Wednesday, March 31, 2021

moving to mexico -- banks

The piper always gets his due.

Whenever he lifts our spirits with a lilting air, we always know there is a more melancholy leitmotif waiting in the wings. As one of The Universe's shop stewards, he prefers keeping life in balance.

On Monday in moving to mexico -- drugs, I sang the praises of the Mexican prescription system. Its treatment of patients as adults would put a smile on the face of a Cato Institute fellow.

I like balance. Whenever I write about the aspects of Mexico that drew me and keep me here, I often include a throw-away line similar to: "Of course, no place is perfect." I then scurry away to the sunny side of the street.

Let's talk about one of those "not perfect" aspects of Mexico. Its consumer banking system.

Most of my Mexican neighbors consider banks to be no more trustworthy than politicians. Even the people who use banks do so only out of necessity.

When I was preparing my move to Mexico, I needed to come up with a method to turn dollars into pesos to cover my living expenses. A fellow blogger, Felipe, advised me of a perfect solution.

I opened an account at Banamex USA with direct deposit of my monthly checks. When I moved south, I opened a linked account at the Banamex branch in San Patricio Melaque. With no more than three clicks on my computer, I could transfer just under $10,000 (US) to my Mexican account. It was truly an elegant solution.

It worked perfectly until the Obama administration enacted the poorly-considered FATCA that effectively caused the shutdown of Banamex USA. I was reduced to the vagaries of our often-nonfunctioning ATMs for my income stream.

About three years ago, Intercam improved its banking services in our area. Instead of relying on ATMs, I now write a dollar-denominated check for deposit in my Intercam checking account. Before the hour is out, a wad of pesos is on hand for my withdrawal. I have not used an ATM in Mexico during those three years. There has been no need.

You might wonder what happened to my Banamex account in town. That is the rest of today's story. And it all centers around that simple phrase "three years ago."

Earlier this month, I received a letter from Banamex informing me that Mexican law required the bank to freeze my account because it had remained dormant for three years. The letter then shifted into that too-friendly tone used by public relations practitioners. The type of voice that makes customers grab onto their wallets.

I was not to worry. All I needed to do to re-activate my account was to make a deposit or withdrawal. That sounded simple enough.

So, on Monday morning I joined the long queue at the bank. The lines on Monday are always long, but this line was yeasted with Semana Santa tourists. I waited in line for about 20 minutes to use the sophisticated ATM that facilitates deposits. When I tried to deposit a couple thousand pesos, the machine told me I would need to see a teller.

I joined another queue for services inside the bank. After waiting for about 45 minutes, I told the teller my tale of woe. I gave her the letter I had received along with my bank card, my permanent resident card, and the money I wanted to deposit.

She clicked and clacked on her keyboard and repeatedly frowned at her screen. Then she clicked and clacked some more. After about ten minutes, she surrendered and told me I needed to see Sergio, the customer service teller.

That meant waiting in another queue for approximately another 45 minutes. By this time I had stopped looking at my watch. I reconciled myself to the fact that trying to get the account running again would be my task for the day.

When I made it to Sergio's counter, I gave him all of the same items I had given the first teller. I have known Sergio for four years. I knew that he would do what needed to be done. And he did.

He hammered away at his keyboard. Documents were printed. Managers were summoned for their signatures. Copies were made.

Sergio then did what all customer representatives eventually do in Mexico. He asked me for something I would not usually have at hand. My passport.

This time I was prepared, though. For some reason, I had picked it up when I left the house. But I felt a hole open in the bottom of my stomach. By chance, I had brought my passport. But I did not bring The Document that is Necessary to do Anything in Mexico. A utility bill. I feared I had lost all of that time at the bank up to that point.

As it turned out, he did not ask for a utility bill. He made further copies and printed some more documents. And just like that, after about a half-hour of doing this and that, he announced we were done. 

I found that odd because I had signed nothing. How can you do anything at a bank without repeatedly signing documents?

He gave me my pesos. I pushed them back and reminded him I was there to deposit them in my account.

Last week on a local Facebook page, a northern woman asked for assistance on some banking questions. Her father had died recently leaving money in a Banamex account. She had called the bank in anticipation of flying south later in the Spring and had been told she needed to open a Banamex account. Five days later, the funds in her father's account could be transferred to her account.

She wanted to know if that sounded correct. She was particularly concerned that she had to wait five days for her new account to be activated.

I did not offer any advice. After all, I did not even remember I had an open account, let alone what the procedures were a dozen years ago when I opened it.

But it turns out there is a five-day waiting period. When I tried to deposit my persos with Sergio, he told me I could not withdraw or deposit pesos with my account for five business days. Realizing how my memory had tripped me up, he took pity on me and even wrote down the date I could re-activate the account.

And what is the moral of all this? I am not certain.

But I do know that the piper from The Universe plays far more lilting tunes like Mexico's pharmacy system than downer songs about bank problems.

And that is moral enough for me on this breezy and sunny afternoon in this little fishing village by the sea.  

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

test before you go

Semana Santa
 is upon us.

We are now three days deep into Holy Week, and there has been a steady trickle of tourists into these villages by the sea. So far, the families who have arrived have, for the most part, driven here in their middle-class SUVs. Later in the week, the tour buses will start arriving with the remainder of the revelers.

Even though Semana Santa is not one of Mexico's statutory holidays, it is almost universally celebrated here. The current Mexican constitution pretends to be The Tamer of the Church, but the people have instead decided to tame the constitution. That little unpleasantness called the Cristero War had something to say about that.

Semana Santa, with its mixture of sandy holidays and standing-room-only masses, may reflect Mexican culture better than any of the country's recognized secular holidays.

The absence of crowds here today is explainable. Even though Semana Santa kicks off on Palm Sunday and stretches through the early morning vigil of Easter, the real shows does not up-curtain until Maundy Thursday when most non-tourist businesses (including the supposedly-secular government offices) close for that day, Good Friday, Black Saturday, and Easter. That is when the string of tourist buses will appear in town.

If you happen to be one of the unlucky few who are flying north out of the Manzanillo airport this weekend, you should pay close attention to those closure notices.

As part of the on-going street theater to prove they are Doing Something about Life, the Universe, and Everything
, the governments of Canada and The States require flying passengers to present a very recent negative covid test before the airlines will allow the passenger to board.

Even though there is a kiosk at the Manzanillo airport that will conduct the prescribed tests, I have been recommending that local fliers use Beny's lab in San Patricio Melaque. I prefer to have all my papers in order before I leave for the airport. There is always the possibility that a passenger will arrive at the airport, take the test there, and get a positive test result. Getting the news earlier allows for better planning.

There are three additional reasons for choosing Beny. First, this is weekend is the conclusion of Semana Santa -- some of the busiest travel days in Mexico. The airport may very well look like LAX on Thanksgiving weekend.

Second, Beny does all of my medical tests. I trust her. The documents she provided me earlier in the month worked flawlessly.

Third, Beny is a local businesswoman. For those of us who think "buying local" is something more than a virtue-signaling slogan, the choice is simple.

I talked with Beny this morning. To accommodate travelers, Beny will keep her office open on Thursday and Friday from 9 until 2 for covid testing only.

Americans require a simple test that Beny can perform in her office and have documented results within an hour.

Canadians need to do more planning. Because that test has to be sent to another lab, the test must be taken no later than tomorrow to get the necessary results.

I wish all of you well who are flying on this crazy weekend. 

May you have a great adventure and will learn something new that you can share with us. 

Note -- If you are flying on Saturday, be certain to check the actual time of your flight. That will be remedied for you if you are on a Sunday flight when the time differences return to normal. But more on that later in the week.  

Monday, March 29, 2021

moving to mexico -- drugs

Traveling always makes me appreciate the virtues of Mexico.

That was certainly true on one of my trips north to help my mother this past year.

I try to travel light. Having spent years of toting around over-packed suitcases that contained far more than I ever used on trips, I have become an under-packer. I try to pack only what I know I will absolutely need, and then I return about 10% to the closet knowing what remains will do.

That method almost always works. Almost. On one of the first trips north, I had planned on staying for one week. Necessity turned it into a three-week stay.

My packing plan did not limit me. Because I was staying at my brother's house, clothes were not a problem. I could launder them. And, if I needed anything new, I could buy it at a local store. Groceries and gasoline for the additional weeks were on offer. It was as if I had been dropped into the center of an Adam Smith hypothetical.

The only problem was drugs. Or, more accurately, medications -- just in case you took a wrong turn at that nounal fork in the road. I had only brought along enough medication for one week. 

That turned out to not be a problem -- in the main. Four of the medications I take nightly are on the shelf in all pharmacies -- and most grocery stores -- in Oregon. And I was able to fill in most of my controlled substances from other sources.

But I was still short of one important medication -- 
bezafibrate, to control a decades-long battle with high triglycerides. Missing two weeks of tablets would most likely not cause major problems, but I thought I would try to buy some at the local Prineville pharmacy.

So, I did what I do here in Barra de Navidad. I grabbed the empty box and sidled up to the "drop off prescriptions" window at the pharmacy.

I showed the clerk the box. She pushed it back and asked me for my name and telephone number. I told her she would not find me in her computer; I just needed a box of the bezafibrate.

I knew what was coming next. She asked me for my prescription.

I told her I had one from twelve years ago from Dra. Rosa, but I had no idea where it was now. What I received in return was that fixed stare that professionals use when trying to determine if a call to the police is in order -- or if a call to Bedlam would suffice.

Knowing the ball was now in my police court, I told her my situation. I live in Mexico. Twelve years ago my doctor prescribed bezafibrate. I have been taking it ever since. When I run out, I simply walk to my local pharmacy with the empty box and buy another -- or four.

Her stare shifted from potential arrest to pity. Pity that I was so delusional that I thought I could purchase a next-to-harmless medication without a current prescription.

Now, I know there are justifications for the requirements imposed on the distribution of pharmaceuticals in the countries north of the Rio Bravo, as Joe Stewart, my high school friend turned pharmacist, would tell us. And I am not going to argue with that. At least, not in this essay.

But, we all must concede that the distribution of Mexican medications treats consumers as if they were adults. Most medications are readily available at a Mexican pharmacy simply by requesting it. There are two big exceptions. Antibiotics and opiates. A prescription is necessary for either, and only a few doctors can write prescriptions for opiates.

It turned out that I managed to survive my two-week fast of 
bezafibrate. I suspect I could stop taking all of my medications and still live as long as I would with them. I tend to be rather agnostic about such things.

Having said that, I will be taking a walk later today to my favorite pharmacy in Barra de Navidad to buy a new supply of 
bezafibrate. And I will not have to explain myself to accommodate a bureaucratic system that simply does not try to control my life here.

It is a small thing. But chalk up another advantage of living in Mexico.  

Sunday, March 28, 2021

ringing the news

Bells are ringing this morning.

Rather than relying on cohetes, the staple of congregation invitation, the parish church of San Felipe de Jesús in the barrio today is repeatedly ringing its rather unmelodious bell inviting believers to church. 

It is Palm Sunday. The day that Christians celebrate Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem when the populace made the same mistake we Christians often make today that his entry was a proclamation of the Kingdom of God secular rather than the Kingdom of God spiritual.

It is also the first day of Holy Week, or semana santa, which will set off a string of days that still sound strange to this prottie boy's ears. Holy Monday. Holy Tuesday. Spy Wednesday. Maundy Thursday. Good Friday. Black Saturday. And topped off by Easter, a week from today.

With the exception of last year, the faithful in Barra de Navidad have produced an annual Good Friday religious procession that re-enacts the passion of the messiah and the stations of the cross. All of that is complete with the principal characters garbed in period clothing. Roman soldiers. Horses. Jesus bearing his cross.

I do not know if there will be a procession on this Friday. Even though Mexico has not tamed its current virus infection, there are no lockdown orders in place. Last year's procession was canceled because of the virus. We will see what the faithful will do this Friday.

In my tradition, this is the time of year that self-important tenors are tuning up their voices for another production of Handel's Messiah. I intellectually miss that tradition. But I will confess that the Good Friday procession strikes me as being a bit more appropriate for the season.

So, just as the crowd awaitied the entry into Jerusalem of the messiah on that day almost two thousand years ago, we will wait to see how the events of semana santa will be celebrated in these little villages by the sea.

A blessed Palm Sunday to you on this fine morning.

Note -- For those of you who, like me, need a bit of a Messiah fix, here is a bit of the ;assion passages in the oratorio.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

mary had a little --

I feel as if I have won the lottery.

The meat lottery, that is.

Cooking in Mexico offers a lot of possibilities. Plenty of fresh vegetables. Lots of starch choices. And some of the best chicken and pork I have ever tasted. It is true that local beef can be a bit tough and stringy by northern standards, but once I learned how my neighbors cook theirs, beef became an occasional, if rare, addition to my dishes.

The only meat I have missed is lamb. I came late to the Lamb Fan Club. The first time I tasted it was on the second day of my Greek assignment. I had been assigned to work with the staff of a Greek Air Force Base on the western shore of the Peloponnese peninsula, and flew into Athens in mid-August 1973. One of my fellow officers (I think it was Joe Desutter) was assigned to drive me across the width of Greece to my new duties.

 The half-way point of the drive crossed the Corinth Canal. The canal itself was an attraction. But Joe introduced me to the prime reason for the stop. Skewered and grilled chunks of lamb sprin
kled with olive oil, lemon juice, and oregano. It was like eating little bits of heaven.

Because of its mountainous terrain and lack of rain, Greece is not blessed with a lot of food choices. Goats, sheep, lemons, olives, chickens, tomatoes, onions, artichokes, eggplants. That was about all that was on offer when I lived there. 

But scarcity (and an ancient art of making do) resulted in Greek cooks creating simple dishes that eked out every bit of taste from the chosen ingredients.

That was certainly true for my first taste of lamb. Even off of a small grill at a tourist trap, the meat was juicy and tender. At Corinth, the grilled meat was called souvlaki. In Corinth (the largest city near the base), souvlaki is what we would call a gyros.

For my year in Greece, I ate almost nothing but lamb. In the subsequent years, I have sought it out in restaurants and cooked it frequently at home.

"Cooked" is in the past tense because, even though I have searched for lamb in the part of Mexico where I live, I have come up empty-handed. With one exception. About six years ago, I had dinner in a Mexican restaurant in San Miguel de Allende. The special was advertised as "cordero." It wasn't. It was either mutton or goat. Or one of the oddest-tasting lambs I have ever encountered.

At the beginning of the month, I told you about the pleasant surprise of discovering the expanded offerings of the newly-remodeled La Comer in Manzanillo (going to town). My friend Elke commented on Facebook that I had missed the lamb on offer there. I had.

I remedied that error on my dry cleaning trip to Manzanillo on Wednesday. Sure enough, Elke was correct. There were numerous cuts available, including a 4-pound butterflied leg that I immediately tossed into my cart.

The only down-side was that it was frozen -- as were all the other cuts. It is unfortunate, but I suspect the demand for fresh lamb would leave a good deal of wastage for the accountants to deal with. Thus, the freezing.

Now, what to do with it?

The obvious answer is to grill the butterflied leg, stuffed with garlic, lemons, and rosemary, and eat it sliced with a mix of kalamatas, red onion, English cucumber, and grape tomatoes. I have all of them on hand.

But I have been playing with the idea of cutting off a portion to grind for gyros. I came up with that idea because of a recent exchange on Facebook. A reader wanted to know if there was a shawarma shop nearby. Shawarma, of course, is the middle eastern progenitor of tacos al pastor and the cousin of souvlaki.

I have a rather unorthodox (in every meaning of that term) friend who once celebrated Passover with a seder plate that comprised a pita for the matzah, sliced gyros for the zeroah, dices of onion and tomato for the karpas, shredded romaine lettuce for the maror, and tzatziki for the charoset. He added a boiled egg on the side for the beitzah.

My friend claimed his meal was far more orthodox because the seder is to be eaten in haste while readying oneself for the exodus to freedom from oppression. And what can best represent readiness than a pita sandwich?

He related that his father was not pleased with his John Stuart Mill approach to theology and, as my friend put it, "Did a perfect Tevya impersonation -- right out of the second act of Fiddler on the Roof." His biggest objection was mixing dairy and meat. The tzatziki and the lamb. Father knows best.

If I do use some of my hard-won lamb leg to make gyros, my cooking approach is going to be every bit as unorthodox as my friend's seder plate. I do not have a skewer nor do I have a rotating roaster. What I do have is an Instant Pot that Urvashi Pitre* (my go-to source for all things pressure cooked) promises will produce gyros slices that will make me believe I am sitting in that little taverna at the marina in Glyfada. I just may put her to the test.

Finding treasures here is often like finding them at Costco. If you do not buy them then, they might not be there tomorrow.

I hope that is not true with the selection of lamb at La Comer. Because Steve can have a little lamb. Omar can have a little lamb. And even Mary can have a little lamb -- though that does seem a bit macabre. 

* -- Not to neglect my frequent Instant Pot expert, Jennifer Rose.     

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

tipping the moon

I can tell you exactly when I first noticed it.

I was on a cruise from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Acapulco through the Panama canal on the evening of 31 December 1999. The date should sound familiar. It was Y2K* eve, and we were sailing through the Caribbean.

The world's breath was bated as the minutes ticked off the seconds when we would all discover if everything electronic would come to a crash that would forever erase "Black Thursday" as the very definition of disaster -- or if life would go on as we knew it.

As is my wont, I was in the optimist camp. Like most of the things we fear, I suspected this one would turn out to be just another bust.

Just as the ship's horn signaled the new year, the horn abruptly fell silent, all the lights on the ship failed, and we sailed right into an iceberg. All passengers and hands were lost at sea.

That, of course, might have been the tale someone would be telling you now, if I had been wrong about my prediction. Instead, the horn blasted, everybody cheered the new year, and we all hugged and kissed a stranger or two.

Earlier in the evening, I happened to look up at the Moon. It was a waning crescent, but in the south Caribbean, it still lit up the ocean. 

Rather than waxing poetic with romantic reveries, it appeared to me something was wrong with the Moon. It was tilted. Severely tilted. It was on its back. Or, at least, it seemed that way to my Oregonian eyes. I was accustomed to the crescent Moon on the Turkish flag. This looked like the Moon on the flag of Mauritania.

When I returned to work the next week, I cornered Dennis Martin, a fellow amateur astronomer, and asked him if he knew why. He didn't.

The internet back then was just a shadow of what it is today, so, we made a trip to the library. The answer was extremely obvious. Had we given it much thought, we would undoubtedly have answered the question without research.

Everyone knows the basic facts. While Earth revolves around the Sun, the Moon revolves around Earth. The Moon is visible in the night sky only because it reflects light from the Sun. That means that the portion of the Moon that is lit is always facing the Sun giving us the phases of the moon.

There is an additional fact we all know. Earth is tilted on its axis. As Earth revolves around the Sun, sometimes its northern axis is tilted toward the Sun and six months later, its southern axis is tilted toward the Sun. That gives us our seasons and the optical illusion that the sun moves north and south on the horizon during the year. But, the moon's orbit around the Earth is constant (despite what Shakespeare caused Juliet to recite).

The result of this combination of a tilted Earth and a constant moon means that to we Earth-bound astronomers, the Moon appears to change its path across the night sky. Sometimes it travels at an angle toward the horizon and sometimes it travels straight down toward the horizon.

That means that from January through March, for viewers who live from 25° to 50° north latitude (the northern temperate latitudes)in the northern temperate latitudes, the changing angle of the lunar orbit will result in the "U"-shaped crescent. From July to September in the southern temperate latitudes, the same is true.

You have undoubtedly already jumped to the conclusion that the emphasis in my label as an amateur astronomer should be on "amateur," because when I lived in Oregon, that "U" Moon was in the sky for three months every year, and I did not notice it. Of course, those are the winter months, and because of cloud cover in the Pacific Northwest, we could never attest that the heavens had not been emptied of its bounty. At least, that is going to be my excuse for not being very observant for fifty years.

For the remainder of the year, the crescent appears sideways. And we get to see what I have always thought was the crescent Moon's natural shape -- as a "C."

But, I have not answered my original question, have I? I was curious why the moon looked as it did in the Caribbean.

At the time of the Y2K calendar click-over, we were just off the coast of South America, preparing for a port-of-call in Aruba the next day. At 12° north, we were deep in the tropics. And that is where the research Dennis and I conducted paid off.

For those of us who currently live in the tropical latitudes, there is not a "C" crescent Moon to be seen. What we get to see is a year-round "U" crescent Moon. When I visited Peru three years ago, one of our connecting flights put us on the tarmac of Lima's airport just as the crescent Moon was rising. And, sure enough, it was a "U." Lima is located on 12° south latitude. Just as deep in the tropics as Arbua is. 

I was amongst a group of Norwegians who had never experienced the phenomenon. That is because they live above the 50° north latitude, where the crescent always shows up as a "C." Maybe it is my Scottish and English genes, rather than my lack of observation, that made me miss the "U" Moon in Oregon.

So, there you have it. The mystery is solved why the crescent Moon appears to change -- in part of the world. If you live in Mexico or Canada, you only get one variety.

And I am quite happy with the Mexican version that looks a bit like a jagged-tooth grin.  

* -- The phrase itself is a perfect example of how the once-dreaded end-of-the world hype for 1January 2000 has simply faded. I had to look up the phrase. Of course, that may say more about my aging memory than the hype. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

home again

As much as I enjoy traveling, I always enjoy walking through the front door of the house with no name and realizing I am home.

That has not always been true. Only a few years ago, whenever one of my trips was drawing to a close, I wished it would continue for another month or two.

I vividly recall when my mood switched. I was on a cruise from Miami to Los Angeles through the Panama Canal. As we sailed up the west coast of Mexico on 12 December 2018, I could make out Navidad Bay, the body of water that unites the little fishing villages I call home. And I realized that I wanted to be in Barra de Navidad instead of on that ship.

Maybe it is a matter of age. The older we get, we tend to find comfort in familiar routines as our senses (especially our memories) begin to diminish. Safety takes priority over adventure. External views turn internal.

I have been commuting to Oregon almost monthly since August. In August, the flights and the airports were almost deserted. Each month, the crowds increased. When I flew north a week ago, the airplane was almost full. Flying south on Saturday, it was full. The type of flight where passengers were stripped of their carry-ons because there was no overhead space available, and mask usage was a game of "catch me if you can."

The reason for the crowds on both legs was the same. Families were on the move for Spring Break. According to several passengers I talked with, they were taking extended trips because their children were not attending classes in person. So, they pulled them away from the computer to actually learn something by traveling.

Somewhere over northern Mexico on the return, the curmudgeon who lives in the darker recesses of my soul decided to make an appearance. Two young couples were traveling together. One couple upgraded to first class; the other was in coach. They were on their way to Manzanillo for two weeks in the sun.

For some reason, perhaps a bit of hierarchy envy, the wife in coach decided she would spend most of the flight standing in the aisle blocking all traffic. We all quickly learned what was up. She had indulged in at least one pitcher of margaritas before boarding the flight and had downed a few beers after takeoff.

Of course, that meant she was talking in her drunk-deaf voice. We all learned a lot about her, including how her children were created and where the blissful acts occurred -- as well as a list of the far more mundane details of her life.

After an hour of the banter, I could feel my patience wall being destroyed brick by brick. And I knew what was coming next. I was about to erupt and become another embarrassing character in Mexpatriate.

Fortunately, a soupçon of wisdom has accompanied my advanced age. 
Just as Mr. Curmudgeon stuck his head through the wall, I stuffed him back into his hole.

Sure, the young mother was annoying, but I had no idea what her life was like (other than The Stepford Wife version she had narrated for all of us). Maybe this was the first trip she had made away from her children. Maybe it was going to be her last lifeline to sanity.

The point is that she was doing her best to find a way to be happy. Maybe it was a doomed goal. Maybe it was not even an appropriate goal. But it was her goal. And I had no right to pretend I was a proctor in Massachusetts Bay Colony. I slid along the edge of how H. L. Mencken wittily defined puritans: "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

So, I just ignored her. Though, I will admit I kept listening for any further salacious details. Well, until her friend waved her hand and rather inelegantly dismissed the narrator from her presence.

The two couples are young. They still prize the value that adventure can bring to their lives. That realization was enough to blot out the less-pleasant side of my experience. Even better, the young mother who had become far too familiar with Don Julio made me re-discover why I like to travel. It is an opportunity to meet new people, experience events I have not experienced before, and to learn something new about the human condition.

I certainly did on this trip.

Having said that, coming home to the flowers Dora arranged in my kitchen was the best part of my journey.

Welcome home, Steve.

Note -- Two weeks ago in being dan, I told you about how I acquired my misbegotten lore of musical comedy. Well, everything exists for a purpose. As I was writing this piece, a Bock-Harnick song from Fiorello kept small-worlding through my head. It is not a very good piece of music, but it certainly sums up my feeling about coming home -- except for that USA finale. You can skip the Gentleman Jimmy piece if you like.



Tuesday, March 16, 2021

bag 'em, danno

The more regulated our lives become, the more complex life seems to be.

Time is an elusive dimension for me these days, but I think it was about two years ago that Mexico estrblished a regime to do away with one-use plastic bags. At about the same time, Oregon did the same thing.

On a visit north back then, I walked into my favorite grocery store in Prineville, paid for my goods, and waited for the cashier to bag up my groceries. I stared at her. She stared at me. Not in one of those courting stares, but an Oregon standoff stare whose subtext was -- "well?"

A little chat resolved the dilemma. I was waiting for her to bag my stuff in plastic. She was waiting for me to hand her a canvas bag hand-woven by Hopi widows under a waxing gibbous moon. Because I had come to the market unprepared, she graciously sold me a bag with the store's name written in script large enough that Venusians would know where I shop.

The clerk apologized and shifted the blame to Oregon's governor for stripping an option from customers that they preferred. The governor gets blamed for a lot in this part of Oregon.

It turned out that Darrel and Christy had a full inventory of bags in the back of their SUV. I simply did not know. On subsequent trips, I bagged like a pro.

When I returned to Oregon in August (just as the virus was building up a head of steam in the state), I headed to the same grocery store with my pied collection of bags. I wheeled my cart up to the cashier, unloaded the groceries on the belt, and started to hand the bags to the same cashier I had encountered the prior year. 

Her eyes took on a look of subtle horror. "No. No. I can't tough those. And don't put them on the belt. You're not supposed to even bring them into the store."

Outside bags were forbidden because they might spread the virus. Or, at least, that is the justification she was given when the state regulations switched bag horses in the middle of the stream. Canvas bags were now out. Plastics bags were back in.

Now, I fully understand the reasoning, if not the logic. But the ability to switch moral positions so quickly does undermine the absolute certainty that accompanies these pronouncements. The cashier, whose wisdom I have come to admire, said: "It is obvious whoever wrote these regulations never worked in a grocery store." 

Yesterday, I stopped at the same market to buy some cheese and sodas. Into plastic bags they went. At least, that fact has remained constant. But the contents of the bags were what caught my attention. Two partially-filled bags ended up costing me just under $70 (US). About 1400 Mexican pesos.

Now, I have paid 1400 pesos for groceries before at home -- now and then. But never for two light bags.

One of the largest differences in living costs between Oregon and Jalisco is food. It is noticeably cheaper in Mexico -- even though that gulf is narrowing as mexico becomes a more prosperous country. And, ironically, I can find more food options in our area of Mexico than I can in Prineville.

There are several benefits in my flights north. The first, of course, is seeing my family. But, the second is almost as important. Spending time north of the Rio Bravo reminds me of the virtues of Mexico.

In four more days, I will be headed home.

Monday, March 15, 2021

anti-climax on the bureaucrat front

My flights north to Oregon since August have become so frequent that I almost feel as if they are nothing more than a commute.

The only big difference on this trip was to have a piece of paper in hand that I was not the equivalent of a covid typhoid Mary. Or, at least, that I was negative for the viral antigens. Which, of course, is not the same thing at all.

We already chatted about how simple and fast it was to get the test done at my favorite lab in San Patricio (are your papers in order?). With a Saturday afternoon flight, I had all of my negative documents in hand to slip past American immigration with a smile on my face.

My friend Lew Moody dropped me off at the airport with plenty of time to complete my usual task of obtaining a hall pass from Mexican Immigration to give me permission to leave Mexico. My permanent resident card will get me back in. 

The next step was to complete the we-don't-need-no-stinkin'-covid questionnaire and to have my temperature taken. None of it was new, and it ate up only about 30 seconds of my time. There were no other passengers at the table.

I quickly discovered where they were -- standing in line at the Alaska check-in counter. It was obvious that something new was in operation. The two people in front of me each took 20 minutes at the counter. I could see flurries of paperwork and pens that were new to the check-in process.

When Monica, my favorite Alaska clerk, started checking me in, she asked the usual questions and then handed me a three-page form and told me to "initial here" and "sign there." The lawyer in me started reading the form (in Spanish) until I got to the second line and decided it was going to take too long with everyone else in line.

But I read enough to realize it was a form disclaiming liability of the airline in the covid certification process. If I did not sign, I was not getting on the airplane. I signed.

Monica quickly scanned over my lab test and gave it back to me. I asked her if I needed to give the results to anyone. She said the airline was not taking the forms.

It turns out that no one (at least for returning Americans) was even remotely interested in my test when I landed in Los Angeles. Not Immigration. Not Customs. The immigration officer told me to keep it as a souvenir of my trip. I always appreciate a sardonic exchange.

So, the whole process was rather anti-climatic. At least, for me. In Los Angeles.

I suspect Canadians will have far more detailed tales of bureaucratic interaction. At least, what I have seen on Facebook keeps my hopes alive that citizens to the north will have scintillating tales to tell around the campfire.

One thing I do know is that getting back home to Mexico on Saturday will have even fewer steps.

And that really will feel like commuting.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

signing off

In an hour or so, I will start packing for my trip to Oregon this afternoon.

These one-week jaunts require only about five minutes of packing. The routine is rather simple. It takes more time to prepare my dinner for the flight.

But before I do that, I wanted to share what appears to be the completion of the installment of the third-generation "Barra de Navidad" sign. I really liked the first one, and was rather agnostic about the second. But this version seems to be a home-run.

Made out of concrete to battle the erosive effect of climbing tourists and the corrosive effect of sea brine, this sign may be with us longer than the last two. And that is good because it is a pleasant piece of work.

The first sign included representations of the spirit of Barra de Navidad painted directly on the faces of the letters. So, does this version.

Pelicans. Fishing boats. A jumping dorado. The new maleconcito. A sunset. And the merman-mermaid statue that graces the malecon. There is only one obvious AWOL: the fallen-arm Jesus. But the artist could not include every comer.

Speaking of the artist, I understand Heidy Sanchez provided the artwork, and she made a bold choice. Instead of opting for strict representational art, she opted for an abstract palette.

While I was shooting the sign, a woman asked me if I knew when the painting would be completed. I told her I thought it was done. She pursed her lips. "It can't be. The mermaid does not even have a face. I hope the artist puts a smile on her." I could hear Ed Gilliam smile.

Well, I do like the painting. The artist has captured the spirit of this little village by the sea. And I applaud her for it. My opinion, of course, is influenced by the fact that abstract expressionism is my favorite school of art.

Now, comes the hard part. I have heard that, even before the painting was well under way, someone had vandalized one of the letters. That was unfortunate. But when you mix people, alcohol, and public art in the same area, having nice things is always a challenge.

I chose to write about the new sign today because it is the perfect symbol that will soon draw me home.

Perhaps I could pack up the sign and take it with me.

It is only for one week.

Friday, March 12, 2021

are your papers in order?*

For the past seven months, I have been shuttling between Barra de Navidad and central Oregon on family business. And, on each trip in these covidlicious days, some new twist is added to the travel experience.

At the end of January, The States (in the guise of its federal government) now require anyone entering the country by air to provide a test proving the passenger is negative for the virus. (There are other procedures for people who set off the Let's-Make-A-Deal procedures with a positive test, but we will skip over those poor souls for the moment.) The negative test result must be presented at the airline counter when checking in. No test, no flying.

Because I am flying tomorrow afternoon, I had a choice to make this morning. I could either obtain a test at the airport tomorrow along with most of the other people on my flight (and on other flights) and test my oft-touted belief that I enjoy standing in lines, or I could drive over to San Patricio Melaque and have the test conducted by the lab where I usually drop off my urine, feces, and blood for analysis.

The choice was easy. Even though the test done at my favorite lab would cost a bit more than the airport test, I would have my test in hand when I arrived at the Alaska counter. There was another advantage: in the event my test was positive, I could start the process for getting a flight clearance. The first step being to cancel tomorrow's flight.

I needed to be in San Patricio for men's Bible study this morning, so I drove over early fully anticipating that I would encounter a line of people who needed a test for tomorrow's flights. Other than a Mexican family, who were there for other purposes, I was the sole person in line.

I told the receptionist what I wanted and paid my 1,000 pesos. She then asked for something I had taken out and had left on my bed -- my passport. The nurse stuck a swab up my nose and told me the results would be ready in an hour.

In the 20 or so minutes it took me to drive to the house and back to the lab with my passport, the results were in my hand. Fortunately, negative. I was concerned that the antibodies from my March bout with covid might still be lingering in my system. They were not. Or, at least, the test did not detect them.

Tomorrow afternoon, I will board the Alaska flight to Los Angeles with my vaccination record and my negative test result. Only to be in Oregon for six days before flying back home to Mexico.

At least, I will not need a test to come home. Well, not yet, at least. 

* -- If you have concluded that the title is a preemptive strike to preclude the inevitable evocation of Godwin's Law, you are on to something. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

don't touch that dial -- yet

Some of my Facebook acquaintances have become a bit obsessed with advance planning.

I suspect that the virus with its attendant governmental rules about vaccinations, quarantining, and general travel has had a deleterious effect on people who have a natural tendency to focus on any attempt to control future variables. Especially the unknown unknowns in the Johan window.

Starting last week a couple of my Canadian acquaintances started posting warnings that daylight saving time was almost upon us. If you are in Canada or The States, that is true. Daylight saving time will start on the morning of 14 March.*

But, if you are in Mexico, the switch will not occur until three weeks later. On 4 April (like some delayed April Fool's Day joke).

I am not going to climb on my usual naranja crate and rant about daylight saving time like an over-memed Bernie Sanders. I will save that until Mexico joins the daylight saving time crowd.

Today's essay is simply a public service reminder that for three weeks in March and April, Mexico will be on standard time and Canada and The States will be an hour off standard. That can have consequences.

If you have a flight headed north, it is going to be an hour earlier than usual. Fortunately, I fly this Saturday and will avoid the time rift in the matrix.

If you are making telephone calls across the Mexican border, the time differences in time zones will be an hour off. Your call may inadvertently get your sister-in-law out of bed. 

And there must be other considerations that I cannot conjure up in my fevered imagination.

The Oregonian reported this morning that Congress is once again considering a measure that would effectively move all of the American national time zones to the right by morphing standard time into permanent daylight saving time. But let's save that topic closer to 4 April when Mexico gets sucked into the black hole of time.

For now, listen to the planners if you are in Canada or The States. But, if you are so privileged as to be in the far-saner Mexico, sit back in your lounger for three weeks, and let time take care of itself.   

Note -- This aside is for those of you who live in sections of Mexico, Canada, and The States who are wise enough not to have been gulled into the clock-switching nonsense, and who remind me of their wisdom whenever the topic arises. The exceptions do exist. They are the gray areas.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

sussex is just a shire

Heather Wilhelm gives good advice.

In her current "Happy Warrior" column, she doled out this gem:

How about bringing back a long-neglected string of words: "You know, when it comes to that particular topic, I'm not sure!" Our society seems to have sprouted a bumper crop of people who are increasingly willing to spout off passionate and fervent opinions on every topic that might cross their path on any given day, regardless of whether they know anything about it at all. This may sound bizarre, but it's true: You don't need to have an opinion on everything. It's exhausting. 

Have truer words been written? "You don't need to have an opinion on everything." Facebook should develop an algorithm that inserts that sentence into every post. Of course, the very raison d'être of Facebook is to turn dross into fool's gold.

I find it interesting that the same people who were recently constitutional law experts morphed into virologists with the onset of the most recent plague and then into hydraulic engineers when our area was flooded last year. Facebook must be passing out honorary degrees somewhere in the depths of its software.

I do not always follow Wilhelm's advice. The underlying premise of Mexpatriate is that I am a stranger in a new land where the culture is completely new to me. It is a gold mine of writing material -- as long as I do not fall into the mire of turning every experience into an opportunity to complain about things I may not properly understand.

When I first moved here, my northern judgmentalism must have been packed at the top of the plastic bin containing my electronics because it escaped from Pandora's Box early on. Petty annoyances were -- well, annoying.

It took me about a year or two to get settled into the rhythms of life in these little fishing villages by the sea. Crowing roosters. Church bells. Bread sales cars with soundtracks loud enough to dislodge molar fillings. All morphed into part of the quotidian life I have chosen to live here.

Of course, the sounds did not morph. My attitude morphed. I simply did not need to have an opinion on them. They existed, and so did I.

When I sat down this morning to write, I had a distinct target in mind -- The Harry and Meghan Road Show. Barbara Castle and I never did share many political views, though we were soulmates on some social issues. She pithily summed up a similar royal dustup in the 1970s: "I find a plea of poverty 
from a jumped-up freeloader like him not just inappropriate, but downright offensive."

I even had a series of anecdotes lined up to support my views on monarchy in general. Here's one.

In 1992 I attended a performance of Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III at the National's Lyttleton Theater. For me, one of the most surprising moments was when the Charles Fox's character tossed this republican bomb concerning the rite and ritual surrounding the king: "
Then why not be rid of him? If a few ramshackle colonists in America can send him packing, why can't we?" The line was met with a smattering of applause and laughter. In Britain. In the National Theater.

Other than those me-moments, I discovered I had nothing more to say about that sad couple who like many of the wealthy and famous cannot cope with the advantages they were given -- or whether there is any future for a medieval government model in this post-post-modern world.   

And then I heard the wise advice of Heather Wilhelm."You know, when it comes to that particular topic, I'm not sure!"

There is far too much life to live here in Mexico without complicating it with the woes of the over-entitled. I do not need to have an opinion about other people's failings. That is just a schadenfreude too far for me.

So, unless the entire Windsor clan moves into the house across the street from me here in Mexico (because they will eventually be looking for living space), I will probably not touch on the topic of the unfortunate Sussexes and their spiral into Wallis Simpsonland.

Getting my laundry done is more important right now. And I do have an opinion on that. 

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

being dan

Everybody has a relative that they want to be just like.

Or so I have been told.

Now, I do not know how universal that rule is, but I do know I wear it like a second nature. When I was growing up, I wanted to be just like my cousin Dan. He lived just down the mountain in Myrtle Point and was one year older. I thought of him as an older brother. And still do. That is him at the far left -- the charismatic boy up to some mischief.

When I started piano lessons in the sixth grade, the course I was taking gave students an option of sheet music as electives. My piano teacher asked me what type of music I would like to include on the list.

Mom overheard my teacher and suggested that I choose Broadway music because Dan liked musicals, and I admired Dan. I knew nothing of musicals at that point, but if Dan liked them that was good enough for me.

That was the start of one of the strangest paths I have ever taken in my life. I remember asking myself how Dan could like this music. It struck me as rather sappy with its emotional ballads and mawkish lyrics. But Dan liked it. Enough said.

I sometimes tend to be a bit obsessive. Once I set my mind to a project, it consumes me. And this project has consumed me for sixty years.

I bought every original cast album I could find at Al's Records, our local limited-inventory record shop in the Oak Grove Fred Meyer shopping complex, and studied the music. Then came the scripts. In addition, I attended every road show that came through Portland and scheduled my Air Force reserve duty around Broadway performances. Being stationed just outside London for two years in the 1970s was like being sent to musical heaven.

It got to the point that when I saw Bob Holiday in It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman on Broadway in 1966, I did not need to consult my Playbill to know that he had played the role of Neil in Fiorello in 1959. While my high school classmates were rocking with the Rolling Stones, I was analyzing the harm Richard Rogers's music in Do I Hear a Waltz? did to Stephen Sondheim's lyrics.

I had turned myself into a cultural anomaly -- a straight Broadway expert. Of course, I put that questionable skill to work whenever I could. The best venue was Broadway Trivia on cruises -- where I seldom missed an answer. 

I say the skill is questionable because it has limited my conversation. Last week at dinner, there was a lull in the chat. I have no idea why I did it (obviously, I was not thinking), but I tossed out a question: "Which ballet from a Broadway show do you prefer? Oklahoma? Carousel? Or something else?"

It must have been "something else" because my five dinner companions stared at me as if someone had sprayed obscene graffiti across my forehead. I may as well have asked what they thought about the Rule Against Perpetuities being used as a plot device in novels.

But all of those years of studying the American musical as an art form have given me a trunk of analytical templates when the Next Bright Broadway Thing comes along. That last sentence is pure self-serving justification because, as Paul Harvey used to say, here's the rest of the story.

Remember how my Mom launched me on this path with the overture that Dan loved musicals? Well, it turned out that was not quite true.

In December 2014 and January 2015, Dan and his Colombian wife Patty visited me on one of their many extended road trips. I joined them for a month while we drove through southern Mexico. Somewhere along our trek, I mentioned to Dan that I was surprised he liked musicals; I had always pegged him as a rock-and-roll guy.

His response caught me off guard. "I hate musicals. Especially movie musicals. Whatever made you think I liked them?" So, he heard the story I have just related to you.

I still do not know if Mom was mistaken or if she had a hidden agenda of her own. She certainly was not a musicals fan. She still isn't.

But there you have it. If you are sitting with me one day and ask which is my favorite Beach Boys song, I will most likely ask which beach boys you are talking about. While you were listening to Mike Love croon about good vibrations, I was chuckling at Zero Mostel's attempts to tackle Sondheim's internal rhymes.

There are no such things as bad decisions. There are simply decisions that make us who we are.

So, if you are feeling in a comparative ballet mood, come on over. We can spend an evening discussing the choreography strengths of Agnes de Mille and Susan Stroman.

You might want to bring your own No-Doz.

Note -- If we are going to discuss Agnes De Mille, here is your homework.

Monday, March 08, 2021

moving to mexico -- buying a house

The moment I walked in the front door, I knew she was going to be mine.

In 2006, I decided that I would retire and move to Mexico. Because I am a big believer in the American Dream, my initial instincts were to buy a house before I made the big leap. So, I started scouting.

For reasons unimportant for this essay, after two years of looking for houses to buy, I ended up renting a place for almost eight months on the beach of Villa Obregón. When my stay there was done, I considered some short-term auditions of other towns in Mexico, but I decided to try another six months as a renter on Villa Obregón's laguna. The six-months stretched to five years.

While living there, I looked for houses to buy. I had a permanent resident card in my pocket, and the area where I lived suited me fine. It was time to start erecting tent poles.

The house with no name was not my first house date. I had looked at least a score of other houses and at least five were in the I-can-live-with-this category.

Then true love struck. I say I knew the house would be mine when I walked through the front door. But it actually took fifteen minutes of contemplating the Barragánesque lines to convince me to make an offer on the house.

The asking price was well out of my budget. I had just made an offer for a house that was snatched out from under me, so I had a certain amount of money set aside already. To my surprise, the architect-builder who had constructed the place as her dream house, immediately snatched up my offer and set the closing date a few weeks away.

I saw nothing untoward in the rush. I knew there were some partnership problems the owner needed to clear up, but she assured me they would be resolved by closing.

When I told Christine, my landlady at the Villa Obregón rental, that I would be moving out because I was buying a house, she told me to ensure that I received a finiquito from the buyer --  a document proving the social security assessments from IMSS had been paid for the construction of the house.

A friend of hers had failed to do that and was then involved in a dispute that resulted in more tears than joy. I followed her advice and included the clause in the earnest money agreement.

It turns out to no avail. When my realtor, her assistant, and I drove to Manzanillo to sign the closing papers at the notario's office, a copy of the IMSS document was not part of the paperwork. I went into Full Frontal Lawyer negotiating mode, and said I would not close without the document. I knew the seller was anxious to sell, but I needed the document to ensure there would be no additional costs.

The assistant took me out in the hall to re-direct me. He told me the bank would not issue its trust deed if there were any potential liens outstanding. He had a certain northern logic to his argument. So, we closed.

Of course, that is not the end of the story -- or I would not be writing this essay. Within a year of closing, a fellow claiming to represent IMSS showed up at my house informing me I owed the IMSS assessment because I now owned the house. I contacted the former owner who gave me a song and dance how everything had been resolved; she was just waiting on the paper.

Well, we are both waiting for the paper. And I suspect we will wait for eternity to see it because of the next event in this little drama.

While I was in Manzanillo on Tuesday, someone claiming to be from IMSS served a document on Omar. The current owner of the property ("me") is required to appear in the IMSS office in Puerto Vallarta to show cause why I should not pay the unpaid assessment.

There are some questions whether IMSS can legally recover the assessment after five years. But IMSS certainly claims the authority to summon my presence -- as it has done.

Either today or tomorrow, I am going to see my accountant to enlist his professional skill in resolving what needs to be resolved. If the assessment was not paid by the contractor or the former owner, IMSS is entitled to that amount, an amount that could easily put me in the driver seat of a very nice European sedan. The only question is whether IMSS has acted in a timely fashion.

I will keep you posted on how this develops -- if only to let readers know one of the potential traps in buying a house in Mexico.

What I do know is that if your landlady tells you to do something to protect your interests, do it.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

the dearly departing

Controversy about the Covid-19 vaccination still stalks the streets. Even over simple details like dates.

Last night, I attended a small dinner party at Papapa Gallo's to celebrate the departure of an acquaintance. If "celebrate" is the correct word for someone leaving.

Robert is a veterinarian from Mississippi who has visited Melaque for half-a-score winters. But it is now time for him to return to his home north of the border. He will board an airplane today to return to the Magnolia State.

Of the six of us at dinner, four have received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccination for covid-19. I received mine on 18 February 
(a tale of two lines). The other three received theirs on 17 February. When each of us left the vaccination clinic in Cihuatlán, we received a piece of paper showing the date of our first vaccination, a line for information concerning the second vaccination, and some additional warnings.

The current controversy centers around the line set aside for the second vaccination.

Let me provide a little context. After receiving the vaccination, each of us was ushered to a covered area in the clinic's garden where we were seated under a shelter. The purpose of that stop was two-fold: first, to let us wait for a half-hour to see if any of us had an adverse reaction to the vaccination, and, second, to discharge us and provide us with information about our first and second vaccinations.

We exchanged our sign-in form for a second piece of paper. You can see a portion of my copy of the second form at the top of this essay. The bottom of the form requests people who suffer any untoward effects following the vaccination to report it immediately through a provided telephone number.

But there is no controversy about that. The woman who filled out the second form wrote in a date on the line for the second vaccination. And that is the source of some confusion. My dinner partners were certain that the date was for their second vaccination, though no one told them that. It does look like what a northerner would assume to be an appointment.

Other people on Facebook, who speak Spanish, tell them that the young woman who discharged them, referred to the date as an appointment. But that is not my story.

The 30-minute wait turned into almost two hours for my vaccination group. I was within 4 people of being called next, when one of the vaccination team members sat down next to me and reviewed my form to see if it was completed correctly.

He told me the date on the form for the second vaccination was only approximate and that I would receive a call for the exact date and for the place of vaccination on that day. Apparently, there had been some serious logistical problems in using the IMSS clinic.

As you can see, he also annotated my form with the information he had just shared. I must have been showing my dotage that day.

The tentative nature of the second vaccination made sense when he told me why the appointment system for vaccinations had been scrapped in favor of a "all-seniors-on-deck" approach. The computer-based appointment system had numerous problems. If only people with appointments had been vaccinated, a good deal of vaccine would have expired. So, the team improvised -- to everyone's benefit.

Confusingly, there is a second entry with the date 15 April, and that line refers to the date as "Fecha de tu Cita para tu Segundo dosis." I guess, you don't pay your pesos, but you take your chances.

Subsequent news has also pointed out supply problems. The EU is trying to restrict the export of any of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced in Europe from being exported outside of the EU. (The target, of course, is Britain, but all other non-EU countries will suffer from a rather blatant protectionist move of vaccine nationalism.) That move has been exacerbated by production issues that have left promised shipments late in coming. Mexico is not a priority on the shipment list.

I am hoping my 15 April date is just what the young man said. Approximate. I have seen a couple of studies that this particular vaccine attains its greatest protection at 90 days. For me, that would be 15 May -- or thereabouts. The later the better.

Having said that, if I have not received a telephone call by 14 April, I will drive over to Cihuatlán on the morning of 15 April to see if the vaccination clinic has once again set up shop at IMSS. If it is not there, I will check the two general hospitals. After all, they are only a needle-toss from one another.

One way or the other, we will all get our second jabs. But I am not going to be anxious if it does not happen on tax-filing day.*

* -- Speaking of income taxes, that is a topic I would like to discuss. Probably tomorrow. 

Friday, March 05, 2021

firing the butler

I have been spending too much time watching English costume dramas -- or maybe it has been watching all of those Fawlty Towers episodes years ago.

Lately, I have started thinking about what it would be like to live in a house with additional staff. A driver. A cook. A house manager. But every time I wander down that path, I realize that Dora's cleaning regimen and Antonio's pool maintenance are all I really need.

When my house was built, whoever designed the pool thought through some of the difficulties of pool ownership. To avoid overflows, there is a drain that empties into a tinaco buried at the pool's verge.  There are several "v" cuts along the edge of the tinaco that allow water to flow into the house's drainage system if too much water makes its way to the tinaco. For instance, during heavy tropical rains. I never have to worry about the pool overflowing.

It also works in reverse. When the water level in the pool recedes due to evaporation or excessive fun, a float in the tinaca will turn on my well pump to provide more water to the pool. It is a nifty system.

Except for one thing. The float is similar to the float you might find in your toilet tank. Over time (about every eight months or so), the metal attachment corrodes so badly that its breaks, leaving the float doing its impression of Jack Dawson in Titanic.

Even though the tinaco is covered by a heavy concrete and metal lid, I know when the float has snapped because the pump thinks the tinaco needs re-filling, and will switch on and off in four-minute cycles. I always check each of the toilets and sinks in the house to be certain no water is running before I notify Antonio. I have been embarrassed in the past when the problem was a leaky tap and not a broken arm.

Fortunately, I did not need to call Antonio for a special trip. This was his morning to be here -- at 7:30. We discussed whether any taps were open (he knows me well) and he then lifted the lid. The float was bobbing away. Like those annoying kids in high school who always had their hands in the air with the right answer. But the float, with its raised arm had the wrong answer.

After a quick trip to the hardware store, an intricate surgery of removing the old and attaching the new, and a sophisticated adjustment, I had an operating system in just over one hour. Well, I had an operating systems thanks to Antonio and his Christmas-card-bringer son Enrique.

All for the total cost of 300 pesos (about $14 (US)) -- parts and labor. As always, Antonio did not want to be reimbursed for his time, only the 69 pesos for the float. That was not going to happen. Of course, it is a little dance we both play when he provides additional pool services.

I have written about the half-life of floats in my tinaco several times. The essays always elicit a list of suggestions on how the engineering might be improved. Some have been quite sophisticated.

I have considered them all. And I am sticking with the current setup.

Certainly pouring capital into an improved switching system might be a good investment, but I rather enjoy what I have. It allows me to hone my skills as a house manager, and I then get to watch Antonio apply his expert skills in repairing the lame system.

Sometimes, good enough is good enough.

At least, good enough for me.


Thursday, March 04, 2021

the falling tree

Yesterday I was walking with an acquaintance in West Melaque. 

He and his wife have been coming to the Costalegre for sixteen years. They only stay two months -- January and February. Because of recent travel restrictions on returning to their home country, they have decided to stay an additional two months.

As we were walking along, he asked: "You pretend to know everything. Is there something wrong with the trees on the hill? Everything is starting to look gray."

His question reminded me of a flight I was on two years ago. It was the summer, and I was returning home to Mexico from a Panama Canal cruise. As we made our final approach to the Manzanillo airport, we flew over the hills that give this area their scenic charm.

The young man sitting next to me was from Oregon. When he looked out at the hills, he asked: "Was there a forest fire here?" I had not given it much thought. But to an Oregonian eye, our summer hills do resemble the Tillamook Burn. Lots of bare trunks and branches. No foliage.

The answer to both questions was the same. This area has two seasons. The Wet and The Dry. When the rains come in summer and fall, our hills green up as if they were part of the Dingle Peninsula. Ryan's daughter would feel at home here. Well, maybe not with the heat and humidity, but you get my point.

When the rains stop in the late fall, the hills continue their show until just before the arrival of spring. Old leaves then make way for new flowers -- and eventually new leaves with the summer rains. 

That is why the hills looked so odd to my walking companion. In his 16 years of visiting Melaque, all he has known is that the hills were heavily greened. What he was now experiencing was a peep backstage in the dressing room where the actors are donning their costumes for this two-act play.

There must be something in our minds that makes us believe that places stay the same as we last saw them. Perhaps that is why people who visit the area are so shocked when natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and flooding hit the area while they are not here. It is difficult to conceive just what is going on without experiencing it in person.

There is also the opposite phenomenon -- or a variation on the other. I was standing in line at the Banamex ATM five years ago. The line snaked out from the bank into street. So, I had plenty of time to talk with a friend who sat on a charitable board with me.

She looked at the line of gray-headed northerners and said: "I do not understand how this place survives when we all leave." She was sincerely concerned.

I responded that not all of us do leave, but most of the area's tourist business comes from Mexicans during the summer and on holidays when most northerners are not here.

She looked at me with a combination of pity and surprise, and responded: "I mean real money, Steve."

I suspect that conversation arises from the same perception as the "why are the hills gray?" question. We tend to be an existential race. The only things that are real are what we experience.

That is not a complaint. It is just who we are. And I expect that is why some of us read and watch travelogues. We want to experience new things without needing to travel to new places.

But whether we are here to watch the hills gray or to see Mexican tourists exchange their pesos for a good time, the tree falling in the forest will still make a noise -- even if we do not experience it.