.)

My patio visitor was a young black spiny-tailed lizard. And he was not happy that I had invaded his patio. Spiny-tailed lizards are quite skittish. And understandably so. They are rather low on a food chain where humans are apex predators. Some people are quite fond of the purported health benefits of the lizard's blood.

He was safe from me on that account. I am not a culinary aficionado of most lizards. I was happy to let him be. All I wanted was a photograph.

Apparently, he is as paparazzi-shy as several royal celebrities, and took my approach as an omen that his destiny would end in a stew pot. So, off he ran to seek shelter under the toilet in my pool bathroom.

I thought that was the last time I would see him. Large fauna (especially of the reptile version) make cameo appearances in the patio and are never seen again. But not this guy.

While I was bent over picking up leaves and flowers from the vine in front of my bedroom door this morning, I heard some rustling in the landscaping. It sounded like a bird that had been startled, but could not get traction to take flight.

But it was not a bird.  It was Señor Ctenosaura similis. Apparently, he thought that living in the landscaping was a better hunting-ground for dinner than living under a toilet (though, I suspect the offering of cockroaches and spiders would be adequate there).

When he finally clumsily disentangled himself from the vines, he made one of those wild dashes based more on the Monty Python "run away" instinct than having any real escape plan. He paused at one point and then made a bee-line to the bodega door. Even with that bull-sized head, he was able to squeeze under the closed door -- a fact that I carefully noted when I compared the space under my bedroom door.

So, I may have a long-term visitor in the house. And that is fine with me. Even though the spiny-tailed lizards make terrible pets because of their disposition, they do eat lots of bothersome insects. Unfortunately, they are very fond of frogs, and I just had two return to my landscaping following the hurricane.

I will know if he has found a new home in the bodega when Dora shows up on Saturday to help clean the house.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

getting my goat


I think I first saw it in a social studies class my senior year in high school.

A goat rearing up against a flower tree. A rather prosaic subject, but artistically effective. No. More than effective. Almost mystically alluring. 

A anonymous Sumerian artist constructed it of wood, gold, silver, and lapis lazuli around 4600 years ago, and there it was on the page staring out and daring me not to admire it. I did. Admire it, that is.

The same ram showed up during my freshman year in college in H.W. Janson's History of Art (which resides on the top shelf of my library in the house with no name) and the first volume of my western civilization textbook (which was exiled to Goodwill when I sold the Salem house). I started to feel as if the goat was tracking me.

And then I saw the real thing.

When I was stationed in England in the mid-1970s, I would regularly drive to London to take in the sybaritic pleasures of what had once been an imperial capital, and in the 1970s was quickly sliding into being, in the words of a British politician of the era, "a second-rate city in a third-world country." But there was nothing second-rate about the National Museum -- probably because it was filled with loot from third-world countries that had once been great powers in their own time.

While I was strolling through the pile of Egyptian mummies, just waiting for their chance to star in a B-grade horror film, I wandered into the Mesopotamia Gallery. And there it was, encased in a glass case. My goat. Or one of a two pieces that have survived the ravages of time. The other is at the University of Pennsylvania.

My favorite sculpture is Donatello's Mary Magdalene -- the very essence of beauty in penance. But the goat (officially titled Ram in a Thicket) is a close second. The archeologist who disinterred the piece, Leonard Woolley, named it after the Abraham story where God provided a ram as a substitute saving the life of Isaac.

Of course, the goats have nothing to do with Abraham. They were found in a Sumerian tomb, and the best guess is that they supported some sort of altar between them.

So, yes, it may be true. My second favorite sculpture is in the pagan idol category. I will have to live with that seeming violation of the First Commandment.

The story of how the two goats, found crushed, were reconstructed is a fascinating tale in itself. But this essay is not really about the archeological arc of the goats. It is a thank you.

In this morning's messages, I received a note from fellow-blogger Gary Denness over at The Mexile. He told me he was sending a special gift. It arrived moments later. And I will share it with you. As Kurt Vonnegut would say: "And here it is."



Yup. He was in the British Museum filming my goat. The video was accompanied with a Gary-typical bit of British wit that "the museum seems quite adamant that it's their ram, not yours."

They, of course, are wrong. They may possess it, but the goat and I have a long-term relationship that no curator can break.

I have recently been itching to get on an airplane to visit a number of art pieces around the world. But, for now, I may have to be content with visits more local.

After all, what could be better than visiting the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. A certain skull calls to me.


 

  

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

not so much left over as a path to a food aventure


Good things never end.

I had just a spoonful left over of my raspberry-mint-basil-lemon zest-olive oil mixture from yesterday (giving enrique the raspberry). Rather than throw it out, I decided to save it. Maybe another idea would present itself.

And it did. I bought a half-gallon of Thrifty ice cream this evening. My initial idea was to top it with fresh strawberries I had cut up in the afternoon. But the strawberries had not yet generated enough juice to make them suitable for an ice cream sundae.

That was not a problem with the raspberries from yesterday. Berries do not keep long in our heat and humidity. I either used the raspberries tonights or they would become chicken feed in the morning.

So, I scooped out the ice cream and topped them with the rump of the raspberry mixture. I had almost forgotten that I alsio had a ramekin filled with the balsamic reduction. A generous drizzle made for a tasty dessert.

A d that is why saving small portions of ingredients is a good idea. THey can always be combined into something delightful.

I almost felt like Lynne Rossetto Kasper. Almost.
  

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

giving enrique the raspberry


What do you do while you wait for hurricane-birthed rain to abate?

Hurricane Enrique has slowly been passing us by for the past three days -- well out in the Pacific Ocean. I felt the first drops as I walked across the tarmac at the airport on Saturday afternoon. By that evening, the rain had seriously started falling, and it did not let up until last night. A couple of power outages were tossed in to test that old Nietzschean saw about finding strength in the oddest places.

It was a perfect time to try something new. And that is exactly what I did. For me, that usually means some new food treat.

On the flight down, I had packed a lunch of cheese, hot salami, and Carr's water crackers. There is nothing the least bit creative in that combination. College students and hockey fans thrive on it. But I had also included a package of the four berries -- strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

Several of the raspberries accidently ended up on one of the water crackers. Rather than toss the cracker out, I added a couple more berries and ate it. It was like a mini-tart. So, I tried some strawberries with a square of salted dark chocolate I had just received as a gift for being an Alaska frequent flyer. Even though I am not a fan of chocolate, the combination was interesting.

For lunch, I decided to try something new. I toasted some baguette slices in olive oil, spread them with what I thought would be a tangy goat cheese, and topped that with a raspberry, fresh basil, fresh mint, lemon zest, and oil combination. I then drizzled a balsamic reduction over each piece. (I added "fresh" in front of the basil and mint because I once made the mistake of combining their dried versions in a salad dressing. It tasted as if I had dumped lawn clippings in the salad. I suggest not doing that.)


It was worth the effort. The combination of layered tastes worked just as I thought they would, But the goat cheese was not as tangy as I expected. If I ever make this lunch again, I would add lemon juice to the balsamic reduction -- or, maybe, the raspberry mix.

With a mug of green tea, it was the perfect way to welcome my first sighting of the sun since I returned home on Saturday. That means my solar water heater can return from its unexpected vacation and do what it was designed to do.

I intend to enjoy the respite. My brother called last night to let me know that I may need to fly back to Oregon earlier than I had anticipated.

I can share my creation with him when I head north. 
  

Monday, June 28, 2021

declare -- or don't fly


Today's essay is a short travel tip.

The tip is short; the travel can be long as long as you choose.

For several months, Mexico has required all international passengers to complete a Health Declaration Form when leaving and entering the country. It started out as a paper form that created long processing lines while passengers dug through their purses and wallets for required information. To short-cut that process, some good souls put a copy of the form on-line to help people speed up their entrance into and exit out of Mexico.

But bureaucracy always has its way, like water leaks in ceilings during rainstorms. The Mexican agency in charge of the form markedly changed its content. People arriving at the airport with the old form were told to fill out the new form because the old form had been superseded. Anyone who has dealt with Mexican Immigration in other contexts knows that arguing will not get anyone anywhere. The correct answer is: "Thank you."

About two months ago, the process changed again for the better. I showed up at the Manzanillo airport with a fully-completed pirated version of the new form. The young lady at the clearance table told me the process had changed once again. I now needed to complete the form on my smartphone.

Now, I am a big advocate of change -- especially when it leads to more efficiency. This change did not. Or, at least, not initially for me. I am one of those old guys who has trouble opening QR code-based menus on my telephone. I could starve before I could access what the restaurant sold.

Filling out the paper form usually took me about 45 seconds because I was accustomed to the information requested. The smartphone option was not so intuitive. But only because I had not previously used it.

Since then, the form has become so familiar that I can complete it in about thirty seconds -- both leaving and entering Mexico.

Here is the routine. No earlier than 12 hours before your flight is scheduled to leave Mexico or to arrive in Mexico from a foreign airport, you can complete the form by opening México Vuela Seguro  (https://www.vuelaseguro.com/home) and creating an account. (I suggest saving the address on your smartphone.) You then answer the same -- or similar -- questions that appear on the old and revised paper forms.

When you have answered all of the questions (within the 12-hour limitation), the site will provide you with a QR code that can be scanned at the processing table. I usually print mine off in color to make it easier for the processor.

The system is quite efficient, and Mexico deserves credit for making what had become an administrative bottleneck into a fast-track program. The most difficult part was learning the system. 

My suggestion is to practice with the on-line form at home. The first time will take more than 30 seconds. Just take your time and print out the code when you are done.

When you are directed past the lines of people filling out paper forms, you can momentarily feel like one of those smart young things who can actually open restaurant menus on their telephones. It will also speed you along on your journey.

Buen viaje.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

power to the people


Meet Hurricane Enrique. 

You might think you have already met last week. But that was his cousin Tropical Storm Dolores that caused the postponement of my flight from Manzanillo last Saturday (putting the adventure into flying). I eventually flew out on a re-scheduled flight on Sunday.

When I saw the not-yet-named Enrique developing in the Pacific, I had a Yogi Berra moment. You know the quote. "It's déjà vu all over again."

I was scheduled to return to Manzanillo from Los Angeles on Saturday on the same flight that was canceled last week. My concern was that Asaka would cancel the flight again -- both times for storm activity.

Fortunately, for me, Enrique has turned out to be a lumbering lug. The storm has taken its time moving north. The weather models are uncertain whether the slow speed will allow the hurricane to strengthen over warm water. There is no doubt that the system is sucking up water to dump on the Mexican Pacific coast. We are experiencing that right now.

Yesterday, there was a soft rain that started in the afternoon and kept up through the night. Some time during the night the rainfall increased along with moderate winds. So far, we have received enough rain that the streets are flowing with water, and the sewage system is burbling like fountains through the manholes. Just like any summer storm here.

The recently-repaired and -paved street in front of the church is doing a credible impression of the Kiel Canal. And the usual low spots in Melaque have accumulated water.


While I was getting ready for church, the inevitable happened. At least, the inevitable when we have rain and wind combinations, The electricity flickered on and off twice. Then, it simply stayed off. The outage appears to have been widespread in Barra -- at least, in my extended neighborhood.

When I drove over to church, I saw at least five Civil Protection trucks driving around with their lights flashing. But it appears that is all they were doing. Driving around.

It was not until then, that I noticed that our electricity provider (CFE) had not marshalled trucks in the area prior to the arrival of the hurricane. CFE has long been noted for its preparation prior to storms. After all, when the power is cut off, so is CFE's revenue streams.

But the trucks must have been somewhere nearby. When I returned from my first trip to Melaque this morning, the lights were still out on Nueva España. But there was a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Two CFE crews were braving the wind and rain to restore electricity in front of the neighborhood Oxxo store. When I returned from lunch, we once again had electricity.


The CFE crews are consistently the primary heroes during these storms.

I was prepared to be without power for a day or two. Enrique is still throwing rain and wind at us -- and most likely will through tomorrow. CFE may still have repairs to do.

These storms are a mixed blessing. The area is in dire need of rain. Even though the surrounding hills have greened up from the rain Tropical Storm Dolores brought, this area is still suffering from drought conditions.

But we are also a tourist area. A lot of people make their living off of tourist pesos. And rain does not improve the cash flow from people who come here for a bit of sun, surf, and sand. I ran into a group of holiday-makers, stripped to their beach wear, seeking shelter under the overhang of a Kiosko. Sullen would be an accurate adjective for them.

At least, I am back home. A bit of wind and rain will not dampen the pleasure of being here. And here I will be for another two weeks until I need to make another trip north.

But that is then. Right now, I am heading to the patio to witness nature's strength. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

putting the adventure in flying


Tropical storms and airplanes are not a good mix.

And I may be dealing with both this afternoon.

For the past few days we have been watching a weather disturbance develop in the Pacific off of the coast of Central America. Most of these patterns never develop into anything. But this one did.

Dolores is now a tropical storm and she is heading right at us with 65 mph winds. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) drawing, that looks a bit like a sixth-grader's view of a Venn diagram, shows what we may face. This afternoon the storm should make landfall just south of where I live.

The NHC is predicting Dolores will continue to gain strength until it is near-hurricane force. Once it hits land, the winds should start waning.

But that is one of the bad aspects of living right on the coast. We are the landfall. The good thing about Dolores is that it will only be a category 1 hurricane -- if it even makes it to that status.

I discovered during Patricia (a category 4 hurricane when it came ashore) that my house is built to withstand the rigors of hurricanes. Because I live in a concrete bowl, loose items like lawn furniture are safe in the patio, but they are wind-fodder if left on the upper terrace. Before I leave for the airport today, I will retrieve the plastic chair and table that I use as my Faulkner nest and bring them downstairs.

Ah, yes. The Airport. The second half of our volatile weather mix.

I am scheduled to fly out of Manzanillo airport at 4:20 PM on my way north for another week-long family project. That is just about the time that the storm will be visiting our area.

The aircraft I will board is scheduled to leave Los Angeles for Manzanillo in about two hours (at 9:55 AM PDT). The question is whether Alaska Airlines is going to fly its plane directly into an airport that is about to face tropical-storm winds. According to the flight status report, the flight is listed as "on time." If that holds up for another hour, I may be leaving Mexico on a jet plane this afternoon.

We will just have to wait and see. In the past, when Alaska has been forced to change its flight schedules due to weather, the flight down and back has been moved to the next day -- Sunday, in this case.

But I will just wait and see. 

We are beginning to experience the edge of the storm right now. Light rain started during the night and is continuing this morning. The rain will undoubtedly increase before we feel the edge of the wind storm.

As most of you know, I am not fond of the ritual "be safe" greeting that usually accompanies such events as we are experiencing today. If my flight takes off today, it should be an adventure.

And that is something I can look forward to.   


Friday, June 18, 2021

working on the land


Back in the early 1990s, Henri, a French friend, visited me in Salem.

The one thing I remember most about his visit was his amazement at the number of "For Sale" signs in front of houses. He asked me if there had been some terrible financial collapse. Back home in Paris, seeing a house for sale was a rarity. The French are (or, at least, were) a people of place. Where else could Martin Guerre's obsession with land make sense?*

Not so, Americans. They move an average of 11.7 times during their lifetime. Almost 10% of the population moves each year. When my French friend was in Salem, almost 20% of Americans moved each year.

I do not know how many times an average Mexican pulls up stakes and moves. I do know that there are plenty of "For Sale" signs in the area where I live, though. And some of them are quite creative.

There is a house in San Patricio on the closest street that parallels the beach. It is surrounded primarily by hotels and restaurants. I suspect it is the beach house for a family who does not live locally. People are occasionally there, but not often. 
Yesterday, I noticed a "For Sale" sign on the fence. And it is not your run-of-the-mill sign.

A lot of businesses here print up signs on canvas that are filled with colorful images. They probably come from the same printer who publishes the maps and charts for my History of Mexico lecture series.

The sign on the fence is particularly imaginative. It contains the usual information of lot size. 25 meters by 25 meters, in this case. But it also includes someone's dream of how the property might be used -- as a four-story hotel complete with an Oxxo on the ground level. That seems a bit ambitious for a 25 X 25 lot.

But the lot next door may also be available. Until recently, the house on that lot was the home of Dora -- the woman who helps me clean my house. I knew that she had been forced to move to allow the lot owners to bulldoze the house and scrape the property clean.

I have not heard what may be placed on that property. But, because it is next door to the Oxxo-in-my-dreams lot, someone may have grand plans for both.

Maybe I should contact Henri to see if he wants to set down his French roots by owning a Mexican hotel?


* -- Working on the land that we're born to live for
Loving for the land, it is where we're blessed
Dying for the land, it is where we rest
Land to last, as it's passed, man to son
When it's done as planned, then we'll pray it will stay as good Catholic land


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

getting gassed


Owning a house is like volunteering for the job of city manager -- especially, in this part of Mexico.

I am responsible for keeping the water flowing from my well. For generating electricity from the solar array. And, perhaps most importantly, for ensuring that my propane does not run out -- or I would be bereft of my two grills and my countertop cooker.

Up north, I was a natural gas user. For heating water and heating the house. I never had to think about it because it was piped into the house from lines running under the streets in Salem. It was always there.

When I moved to Mexico, I quickly discovered I was no longer in Salem. I had to learn the art of wrestling with propane cylinders. They usually came in pairs. When the stove lacked a flame, I would switch out the cylinders. More than once, I was shocked to discover that the reserve cylinder had a leak and that I would soon be without propane.

That was not a big problem. Propane trucks selling their blue cylinders regularly drove through town playing either a jaunty jig-like tune or an annoying honk. All I needed to do was to flag down one of the trucks, load up the empty cylinders, and attach them to the regulator.

I went through that exercise for six years at two different rentals in Villa Obregón. When I bought my house in Barra de Navidad, the first thing I did was to replace the cylinders with an 18 kg. pig with a handy gauge that shows how full it is. That was seven years ago. The price for filling it then was $1,341 (Mx) -- just under $66 (US). 

I waffled about the size of the tank, but opted for a relatively large residential one. That was a good decision. That 2014 filling lasted me until January 2017. I did not need another until May 2019. On Monday, I had my fourth top-off. Four tankfuls in seven years. That does not strike me as onerous. I almost forget that it is possible to run the tank so low I will not get any propane out of it.

I have noticed, though, that the wholesale price of a unit of propane in Mexico has been rather sporadic with a general increase in price, even though the consumer price has shown a steady increase.


Unlike liquid petroleum, Mexico does not produce most of its own natural gas. The country needs to import 80% of what it needs -- 90% of that from the United States.

I usually put off ordering a tank re-fill until I absolutely need to. That is not wise planning.

Two years ago, during a propane shortage, it was unusual for anyone to answer the telephone at the order desk. And trying to find an available truck when hurricanes or tropical storms are barreling down on us is almost impossible.

My bad planning is closely akin to my faltering Spanish. I dislike talking on the telephone in English. When the conversation is in Spanish, I lose far too many words when I cannot watch the speaker's mouth.

But I have put all of that behind me with a little acting trick. Most telephone calls in Spanish are easy to reduce to predictable story arcs. If I want to order a tankful of propane, all I have to do is memorize a few lines. My name. My address. What I want. It is that simple. And all of it is on the crib sheet of the last propane receipt in my expenses file. In a way, it is like arguing briefs before the Supreme Court. The flow is almost always anticipated.

And it was this time. My call lasted less than 30 seconds. In two hours (an hour before the promised time), Chuy showed up, just as he did two years and filled my tank. I gave 1500 pesos. That should hold the Commonwealth of No Name for another two years.

If every city manager job was this easy, there would be more competition for the position. I am keeping mine. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

pacing the peso


If bad news travels fast, good news must travel slow.

Or, at least, it seems to be true for Mexican-peso notes.

Early last November, the Bank of Mexico issued  another in its series G banknotes. The Bank's goal is to have its notes reflect the history of Mexico in chronological order from pre-Hispanic to contemporary Mexico. November's new issue was a brilliantly-colored 100-peso note feature the familiar face of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who graced the previous 200-peso note that is now being withdrawn from circulation (goodbye and hello to our favorite nun).

That was over seven months ago. In that interim, I had yet to receive one in change from a store or the bank. I had not even seen one in another person's hand. I have now.

At dinner last night, one of my dining companions left a tip for the waiters on the table. My first impression was that she had left two Canadian bills. The colors were foreign to me. But I was wrong. They were two of the new 100-peso notes.

Because I am always at your service, I scooped up one of them and slipped an older Nezahualcóyotl 100-peso note onto the table in its place as if it were a foundling. My hostage bill is pictured at the top of this essay.

The three earlier issues of new bills ($200, $500, $1,000) made their way to the streets of the Costalegre quicker than this particular issue. Within a couple months highland tourists had brought the new bills with them to spend in local stores.

I would think that the 100-peso note would have floated its way through the currency stream to our streets earlier than this. After all, the 100-peso note is one of the currency's mainstays. Omar tells me I am simply late to the party. He has seen the new note around town for at least three or four months.

One more new note has yet to be issued -- the 50-peso note celebrating pre-Hispanic Mexico. Its scheduled release is not until next year. It will be interesting to see how quickly it shows up here. With the complete withdrawal of the 20-peso note, the 50-peso note will now become the workhorse of small change.

It is possible that the 50-peso note will be the penultimate note rather than the last. The Bank of Mexico is still trying to determine if the economy needs a 2000-peso note (slated to represent contemporary Mexico featuring Octavio Paz, one of my favorite Mexican writers, and Rosario Castellanos). If the Bank issues the note, it will be a certain sign that it has abandoned its prior policy to move Mexico to a cashless society. It will also send a problematic message about inflation of the money supply.

So, we may have two more opportunities to stay alert for the first appearance (for me) of new notes.

I am not certain why I get this excited about spotting a new issue. It may be the bird watcher in me. After all, the new notes disappear from my wallet as quickly as the old notes.

But that is why they are there. To represent the value of our work and to exchange that value for goods we need.

My university Economics professor was correct. It is a handy system.

Monday, June 14, 2021

cleopatra's pool


This morning, I swam with a queen.

For the past few weeks, we have been lusting for rain. This area of Mexico officially entered drought stage earlier this year. Our dun-colored hills bear witness to that. If John Ford was still with us, he would have a ready-made set for his next oater starring Jimmie Stewart -- if he was still with us.

Last night the weather genie finally delivered. Our first real rain was accompanied by the usual supporting cast of thunder and lightning -- a supporting cast that always upstages the rain.

I don't know how many inches fell. Whenever it rains heavily, leaves and flowers from my vines are pelted heavily enough that they soon block the patio's six drains. When I stepped out of my bedroom into the patio, the water was up to my ankles. By this afternoon, the once-grayish hills have started to green up.

When I first moved to this area, the first drop of rain would cut the electricity supply. Often, it would take a day for CFE (the local power supplier) to get everybody up and running.

After several major infrastructure upgrades, those days are gone. For most people. When it started raining last night, most people in the area experienced a brief outage. But, within seconds, the power was back. My neighborhood was not so lucky.

Our power went out and came back on. Almost immediately, I heard a loud bang near my house. The sound was far too familiar. A transformer had sacrificed itself to the rain god.

All night I kept hoping that the system would right itself. It didn't. It is now 1:30 in the afternoon, and I have been forced to trudge over to Rooster's to use the internet there.

Oddly, my Telcel telephone did not work this morning, either -- for calls or for internet. In the past, when the power went out, I could still post using the internet connection on my telephone. But not this time. I can now use the telephone for calls, but the internet is still not available.

But that is what we expect in the summer. Electricity. The internet. Telephone coverage. They can all mysteriously disappear with a bit of moisture falling out of the sky. Considering our usual relative humidity, I am surprised that it takes rain to get that result.

With the rain comes another sign of summer. Ants. We are blessed with a huge diversity in ants in this part of Mexico. I knew we were about to receive rain because late yesterday afternoon a colony of "loco" ants decided to up stakes and move house -- to what they thought would be a drier abode.

But it is not full colonies that are out following the rains. Those first drops signal newly-minted ant queens to take flight, find a willing mate, and then fall to the earth to start a new brood.

That was why my Esther Williams partner was in the pool. She had not completed her breeding mission before she was cast as a third-class passenger on the Titanic.

In her case, it means that one colony of leaf-cutter ants will not be established in Barra de Navidad this summer. But there will be plenty more.

When I was protecting my garden from formicine invasions, the sight of a queen in search of a kingdom would have seen me breaking out the heavy artillery. But the leaf-cutters do not seem to be interested in any of my current landscaping. So, I am happy to simply let nature take its course with this unhappy queen.

There will be more queens -- of various subspecies -- decorating the surface of my pool after what we hope will be regular storms. A series of rainfalls like last night may pull us out of our desperate need for water.

And then I can turn my attention to keeping my electricity and internet in working order. A trip to look at Elke's generator and how it weathered the power failure may be in order.

Until then, I will enjoy my time swimming with the passing queen.


Saturday, June 12, 2021

goldilocks days


Our enjoyment of life is subjective.

Mine certainly is.

Whenever I start planning for a trip to some land I have not visited, I rely on the advice of others who have been there. Unfortunately, that advice too often is filtered through so many personal filters that it is not very helpful.

Several years ago, I asked a friend, who had spent a good deal of time in Croatia, if I should pack a coat for a visit in late March. Her response was: "Yes! It is freezing that time of year."

I should have inquired further. I took her advice and packed a light jacket in my suitcase -- where it remained for the entire trip. I failed to tell her my ideal day is 55 degrees and overcast with a light drizzle. Jackets are not required until the temperature drops below 40. And the weather during my visit never dipped below 58 degrees.

I recalled that conversation last evening at dinner. Gary, Joyce, Nicole, and I were talking about how pleasant the last month here has been. The temperatures have been warm (in the 80s), but not hot, and the humidity (hovering in the 70%s, though climbing) has been tamed by breezes off of the ocean. They are what I call Goldilocks Days -- just right. And they show up from about mid-May to mid-June. And then we shift into our summer wet season.

Best of all, the pool has reached its "just right" temperature of 90 degrees. I can now walk around in the water's embrace for as long as it takes me to finish my Spanish lesson. And I often extend the lesson simply because the walk is so pleasant.

The bad thing about "just right" days is that they pass quickly. (Or, that may be the best thing about them --that way we learn to treasure them.) By the time we get to the end of the month, the temperature and humidity will begin spiking until they reach their maximum impact in September.

The days of air-conditioning are a month or two in the future. Instead, we can now sleep through the nights with the accompaniment of the rest-inducing thrum of ceiling fans. Hoping that we are not going to be awakened with a cry of --

"Someone's been sleeping in my bed and she's still there!"

Thursday, June 10, 2021

squeaking by


If you have been reading the local Facebook pages, as well as following Mexpatriate, you know that Mexico held much-anticipated elections on Sunday.

This was not a presidential election year. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) still has three years left in his term. But most commentators saw the election as a barometer of how the Mexican public viewed his policies. And the answer was a resounding -- mehhh. His party's majority was reduced in the House of Deputies, but he retains a working majority with at least one eccentrically unreliable coalition partner.

But most of us who watched the election as observers were far more interested in the local races -- especially for president of Cihuatlán. For the past two months the streets here have been filled with exuberant supporters attempting to prove popular support of their candidate (ballots are in the air).

We have been fortunate. The excitement was primarily positive. That was not true elsewhere in Mexico. This was one of the most violent election cycles in recent memory. From September to election day, 89 politicians were murdered. This area, fortunately, dodged that bullet.

On Wednesday, the official election count was released. There were eight official candidates for the Cihuatlán presidency. Last April, my very unscientific soundings indicated that the race would be between Movimaiento Ciudadano, The Citizens’ Movement (MC), the incumbent party, and a new reformist party, Hagamos (roughly translated as "Let's do it").

During the campaign, I started to doubt the wisdom of that prediction. The MC demonstrations were markedly larger than those of Hagamos. But I should have stuck with my initial impressions. The two parties almost tied.

Of the 14,362 votes accepted as valid, the MC candidate received 2,877 votes (20.03%) to 2,852 votes (19.85%) for the Hagamos candidate -- a mere spread of 25 votes. Somewhere, Lyndon Johnson is smiling. And he may be smiling at something more than his "landslide" nickname. 

There are a lot of fascinating back stories on the other six candidates (like the shockingly-low result for the once-mighty PRI), but they will keep for another day. Today, I want to touch on one other facet of the election.

Whenever elections are this close, there are almost always some allegations of misconduct. And this election is no exception.

The complaints revolve around one voting station where the local police, rather than the national guard, were called in to secure ballot boxes. But the complaint goes further. There are allegations that the box contained 200 more ballots than voters that were recorded as voting.

It is important to remember these are allegations. And they only arose yesterday, so there has certainly not been an official investigation. That will happen. And there are a lot of ways for the dispute to be peacefully resolved. This is Mexico.

I pass this along as I was briefed -- unvarnished without any spin. There is a good reason for that. Even though I do have an opinion about all this, I am not going to share it for the same reason the Queen does not reveal her political opinions. The British constitution constrains her; Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 constrains me ("Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country"). And I do not want to be deported over something as trivial as politics.

So, as a hobby journalist, I will follow the dispute and report back on any developments. Politics may touch on our lives only lightly, but it is nice to know what is going on in the community I call home.  
   

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

on a wing and a prayer

 


Mexico is a land of fantasy.

From my swimming pool, I can imagine that I am standing on the runway at RAF Bassingbourn in 1943, watching the B-17s return from their raids over Germany. Well, at least, those that did return.

My version of that tale is watching the black vultures come home each evening to their roost on the communication tower next to my house. Each bird turns on final and slowly descends, feathers, and performs a power-on stall just in time to gracefully land on its perch. It is a nightly ballet.

Well, that is what I usually see. But not last evening.

Whenever the heat and humidity starts stewing up a tropical brew, the vultures disappear. And I am not certain why. Their cousin the Lucy-headed turkey vulture is a champion at migration. At least, some of them are; migrating as far as South America from The States.

But the turkey vulture is more sedentary. Some migrate short distances seasonally. More commonly, they up-stakes in the face of changing weather. When they sense a change in their environment, they will look for more hospitable environs until the bother passes.

Maybe that is why the vultures on the tower are not coming home to roost. In my absence, we experienced the lightest of rain. Perhaps that was enough for the vultures to realize we are entering our storm season.

And we need the storms. Jalisco is already in one of the worst droughts it has experienced. For an economy heavily dependent on agriculture, that does not bode well. It also is a problem for people who need water to survive. Without rain, this area of Mexico could easily become as inhospitable to tourists as it is to the resident black vulture community.

There seems to be something inherent in being human, that we struggle when we try to imagine what is happening in places we know when we are not there. I have a friend in Ontario who stays in Melaque for about five months each year. She was shocked to discover that when the northern tourists leave, they are replaced by Mexican tourists. She has just never seen what happens when she leaves.

Two weeks ago, someone posted on a local Facebook page that we might get our first rain from a storm headed our way. Yesterday, a northern visitor, safely ensconced in his Alberta home, asked how much damage the storm had caused. I assume that question was occasioned by the floods Melaque suffered last year and the mistaken belief that every "storm" here is dangerous.

Of course, they are not. Storms are the source of our much-needed water, and they are welcome. It is true that summer is also hurricane and tropical storm season. And they often affect our weather here even though they rarely visit us directly.

But people who have not live her during the summer lack the context to make sense of local weather discussions. Maybe the virus has over-sensitized us to potential dangers. It is easy to imagine the worst when you are not in the situation.

That brings us back to the missing black vultures. Their seasonal sense is far better than ours. They are gone, but they will return. Just like the successive waves of tourists that storm the local shores.

Last evening, I was thumbing through a biography of Taneda Santōka, the Japanese master of free-form haiku. I must have been musing about the vultures because one of Santōka's poems begged for my attention.

If I walk, a cuckoo
If I hurry,
a cuckoo.

And that is a haiku perfect for filtering thoughts of presence, absence, being -- and black vultures.